‘What a coin!’ indeed… This beautifully preserved 20 franc coin from the reign of Louis XVIII is in a capsule, boxed, graded and certified with a potted history of why it’s so special.
Amazingly, this rare coin was actually minted in London by our own Royal Mint. Used by the British army to pay their troops in France who had been fighting Napoleon’s army until 1815, it caused consternation among the French equivalent of our Royal Mint. In all, some 871,581 such coins were struck but many were smelted for their gold content. Such a coin can be identified by the profile of the French King on the obverse with the crowned arms on the reverse inside a wreath. On the same side we can see the ‘R’ mintmark for the Royal Mint.
Manufactured at the Salvation Army’s Spa Road Centre in London, these tokens were distributed to all the men’s social work centres around Britain. Stamped with ‘F’ and ‘S’ (for Food and Shelter), they were designed to be given out to those in most need – often in return for a chore or small service. They could then be exchanged for provisions or a roof for the night at any of their branches. Such a system allowed the organisation to ensure that their resources weren’t over allocated.
They are still waging war on poverty over a century and a half after William Booth, a Methodist preacher, first began his ministry in the East End of London. It can trace its origin to the Blind Beggar pub, still present on Whitechapel Road, and more recently notorious as the spot where Ronnie Kray murdered George Cornell. More happily, it enjoys the distinction of being the site where the first modern Brown Ale was brewed!
It might be the chance find of an old Victorian penny at home but once the numismatics bug bites, it never ends there. And just like old librarians, old coins are often more valuable than they appear at face value. As we’ve covered on this blog before, there’s always the chance that something worth far, far more than its face value crops up in your change – although with electronic money becoming the norm these days that’s becoming increasingly unlikely!
What you can be sure of is a ready source of advice, expertise and more coins(!) at the country’s only weekly collectors’ fair. Our dealers are always keen to help and have some real rarities among their stock. So why not come on down this Saturday – you never know what you might find!
The introduction of new coins or banknotes usually excites a lot of public and media interest but have you ever wondered about the first coin produced? While we know that various early people were bartering for things they prized at least 40,000 years ago, currency as a representation of inherent value is more difficult to pin down. We do know that some natural objects were used in this way, like mother of pearl shells in the Americas or cowry shells (pictured) in many parts of Africa and Southern Asia. In 1892, in Tanzania, an egg cost between 3 and 5 cowry shells while two balls of soap cost 100.
Yet the first named currency is the Mesopotamian shekel which dates from about 5,000 years ago. Yet we do not have any physical examples until the shekel was first minted in the seventh century BCE. As it stands, the earliest example we have is the Lydian Lion (on display in the British Museum right here in London). Made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, it is stamped on one side only and believed to have been worth about one month’s pay.
The Bank of England was founded in 1694. Over the following century more than 100 provincial banks were established, creating a treasure trove of collectables for the modern notaphilist.
The Newcastle Bank, the Whitehaven Joint Stock Bank, the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank and the Leeds Old Bank are just a few of these. The flowing lines, subtle shading and fine script is a testament to the considerable financial power they once bore. Their relatively high denominations at the time meant that many people in the eighteenth – and even early nineteenth – century might never see a banknote their whole lives.
Prices inevitably reflect rarity and condition. As an example, a £5 note featuring York Minster and issued by Leyburn Bank for the York City & County Banking Company Limited in April 1899 came to auction in 2021. The note was one of the last examples issued by an English provincial bank and sold for £1,984.
The Royal Mint has been commissioned by a private collector to make a unique coin commemorating Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. It is the largest coin produced by the Royal Mint in its 1,100 year history. But with a weight of 15 kilos and a face value of £15,000, it’s unlikely you’ll see it in your change at the newsagents.
It took 400 hours to make and it’s very hard to put a figure on its real value because there is simply nothing else like it. The front depicts the royal insignia surrounded by symbols of the four home nations while the reverse shows the queen on horseback.
Imagine if you didn’t spend any of the change you received in coins. Instead you put it into a ‘sovereign’ size champagne bottle holding 25 litres (equivalent to 33 standard bottles). It takes you five years but in the end you do fill it up. How much money have you saved?
While the answer might be slightly different if you’re using UK currency, one Austrian user of the social media platform, Reddit, has given us a guide. He photographed his haul and invited others to guess the total value of all the euro, two euro and various cents he’d amassed. Their estimates varied between €430 and €2,500 were way off. The actual amount was roughly €7,000 or £5,900.
This is partly because several coins are worth more than face value. A number are special commemorative coins and others (from the Vatican City State or San Marino) are comparatively rare.
A chance to cash in on the cashless society? Possibly. You might need to save up for that 25 litre champagne bottle first…
It would be a terrible omission to mention collecting banknotes (as we did on last week’s blog) without a follow up post one of the most collectable aspects of notaphily: serial numbers. Significant sums have changed hands for the rights to own notes which are considered to bear statistically significant numbers. Take the example of the (then new) £10 note issued in 2017 featuring Jane Austen. Because one eagle eyed opportunist spotted that the serial number began AH (a rare prefix) and contained 1775, the year of Austen’s birth. It sold on Ebay for £3,600.
Several online articles appeared in the wake of the sale, speculating that serial numbers containing the exact date of her birth or death might also fetch “thousands”. Readers were also advised to be on the lookout for notes featuring the prefixes JA01 and JA75 but reports of how much money could be made were certainly exaggerated and haven’t been borne out by events.
It’s generally accepted that sound advice is to watch out for the lowest serial number for any new note. There is a queue since convention dictates that number AA01 000001 is always given to the Queen and the next few are often distributed to the heir apparent and leading figures in the government. However, any number below 200 could fetch good money at auction so it’s almost worth seeing every banknote as a potential lottery ticket. Good luck!
It was six years ago that Her Majesty became the longest serving British monarch, overtaking her illustrious great-great grandmother Victoria. Of course, since then she has been gloriously breaking her own personal best on a daily basis.
She will celebrate her next regal landmark in a month’s time. Although she wouldn’t be crowned until 2 June 1953, she became the British Head of State de facto on the death of her father, George VI. On 6 February this year, she will therefore have been our queen for a full seventy years.
At a time when any number of commercial brands are trumpeting about their own anniversaries (World Nutella Day anyone?), it is reassuring to know that we can still rely on the Royal Mint to focus on matters of substance.
And so we have this series of really stunning new coins to mark her Platinum Jubilee year. Available through the Royal Mint’s own website, they include what is, perhaps surprisingly, the first fifty pence coin celebrating a royal event. This year’s annual set also includes fitting tributes to Dame Vera Lynn, Alexander Graham Bell and this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
It’s just possible that the shrapnel at the bottom of your wallet, pocket or purse could be hiding a small windfall. If there’s a 2p coin in there from the year 1983 with the words ‘New Pence’ on the other side then put it someone you won’t spend it. While there aren’t many still around, prices regularly exceed £400 – more depending on the condition. That’s because the Royal Mint had inscribed all 2p coins with the words ‘New Pence’ until 1981. It was decided that this should subsequently become ‘Two Pence’ instead but in 1983 a small number were released with the old ‘New Pence’ inscription. It’s unlikely you’ll get a coin like this in your change but it might be worth checking old piggy banks or the back of the sofa!
Easier to spot is an undated 20 pence coins which entered circulation in 2008. An error at the Royal Mint saw the first undated coins for over three centuries entered circulation. Usually worth over £200, it’s thought that there are anywhere up to 200,000 out there somewhere…