Sets of one penny through four pence silver coins are known from the time of Charles II onwards. However, as there is no record of any denomination higher than one penny (then struck for circulation in silver) being used in the Maundy gift before 1731, sets from before then are most likely ordinary circulation strikes. At that time, coins used for the Maundy money distribution were indistinguishable from those struck for circulation. It was not until 1752 that coins not struck for circulation were used for the Maundy distribution. In a time when little silver was being struck by the Royal Mint, the coins distributed might bear a previous year's date.
To evade statutory prohibitions on the striking of silver coin during the Napoleonic Wars, all Maundy pieces issued from 1800 to 1815 bear the date 1800, though most were struck later. When the date was finally changed in 1816, after the prohibition ended, the size of the coins was slightly reduced, as the Royal Mint implemented a change from striking 62 shillings of silver coin from one troy pound of sterling silver to 66 shillings.
The last year in which no Maundy coins were struck was 1821.
In 1689, the Royal Mint began using a design for the reverse of the four low-denomination silver coins depicting a crowned numeral. The designer is unknown (Richard Lobel, in his catalogue of British coins, suggests the artist was George Bower, an employee of the Royal Mint whose medals bear similar characteristics), but his work has endured, in a revised form, for over three hundred years. In 1822 an amended reverse was introduced, and has been struck every year since then in all four denominations.
The 1822 reverse design, which places the crowned numeral within an oak wreath was done by Jean Baptiste Merlen. This design is still struck each year, though the crown was altered in 1888, as was the appearance of the numeral "2" on the twopence. These changes were made by Royal Mint engraver Leonard Charles Wyon. A proposal by the Royal Mint in 1950 to return to the pre-1888 "2" as more artistic was refused by George VI, who felt the current numeral was stylistically similar to the numerals on the other coins, and the pre-1888 "2" was not.
Beginning in 1834 threepence pieces were struck for circulation, bearing the same design as the Maundy threepence. The circulation pieces were initially struck for use in the West Indies, but beginning in 1845, were coined for use in Britain as well. Many of the threepences presented to impoverished Maundy recipients were spent and are rarer than the other values today.
Maundy threepences may sometimes be distinguished from currency threepences as dies with a more polished field were used for the Maundy pieces. The design of the circulation threepence
remained the same as that of the Maundy threepence until 1928, when a new design was introduced for the circulating coins. Twopence coins identical to Maundy pieces, intended for colonial
use, were struck in 1838, 1843, and 1848.
The original composition of the coins was sterling (0.925) silver. In common with all British silver coins, the fineness was reduced to 0.500 in 1921. In 1947 silver was removed from all circulating British coinage in favour of cupronickel, but as it was felt to be inappropriate to strike Maundy coins in base metal, their fineness was restored to 0.925.
On Decimal Day 15 February 1971, the pound sterling became decimalised, with 100 new pence instead of 20 shillings of 12 pence (240 pence) in a pound. No change was made to the design of the Maundy pieces, and all Maundy pieces, both pre- and post-Decimal Day are deemed denominated in new pence, more than doubling the face value of the pre-1971 pieces. The Maundy pieces continue to use the original obverse design for Queen Elizabeth II by Mary Gillick, although the bust of the Queen on other British coins has been repeatedly replaced as she ages. At the time of decimalisation, the
Royal Mint Advisory Commission recommended the retention out of affection for the Gillick design; this was accepted by the Queen.