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Record breaker

Posted on Tue, 24 May 2011 by Phil Mussell - Coin News

Stretching the limits?

AT COIN NEWS we pride ourselves on being reasonably broad in our Editorial stance—yes, we have to cover the coins that fetch over £3 million at auction, to ignore them would be silly, but we also try to ensure that we include a range of stories, features and articles on items from across the numismatic spectrum. This month, however, there was one coin-related story that we feel is stretching the bounds a little too far. It seems that a coin has been issued on behalf of the British Virgin Islands, to commemorate the 475th anniversary of the death of Anne Boleyn . . . ! Now the mints have always been known for their diverse offerings and just about every other conceivable theme has been tried and many have proved extremely popular and have become part of numismatic folklore. However, I cannot help but think this is stretching the thematic genre just a tad. Collecting along a theme has always been popular, we know that; people who would never consider themselves “coin collectors” per se would happily buy coins featuring cats, cars, fairies, rabbits, Royals, sports, etc., etc., just because that is what they are “in to”. They are the people who have the flower fairy lampshades or the cat tea towels, the Beswick figures, the commemorative mugs and all the other paraphernalia of their chosen topic and whilst we will never see them at coin shows they are as every bit a legitimate collector as someone collecting a date series of shillings or a collector accumulating as many coins from the reigns of the adoptive Emperors as he can.

The “Royalty theme” which this new BVI coin is obviously designed to fit in is, clearly, a popular one too—Royal coins have always sold well and the sight of a million people lining the streets of London to be part of the recent Royal Wedding and the news that nearly two billion watched it on television, shows that the public’s appetite for all things Royal seems undiminished. But I do feel that when 475th anniversaries of deaths are commemorated, then the theme is being stretched a little thin. It isn’t only this issue of course: the Royal Mint celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of the Victorian era back in 2001, the 450th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth I in 2008 and in 2009 came the 500th anniversary of the accession of her father Henry VIII! One could argue that perhaps 100, 450 and 500 are more significant milestones than 475, thus giving the Royal Mint coins slightly more weight (after all where do you stop? 455 years since this, 360 years since that, 211 years since the other), but that isn’t really the point. What is important is whether or not this is a road the coin producers should be going down at all. Don’t get me wrong, I really do believe thematics has a genuine place in this hobby and there will always be a steady stream of such coins coming from the mints of the world, but I do think that when the subjects start getting a little obscure, the links to the main theme a little tenuous and the anniversaries a little less obvious, then perhaps it is time to look again at what is being produced.

But then what do I know? The good people at the various mints aren’t stupid, they know their market and must believe such coins as these will sell, but I would still like to sound a note of caution. A theme can only be stretched so far. People only have so much money to spend and I do hope that we won’t start going down the route of the car manufacturers who, having run out of niches to fill, have started creating their own, with cars noone ever thought they’d want or need!

Every year is an anniversary of something or other and the marketing departments at the mints could, if they so wished, create a hundred coins every year for any theme they wanted: coins commemorating the start of this thing, the death of that person, the invention of that gizmo, the marriage of that couple and so on—and such coins would sell, just as these quirky new cars have. But just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should come to pass and I for one hope that, whilst we will continue to give you as much COIN NEWS as possible from across the spectrum, the spectrum itself doesn’t become too broad. “60th anniversary of the electric toothbrush” piedfort crown anyone?