New legal tender UK coins
Volume 47, Number 1, January 2010
Opportunity knocks . . . THE Royal Mint’s “new releases” for 2010 circulating coinage, as featured on the front cover this month, have come as something of a surprise. We all knew there would be new coins of course, there always are, but the extent of the new releases has got us at the COIN NEWS office somewhat baffled. The £5 coin—depicting the restoration of the Monarchy and the stylised but rather attractive £2 coin commemorating the centenary of Florence Nightingale’s death were expected—after all, both the larger denominations have traditionally been used to represent Royalty (think Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) and famous people (think Brunel and Guy Fawkes) and these two choices seem admirable enough, however, the introduction of not one but two brand new £1 coins was not expected. After all, it was only just under two years ago that the new “jigsaw” series of circulating coins was introduced so we didn’t think we would see anything else quite so soon. The new coins herald an entirely new £1 coin series, although with a difference—this time the reverse will depict not one “home country”, as was seen with the flora and fauna, bridges or heraldic series, but all four, with symbols for the four capitals being shown all together with one being larger to denote which country is actually being represented. It sounds complicated but really it isn’t—think “all countries are equal but on these coins one is more equal than others” (sorry Mr Orwell!). This is, to our knowledge, the first time a new series has been launched with two coins rather than one and is certainly the first time all four constituent parts of the United Kingdom have been depicted together on a £1 coin (that’s excluding the obvious national symbols of the shield and the coat of arms). At a time when there is more talk than ever about devolution and the break up of the Union, is this the Royal Mint’s way of promoting unity we wonder! More of a surprise than having three £1 coins in circulation in 2010 was the inclusion of a new 50p—this time representing 100 years of the Girl Guides. In itself this is understandable—after all, the Scouts had their Centenary 50p back in 2007 so in the interests of equality, if nothing else, the Guides had to have a look in too. But consider this—March of this year sees the start of the Olympic 50p release, the UK’s very own version of the States Quarters programme so successful on the other side of the pond, with a new 50p representing a different Olympic and Paralympic sport being issued every month between March 2010 and the start of the London Olympics in August 2012. Given that there will therefore be a plethora of new Olympic related 50p designs in our pockets (as well as the standard reverse to complete the jigsaw) it is perhaps odd that the Royal Mint decided to add to the mix by introducing yet another. Do they perhaps believe that the Olympic 50 pences will disappear as quickly as they get released? Hoarded away by those back room collectors who would never consider themselves numismatists and yet avidly collect every commemorative that they get in change? If you don’t believe such people exist, ask yourself this—when was the last time you saw a Brunel £2 coin or a Victoria Cross 50p in your change? They were released into general circulation just like every other coin and yet they, and just about every other commemorative, just seem to disappear. If this is the case and the Mint expect these coins to vanish, then they must believe that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people interested enough to squirrel them away. But if that’s the case then don’t those people, and indeed us “proper” numismatists, deserve to know just what it is we’re collecting? At this stage all we know is that there will be 29 coins each representing a different sport, but we don’t know exactly what sports will be depicted or indeed in what order they will be released. The “Blue Peter” competition winner, nine-year-old Florence Jackson of Bristol, chose the high jump as her theme and we believe that that will be the coin that kicks off the programme but we aren’t certain. Let us hope that by the time March comes around we will know a little more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a return to the “check your change” days when half the population was on the look out for the rarities in their pockets? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the general public eagerly adding to their own fledgling collections every time a new coin hits the streets? I would love to see albums and folders full of these new 50 pences being carried around fairs as the new collectors desperately try to fill in the gaps. I’d love to see the rarer ones being traded at shows or on-line however, unless we know what we’re looking for, the albums and folders can’t be produced, the new collectors will end up confused and the opportunity will be missed. 2010 is a chance for the Royal Mint to re-ignite the public’s interest in coins and collecting. They have already announced how they plan to do it and I do so hope they will live up to expectations. We can only wait and see.
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