Coin News

Volume 54, Number 3, March 2017

The New One Pound

Volume 54, Number 3, March 2017

Twelve sides to the story FOR the first time since 1997 the United Kingdom has a brand new coin—admittedly the denomination is a familiar one so it could be argued that this is just a redesign rather than anything as radical as the £2 or the 20p were, but whilst that is strictly true I think we can all say that the new £1 is, to all intents and purposes, a brand new coin. It certainly looks new, the first thing you notice about it is the twelve sides, an echo to the beloved brass “thrift” thrupenny bit for sure but in this decimal age unusual (as an aside it’s actually minted on a round blank not a twelve sided one, it’s the pressure of the minting process that gives it the sides as well as the design) and of course it is bi-metallic. The whole “two metals” things isn’t as radical today as it was 20 years ago of course, especially as those of us who travel to Europe see it on the 1 and 2 Euro coins (as another aside I wonder why the Royal Mint didn’t swap the colours around this time with a silver outer and gold inner—that’s what they do with the Euros and it seems to make sense) but it is definitely a move away from what went before when you look closely at it you’ll see there is far more to it than just a new shape and two colours. One of the reasons behind this new coin was the proliferation of fake £1 coins in the UK today—supposedly one in 30 £1 coins in circulation are fake and whilst 3 per cent doesn’t sound that much, it equates to nearly £50 million—a sizeable chunk of change and an issue that needed addressing. The problem was that the old £1 was fairly easy to fake, it was just a “lump” of metal and crude imitations could be made in lead and then coloured gold, they didn’t fool the trained eye, or indeed anyone who bothered to look closely, but most of us didn’t, we only discovered we had a fake when someone else pointed it out or we tried to use it in a parking meter (and didn’t that always happen when you had no other change on you at all?) and so the forgers were able to get away with it to an astonishing degree—as the media was often fond of reminding us. For the past few years the Royal Mint has come under increasing pressure to do something about the problem of counterfeits and this—the new £1 coin—is the answer. Beyond the new shape and appearance are a host of new security features that will, the Mint hopes, deter the forgers for good. The new features are both obvious and more covert, with the former including a new “latent” image (hidden in a shield design a £ turns to a 1 when the coin is tilted in certain light) and micro lettering around the inner rim. The covert features include a strong electro-magnetic signature to help identify the coins electronically for vending machines, parking meters et al—not something you would think necessary to deter forgers per se but if the coins can’t be used in all the places they are meant to be used then the market for them soon drops off, apparently nearly half of the current fakes out there are good enough to fool machines and the new “signature strength” aims to combat this. Whether these features make a major difference to the amount of counterfeit coins out there remains to be seen—after all the £2 coin is being faked already so it is surely only a matter of time before we see the first of the twelve-sided fakes but that’s not really the point. For as long as there has been coinage there has been counterfeiting and no matter what the Royal Mint does someone will, eventually, copy them. There’s nothing the Mint, or anyone else, can do to stop these people, all they can do is slow them down a little—thankfully the way that has been found to do that is rather aesthetically pleasing. Undoubtedly the new coin will have its detractors, I’ve yet to see a coin launch where someone in the press isn’t moaning about something and already there are those complaining that gym lockers and shopping carts, etc., won’t take the new coins (easily solved, take an old round pound with you!). But I for one rather like it and hope it will deter the counterfeiters enough to be around for a while. Of course, when there was the death penalty for those caught forging money such radical changes to the coinage weren’t always necessary—just saying!

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