Nazi symbols defacing British coins

by Annika Backe

October 12, 2017 – When Nicola Harrison, 37, from Leeds in the English county of West Yorkshire, was given her change at a petrol station, she hardly believed her eyes. The effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on a 50pence coin had been defaced with Nazi symbols: a swastika and an eagle above. 

Defaced by unknown persons, coins like this 2007 50p coin currently circulate in England.

Defaced by unknown persons, coins like this 2007 50p coin currently circulate in England.

In September 2017, Harrison posted some pictures on her Facebook account, asking the other users if they had seen something similar. She said she was too scared to actually spend the coin again for this might be considered a criminal offence. 

As a matter of fact, this is not the first incident in England. As ‘The Sun’ reported on September 12, 2017, a similar coin had turned up in Coventry earlier in 2017. People in Germany have also encountered such defaced coins already. In January 2017, 25-year-old Marvin Schramm, who runs a restaurant in Neuss, found a €2 coin with an imperial eagle and a swastika on the obverse and ‘SS’ as the runic insignia of the ‘Schutzstaffel’ of the NSDAP party on the reverse.
Schramm told the ‘Neuss-Grevenbroicher Zeitung‘: “I was shocked. (…) Living together in tolerance and peace is very important to us. What idiot has done this?” This is a question for the police and the authorities to deal with, for §86a of the German ‘Strafgesetzbuch’ (Criminal Code) punishes the banned distribution of Nazi symbols with up to three years imprisonment.

In the history of numismatics, however, countermarking is nothing unusual. The value of currency can be changed through an official countermark. It also confirms the authenticity and the metal of a coin; and it officially allows foreign tender to be used on the local market. What’s more, a countermark can also be used for canvassing. The suffrage movement is a very prominent example. To advocate the extension of the right to vote in public elections to women, the suffragettes of the early 20th century countermarked English pennies featuring the effigy of King Edward VII with the slogan “Votes for Women”.

The ones responsible for countermarking Nicola Harrison’s 50p coin may never be identified. The Royal Mint, at any rate, takes a strong position on this issue, as its Currency Technical Expert, Scott Kuperus, said: “The Royal Mint strongly disapproves of the defacing of coins in this way, as such action could bring into question the integrity of the United Kingdom coinage. Doing so is often counterproductive as the defaced coins are quickly removed from circulation.” 

For reading the mentioned article in ‘The Sun’ click here. 

This is Nicola Harrison’s Facebook account.

The German magazine ‘Tag 24’ reported on the incident in Neuss. 

In a CoinsWeekly podcast, Thomas Hockenhull, Curator of Modern Money at the London British Museum, illustrates how easy it is to countermark coins. 

CoinsWeekly also reported on another coin that was propagandistically defaced.  

If you want to learn more about §86a of the German ‘Strafgesetzbuch’, read the relevant Wikipedia entry.  

CoinsWeekly reported on a make-over that is definitely not punishable: the numismatic creations of Shaun Hughes. 

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