Have you heard...?
Volume 37, Number 8, August 2000
FOLLOWING last month's "Comment" on the 1997 £2 coin and its supposed rarity, we have had a number of calls regarding other coins found in change - not only because the finder hopes to have something valuable but also, and gratifyingly more often, because they are fascinated by the potential of having something different and unusual (the more mercenary amongst you may say that the two are inseparable, we like to think differentlyl). Sadly we often have to inform callers that no, in fact their piece is not unusual and that, yes, there were £2 coins prior to 1997 (the various commemoratives), there are £I coins with the same designs but different dates, there were larger size 10p/5p coins (how quickly people forget) and, yes, the NHS 50p is indeed a coin of the realm. But now and again we come across a genuinely interesting item that has no logical explanation - such as the 1902-dated sovereign with Victoria portrait or the two pence piece struck in silver but dated 1999 (so not part of the silver sets issued in 1996 or 2000). These pieces are not, sadly, as common as those that can easily be explained away but when they do surface they are exceptionally fascinating. Naturally our first reaction when asked about a coin that should not exist is to ask whether or not it is a forgery, but even if it is, and it's a good one, it will often have more appeal than if it had been "normal" - a fact made abundantly clear to us when, in February, we ran an article by D. J. Cane which looked at the fascinating area of modern day forgeries, particularly those of the £1 coin. The article provoked a huge response both from other readers who also collect such pieces and from those who collect "regular" coins but find the subject of forgery a fascinating area of study. Whether this interest is sparked by a love of the illicit or simply because modern minting methods mean that variety in our everyday coinage is not commonplace is not clear; but whatever the reason it is quite obvious from the number of letters we have had that this subject does have an enduring appeal (unlike some of the forgeries themselves!). Of course interest in such matters is not new, nor is the forging of coins themselves, as a new exhibition at the British Museum shows. Imaginatively entitled "Illegal Tender" the attraction, which runs from August 16 until January 7, in Room 69a, promises to appeal to a wide audience, not only those interested in forgeries but also those interested in the forgers themselves and, for the strong of stomach, what happened to them when they, and others who debased the coinage, were caught. We are told in the Museum's press release of a few of the attempts to deter such criminals including, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1150, the removal of "the right hand and the testicles below". Even in the relatively civilised society of 18th century Britain the historian T. B. Macaulay notes that "Hurdles with four, five, six wretches convicted of counterfeiting or mutilating the money were dragged month after month up Holborn Hill. One morning seven men were hanged and one woman burned for clipping". We know of a few purists today who wouldn't be averse to such punishments for forgers (and indeed those who collect the fruits of their labours) but whilst they remain in the minority the collecting of such oddities will doubtless continue to grow in popularity and yet another facet will be added to our diverse and fascinating hobby. John Mussell .
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