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.