Why Coins Have Ridged Edges

Obvious to any amateur coin collector perhaps but in our blog we are always trying to demystify things for the complete beginner or anyone with an enquiring mind.

Until the seventeenth century the bulk of England’s coins were made by hammering a blank piece of metal (composed of just the right quantity of silver) on a die. This provided a reasonably consistent way of according value to the coin.

However, as these coins passed into circulation, there were two ways of profiting from them illegally. One was to ‘sweat’ them in a bag. A large number of coins would be repeatedly shaken until bits fell of them – small gains perhaps but obviously quite hard to detect.

A much more common method was to ‘clip’ the coin by shaving off a small amount of the metal to sell on later while still passing it on at face value. Repeated clipping resulted in some ridiculously small versions of the original coin and wreaked havoc in the marketplace. Even though debasing the currency in this way was punished severely, it remained widespread for hundreds of years.

This all changed when Sir Isaac Newton accepted the position of Warden of the Mint in 1696. In two years he oversaw a recall of all clipped or badly worn coins and they were replaced with a new design with milled edges, making them all but impossible to forge. Nowadays the milled edge remains only as a symbolic nod to his innovation since modern flat coins are made from base metal. Even so, the pound coin bears the added fluorish of an explanatory inscription around its edge: ‘Decus Et Tutamen’ (‘an ornament and a safeguard’).

The Beginning of the End for Coins?

For over 2,600 years coins have told the story of many cultures around the world, often reflecting the preoccupations and aspirations of their rulers but also telling their own stories as they passed through the hands of princes and paupers.

However, it seems that this is one more aspect of human activity which is being affected by the pandemic with recent news of a national shortage in the US. With coins being a particularly potent vector for disease, a number of high street businesses are insisting on payment by card only and this is something we’re seeing increasingly in the UK too.

So how long does the humble coin have left? It’s hard to say but probably not as long as we might think since the changes to our way of life brought by technology is just accelerating. There’s no doubt that it would make sense for governments since coins are increasingly costly to manufacture but the firms managing our data would also love to have a handle on every penny we own: where, when and what we spend it on. No doubt commemorative coin issues would continue for the collectors but jingling coins in one’s pocket might soon be something read about than experienced….

It’s hard to imagine the bulk of contemporary coins ever becoming especially valuable but phasing cash out would certainly add more interest to coin and note collecting generally. All the more reason to start now!

Rare Civil War Medallion

A real rarity this week as we feature a 350 year old silver gilt medallion made in honour of Robert Devereux. He was the third Earl of Wessex and, on the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, Parliament’s choice as the leader of their armed forces. His desire to reach an agreement with the king did not endear him to some of the more radical anti-Royalists among the MP’s though and by 1646 he had been replaced by Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Devereux was a key figure in the movement though and accorded a grand funeral at Westminster Abbey. Dying before the trial and execution of the king in 1649 had the added bonus that he was not a signatory to his death warrant. Thus he was spared the indignity of posthumous execution meted out to some of the regicides. The corpses of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw were dug up, hanged, beheaded, their bodies thrown into a pit and their heads placed on a spike from a point in front of the spot where Charles I met his fate.

Yet what makes this medallion so unusual is the fact that, previously, only silver ones have been recorded. So far as we know, this silver gilt example is one of a kind but please contact us if you have any further information.

New Year’s Resolution: Check Your Change

rare-uk-coins

Without knowing it, you could have a nice little windfall hiding amongst your change right now. And if you don’t check it out, someone else surely will.

Top left is an early version of the 50p coin released by the Royal Mint in 2011 to celebrate the London Olympics the previous year. Nearly all these coins have no lines going over the swimmer’s face but an unknown number of the coin’s original design (with lines shown here) were released in error. One was sold in May for £590.

The Kew Gardens 50p shown top right owes its value of roughly £100 purely to the fact that it was minted in fewer numbers than any other – just 210,000. Most of these are already in the hands of collectors so they should hold their value well – in spite of the fact that the Royal Mint reissued it as part of a limited run earlier this year. It sold out in seven hours….

You might think that a run of 1.8 million 50 pence coins would be plenty but apparently not. The 2017 coin commemorating the 375th anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton’s birth is now much sought after. Prices vary wildly though so this is a coin to keep as a long-term investment.

Finally, this humble 20p coin in the bottom right may look like any of the others in your change. But if yours has no date on either side then it is one of just 120,000 minted in error in 2008. Congratulations, it routinely sells for over £50.

It takes just a few seconds for this spot of homemade alchemy to see if you’ve turned base metal into gold but please beware: there are plenty of fakes out there, especially online. If you want to check on a coin’s authenticity you can always bring it down to the Home of Collecting itself: Charing Cross Market. We’re open every Saturday from 7am to 3pm.

Either way, while checking your change is always a good habit, keeping an eye out for these particular coins might be a profitable resolution for 2020. Happy hunting.

Win at Christmas

Make your festivities stand out this year with a genuine sixpence for your Christmas pudding. Traditional, authentic and a real talking point when you consider the following facts:

• The Victorian tradition of putting it in Christmas pudding saw every member of the family taking a turn to stir the mixture with whoever found it in their serving getting good luck for the coming year.
• Minted under every British monarch since Edward VI in 1551, the last (non-commemorative) ones appeared in 1967.
• Also sometimes called a tanner, it was worth 2 ½ pence after decimalisation until it ceased to be legal tender as recently as 1980.
• Some guitarists, notably Brian May, prefer to use sixpences as plectrums rather than the flexible plastic ones. May even had some bearing his head made by the Royal Mint.

The particular sixpence pictured here has a special relevance to the market since it features Charing Cross itself with the equestrian statue of Charles I on one side and the coat of arms of the City of London on the reverse. This was a ‘token’ sixpence issued c. 1810 at a time when official coinage was in short supply so copper and silver ones were produced featuring places and companies.

Unless you feel particularly generous this Christmas, you might want to keep a coin like this since they are quite valuable. Whoever finds it gets the good luck and your whole family keeps a live a great Christmas custom. More modern sixpences are very affordable though and there is always a wide choice of them every Saturday at the market. See you there!

Paper Money

Ephemera (n) items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity”. As any baseball card or pulp fiction collector will tell you, those expectations were sometimes very wrong indeed and the market for newspapers, advertisements, football programmes, tickets, mail order catalogues etc. is alive and well. Take this full season’s worth of home programmes from Chelsea’s 1972-1973 season for example. Let’s just say that you won’t get them for 5p each in 2019! The original prices of classic paperback fiction by Zane Grey, Ian Fleming or Edgar Wallace have also risen considerably.

John Barrett is one of the market’s veteran ephemera dealers and his stall is a fantastic snapshot of just how varied this field is. He has a particular love of press photography of the 1930’s and 40’s but keeps track of a wide range of printed material. So what should we be keeping hold of today as a potential windfall for our grandchildren? “Anything and everything” says John, “it’s almost impossible to predict. Although I should think that there will certainly be a strong market for women’s football programmes as the sport continues to grow”.

You heard it here first.

West Africa’s ‘red gold’

copper-african-manillas

Such was the value accorded to copper in early African civilisations that it came to be known as ‘red gold’. This was the prinicipal currency along the West African coast for hundreds of years and these ‘manilla’ or bracelets were worn by women to display their husband’s wealth. While some wore them on their wrist or ankle, a more ostentatious wife might wear a ‘King’ manilla (top right) as a necklace.

Other forms of exotic currency regularly traded at the market include katanga crosses, bochies (both also of copper), cowrie shells, silver Tok coins and base silver bar monies from Thailand in the shape of leeches, boats or a tiger’s tongue (with characteristic serrated texture).

Turning Heads

Queen Victoria was born 200 years ago today and at one point coins featuring her image were in circulation in roughly one quarter of the globe. It’s old hat to collectors of course but few layman realise that for almost 400 years the portraits of successive British monarchs have alternated between facing left and right. Edward VIII, no stickler for convention as later events proved, tried to buck the trend by having his done facing left like his immediate predecessor, George V. However, Edward’s abdication to facilitate his marriage to the American Wallis Simpson followed so quickly that no coins made it into circulation. Coins minted for the new king, George VI, showed him facing to the left (as if Edward had complied with tradition) so – technically, at least – order was restored.

Several Hundred Careful Owners

This silver tetradrachm coin of the Seleucid Kingdom minted during the reign of Seleukos I, Nikator, (312 – 280 BC) is guaranteed used. Based on the classic design adopted by Alexander the Great, who knows how many ancient hands have exchanged this particularly fine coin? It is just one of thousands of coins available every Saturday at Charing Cross Market. Begin your collection or enhance an existing one. 
Every Saturday 7am to 3pm.