The Turin Shroud
Volume 55, Number 12, December 2018
It’s just a coin… SO after months of speculation the Treasury announced, on Monday, October 29, as part of the Budget report, that there was to be a “Brexit” coin. Apparently a 50p piece will be minted next year to commemorate/celebrate/mourn (depending on your viewpoint) our breaking away from the binding shackles/warm bosom of the EU. The coin will feature the date of Brexit, March 29, 2019 alongside the phrase “Peace, Prosperity and Friendship with all nations” and, as might be imagined, it hasn’t gone down well in some quarters. Either because the idea that the split with the EU should be celebrated in any way or because the actual date is on the coin (leaving little room for manoeuvre it would seem) the remain camp have not taken kindly to the announcement of the coin, with social media going into meltdown. Comments on Twitter, for example, have ranged from the questioning to the outraged with some insisting they’d give the coin back or throw it away were they to receive one in change, whilst others stating that they would rather do away with British coinage altogether and would rather have the Euro instead. Even the “leave” camp have been a little perplexed by the decision, and the design, with comments seeming to suggest that a more iconic British symbol should have been chosen. That there is to be a coin at all has been questioned more than once but shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, as we pointed out in COIN NEWS (July 2018), coins have been used to mark political milestones since the time of the Romans with the most famous probably being the Unite of James I, a coin brazenly produced as a propaganda piece to celebrate the Union of the two thrones of England and Scotland. Of course, social media didn’t exist in the 17th century and as such that new coin wasn’t greeted by Twitter outrage, or Facebook meltdown and the fact that few of the “men in the street” were ever going to see a gold unite probably ensured that talk of the new coin was restricted to those members of society whose thoughts on the matter were very much influenced by the fact that to criticise the King’s lovely shiny new propaganda piece wasn’t going to be a great career move. Today things are different, everyone has an opinion and everyone has an outlet for that opinion to be heard, and as such the reaction to the coin was inevitable. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the referendum it is a fact that over 16 million people didn’t want to leave the EU and as such there were going to be at least 16 million people who weren’t going to like this coin from the off, no matter what the design. You then add into the mix some of those on the other side who wanted the new coin to be unashamedly British and thus were disappointed in what they see as something insipid and uninspiring, and you are looking at an awful lot of people who aren’t happy. And that in itself is something very interesting to us collectors. Every day we are being told how cash is on its way out, how electronic payments, contactless cards, even crypto currency are all taking over and how coins and notes are becoming increasingly irrelevant. This being the case why on earth are people so worried about the new coin? If none of us are going to be using coins in a few years why does this one create such strong feelings? The fact is coins always do, and that is why they have been used as propaganda tools for years. The Romans in particular would produce a coin to celebrate a victory in battle, or a usurper would strike a coin to give legitimacy to his claim to be emperor. Edward III’s noble saw the King aboard a ship, an undoubted allusion to the defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of Sluys in 1340. After James had produced the Unite there came the Laurel, an attempt by the king to position himself as the new Augustus, the man who had united the Roman Empire. Victoria styled herself as Empress of India and Ind: Imp appeared on coins until the reign of George VI. The designs of the Euro coin are, as I am sure you will have noted, all unashamedly nationalistic in their subject matter—the notes may be generic but a Greek Euro is still very Greek, a German Euro very German. One would have assumed that a single currency would have been subject to a single design but anyone who knows of the issues surrounding the release of the coins will know that is certainly not true. Overstruck coins have also been used to get political messages across too—with examples of marked coins extolling “Votes for Women” and those defaced by both sides during the Troubles in Northern Ireland being perhaps the most famous. Whatever people eager for a cashless society may say, coins are still very important, they stir up feelings across the board and so the reaction to this new coin should come as no surprise to anyone, even if the fact that there is a coin at all does. Those outside the hobby may think it is “just a coin” but those of us who notice such things know it is far, far more.
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