O’Brien Coin Guide: The Irish Decimal Twenty Pence


The twenty pence (20p) (Irish: fiche pingin) coin was a subdivision of the Irish pound. It was introduced on 30th October 1986 and was first Irish decimal coin that was of a different size to the corresponding British coin. Its last issue was in 2000, two years before Ireland withdrew its pound for the euro.

  • It features the horse (an Irish Hunter) that was on the pre-decimal half-crown coin
  • The Irish halfcrown was produced from 1928 to 1967 and was a much-loved coin by the public

The 20p coin has a yellow-brass colour due to its composition (also known as Nordic Gold) which is 79% copper, 20% zinc and 1% nickel. Economists, at that time, determined that this composition would reduce production costs by 25% as against cupro-nickel then used. The edge of the coin has six bands, alternately finished smooth and grained.

The first Irish 20p coin to be officially circulated was in 1986

The first Irish 20p coin to be officially circulated was in 1986

Technical Specifications

Mass 8.47 g
Diameter 27.1 mm
Edge Alternate smooth and milled
Composition Nordic Gold

79% copper, 20% zinc and 1% nickel

The coin was provided to relieve the expense of creating the lower value coins and also to assist the public and traders alike by creating higher value coin which could assist in the removal of some five and ten pence coins.

In 1982, the then Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, announced that a twenty or twenty-five pence coin might be designed – August 1984 the twenty pence was chosen. The Arts Council of Ireland recommended the horse design.

YEAR Mintage
1985             500 minted, 50 unaccounted for ?
1986 50,400,000
1988 20,700,000
1992 14,800,000
1994 11,100,000
1995 18,200,000
1996 29,300,000
1998 25,000,000
1999 11,000,000
2000 29,500,000

Before this coin could be officially introduced, all vending machines in Ireland had to be re-calibrated to accept the new coin and the organisation with the largest number of coin-operated vending machines at that time was the then recently formed Bord Telecom Éireann.  Created in 1984 from the old Department of Post & Telegraphs (a.k.a. the P&T, or stylised as P+T), Telecom Éireann were responsible for the maintenance of tens of thousands of public phone boxes at the time.

A limited number of these coins were produced by the Central Bank of Ireland the year before and were issued to vending machine engineers for re-calibration.

All were supposed to return to the Central Bank to be melted, but some seem to have slipped through.

According to Ian Whyte,

“In 1985, the Central Bank produced an estimated 500 coins, issued to various companies and organisations “to facilitate calibration of vending machines and other coin-operated devices such as public telephones”. The coins were supposed to be returned to the Central Bank to be melted down but about 50 never made it and, to date, about 10 have been recorded in private ownership.”

Why did this happen?

  • Firstly, these coins were dated 1985, as it was against the law to provide coins with a future date.
  • Secondly, the coins were supposedly intended to be returned.  In 1985 and early 1986, a small quantity of these 1985 20p coins were passed around to engineers working in each county – not all were returned.
  • Finally, the Central Bank of Ireland allowed the 1985 coins to be used as legal tender in the public domain, apparently due to the laissez-faire nature of the regulations, or lack thereof, concerning the coins being given to the engineers.

How rare are they and what grades do they turn up in?

  • The 1985 Irish 20p coin is exceedingly rare and less than 10 are known to exist in private collections
  • No one knows (for sure) the exact number minted, or the exact number returned for melting
    • how many Telecom Éireann engineers were there in each county?
    • how many of these engineers were involved in re-calibration of phone boxes?
    • were some engineers working in more than one county?
    • how many coins would each engineer need to do his/her job?
  • They were used to re-calibrate vending machines so they are usually found in VF (XF-40) grade downwards
  • At least one is known to be in EF (extremely fine) or AU-55 condition
  • They sell for between €2,500 to €15,000 each (depending on condition / grade)
The exceedingly rare 1985 Irish 20p coin

The exceedingly rare 1985 Irish 20p coin

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