Sun Face Radiates
Volume 46, Number 5, May 2009
Forging ahead AS WE go to press another report on the prevalence of fake £1 coins in circulation has come to light. The findings of the report, this time coming from Willings, a company which makes machines to check coins for businesses and other organisations, apparently show that upwards of £73 million worth of forgeries could be out there. According to the BBC story into the report, car parking firms, vending machine operators, etc., have been sending coins to the company for checking and they have discovered that the percentage of fakes is far higher than, in fact over double, the Royal Mint’s estimate of last year. In the last quarter of 2008 the Mint removed some 270,000 from circulation and it was estimated, from that, that 1 in 50 of the £1 coins in circulation was a forgery (see COIN NEWS, Editor’s Comment, November 2008). Now apparently Willings are claiming that as many as 5 per cent, that’s 1 in 20, are “wrong ’uns” and hysteria has once again broken out amongst the media who are claiming that “something must be done” and that with such a huge amount of money in fact not money at all, the country’s economy is in far worse shape than was ever suspected. Of course this is all sensationalism and it will die down very quickly, but numismatically the issue still remains—there are a great number of fake £1 coins out there and something really should be done. Just how many fakes are in circulation will never be known, everyone’s just guessing, it’s the only way. But the fact that a company that specialises in checking coins for car parks and vending machine companies has estimated the number higher than the Royal Mint should come as no surprise. Anyone who has ever held a fake £1 will know they are relatively easy to spot—maybe the obverse/reverse die axis will be wrong, maybe the wrong edge legend will appear, or perhaps the strike will be shallow and indistinct. They are, in short, pretty shoddy with nowhere near the attention to detail given to forged notes. Anyone with knowledge of coins can tell one apart from the real thing, but once they have . . . what do they do with it? To pass a forgery on is an offence. To keep it or throw it away is to lose a pound—so what better way of getting rid of it than trying to put it in a machine! There’s no human interaction, no chance of being embarrassed by having your cash handed back—an easy solution, still illegal, but who’s to know . . . ? Most machines reject them of course, the “electronic signature” being wrong, but other less sophisticated machines that work mainly on weight and diameter may well be fooled. Problem solved. Until that is, the coins are sent to Willings or similar and checked. Suddenly a huge percentage are found to be forgeries and of course the car park or chocolate seller (or whoever) is out of pocket, prices go up and we all suffer. That the fakes go into machines then is no surprise and I truly believe that skews the figures somewhat and I’m more inclined to err on the side of caution. But there is no denying the fact that there are a great number of forgeries out there and what is particularly interesting is people’s attitudes to them. I’m willing to bet that if you were unwittingly in receipt of a forged £20 or even a £10 note which you only spotted later when you weren’t sure who’d given it to you, you probably wouldn’t try to pass it off on your nearest retailer. You probably wouldn’t want to run the risk of that forgery being spotted, of your being quizzed by shop staff or being seen as somehow linked to the counterfeiters. You know that if you’re caught spending fake notes then there are all sorts of potential consequences and I think that what you’ll end up doing is actually cutting your losses and throwing the thing away. Being £20 down is better than being wrongly branded a crook! With £1 coins we have no such qualms, apparently we palm them off quite happily—or, as has been seen, try to fool machines with them, even though deep down we know there’ll be consequences somewhere. We are apparently prepared to put a fake note down to bad luck and curse the fates for our loss but not prepared to do the same for a sum twenty times less! And as long as we don’t do that, the forgers will carry on and our currency will be further debased. However, as I discussed in November the options are somewhat limited—just what do we do with fake £1 coins? We should just throw them away, treating them as worthless junk, but somehow we seem loathe to do so. Well, I have a solution. All you have to do is send them to us! Just stick them in a (padded) envelope, put a stamp on and send them in. We’ll catalogue them for Ken Peters’ study (see COIN NEWS, January 2009, page 16) and then send them on to the Royal Mint for eventual destruction (after they’ve examined them and, hopefully, come up with even more ways to counter them). We can’t reimburse you of course, you will lose your pound (to actually pay to have these taken out of circulation as some are suggesting just plays into the counterfeiter’s hands) but you’ll be doing some good both numismatically and to the economy—and let’s face it Mr Brown can do with all the help he can get right now! So do your bit for Britain and the coin world and send us those fakes—just don’t try to pay for your copy of COIN NEWS with them . . . !
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