Penny Black Coin
Volume 52, Number 6, June 2015
The start of something new THIS month’s cover story is all about the 25th anniversary of the world’s first “coloured” coin—Pobjoy Mint’s innovation to celebrate 150 years of the Penny Black stamp. This won the coveted Coin of the Year (COTY) award in 1992 for “Best Crown” and “Most Innovative Coin”, as well as the coveted “Overall Coin of the Year” and was followed by a “tuppenny blue” commemorative shortly afterwards. Suddenly coloured coins were everywhere and they still remain popular today. Back in 1990 there was any colour you wanted “as long as it was black”—and it was a straightforward coating over the whole coin. Today there is a full range of colours available and the most intricate of designs can be picked out. Pad printing and ink jet techniques will allow either a full coin to be covered or individual aspects of a design to be highlighted and coloured coins are everywhere—perennially popular amongst “commemorative” collectors but with an appeal that stretches beyond the world of numismatics. The appeal of coloured coins takes them away from the traditional coin collector into a whole new market-place; there are coins with birds on, cars on, paintings on, ships on, battle scenes on, flags on, Dr Who and Star Trek on and so much more besides. Just about every theme possible has been rendered in colour on a coin at some point and that has meant that people interested in birds, paintings, ships, Dr Who, Star Trek et al are suddenly potential buyers and, whilst traditional numismatists may frown on such frippery, there is no hiding the fact that such innovation has broadened the appeal of coins with people hitherto unimpressed by our beloved metal discs now ardent buyers, albeit because they have pretty colours on them! Of course, the innovation hasn’t stopped with colour and a quick look at the New Issues page each month (particularly when there is a universal occasion to celebrate such as the Chinese Lunar New Year) will show you just what is on offer to the discerning commemorative collector these days. We have shaped coins, coins with filigree cut outs, hologram coins and out there somewhere there’s even a coin with a light in it that lights up when the collector’s fingers complete a circuit. Over the past 25 years the mints of the world have done their best to outdo each other in the innovation stakes, coming out with bolder and brighter ideas in the hope of being the “next big thing”. One can only speculate what is coming next—with modern technology moving at such a fast pace that it wouldn’t surprise me to find a walking coin that followed you around like a pet highlighted at a Berlin show one day! I jest of course, but there is no doubt that as the years pass coins will get wilder and wackier—you only have to look at the Krause book on “Unusual World Coins” to see that everyone is getting in on the act and they are doing so because there’s money in it. These coins sell, and sell well. Now the purists amongst you, if you haven’t already given up reading this in disgust and disdain, will, I am sure, point out that these aren’t “proper” coins and are rather more akin to the medallions of the 19th century with their innovative metals and variants than coins designed as tokens of monetary exchange; and you’re right of course. These “innovations” aren’t designed to produce coins that will be spent—they are for a very specific segment of a large market and, as mentioned, for markets far beyond our own too. But consider this: all the crazy ideas that are out there are similar, perhaps, to the high fashion we see parading down the cat-walks, draped across the willowy figures of the supermodels or the concept cars we ooh and aah over at motor shows. Such clothes are not designed for wear, such cars are not meant to be driven—they are there to showcase the designers’ art and once that has been done some elements will find their way into the garments we wear and the vehicles we drive. Think of “unusual” coins as testers, with the mints showing us what they can do whilst at the same time working on new techniques which will, eventually, make their way, subtly altered and toned down, onto our circulating coinage. And if that doesn’t convince you think on this: out there somewhere, right now, is someone buying a coloured or shaped coin because he likes it. He’s not a coin collector, but the coin he’s buying appeals because of his other hobbies. He buys another and another and soon he finds he’s as interested in coins as he was in cars or birds or whatever and a new collector joins the ranks of the “proper” numismatists. Without that first purchase of a coin bought because he liked it he would never have known the joys of “real” coin collecting and for that reason if for nothing else the “innovations” should always have a place in our hobby.
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