East India Company
Volume 47, Number 3, March 2010
Looking to the future . . . THE imminent arrival of the “biggest coin programme since decimalisation” (the Olympic 50 pences) inevitably throws up questions about coins, coin collecting and, more importantly, coin collectors themselves. We all know why the majority of us started—we started way back in the days when there were such things as rare dates, errors, mint marks and die flaws, the days when getting a handful of change elicited great excitement and much poring and sorting. Those were the days when a pocketful of pennies could have included the effigies of five monarchs and when a simple thing like a different date on a coin would have had us jumping for joy. Today’s collectors can only get that joy from buying from dealers, auction houses or on the internet, and the surprises have all disappeared as every coin is catalogued and priced accordingly. Apart from the recent 20p “error” there has been little to excite the average collector in his pocket change since the last of the pre-decimals were phased out, and that has had a fundamental affect on our hobby. Whether we like it or not there are far fewer young collectors now than there were 40 years ago and whilst much of the blame for that can be put at the feet of all the other activities young people can now partake in, some of the responsibility has to lie with the whole decimalisation programme that robbed us of much of the variety that had made our hobby so interesting. With the 50 pence programme—full details of which we will give you as soon as we have them, I promise (we do know the next coin features cycling as the theme and has been designed by Yorkshire teenager Theo Crutchley-Mack, but when it will be issued is still a mystery!)—the Royal Mint hopes to stimulate the collectors once again by giving a new generation a reason to check their change and start sorting through their pockets and purses. Having spoken to the Royal Mint we are assured that there will be collectors packs, folders, etc., etc., made available so that the school children of the 21st century can have as much fun as we did searching for those elusive last few coins to complete the series and, hopefully, this will lead them on to collecting more in the future. The idea behind this programme is not just to get everyone looking out for the latest 50p but rather to get them to appreciate our coins in general—who knows where that may lead! But perhaps it isn’t as simple as that. Perhaps we’ll never get back to the heady days of pre-decimalisation and maybe to hope for such a return is to hope in vain. Whether we like it or not the “younger generation” just are not the same as we were, collecting just doesn’t feature like once it did. Oh, certainly they have their fads: they’ll collect football stickers, pokemon cards (or whatever the latest trend is), but these are flash-in-the-pan, five minute wonders, as quickly forgotten as they were once enthused about. It seems that collecting, OK hoarding, as we knew it, just isn’t part of the 21st century psyche if you are under 30! If that’s the case is the Royal Mint wasting millions on a coin programme that just won’t work or is there hope after all? If you look at the US Quarters programme, the benchmark for any such release as this, you will see that it has actually been phenomenally successful and even though American teenagers are much like our own, when it comes to their leisure habits somehow the US Treasury has done the unthinkable and has actually created new collectors. Will the Royal Mint be able to do the same? There is another possibility of course, one that hasn’t really been considered, and that is the chance that these coins will prove popular not as a series but as individual pieces, with those interested in cycling eager to pick up as many cycling coins as possible, those interested in swimming doing the same for their sport (I am assuming swimming will feature somewhere) and so on, with each new release being eagerly awaited not by the series collectors but rather by those who have a vested interest in the sport depicted. You may think this far fetched but there are mints across the world making vast amounts of money by milking the thematics market, so why should the Royal Mint be any different? Of course, all this is conjecture, we don’t know how successful the programme will be, but one thing is certain, in one way or another it will surprise us all. Collectors in the UK are an odd bunch (yes we are) and there is no accounting for what they’ll do—look at the silver Britannia series for example, originally struck as bullion coinage with no immediate collecting potential but it is proving more and more popular, so much so that we are going to have to add a Britannia section to the next Coin Yearbook! With this in mind I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what we all think the Olympic 50 pence programme will deliver, it will probably do something else entirely. I can’t wait to find out what!
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