In for a penny…
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 Root of All Money
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.
Three Hundred Years of Promising to Pay the Bearer…￼
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.
Someone’s going to need a bigger pocket
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.
Coining It In
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!
Another Royal Milestone
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.
The 2p Coin Worth (Much!) More Than Its Weight In Gold
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…
One of our traders recently had a couple of superb coins to show off so we were keen to show them off on the blog.
First up is this beautifully preserved gold sovereign from 1872. Sporting William Wyon’s ‘young head’ portrait of Queen Victoria on the obverse and the classic shield design on the reverse, it is rare to see one in such excellent condition. Prices for such a coin usually begin at around £425.
Also particularly noteworthy is this mint condition Isaac Newton fifty pence from 2018. The design was produced throughout 2017 before being changed at the end of the year. However, the Royal Mint offered visitors the chance to strike their own Newton fifty pence and take it away in a display pack. This promotion only ran for the first three months of 2018 so, with a maximum of just ten of these being produced an hour, numbers are therefore very limited.
This Penny Won’t Drop
The rarest British coin of the 20th century will surprise many since that distinction belongs to a humble penny. Thanks to an excess of the coin still in circulation by 1932, the following year the Royal Mint didn’t produce any at all – or almost.
For some time there had been a tradition of placing a full set of coins of the realm under the foundation stones of important buildings as they were being built. To facilitate this, a very few were struck featuring Britannia on one side and King George V on the other. The year ‘1933’ was the only thing that would distinguish them from preceding or subsequent years. For a time this prompted attempts to create forgeries which would dupe unsuspecting buyers into believing they were buying one of perhaps just seven such coins in the world. When one of the ‘pattern’ coins (a prototype not used for production) recently came up for auction it sold for £72,000. The currency coins are believed to be worth much more but are now all in museums or private hands.