Volume 59, Number 4, April 2022
Heads I win FOR as long as there have been coins there have been copies of coins. Usually those doing the copying were doing so for nefarious reasons—they were counterfeiters trying to pass off their inferior product as real. The penalty for such actions was always harsh, ranging from death through to mutilation (usually the loss of a hand). In the 14th century counterfeiting in England was formerly classified as “High Treason” and the punishment was death by hanging. Even in these more enlightened times forgers are still dealt with severely, with stiff prison sentences handed down to those who are caught. Of course, the definition of counterfeiting is very specific—it’s the making of a coin with the intention of passing it off as genuine. This definition, with the inclusion of “intent to deceive”, has allowed copies of coins to be produced without censure and they have, in the past, proved a godsend to collectors who quite simply cannot complete their collection without them. Usually, such copies differ from the original in some way. Either they will have a mintmark or even the word “Copy” on them somewhere, will be made of a different material to the original, will be a different size or the design will differ in some significant way. This allows the collector or archivist to hold a representation of the original without worrying overmuch that someone else might one day pass it off as the real thing. Naturally, because these copies aren’t “real”, they aren’t as eagerly sought after, nor do they have the same value as the actual coin and occasionally they are shunned by collectors who feel that they could, at some point, be used to deceive, even with the differences mentioned above. The argument being that seasoned numismatists might know what these differences are, but beginners might not and thus might be fooled into thinking the item real. Recently though, a new phenomenon has arisen and it seems that far from shunning it, collectors are embracing it enthusiastically—it’s the making of modern versions of old coins. These items aren’t direct “copies” per se. If they were, they would have to have the obverse showing the portrait of the monarch who was reigning at the time the original coin was struck. If not, that would mean they couldn’t be legal tender and thus would be classed simply as medallions. No, these are coins that are legal tender (although obviously struck as commemoratives, not circulating coins) and they duly have Her Majesty’s effigy on the obverse but the reverse shows a coin from the past. The Royal Mint and others (the Commonwealth Mint springs to mind immediately) have produced versions of Una and the Lion, of the Three Graces and, I believe, of the Gothic Crown too and now the Royal Mint is going further by minting coins not just with famous reverses by well-known engravers, but with their reverses depicting obverses from the past (yes, I know I’m confused now too). Essentially what we are getting in this new series is legal tender coins with the obverse showing the head of Queen Elizabeth II and the reverse depicting one of her predecessors, as that predecessor was depicted on the obverse of his or her coinage. 21 coins are planned in all and at the time of going to press the first in the series, that showing Henry VII’s coinage bust and legend, has sold out completely in silver and the gold versions will undoubtedly follow suit. As there is not, at this stage, a base metal version of these coins, it could be argued that they are being bought for their precious metal content. But when you look at the price of them (£95 for an ounce of silver and £2,505 for an ounce of gold) and also see that the Royal Mint has plenty of other silver and gold coins for sale at cheaper prices, you realise that isn’t the case at all and these are being purchased for their aesthetic as much as their monetary value. This has certainly been true with the famous reverses that have been offered on recent modern coins; with the versions of Una and the Lion that have been made available over the past couple of years being snapped up immediately—they are now changing hands on the secondary market for a considerable premium. That these “replica” coins are beautiful is not in doubt, the ones I’ve seen faithfully reproduce the original work of the engraver and, of course, with an Una and the Lion or a Three Graces being beyond the pocket of almost all of us, maybe owning one of the modern versions is all we can hope for, but will they appeal to the purist? No, of course not, but then they aren’t intended for that market. These are new issue coins and those collectors who shy away from new issues will steer clear of these too and that’s OK. What may happen, however, is those who are avowed new issue collectors who wouldn’t normally think about collecting older coins may look at these “copies” and see just how beautiful the coinage of the past was, and who knows what that will do to their collecting habits! I must confess that I’m hoping the Royal Mint will bring out a base metal version of the next in the “Monarchs” series (Henry VIII). If they do, I’ll be first in the queue, if for no other reason that I can win a fortune playing “heads or tails”. I just have to remember to call heads!
Order Back Issue
You can order this item as a back issue, simply click the button below to add it to your shopping basket.