News & Blog

Saved from the sea

Posted on Fri, 20 July 2018 by Karen Needs - Coin News

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Always learning THE discovery of a hitherto unknown variety of 1806 halfpence (see “Discoveries” this month on page 30) begs a rather important question: Are there any more out there like this and if so how many? The ha’penny, discovered in Scotland, has the reverse with a 120° die axis differential rather than the 180° it should be (the correct die axis for this coin is an inverted 180° difference or reverse die axis) meaning that if you hold a correctly minted coin with the king “upright”, Britannia is facing straight down. But on this coin the reverse side is off by 60° from where it should be, so Britannia faces to about 4 o’clock; at a pinch one could perhaps explain how a 180° mismatch might occur, it’s just about possible to see why both dies might be placed the same way up by someone who didn’t know any better but a differential like this cannot be explained logically and would seem to be caused by the same issue that befell certain new issue coins a while back—that the die was moving during the minting process causing a shift in the axis. This hypothesis was backed up by the fact that a number of circulating coins surfaced with varying degrees of “drift”, some showing a 30° difference, some 45° and so on. In this particular case though this is the first ever such 1806 halfpenny seen, or at least recorded, in 212 years and yet if the explanation is as above wouldn’t one expect there to be a whole run of them out there? There are, perhaps, a few possibilities as to why there haven’t been any similar coins to this recorded up until now: 1) when they were first minted nobody noticed and, as they were all put in circulation, they gradually became so used and worn that they simply weren’t picked up by collectors. There were so many halfpennies minted that year (over 87 million) that only the choicest examples would have been held back by numismatists and those that were simply didn’t have this deviation (it can’t really be called an error or even a type) on them; 2) there are no other coins like this, it is a one off, a minting aberration, maybe a test piece of some kind or somebody messing around with the machinery and somehow it got out. Perhaps, it was even made on purpose by a Soho Mint employee who was a collector or knew someone who was; 3) there was a faulty batch where the dies were placed in incorrect alignment or moved as detailed above and when discovered the coins were destroyed but this one somehow escaped and 4) there was small batch minted before the rotating/ misplaced die was discovered and put right but it was too late to stop them leaving the factory floor and they simply haven’t been detected up until now. This happened at the Royal Mint with the mule 20p of 2008, struck without the date, those coins “escaped” before the error was noted and whilst modern media meant that the mistake was discovered within a month or two, back in 1806 they communicated differently so this halfpenny error might not have been spotted by collectors at all. Personally I feel the first possibility doesn’t really work—I cannot believe that there are too many coins like this out there. I am sure one would have turned up by now and even with 87 million halfpennies minted in 1806 somebody would have spotted this deviation had it occurred on numerous coins, and whilst the Georgians didn’t have Facebook, Twitter et al they would have recorded this variety somewhere. The second option holds some water, after all we all know of coins that have been struck on the wrong blanks, coins that officially do not exist and yet we’ve see them—mistakes do happen and it is also possible that security wasn’t quite as stringent in the Midlands in the early 19th century as it is at the Royal Mint today and that there were those willing to risk their jobs to smuggle coins out, and it might be that those coins were not regulation ones. I was once told, by an ex-Royal Mint employee, sadly no longer with us, that in the days before the move to Llantrisant he and his colleagues used to wile away the night shift by striking florins on penny blanks and shillings on ha’pennies, these coins were messed around with just for fun and were simply scrapped at the end of the shift – so who’s to say something similar didn’t happen up in Birmingham at the Soho Mint, only the end result wasn’t scrapped? (Just by the by I don’t actually know if those tales are true so don’t start looking for those night shift coins, I’m just reporting what I was told!). Option three seems possible but the question has to be why was this piece overlooked—if they realised their mistake in time to catch the coins leaving the floor why not this one? Why let one get out? So that leaves possibility number four—my preferred option and one that means that out there somewhere are other 1806 halfpennies with differing degrees of rotation on the axis, hitherto unrecorded examples of “varieties” that simply haven’t been spotted for over two centuries! It is often tempting to think that numismatics has been around for so long that we know all there is to know about the coins in our collections—this find shows how wrong we are and proves that we need to examine our older coins just as diligently as we scour our change for the dateless 20p! Our new “Discoveries” Feature has been included in order to showcase any rarities and anomalies you may discover—if you have something a little different in your collection then let us know about it, we’d love to feature it in the next “Discoveries”! And certainly let us know is you find a rotated 1806 halfpenny—this one goes on sale at DNW in September.