What is the future of the UK £1?

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=4]

by Björn Schöpe

June 12, 2012 – The British £1 coin is made of nickel-brass, weighing 9.5 grams and measures 22.5 millimetres in diameter. At first glance this should apply to any of the around 1.55 billion £1 coins in circulation in the United Kingdom. But it does not.

The obverse of a one pound coin from 2000 with the portrait of the head of state of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II.

More than three percent of the coins are fake amounting thus to an estimated 48 million coins in circulation. In 2011 two million fake coins have been withdrawn. Actually the continual increase of fake £1 coins has become a serious issue to the Royal Mint. In 2007 a certain Marcus Glindon was convicted of producing 14 million fake £1 coins. Unfortunately the relatively simple coin made of only one alloy has become the target of forgers. In a survey based on detected counterfeits the Royal Mint has been able to classify regional varieties of fake coins. Their quality ranges from quite primitive products to others suggesting that the counterfeiters use professional equipment like in the Royal Mint. Determining ‘hot spots’ Phil Hawkins, head of Operations Support at Britain’s Royal Mint, or the Queen’s assay master as is his traditional title runs, stated: ‘We can provide that additional level of intelligence to stop it at the source; you can see the common die defects, for example, to use as almost the DNA or the fingerprint for certain counterfeiting operations.’

The reverse of a new one pound coin from 2008: nice but not very secure.

The £1 coin has been introduced in 1983 and even though it shows a confusing number of different designs, since then the security features have never been enhanced. Mr Hawkins said: ‘We’re hampered by the fact the coin has been in circulation for 29 years and it’s monometal, a single alloy. It has a small diameter, a relatively easy composition to copy as compared to a bi-colour which could incorporate additional security features. We’ve given people plenty of time to practice copying this coin.’

The new British 2008 coinage: attractive design with poor security features.

As on how to win the battle against counterfeiting Mr Hawkins has a clear idea: ‘There is only one real solution, and that is recoinage that uses more modern technology than we had in 1983 that makes it more difficult to counterfeit.’
‘We think there are stocks of coins still out there that were previously manufactured that are being placed into circulation,’ Mr Hawkins said. Modern coin sorters can detect fake coins and sort them out. They promise better results than human users do. Since people turning counterfeits in to the police or a bank will not be reimbursed there are not many such cases reported. While using consciously fake coins constitutes a crime, it is no crime using them unknowingly – honi soit qui mal y pense …

An expensive approach like recoinage as proposed by Mr Hawkins ‘depends on individual circumstances, including public confidence. People are aware of the level but are still confident’ in the £1 coin. ‘If a decision is made – and it will be made by the Treasury, not the Royal Mint – we are prepared; we have prepared alternative alloy prototypes with additional security features.’

A new survey in May will reveal whether the percentage of counterfeit £1 coins has further increased or not and may thus decide on the future of the £1 coin in the United Kingdom. Maybe, after 30 years, a re-design will incorporate enhanced security features and bring this coin to an up-to-date level.

You may want to read two interesting articles on the topic written by Jeff Starck for CoinWorld. You can find them here and here.

The Royal Mint gives information at hand to make it easier to recognise fake £1 coins.

Robert Matthews, a former Queen’s Assay Master at the Royal Mint offers many information on fake coins in the United Kingdom, but not only. Give it a look by clicking here.

There is a Counterfeit Coin Club. To contact one of the members check out their email adresses or browse through a topic related link list.