As of last month, we have had a new coin to deal with. I have only received one of the new pound coins in my change once so far, and I haven’t spent it yet as it’s a pretty good conversation-piece because not everyone else has seen one yet, but since the old one is scheduled to be phased out by October it’s clearly something we’re about to see a lot more of. This is the future, so let’s get used to it.
The new pound coin is bi-metallic – just like the £2 coin, the euro coin, the Canadian ‘toonie’ and the old French ten-franc coin which was, prior to the euro, worth (roughly, depending on exchange rates) £1. The reverse shows plants representing the four Home Nations – the rose of England, the leek of Wales, the thistle of Scotland and the Shamrock of Northern Ireland – bound by a crown, while below the Queen on the obverse there’s a little hologram which, depending on the angle at which you’re looking at it, shows a little £ sign or a number 1.
This is intended to make the new coin really difficult to forge; the main problem with the old one is that forgery’s relatively easy, with it having been estimated that between one in eight and one in ten pound coins currently in circulation are forgeries (and, given that knowingly passing on forged money is a criminal offence, most people who end up with one that they reckon might be a fake probably don’t bother to look too closely as proving the coin in question to be a fake would render it worthless, leaving you out of pocket if you try to be honest).
The new one is ever so slightly bigger than the old one (by less than a millimetre, noticeable if you have one of each to compare and contrast), and a little bit lighter (using the digital kitchen scales, I can confirm that the new one weighs in at nine grams, while the old one is ten).
It’s also twelve-sided, another anti-forgery initiative although for older Britons this could make it slightly reminiscent of the old threepenny bit (which was also twelve-sided); Private Eye has already got in with a joke about how the new pound coin has the same spending power as three old pence did back in the day, so no-one else has to.
In terms of British currency, the pound coin is a relatively new thing (not counting gold sovereigns), having first been introduced in 1983, a year after the 20p coin (pound coins were intended to replace pound notes, which were phased out by the Bank of England in 1988 although they continue to be issued in the Channel Islands and by one of the Scottish banks that’s allowed to print money). Although they were only introduced last month, the new ones all bear the date ‘2016’, which should confuse any future historians who feel inclined to study the history of post-decimal British coinage. Actually, coins being minted before they enter circulation (done by the Royal Mint in order to ensure that there are enough of them) are nothing new. The bi-metallic £2 coin was first minted in 1997 prior to its introduction the following year, and going a bit further back the old 10p and 5p coins had been minted in decimal form since to 1968, and the old 50p coins since 1969, even though decimalisation didn’t come about until 1971 (it’s worth noting, though, that the pre-1990 5p and the pre-1992 10p coins were the same size, and the same value for that matter, as the old shilling and two-shilling coins, which continued to appear in change until the sizes of said coins were reduced in the early Nineties).