Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Why do we always manage to make such a mess of things?

There are to be new 5p and 10p coins next year.

OK you say, that’s no big deal, we were expecting it. The Tories didn’t like Gordon Brown’s modern design which removed Britannia, a symbol of British Imperial power, which has appeared on the coinage since around 1707. Mr Cameron, pre-election, made an impassioned plea for Britannia to be returned to its rightful place.

But that’s not it.

Oh no. The Queen personally supported the change in the coins' designs, so Mr Cameron is unlikely to change anything there.

The designs of the coins will remain the same, but they will be made of new material, and they will be thicker... and magnetic (handy when they fall down the back to the settee!).

At present the coins are made from cupronickel as they have been since 1946, but from January 1, they will be made of steel, with a nickel coating. They will look identical and weight the same as the old coinage, but they will be very slightly thicker.

The reason for the change is so that the mint can save on the costs of materials. The move should save them around £8 million a year, and as they are a government owned business, this will be very welcome.

The trouble with the change is that they will not work in coin-operated vending machinery, slot machines, or parking meters. This machinery operates on a very complex recognition system, recognising not only size and weight, but also electromagnetic composition to avoid cheating.

All this equipment will have to have its software updated, and in most instances, need to be recalibrated to recognise both the new coins and the old ones, which of course, will not disappear overnight.

The Royal Mint has provided the vending machine industry with a few samples of the new coins, but they have not, only 4 months away from the deadline, provided final production versions. This has made it impossible for the industry to start on the necessary changes. Clearly they will not have the manpower to have everything changed by January 1 when the new coins become legal tender across the length and breadth of the UK.

The Treasury and the Royal mint have been told of the impending problems but haven’t paid any attention.

Additionally, the cost to the industry will be in the region of £100 million (remember this is to save the Royal Mint £8 million).

And who do you think will be picking up the tab?


  1. Magnetic coins! Will there be a warning to keep them away from sensitive equipment such as mobile phones etc.

  2. I’m surprised that in Britain, the Royal Mint, as a practical political matter, could even contemplate such a change without it first being rigorously tested and approved by the vending machine industry. A design change in coinage is no big deal, but a MATERIAL change is a very big deal in terms of the electromagnetic systems that are used by the vending machine industry. In 1965, the United States quit using silver in its coins, and adopted a copper-nickel material. But the cupronickel alloy then being used by many other countries did not have the precise electromagnetic properties that would insure compliance with the needs of the massive vending machine infrastructure in the US. So, a more complex “sandwich” of pure copper, between top and bottom layers of cupronickel, was chosen to meet the needs of the vending industry.

    But as for design. I’m appalled...APPALLED I say...(LOL) to learn that “Britannia” was removed from some coin designs. The thing that Americans love about their transatlantic cousins, is that the Brits can be so delightfully eccentric. They still have Knights and Lords running around...with a King and/or Queen...with crown jewels and horse drawn coaches for Gods sake. Thankfully you still have the Pound Sterling, and not that upstart Euro. But nevertheless, you did away with those wonderful 1/240th part Pence (used since Anglo-Saxon times), 1/20th part Shillings (from Henry VII), the 1/960th part Farthings (Anglo-Saxon “feorthing”), and for that matter those delightful Guineas (which contained 21 Shillings after 1717)...and all the rest. All this monetary history swept away simply because it was relatively complicated and unmanageable compared with Napoleon’s simple decimal system...LOL. And now I hear about the Queen having once approved the demise of Britannia as a coinage symbol. Sic transit Gloria!!!!

    But I’m trying to do my very small part to preserve Britain’s monetary legacy. I have a penny in my collection from the reign of William I. On the reverse, it has the Latin inscription “PAXS”, commemorating the peace that followed the warfare of the conquest. And this small silver coin contains about 1/240th part of a “pound” of silver. Now how cool is that?

  3. They won't have thought of that Cynical... nah... pocket, coins, phone. It would never occur to them. They are going to save £8m a year!

  4. LOL Danny...

    Our lot don’t think about the consequences of what they are doing. Probably the people at the top of the Royal mint don’t know that vending machines exist.

    Parking meters, where necessary, will be dealt with by chauffeurs; tea and coffee are served in bone china at 10.30 am, and 4 pm precisely with a small plain biscuit; they most assuredly do not come in polystyrene cartons and no taste!

    And, as for condoms, well, I’m sure that the butler stands at the side of the bed, his eyes tastefully averted, whilst holding out a silver tray.........

    Britannia, for some bizarre reason seems to be associated with the imperial past of Britain, although I think that her first appearance (although not on a coin) was during the period of Roman occupation of the important part of the islands. When the natives were running around in animal skins and using grunts as a means of communications. Well at least, by and large they don’t use animal skins any more.

    I’m glad you liked our system of money prior to decimalization! Farthings, halfpennies, pennies, threepences, sixpences, shillings, florins, half-crowns, crowns, ten shilling notes, pound notes, five pound notes.... and probably ten pound notes, although only Dukes and princes would have had one of them. And posh shops sold things in guineas. Has ha ha ha.

    I think people must have been very clever just to get by learning all the different coins and notes they had to, and what relationship they had with one another.

  5. PS.. your coin is the coolest thing I ever heard of LOL

  6. Cynical and Tris....The so-called "magnetic" material coins would not themselves be magnets. So there is no danger to sensitive electronic equipment. The term "magnetic" in this context simply means that they are made of an iron alloy which can itself be attracted by a magnet which might be brought near the coin. Nevertheless, this change in the fundamental electromagnetic property of the coin could possibly have an effect on the counterfit detection software and hardware used by the vending machine industry. And if this really does cause vending machines a problem, it will give even more explicit meaning to the term, "penny wise and pound foolish."

  7. Thanks for the explanation Danny...

    As you say it’s still an issue of the recognition of the compound by the anti-fraud soft wear.

    LOL yes, indeed it does.... ha ha

  8. Thanks guys away to order some these.


  9. Erm... how embarrassing software... eeeeek!

    Aye CH...get me a couple too. They'll look great on the wall above the fireplace!!

  10. LOL Tris....What a wonderful description of the reasons that the British aristocracy need not worry themselves about possible problems with vending machines! Hmmmm...a condom on a silver tray.....now that is WAY WAY cool....LOL. I’ve read a lot about the decimalization of Britain’s monetary system in 1971. So sad (historically and numismatically speaking) to see those great old coins disappear. There was the lovely old “two bob” silver Florin which left us as a minted coin in 1967. (Or the old gold florin which was worth six shillings, and had a history which went back to medieval times.) And the beautiful old silver Crowns...also originally a gold coin. And all the other great old coins. Such a rich numismatic heritage! And as for that “Guinea.” It hadn’t actually been minted as a coin since 1813, (when it was replaced as a minted coin by the Sovereign.) But as a monetary unit, the Guinea (in its 21 shilling incarnation), continued to be used for bidding in the posh London auction houses until decimalization.

    But OMG, how devilishly complicated the British money system was! I can hardly imagine how complex those old British calculating machines must have been. Napoleon had it right, to be sure. Our Thomas Jefferson lobbied strongly for a decimal standard as the new nation's monetary system. Thankfully, he prevailed. But sadly, we adopted the British system as the basis for our weights and measures. And we’ve struggled with pounds and ounces and pints and quarts and gallons and cups and teaspoons and bushels ever since. Now that’s a bummer....LOL!

  11. Tris....your knowledge about "Britannia" put me in the shade. So some reading was necessary at Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge.


    It says that the old Latin term used by the Romans in various ways to describe the British Isles, came back into wide use after The Acts of Union and was first used on British coinage about that time.

  12. Just imagine how they will rust as well so there will not be many, if any, found buried in the future unlike the other coins that survive from the past.

  13. Napoléon knew a thing or two Danny ! Wasn’t so hot when he tried to decimalize time... but for the rest, yep... it must have made school a lot easier!! Meters, litres and grammes...oh what a joy!

  14. Ah yes... I thought that the Romans had something to do with old Britannia. Where would we be without Wiki?

  15. LOL Billy, I sure they won't rust if you leave them out overnight (they'll just get pinched), but long term they won't be much cop for buried treasure... mind you, we are talking about 5 and 10p pieces... erm, not doubloons!!

  16. Billy and Tris....very good points you make. When I read your article Tris, I immediately wondered what sort of magnetic alloy they plan to use. I believe that non-corroding stainless steel alloys are used for coinage in some countries, but I wonder to what extent such non-corroding iron alloys offer a cost advantage over the commonly used copper-nickel (cupronickel) alloys in coinage applications. And many (if not almost all) common stainless steel alloys are non-magnetic, even though they are of course iron based. So stainless steel would not normally be called "magnetic."

    What a coin is made from definitely determines its survivability, both in terms of its near term ruggedness in circulation, and its long term historical survival. Both copper-nickel and iron alloys have short term durability, but I wonder about the long term corrosion problem in iron that you point out Billy.

    Historically, coins have been minted from various base metals (for the more minor coin denominations), as well as various alloys of gold and silver (for the larger denominations). The old copper-based Roman coins you find are, as expected, often badly corroded, compared with the Roman precious metal coinage. Although silver tarnishes, and corrodes slowly, it often survives well the centuries. Pure (or high alloy) gold is almost impervious to corrosion. And yet ancient (or medieval) gold coins are much rarer than silver coins minted in the same historical periods. The reason is that gold is so precious that people over the centuries have melted their gold coins for later use....including later era gold coinage.

  17. I am surprised that the 'Thrupenny bit' hasn't been mentioned a coin that could never fit into a decimalised system.

  18. Someone gave me a set of the old coins Cynical, (actually, it was in a box that said "last time you went to the bar, you left your change!") and there was this absolutely superb thrupenny bit...massively thick, a sort of gold colour, and a fantastic shape. I think we should bring them back.

    It's just as well women darned in these days though. They must have gone right through your pockets!!

  19. Heavens Danny. I didn't know that you were a Numismatist (is that the right word?)

    You never cease to amaze me, my friend, at your breadth of knowledge.

    I don't know how long coins in circulation today would be expected to last 10- 12 years maybe?

    At a low value like these ones are (buying nothing really) they probably don't get a vast amount of use.

    I know that when I get that kind of coin in change it ends up at the end of the day in my "Pooh Bear" savings bank, for bagging up and taking to the bank. I never carry it around with me.

    I don't know if others are the same? Spending a good deal of its life in various banks and not being rattled around in trousers or purses must surely extend the life of such coins.

  20. Actually Cynical, just about any value of coin can fit in a decimalized money system, as long as it’s denominated as a decimal fraction of the monetary unit. So, with the decimalized British penny equal to 0.01 pound, a decimalized “thrupenny bit” (if the mint wanted to make such a coin) would just be a coin with a value of 0.03 pound. In fact the United States, in the 19th century minted two styles of three cent pieces which were widely circulated. One was a tiny silver coin, and the other was a larger base metal coin, made of a white colored nickel-copper alloy. Both had the same monetary value of $0.03. US coins over the years have been minted in denominations ranging from the copper half cent (= $0.005) through the gold Double Eagle (= $ 20.00).

    Yes Tris, “numismatics” is the collection and study of all forms of “currency.” Currency being any form of money or minted tokens, including, but not limited to, legal tender coins and bank notes. So a coin collector is a “numismatist.”

    LOL Tris…..pooh bear banks get a lot of use here in the states too, where people throw coins until they have enough to take to the bank. The US mint website says the average life span of a coin in circulation is about 25 years. But of course it varies widely depending on denomination, and how much time a coin spends in the pooh bear banks. While the pre-1965 silver alloy coins have disappeared from circulation, the base metal cupronickel coins which replaced them in 1965 are often seen in circulation and appear to have relatively little surface wear after as long as 45 years. The cent (or penny) is next to worthless now, but is widely seen in change from the dollar. There have been proposals to eliminate the cent, and simply use the nickel-copper 5 cent piece (the “nickel”) as the lowest denomination coin. But the little penny coin with the nice portrait of Abraham Lincoln is much loved and continues to be minted. Another coin, once very popular, that is seldom seen in circulation now, is the half dollar coin. In 1964 (the year after the assassination), the portrait of John F. Kennedy was put on the half dollar. These coins immediately disappeared from circulation as EVERYONE hoarded them (in the US and around the world) as souvenirs. The mint was never able to produce enough to make them reappear in circulation. And people just got out of the habit of using them. Two “quarters” (25cent coins) were used instead. The JFK half dollar is still minted, but mostly for the “proof sets,” or other collector sets sold directly by the mint to collectors.

  21. PS Tris.... a bit more numismatics....LOL.

    As for those "proof sets" I mentioned. “Proof” coins have a dazzling mirror finish background, with raised frosted-surface symbols (such as the portrait head)...lovely little works of art really, assembled in sets and sealed in plastic holders for display. Mints around the world commonly issue collector sets, especially to commemorate special occasions. The Royal Mint sells lots of collector sets to North America. Of course there were Coronation sets in 1953, and sets for the silver and golden jubilees. A diamond jubilee set is surely planned for 2012. And the Royal Mint sold a final set of the old pre-decimal coins...and an initial set of the decimal coins. In fact, I suppose the Royal Mint produces yearly proof sets, just like the American mint does.

  22. Yes Danny:

    We have coins here that never see the light of day despite being legal tender. I could only think of one (to celebrate the Queen Mother's 100th birthday) but I looked at Wiki, and found that there have been 24!!

    You might be interested in this article: