A British Rarity
Volume 56, Number 5, May 2019
One of a kind BACK in February the COIN NEWS team attended the Irish International Show in Dublin and had the privilege to handle (carefully of course) the unique 1952 penny pictured on this month’s front cover and which is now due to come up for auction at Baldwin’s of St James’s on June 12. The ’52 penny really is one of a kind; it isn’t “almost unique” (don’t you hate that term?) nor is it just rare, scarce or any other synonym you care to use—it is properly, absolutely and completely a one off. There are other unique coins of course, or at least examples where only one is known, and there are also some exceedingly rare coins whose numbers can be counted in single figures. In most cases these true rarities are either ones that have “escaped” after the majority of the mintage was melted down (as in the case of the Edward III Double Leopard, the 1945 silver threepence or the 1933 American Double Eagle); were very, very low mintages on purpose (as in the case of the 1933 penny where certainly less than ten, probably only seven, were ever struck or the Coenwulf gold Mancus that was quite possibly a one-off votive coin), or patterns and test coins that managed to find their way out of the mint and never made it back again (as in the case of the 1954 penny or the various Edward VIII coins we know about). There are other “rarities” too of course, these are usually coins that bear small inscription varieties or errors, struck on dies that were only used to mint a small number of coins before the error was noticed or the die decommissioned. The trouble with these “rarities” is we often don’t know how many were minted or how many survive. This is either because those who made the error didn’t necessarily want it recorded or because the variety was only discovered long after the coin was first struck and no record of how many coins were minted using that particular die was ever kept. We only consider that such coins are rare because they don’t come up for sale very often! Modern day examples of this type of rarity would be the “drowning” swimmer on the 2012 Olympic Aquatics 50p, the 1983 2p “new” pence mule or the dateless shield back 20p struck in 2008. The only modern circulating “rarity” we have other than these is the Kew Gardens 50p where we know only 210,000 were struck; these are scarcer than standard 50p pieces certainly, but hardly a true rarity as numismatists would understand the term. As far as I am aware there haven’t been any modern mintages in single figures nor whole mintages recalled and melted down—that said does anybody know if any of the Brexit 50p coins bearing the March 29, 2019 date were ever minted? Now that WOULD be interesting if one of those ever escaped . . . ! The 1952 penny doesn’t fit in to any of the above categories; it really is a coin that shouldn’t exist. In the case of most very rare or unique coins we usually know the stories behind them, we know why the 1933 Double Eagle is so sought after (apropos of nothing if you want to read a good yarn then I recommend Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry, it features not one but two 1933 Double Eagles used as part of a FBI plot to kill Martin Luther King Jnr!); we know why the 1933 penny is so rare; we understand why the Edward VIII coins “escaped” and we understand why one 1945 silver threepence exists, but the 1952 penny? Well that shouldn’t be here at all. It isn’t a coin that was struck as a pattern, it wasn’t used to test vending machines nor was it minted in numbers and then recalled, no, this is a coin that was never officially minted and therefore simply shouldn’t be. But it is, I’ve held it, I photographed it. It is a real penny not a fantasy piece but a bona fide Royal Mint penny, but one that we don’t know anything about. There is conjecture, of course, and theories abound as to how this penny came to leave the Mint, but whatever the truth there is no doubt that it is coins such as this that make numismatics so interesting. Yes, I am aware that few of us will ever get a chance to own such a rarity, that the coins worth hundreds of thousands of pounds or more are way beyond the means of most of us but that doesn’t make them any less interesting or less fun to be around should we be fortunate enough to see them on a dealer’s table, in an auction or in a museum. It’s the same with cars—we might know we are never going to own a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce or that Aston Martin DB5 that James Bond drove, but that doesn’t stop us gawking at them and hoping for that lottery win. Dreaming never hurt anybody—so here’s to our numbers coming up!
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