Year of the Ox
Volume 46, Number 2, February 2009
TAKING delight in the mistakes of others is not a pleasant trait. However, I think we at COIN NEWS, and indeed the wider numismatic community in general, can be forgiven for raising a smile at the mistake that came to light late last year. After a quarter of a century the Royal Mint’s usually impeccable quality control somehow slipped up and, for the first time since the “NEW PENCE/TWO PENCE” error of 1983, a mule has escaped the confines of Llantrisant! During the minting of the new design 20p a mix up occurred, somehow (and we can see how easily it might have happened) an obverse die from the earlier “old” design was used (remember that before April 2008 all coins needed were minted with the old designs). Now, for most of the other coins that wouldn’t actually have been a problem—the “old” 2008 obverse and the “new” 2008 obverse being identical. But the 20p is different. It, along with the £2 coin, always had the date on the reverse and the obverse bore no indication of strike year. However, with the new designs that feature was removed and the lettering on the obverse changed to accommodate the year of minting. What has happened with this mule is that the old obverse, bearing no date, is married to the new reverse, again bearing no date, so for the first time in modern numismatic history a UK circulating coin has been struck that bears no year on it at all! Now, we’ll bow to knowledge superior to ours in this matter but we really can’t think of a single milled, circulating, coin that has (or rather doesn’t have) this feature. Certainly there was a gold piece struck without the date but we aren’t aware of any others, and certainly none we could come across every day—and this means that the 20p mule really is something special. Just how special this is will depend very much on how many are out there, which is a factor that will, logically, greatly affect the coin’s value. The 1983 2p mule is currently worth a couple of hundred pounds, but we don’t really know how many of those were minted (they appeared in special “Martini” promotional packs back in 1983, but, crucially, not every pack had one). With this latest error we have been told by the Royal Mint that a “small number” have been produced. When pressed further they tell us that this number is likely to equate to a “batch”. which could mean anything from 100,000 to 200,000. Now to most of us this will sound like an awful lot, and I can already hear the interest in this mule waning, but before it does let me put things into perspective: since the introduction of the 20p coin millions have been minted every year, the lowest number ever struck (apart from 1986 when they only appeared in sets) was in 1992 when just over 31 million were minted. When it was first seen in our pockets, in 1982, there were over 740 million around! The annual mintage regularly exceeds 80 million, often topping 100 million, and you can bet that with the introduction of a new design the Royal Mint would have wanted a significant number out there, so a mintage in excess of 80 million is not unlikely. So, if you think 200,000 is a lot think of it in percentage terms: it is approximately 0.2 per cent of the estimated total mintage! If there are actually more like 100,000 struck and the total 20p mintage is higher (we’ll let you know as soon as we know!), then of course that percentage falls even lower. And if you look at the potential spread of these coins (so far we know of only two examples: one from Yorkshire and one from Exeter) amongst 60 million people in the UK, you will realise that even with every coin collector in the country looking for them it’s most unlikely that anything other than a very small number will ever surface, and those that do will have been circulating for some time and thus bashed about as “ordinary coins” are. So, condition is going to be of the utmost importance. As to values . . . we have been told by one leading dealer that he doesn’t think they’ll be worth very much and yet we have heard rumours of one example being sold online for over £100. What the true value is will only become clear in time as the number of decent examples available becomes known. But think of it this way: even if it is only worth something from the lower end of the scale—say £5 or £10—that’s still a huge bonus when you initially thought all you had was 20p! So time to check your pockets and purses ladies and gentlemen. It is time to stop and look carefully at your change again. Who knows, you could well be in for a pleasant surprise! For some time we’ve been urging the powers that be at the Mint to produce a limited number of “special coins” for circulation—maybe with a unique design or mintmark—not many, just enough to get people interested in the coins in their pockets again, just as everyone did in the years leading up to decimalisation or even before, when we were all searching for that elusive 1905 shilling, the mythical Edward VIII threepence or even the lost 1933 penny. Well, it seems they have, albeit unwittingly, obliged and whilst we are sure they won’t be overly pleased that their strict quality control has been breached, I do hope they aren’t too upset about it as it’s a real New Year bonus for collectors and, who knows, it could actually get some of the general public hunting around too—and that can’t be a bad thing, can it? On the subject of the new designs we now know that all have been spotted in circulation. In December the new design £1 coin was seen as far afield as Scotland and Milton Keynes—thus completing the “jigsaw” and I had a 2008 £2 coin (with the traditional “technology” design) given to me in change just last week. Now the key thing is to find out how many of the mules we can spot and how many of the old design coins bearing 2008 are out there. I’ve seen a penny, 2p, 5p and we know of the 20p but what of the 10p and 50p? Did the Royal Mint make many of those before the April cut off date? Do let us know . . . !
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