Monday, May 12, 2014

United Kingdom Proposes New £1 Coin

Prototype for new UK £1 coin.
Image courtesy of the Royal Mint
In March 2014, the Royal Mint (UK) announced plans to release a redesigned 1 pound coin in 2017. The Mint's prototype design is pictured here, and differs from the current UK 1 pound coin in 2 very visible ways:
  • The coin would probably be bi-metallic, having a silver-colored center surrounded by a gold-colored edge (like the 2 pound coin)
  • The current prototype coin is a 12-edged polygon (a dodecagon), reminiscent of the 12-edged 3-pence coin minted between 1937 and 1970
The obverse (front) will of course feature a picture of the Queen. A competition (open to the public) will be held to pick a new design for the reverse (back). Presumably the new coin would have a diameter and thickness similar to the current coin (22mm and 3mm, respectively) in order to ease conversion of machinery (e.g. vending machines).
1967 UK 3 pence coin

The pound coin was introduced in 1983 in order to transition away from 1 pound banknotes (since coins have a much longer usable life than paper money). The reverse at first featured a rotation of symbolic emblems for the 4 members of the United Kingdom (Britain, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), one per year. In 2008, with the UK's coin redesign, the reverse was changed to the Royal Shield which has a quadrant for each member country.

One of the main goals of the new coin is to reduce counterfeiting. The Royal Mint's counterfeit £1 coins page reports that in 2013, an estimated 3% of circulating £1 coins were fake. With an annual mintage between 20 and 50 million new coins, a 3% counterfeit rate is significant. Changing to a bi-metallic coin is a common anti-counterfeiting tactic that has been used by many other currencies (and can already bee seen on the 2£ coin). The 12-sided shape may also help a little, though it isn't any more difficult to make a clay mold of a dodecagon than a circle.

Current UK £1 coin
However, the Royal Mint's big gun is its iSIS technology, which they say adds banknote-level security to coins and allows automated coin authentication and counterfeit detection. The Royal Mint is understandably tight-lipped on what exactly iSIS is - the longer that they can keep it a secret, the longer it will take for forgers to copy it - but thinking about the types of security measures that you find in modern banknotes around the world should give you some ideas of what it might entail. While a system like iSIS may be able to quickly identify fakes once they reach, say, a bank that has the equipment to validate coins, it is the more visible security measures which will help individuals and merchants avoid taking counterfeits in the first place. To that end, I'm surprised that the new coin doesn't include any micro/laser engraving, like the new Canada $1 and $2 coins.

One of the other advantages being mentioned about the new design is that it will make the pound coins more easily identifiable for the blind. The unique 12-sided shape (since 3 pence coins are no longer in circulation) does seem like it would be easier to pick out of a handful of change. It is great that the Royal Mint is considering the needs of those without sight when designing the new coin.

The pound is one of my favorite coins of all time. It is a coin that feels like money when you hold it in your hand. Its weight and its thickness (nearly twice as thick as a US quarter) impart its value without even needing to look at it. Even its color, a light gold thanks to its nickel and brass composition, gives it a sense of understated importance that you don't find with many other coins. I only hope that the new £1 can fill the shoes of its predecessor.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Coins with Web Addresses

Russia 2011 25 rouble coin with Sochi
reverse.  Image courtesy of the Central
Bank of Russia.
In February 2014, Russia will host the Winter Olympic Games for the first time. To honor the Winter Olympics and the host city Sochi, Russia began issuing commemorative coins in 2011 with Olympic themes on the reverse. Canada, the previous Winter Olympics host country, started the trend by issuing Winter Olympic Sport-themed circulating quarters (as well as a commemorative dollar coin) in the years leading up to the Games. (A trend which Great Britain continued in 2012 by minting a series of 50 pence coins depicting the sporting events in the Summer Olympic Games.)

What makes Russia's Olympic coins interesting is that they are, I believe, the first coins to have a Web address on them -

It should come as no surprise for a Web address to show up on a coin. There isn't much left that doesn't show a Web link to allow you to find out more information about what you're looking at. Here in the United States,  I was most recently surprised to see them popping up on license plates (, Perhaps it's just a matter of time before we start seeing "" or "" on coins and currency.

However, I can't help but consider the contrast between a Web site (which, like an address or a phone number, can be impermanent or even short-lived), and a coin (which are specifically made for their durability and longevity). What happens in 4 years, or 10, or 50, when someone finds one of these Russian coins featuring the "" address? Will the address still work? What will it display, so many years after the 2014 Winter Olympic Games? Will someone else get ownership of the address and use it to serve ads, or worse, to unlucky visitors?

It also makes me think about what our Internet trends are now, compared to 10 years ago. If a mint had gotten the idea to put a Web address on their coins in 2004, would we now be laughing (or scratching our heads) at coins that read "" or ""? Today, would it be better to put a Web address, a Facebook address, or a Twitter identity on a coin (or perhaps all 3)?

While putting the address on these Russian coins is primarily a marketing tool, I think it is inevitable that we'll see more of this in the future. If you've seen Web addresses on other coins (circulating or collectible), let us know in a comment below - The Sochi coins are the first I've seen, but that doesn't mean that they were the first.

In the meantime, I'll be waiting to see who will be the first to stick a QR code on their coins.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What are KM Numbers?

Mauritius 1992 5 rupees, KM# 56
Once you start to explore the world of foreign coin collecting, you'll inevitably run across KM numbers (frequently abbreviated "KM#"). Collecting sites like Numista and World Coin Gallery list them prominently in their search results. eBay auctions for individual foreign coins frequently contain them. NGC's World Coin Price Guide includes them in its results. And if you ever tried to trade coins with someone with more collecting experience, they probably asked for, or gave, a KM number when describing a coin.

KM numbers are a numbering system for world coins created by the authors of the Standard Catalog of World Coins - Chester Krause ("K") and Clifford Mishler ("M") - which was first printed in 1972. The authors very astutely realized that it would make it easier for collectors to use their reference guide, and to be able to discuss specific coins, if there was a shorthand way of identifying a specific coin (instead of saying "The second type of the India 25 paise coin from 1967").

In the Standard Catalog, each country's coins are given a number (starting at 1 and counting up). KM numbers are generally assigned from oldest to newest, then from smallest to largest denomination. For example, in Mauritania the KM numbers look like this (ordered by KM number):
  • 1/5 Ouguiya (1973): KM# 1
  • 1 Ouguiya (1973): KM# 2
  • 5 Ouguiya (1973-): KM# 3
  • 10 Ouguiya (1973-): KM# 4
  • 20 Ouguiya (1973-): KM# 5
  • 1 Ouguiya (1974-): KM# 6
Notice that for the coins starting in 1973, the KM numbers follow the denominations - 1/5, 1, 5, 10, 20. Then in 1974, the 1 Ouguiya changed its design slightly and was given a new number (#6).

When a coin gets a new design (even a slight change), it usually is given a new number. In Great Britain, the pound coin cycles through different reverse designs to signify the 4 members of the United Kingdom (Great Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales). Each of these reverse designs is given its own KM number. Sometimes, a small design change receives a decimal-point number ("214.2") instead of an entirely new number.

When a coin's composition (the metal that it is made of) changes, however, it usually does not get a whole new KM number (as long as the design stays the same). Instead, a letter is added to the KM number to signify the change in materials. For example, Singapore's KM#1 is the 1 cent coin made of bronze; the copper-clad steel version is KM#1a.

It is imporant to note that KM numbers are only unique within a country - most countries have their own "KM# 1". They also usually aren't specific to a year - Switzerland's KM# 29 (20 rappen) starts in 1881 and continues to this day. In order to properly refer to a coin you should include:
  • KM number 
  • Country
  • Year
  • Denomination
For example: Netherlands 1 Gulden 1973 KM# 184

As you can see from this example, in many cases the KM number is actually unnecessary to identify a specific coin. The country, denomination, and year are sufficient to pinpoint the coin being discussed. The most crucial use of KM numbers occurs when there are multiple designs for a single year. For example, the India 10 paise coins between 1988 and 1993 were issued in 2 different styles - a scalloped coin (KM# 39) and a plain round coin (KM#40). In this case, using the KM number would help communicate which coin you are referring to.

Because of the way the numbers have to be assigned, KM numbers are not very useful for organizing coins in a collection. Numbers that are close to each other could represent different designs of the same coin, or completely different coins. If you stored your collection in KM# order, it would probably look a little funny. And it is very difficult to find a coin in one of the Standard Catalog of World Coin books by KM number and country alone, because the catalog is organized by denomination and year. However, it is common to write KM numbers on the coins in your collection (usually on the back of your protective coin flips) so that, should you need to know them, you don't have to repeatedly look up the coins in a catalog.

Other Catalog Numbers

The Standard Catalog of World Coins was not the first to assign numbers to coins. Even within the Catalog there are references to coin numbering systems that were introduced by other catalogs and are in common use. While KM numbers are probably the most familiar for world coin collectors, you may also run across:
  • Y#: Modern World Coins and Current Coins of the World - Richard S. Yeoman
  • C#: Coins of the World, 1750-1850 - William D. Craig
  • K#: Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Coins - Eduard Kann

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reading Thai Numbers and Dates

Thailand 1962 1 baht
Thailand, located in southeast Asia a little south of China, is another country that does not use Western Arabic (European) numerals (0, 1, 2, 3...) to represent numbers. In order for coin collectors in the United States, Europe, and similar locations to properly identify both the denomination and year of a Thai coin, it is useful to know how to translate Thai numbers and dates to their European equivalents.

The Thai Numerals

The symbols that the Thai language uses to represent the numbers 0 through 9 are known as Thai numerals and are based on older symbols known as Khmer numerals. Below is a chart showing the Thai numerals that represent the Western Arabic numerals 0 through 9:

The Thai numeral system is a positional number system, so numbers larger than 9 are constructed as they would be using Western Arabic numbers:
  • 10 = 
  • 23 = 
  • 496 = 
On coins, the denomination (value) of a coin is usually followed by the Thai word บาท ("baht", the name of the Thai currency).

Here are some examples from actual Thai coins:
Left to right: 1, 25, and 10
To translate Thai numbers, you just replace the Thai symbols with their Western Arabic equivalents (there is no calculation involved, unlike Japanese numbers). Some more recent Thai coins include the denomination in Arabic numerals (note the "10" on the right-most coin).

Thai Dates

Once you can translate the Thai numbers, converting the date on Thai coins to the Common Era (e.g. 2013) is done by subtracting 543 from the Thai year. (Wikipedia has more information about the Thai Solar Calendar for those that are interested.)  The coin's year usually follows the initials พ.ศ. ("B.E.", which stands for Buddhist Era).

Here are date examples from actual Thai coins:
Left to right: 2551 (2008), 2543 (2000), and 2552 (2009)