By 1980 it had become apparent that with the general decline in purchasing power, the £1 unit of currency was more appropriate to a coin than a banknote. After consultation with many groups including retailers and special interest groups, the Government announced on 31 July 1981 that a new £1 coin that was to be issued on 21 April 1983. Since its launch the £1 has always represented the United Kingdom and its constituent parts; England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The £1 coin in base metal (as opposed to the gold sovereign, which has a nominal face value of one pound too), nickel-brass was introduced in 1983, as a replacement for the £1 banknote. The reverse design of the first £1 coin showed a detailed and intricate depiction of the Royal Coat of Arms. Designed by Eric Sewell, Chief Engraver at The Royal Mint, it has become one of the most famous images on British coinage. The coin’s edge inscription is in Latin: DECUS ET TUTAMEN, which may be translated as an "ornament to safeguard".
This design, representing the United Kingdom as a whole, was issued until 2015 in rotation with other designs representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, alternating each year. This is the fourth of six issues (the others being in 1983, 1993, 1998, 2008 and 2015).
Coins issued in 2003 circulated for 14 years until they were demonetised in 2017 and replaced with the current bimetallic one pound coin.
Crowned mature head of Queen Elizabeth II facing right (effigy known as the "Fourth Portrait"). The Queen wears the "Girls of Great Britain and Ireland" diamond tiara, a wedding gift from Queen Mary (Her Majesty's grandmother) in 1947 - which she also has on the Machin and the Gottwald portraits.
In tiny letters below the head, the artist's initials IRB (for Ian Rank-Broadley).
Around the effigy is the monarch's legend and the date: ELIZABETH · II · D · G REG · F · D · 2003. Translated from Latin: Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God, Queen, Defender of the Faith 2003.
Royal Arms representing the United Kingdom. In its standard variant used outside of Scotland, the shield is quartered, depicting in the first and fourth quarters the three passant guardant lions of England; in the second, the rampant lion and double tressure flory-counterflory of Scotland; and in the third, a harp for Ireland. The crest is a statant guardant lion wearing the St Edward's Crown, himself on another representation of that crown.
The dexter (right) supporter is a likewise crowned English lion; the sinister (left), a Scottish unicorn. In the ground below, a thistle, Tudor rose and shamrock are depicted, representing Scotland, England and Ireland respectively.
The motto of English monarchs, DIEU ET MON DROIT (God and my Right), which has descended to the present royal family, is in a ribbon below, while a Garter circlet which surrounds the shield is inscribed with the Order of the Garter's motto, HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE (from old French: Shame on he who thinks evil).
Around below is the denomination, ONE POUND.