The many faces of Britannia
Volume 59, Number 7, July 2022
The search is on THIS coming month we launch our latest edition of Spend it? Save It?, your guide to the coins in your pocket. This will be the third edition of the book that covers only UK decimal coins (we have left in the old half pence coins and the “round pounds” because we appreciate people still want to know about them so we can’t exactly call it a guide to circulating coinage) and, to be honest, we never thought it would get to press. Not because of “Covid” (the catch-all excuse for anyone not willing to provide a decent service these days) but rather because whilst there has been a huge number of new releases (mainly 50p coins) since the last book in 2019 most of those have actually been issued in collector packs and not for circulation, thus they aren’t, or shouldn’t, ever be “coins in your pocket”. Most of these 50p coins have been struck in a variety of precious metals, some have had colour added, etc. and needless to say these really won’t ever turn up in change. However, they have also been issued in “Brilliant Uncirculated”(BU), in other words in base metal, and it is these coins that are covered in the new book. But why? Why, if they are issued only for collectors and only in special packs or sets would we bother to include them in a book about coins that is aimed at people picking coins out of their change? The answer is simple— human nature! The simple fact is that whilst the BU coins are issued in packs, and at a higher price than face value, they don’t always stay in those packs. Over time, for whatever reason, those packs get broken down and the coins get out into circulation. You may wonder why, if the packs originally cost more than the coins they contain, would anyone break them down? Well that one is simple, little Jimmy gets a nice set from Auntie Jenny at Christmas, he’s 10, he has no real interest in coins but he does have an interest in Pokemon cards. A friend of his, Jonny, has a rare card for sale, so what does Jimmy do? He knows he’s not likely to see Auntie Jenny for ages, wants the card really badly, but hasn’t got the ready cash to hand—so he breaks into his Christmas present pack and adds the money contained therein to the contents of his piggy bank and voila the rare card is his! Jonny has no idea that the Jane Austen £2 he’s just received from Jimmy is worth more than face value as it was a set-only issue, so he spends it (the shopkeeper doesn’t realise its value either) and so the coin is now in circulation for someone who knows a little bit more than Jonny or Jimmy or the shopkeeper to pick up—if only they’d seen Spend it? Save it?. On other occasions the packs may come from a deceased estate where a collector has been diligently buying Royal Mint sets for years but his next of kin know nothing about coins. They don’t know how to dispose of them as sets but do know there’s real cash in each one and so, again they get broken down. Admittedly this isn’t as common as the Jimmys of this world breaking into their Christmas sets to buy Pokemon cards but it does happen. And to be honest we are rather glad it does! After all, if such things didn’t occur then the only coins we’d be looking out for in our change right now are the “dateless” 20p or the Kew Gardens 50p—everything else would have been issued in their millions. Thanks to people not knowing exactly what they have, we are also on the lookout for the error 2p from the early 80s, the “drowning swimmer”, the early dated Athletics coin and a raft of other new issues that were, originally, “set-only” issues. Everything from the aforementioned Jane Austen £2 to the Stephen Hawking 50p. Certainly none of the recent issues are going to make you rich (the error 2p and the drowning swimmer will certainly make you richer but no-one is retiring off the back of any modern coin I’m afraid) but that isn’t the point. As collectors it isn’t only the financial rewards we are hoping for when we scan our change, it’s the thrill of the hunt that is equally, if not more important. We can all go out and buy any of the coins issued, none were issued in such small numbers that they are impossible to find if the price is right, even Kew Gardens, the lowest issue for some years, is available and there is nothing wrong with buying those coins if you need one for your collection (indeed I recommend doing just that rather than leaving a gap, it’ll eat away at you, you know it will!) but nothing will top the feeling of being given a handful of change and spotting a rarity. There’s nothing like it for a collector, it’s why we get into this in the first place, but in order to feel that way you need to know what those rarities are—hence the third Spend it? Save It?. Let’s just hope little Jimmy doesn’t buy a copy—he’ll never break down a set again. Happy hunting!
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