A coin of Tipu Sultan
Volume 47, Number 7, July 2010
A golden opportunity OVER the past few months I have speculated that the forthcoming Olympics is the best opportunity the Royal Mint has ever had to take the bull by the horns and get the general public interested in collecting coins, using the promised 50 pence programme to stimulate the market in the same way that the American “States Quarters” programme has been so successful in the US. Things started well and while there was no established launch date or timetable for release, we were treated to views of two of the promised 29 designs and were eager to see the rest, but then nothing else happened. No coins were put into circulation and no more designs were seen. The emphasis of the Royal Mint’s marketing seemed to switch to their 2010 circulating designs and, on the Olympic side, the “commemorative crown” Celebration of Britain series was being pushed, leaving us wondering what was happening to the 50 pences. There was speculation that the number of coins was going to be reduced (it had been thought that the idea was to have 29 coins released at the rate of one a month for 29 months leading up to the Olympics but, as time raced by, that was obviously not going to happen), that the designs weren’t working as a series, that the quality of designs received wasn’t up to the high standards of the Mint, or that not enough sports were represented by the designs submitted, meaning the Mint was having to look “in house” to cover the shortfall. But such speculation was just that, it had no basis in truth whatsoever and I can now, without fear of contradiction, state that it was all totally wrong! Having been fortunate enough to be privy to the designs for the 29 new 50 pence pieces I can now happily report that, while they are all quite different, they do all work together as a series very well and that a large range of Olympic and Paralympic sports are represented—captured by designers who, to my untrained eye, seem to be a nice blend of professional designers/artists and untrained (but obviously gifted) amateurs (the number 29 incidentally is actually the number of different disciplines that will feature in 2012 and nothing to do with a time frame at all). Some of the sports are represented in an obvious and straightforward way, leaving nothing to the imagination, while others have been tackled more subtly but all the designs are artful and tasteful and they all “work”; none jars or offends the sensibilities, they sit nicely together and all have enough gravitas to be worthy of gracing our “coin of the Realm”. All being well, the first of these coins will be released into circulation in the autumn of this year although, as ever, there is always room for manoeuvre on launch dates and nothing is cast in stone. The idea is to launch them in limited numbers, a few designs at a time, across the whole of the UK, thus giving everyone a chance to collect the full series. But I can guarantee that some will miss out! The reason I say this is not because I don’t believe the Royal Mint capable of delivering on such a project, nor because I believe that the banks won’t be able to circulate them as they should, but rather because I truly think that these coins will disappear into collections as soon as they see the light of day. Inevitably, with the range of sports covered in the series, some coins will be more popular than others as aficionados of a particular sport are sure to want to hold on to an example of “their” 50 pence, even if they aren’t interested in the series as a whole. This may result in coins representing some of the less popular Olympic events cropping up in change from time to time. But even then I doubt that you will see many of them in circulation. I am not sure of the exact numbers of each coin that the Mint is planning to release, but I have been assured that they will be “limited” and, such is the appeal of these new coins, that means they will disappear, and quickly. I appreciate that this may all sound a little over the top but, having seen the coins for myself, I really do believe that the Royal Mint has got it right and, just like the Americans, we are soon going to have something in our change that will get people talking, hunting, hoarding. Of course, not every design will appeal—the armchair critics will undoubtedly decry certain depictions of certain sports and there will be those that feel things could have been done differently. That, of course, would be the case no matter what the Mint did, so forgive me if I gloss over those opinions for now and simply say that I like these coins and even if you don’t (and I’m sure there will be one or two you’re not keen on, just as there will be one or two you think controversial and one or two you absolutely love), when you do actually see them you won’t be able to deny that they will serve the purpose that we in the hobby are eager that they should. That purpose is to get the man in the street collecting coins, get him checking through his change and actually noticing these funny little pieces of metal that we seem to have such a fascination for. If he does that, as I think he will, the Royal Mint will have succeeded—and if they go further, as I hope they will in commissioning or producing a range of accessories to complement such a series (folders to keep the coins in, collectors packs, etc.), then we will, I think, see a surge in interest not seen in numismatics for 40 years. After that, I am afraid the rest is up to us as collectors—but more of that in due course!
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