The term Britannia is actually a derivative of the Greek term for Great Britain and has been in use for many centuries. The Romans of the first century were very familiar with Britannia and her image was first stamped into coins issued by Hadrian, where she was depicted as a goddess. The most common images of her were that of a young and very beautiful woman wearing the helm of centurion while dressed in a white dress that exposed her right breast. She is depicted holding a spear with a shield set down beside her as she sits upon a rock. On some coins she can be seen leaning against the shield while holding a standard. There is one range of coins where she is depicted seated upon a globe that is floating above the waves; this is thought to represent Britain at the edge of the known world.
These are all pre-British coins and once the Romans withdrew during the fifth century the name and image all but disappeared. During the 17th century the name and image experienced a major rebirth as they were used to show the Imperial might and unity of the British Empire. The first time Britannia appeared on a British coin was in 1672 when her image was stamped onto the farthing. Rumor has it that an earlier version had been completed in 1665. A lady by the name of Frances Teresa Stuart was used as the basis for the image; she would later become the Duchess of Richmond. After 315 years Britannia was finally elevated to "Gold Status" when Britain issued the first gold coin to bear her likeness since Roman times. Today this bullion coin ranks among the most beautiful coins being sold as investments in the world. This coin was also purported to be Britain's answer to the Krugerrand that the South African Mint had been issuing since 1967.
From 1987 to 1989 these coins were made 0.971 fine 22 karat gold and the balance in copper. After 1990 the copper was replaced with silver and the coin still retains a 0.917 fineness rating. The Britannia is available in several different weights including one-tenth, one-fourth, one-half and one full ounce. You will find that the lady herself is depicted in a variety of manners including with a helmet, sitting, with a lion and in a chariot. She may also be depicted standing up depending on the year of issue and the weight of the coin. Intended to be sold as an investment, these coins are exempt from Value Added Tax and since they are listed as legal tender are also exempt from Capital Gains Tax. This makes them a very good investment vehicle compared to the other bullion coins and pure gold bars.