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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’).
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!
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.