For Sale: A Russian Legend
Volume 45, Number 11, November 2008
What have we got in our pockets? COINS were in the news again recently and once again our “media tart” Phil was called upon to deliver a number of radio interviews and quotes for newspapers. But this time the story wasn’t new designs or record prices but rather something from the darker side of our hobby. It seems, according to the Royal Mint’s own figures, that 1 in 50 of the £1 coins circulating today are forgeries, and whilst 2 per cent might not seem a huge sum, it equates to some £30 million and that’s big money in anyone’s language! The broadcasters and National media all homed in on this story and suddenly everyone wanted to know how to spot a forgery and what to do if you found one. Well, anyone even vaguely interested in coins will know that spotting one of these fakes is actually relatively easy: they are almost always of a vastly inferior quality in both metal and striking to the real ones; the colour is always suspect and will often rub off easily if scratched with another coin and invariably they have obvious errors like edge inscriptions that don’t match the reverse design, the wrong reverse (and in some cases obverse) for the date and the die axis being so off that the two sides are often at 90 degrees or more to each other. What to do about them is another matter—officially it’s against the law to knowingly hold a forgery and certainly illegal to pass one on. What you should do is pass it to the police, who will in turn pass it to the banks. Unfortunately you will be £1 out of pocket and, let’s face it, who wants to bother the police with a matter so seemingly trivial as a duff coin? This being the case most people will quickly pass the coin to the next poor soul and so on and so forth—hence the estimated 30 million that are out there — no one wants to take them out of circulation as no-one really wants to be out of pocket and, unlike a counterfeit £20 or £50 note, these things are relatively easy to pass on, and it’s unlikely that you’ll receive much more than a rebuke if you do. Just why the forgers bother with £1 coins in the first place is something of a mystery. With the price of all metals skyrocketing it’s a wonder there is any profit in this crime at all, but apparently there is and so we’re sure to see these things around for some time to come. But the other wonder is the dreadful lack of attention to detail that they’ve applied to their work. Forgers of notes go to great lengths to ensure every tiny detail of the original is replicated; forgers of £1 coins just don’t seem that bothered and the errors outlined above are commonplace! And it’s that that is the real point of this comment. The recent radio and TV interviews, and to a lesser extent the newspaper and website pieces, served not only to highlight the fact that there were millions of £1 coins out there that were a “bit dodgy”, but also the staggering ignorance of many people when it comes to what they should actually have in their pockets in the first place—an ignorance that I have actually experienced myself on more than one occasion recently with the new reverse designs, which are now beginning to get into circulation. During one radio interview Philip was asked to give his opinion on a couple of coins that listeners had rung in about. One lady described the coin she had as being “different” from usual with a “different picture of the Queen” on and the word “Gibraltar” on it. She wanted to know if it was real or not. Another one couldn’t understand why she had £1 coins with different “heads” on. The fact that one was from 1983, one from 1996 and one from 2002 didn’t register with her at all. To give him his due Philip didn’t simply give a huge sigh, as many of us would, but carefully and patiently explained what to all of us is blooming obvious! But the fact remains that these listeners, and undoubtedly millions of others out there, just didn’t know what their £1 coins were meant to look like. So no wonder the forgers can get away with putting out rubbishy fakes. The trouble is, what to do about it? I mentioned the ignorance of the new designs: whilst out shopping in the past month I have been witness to at least three occasions when a new coin with the 2008 design was handed over, only for the recipient to query it as “foreign” or a forgery. Now I know that back in April all the national newspapers, the TV, the radio, numerous websites, etc., carried a great deal of information on the new designs. It was big news (at least for a few days) and yet it has, it seems, passed many people by. One can hardly blame the Royal Mint for people’s ignorance—the launch in April and subsequent coverage proved that—but with so many different designs out there, so many different coins in use, quite legitimately, is it any wonder that the general public don’t really know much about what should and what shouldn’t be in their pockets and purses? There is no easy answer of course. Take away the option for the Mint to design new coins and a large part of our hobby will suffer. Organise large scale education campaigns telling people what to look out for and accusations of wasting public money will inevitably follow. Something must be done though, to have a populace ignorant of their own coinage is, quite frankly, appalling. Unfortunately as more and more people turn away from cash it is a situation I fear will only get worse.
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