Sovereign State

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.

A counterfeit detector using two tests (weight and fit) to determine authenticity. A fake might pass one test but fail the other.

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.

[squawk]…pieces of eight…

Possibly the most memorable words ever spoken by a bird, this phrase references the divisions of a Spanish dollar which many experts regard as the world’s first international currency. It was first minted in the Spanish Empire in 1497 but this example is a Mexico City coin of 1736, one of a number found in the Rooswijck shipwreck off Goodwin Sands. Long John Silver’s parrot, (named Captain Flint, take note: pub quiz buffs) is referring to the fact that it was worth 8 reals. The number 8 appears on the coin’s face and it was not unknown for it to be physically cut up into eight pieces (which was not then an offence). Because of its high silver content, the metal was relatively soft and dividing it like this allowed for change to be created. At 38mm across, it was also the largest of the Spanish silver coins.

Actual treasure from an actual shipwreck…Charing Cross Market: the home of collecting.

When Galloping Inflation Hits Lightspeed

To a child, it’s an obvious answer: if you don’t have enough money, just print some more! Although the perils of such a simplistic solution – hyperinflation and economic implosion – were long known in theory, it hasn’t stopped some governments from doing it, most famously Weimar Germany. The consequences for ordinary people were catastrophic: life savings wiped out in a week, wages collected in suitcases, the price of a coffee going up between the time it was ordered and the arrival of the bill, stoves being lit with banknotes…the examples are startling.

Naturally, the banknotes of the period tell their own story. Previously inconceivable denominations were printed (and in some cases overprinted!). The highest amount from the Weimar period is the 100 trillion mark note (pictured) but much more recently, Zimbabwe printed its own 100 trillion dollar version. Most sobering of all is just how much these notes are worth to collectors today. The Zimbabwean note can be had for around £40 while Weimar-era currency often change hands for as little as a few pounds.

Caveat Eator

Normally we’re big fans of putting our money where our mouth is but on this occasion we’d recommend a modicum of caution. It’s only natural for everyone to want as big a helping as they can manage after Christmas dinner in the hope that they will be the one guaranteed good luck for the next year but no-one wants to watch the Queen’s Speech in their local A and E. Even a pound coin can be easy to miss if you’re – somehow – still ravenous. But if you’re going for that really authentic touch by using a silver sixpence (available at all good collectors markets in the Charing Cross area this Saturday from 7am till 2pm), you need to be even more careful. Not only is it a good deal thinner, it’s worth much more than a pound.

Take note though: post war sixpences contain no silver at all. Only the ones minted between 1920 and 1946 were struck in 50% silver. Before 1920 that figure was 92.5%.

EDIT: Thank you to Peter Hicks who pointed out on our Facebook page that it was actually a silver 3d that was inserted into puddings. The sixpence was for new brides on their wedding day.

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!