Story of a hoard
Volume 50, Number 12, December 2013
Statistically speaking A RECENT press release from the Royal Mint revealed some rather worrying facts about our Great British coinage, or at least some worrying facts about the Great British public who use it. According to research commissioned by the Mint some 48 per cent of people have no idea that there are eight different denominations in circulation and a staggering 68 per cent couldn’t say what was on the current 1p coin. Worse is the fact that 17 per cent (that’s over 10 million people nationally) weren’t aware that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth featured on the obverse of our coins with 4 per cent believing it was Queen Victoria and 3 per cent opting for Margaret Thatcher! Of those who were aware that it was our present Queen on the “heads” side, 13 per cent thought that the image had been designed by Damien Hirst whilst 11 per cent opted for Tracey Emin. To try to counter this, and on the back of the success of the Olympic 50p programme last year I have no doubt, the Royal Mint have produced a number of collector albums to try to get people to handle, collect and thus appreciate coins in a different way—it seems they may have their work cut out, especially as 13 per cent of those polled don’t even know the Royal Mint make our coins, opting instead for the Bank of England! To some, these findings will come as a shock, they will look at the statistics and think one of two things: either that the Royal Mint has failed to make an impression on the public with its products or that an awful lot of the people using those products aren’t actually all that bright! The fact that some people, apparently, think that Queen Victoria is on our coinage is pretty unforgiveable—you have to be from Mars to not realise who is on the British throne in 2013 (and has been for 60 years) so I’m happy to accept that actually 17 per cent of the people polled either weren’t British, weren’t really that intelligent or they were mucking around (always a danger in any poll). However, the fact that nearly half of the people questioned didn’t know there were eight denominations is a little more worrying. After all, these coins are all out there every day (the survey only looked at circulating coins so the £5 commemorative and the new £20 were not considered) and every one of us would have used every denomination at some point no matter how much we rely on plastic for purchases, those 48 per cent really should be ashamed of themselves and I am afraid no amount of education is going to make any difference! As for the not knowing the design on the 1p, well actually I think that is forgivable—without looking, right now, ask yourself if you know, and do you know what is on the other coins? Sure, you know seven of them make up the Shield of Arms but do you know which bit of the shield is featured on which coin? Possibly not. I know I have to think hard about it, so the fact that over two thirds of others don’t have a clue isn’t so much of a problem (this is assuming they wanted the exact design rather than somebody simply saying “a bit of the shield”). As to the designer of the obverse effigy, well again I think that not knowing that is OK—after all, if you don’t have an interest in numismatics then what does it matter who designed the obverse, or the reverse come to that, of any given coin? It doesn’t really and I think I’m safe in saying that throughout history few people have really bothered with who created the coins in their pockets and purses. All they really wanted to know is “are they real?” and “can I spend them?”. Beyond that there’s no real need to know much more unless it’s a real passion of yours. And even if it is a passion, as it is with us collectors, knowledge only goes so far. I may know that Ian Rank-Broadley designed the obverse and Matthew Dent the reverse of the “standard” coins, but I am afraid I have little or no idea who designed many of the others out there in circulation. I know at the time the coin is first released of course, after all I read COIN NEWS, but I must confess it isn’t something I remember so I am not surprised the general public don’t know much about the designs on the coins or their designers. I’m just thankful some of them named artists who are both alive and British—I had half expected Leonardo Da Vinci or Rembrandt to pop up in the answers! So whilst I applaud the Royal Mint for undertaking this research and wish them well in their push to encourage the public to know more about coins, I can’t help but feel that with at least 17 per cent of them they are wasting their time (Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher indeed…!) and with the others, well, does it really matter? Far better, I feel to encourage people to collect coins because they are attractive, miniature works of art that, in some cases, particularly the 50p and £2, tell a story too. Get them to collect the varieties, the different dates and designs; get them interested in them as objects first, then you’ll find, in time that they want to learn more about who designed them, become more interested in what they are and everything else there is to know. Although having looked at some of the figures from the research I do worry that it may be a long process, especially as 4 per cent of the people polled apparently don’t even seem to know which century we are in!
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