Coin News

Volume 46, Number 4, April 2009

London 2012—A celebration of Britain

Volume 46, Number 4, April 2009

Counting down with coins WHILST the news is depressing us daily with talk of doom and gloom in recessionary Britain, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that it was only four years ago that the country was riding on a high of optimism following the announcement that London was to host the 2012 Olympics. It’s a trifle worrying, here in 2009, that we’ll be holding a traditionally mind-blowingly expensive event on the back of the biggest economic downturn for decades. But no matter, host it we will and hopefully we’ll get it right. Of course in the UK we always seem to leave things to the last minute—look at the Wembley Stadium debacle or the Millennium Dome—we’d only known for 2,000 years that the Year 2000 would be upon us one day, so the fact that it seemed to come as a surprise to those organising the celebrations was a surprise in itself. We all know that come 2011, indeed early 2012, the papers will be full of stories about stadia being unfinished, transport links behind schedule and planned regeneration projects on the back burner—it’s the way we seem to do things and so it is a nice surprise to find the Royal Mint actually ahead of the game with their Olympic coin programme. Olympic coinage has a long history and the host nation is always expected to lead the way, a challenge the Mint has risen to a very un-British three years before the Games. Billed as “Britain’s biggest ever commemorative coin programme in honour of the momentous 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games” there are actually three strings to this particular bow. The first is the Countdown to London 2012—a series of four £5 coins issued in limited numbers in gold, silver and cupro-nickel at a rate of one design a year for the next four years. The first depicts a rather stylised pair of swimmers with the number 3 superimposed upon them; one assumes that next year’s coin will feature another sport and a number 2; 2011 will feature a different sport and a “1” and that the coin for 2012 will either have large “0”, the word “go” written upon it or depict a starting pistol or similar—hence the “countdown” of the programme’s title. The consensus in the COIN NEWS office is that whilst the idea is a sound one the design is a little too “radical” for our tastes—but that’s just us, we’ll leave our reader ’s to make up their own minds. The next “string” comes in the form of an ambitious 18 coin series of silver £5 coins in the Celebration of Britain range—a series that is due, according to the press release, “to celebrate Britain, its history, its people and its culture”. Apparently the coins are to “embrace the themes of Mind, Body and Spirit” with each theme being represented across six individual coins. The first three coins in the series feature the Angel of The North sculpture outside Gateshead, Stonehenge and the famous clock-face of the tower that houses Big Ben, all worthy symbols of Britain showing our achievements across the years, although whether these represent Mind, Body or Spirit is something we’ve yet to deduce. Although we haven’t been told of a rigid time frame, the number of coins planned leads us to assume that the next three coins are due out later this year with six more next year and six in 2011. To remind us that this isn’t simply another set of coins but should be intrinsically linked with the Olympics, all of the Celebration of Britain coins have the London 2012 logo picked out in green on the reverse. The Countdown to London series also features the logo, in blue on the precious metal versions and as an integral part of the design on the BU version. Of course £5 crowns, whether in base or precious metals, are all very well but they aren’t necessarily inclusive. We all know that the 18 silver coins will be bought up by a certain type of collector, the gold and silver Countdown coins have a limited release so undoubtedly will all be snapped up almost before they on sale and the BU coin, whilst more readily available, still won’t circulate and be part of everyday life—which makes the forthcoming 50p series even more exciting! For those of you who don’t know, there is currently a design competition underway to find 29 designs featuring an Olympic or Paralympic sport—these 29 designs will then be immortalised on 29 different 50 pence pieces to be released at the rate of one design a month from March of next year. Just like the famous “American Quarters” programme in the States this particular “third string” is designed to get the general public “checking their change”, designed to get everyone looking out for the new coins and get them talking about what they’ve got in their pockets and it is this, far more than the £5 coins that will mark the Royal Mint’s contribution to 2012 as being one of the most innovative in Olympic coin history. Commemorative coins are all very well, and they were to be expected, but everyone does them for the Olympics—hosts or not—and had the Royal Mint done what countless other issuing authorities have done before them and just gone with a pleasant but uninspiring collection of “commemoratives” then they would have missed a trick. But they haven’t, they have gone for something different and done it in good time too. It almost seems a bit un-British of them—but for once that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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