Friday, 21 March 2014

Threepenny bit design to replace vulnerable £1 coin



Threepenny bit design to replace vulnerable £1 coin

As my UK-based readers will doubtless be aware, Wednesday saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer deliver the government's annual Budget for the year ahead.  Rightly or wrongly the item that garnered the most press attention was the unveiling of a proposed new £1 coin, to replace the existing 30-year-old design in 2017.  Putting aside the politics, the news is nonetheless interesting on a number of levels. 

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Firstly, this is the most comprehensive redesign of a frequently-used piece of British currency in almost a generation.  You have to go back to the early/mid-1990s and the resizing of the 5p, 10p (1992) and 50p (1997) coins to find the last time the money in our pocket was so drastically altered.  From that point of view alone it is of course a newsworthy subject and one of the main aspects most news agencies have focussed on.

For numismatists (that's our code-speak for us coin collectors!) like myself there is an extra layer of excitement since it means that the old £1 coin will become even more of a collectors item from 2017.  The general excitement of a coin undergoing such a sea change is also heightened, since we value the behind-the-scenes processes, history and time-honoured traditions attached to the coin and its design(s).

The biggest change (pun not intended!) however, the thing that has got we nostaligists (and the press) jumping up and down in excitement, is the switch to a twelve-sided (that's dodecagonal, in case you're wondering) shape - just like one of Britain's old pre-decimal coins, the threepence piece!  The one pound coin is already similar in size and thickness to the old threepenny, so this major alteration will render it even more like a coin that hasn't been seen in British pockets for over 40 years. 

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The twelve-sided brass threepenny was introduced in 1937 at the start of George VI's reign (twelve pre-production examples were minted with Edward VIII details; the whereabouts of six of these are unknown and one recently sold for £30,000, so keep an eye out!).  Prior to that point, the threepence was a silver coin, very small - less than the size of a modern 5p (or a dime) - hence its nickname, the "thruppenny bit".  Created in 1547 under the reign of Edward VI, by the 1930s its diminutiveness meant it was becoming unpopular in England (although less so in Scotland) and in 1937 the new, larger and heavier nickel-brass threepenny was introduced (although paradoxically it retained its original nickname).

Silver threepennies continued to be produced, albeit in far fewer numbers, alongside the new brass variety from 1937 to 1945 (again, if you find a 1945 silver thruppence hang on to it, for almost all of that year's production was later melted down).  Technically they are still minted today, for use in Maundy money.   The newer twelve-sided coin was subsequently produced every year from its creation in 1937 until just before decimalisation, in 1967 (with some proof sets minted in 1970; rare dates are 1946 and 1948-51).  It, along with the other pre-decimal coinage, ceased to be legal tender in 1971.  George VI examples feature three thrift plants on the reverse (which I must admit I prefer); Elizabeth II variants switched to a Tudor portcullis.

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Now, though, the brass threepenny is due to live on in spirit as the inspiration for the new 2017 £1 coin.  While the new coin, as already mentioned, will bear more than a passing resemblance to its forebear it will of course feature a few modern design flourishes plus some not unimpressive security features.  Chief among these new touches is the bi-metallic construction, as already found on the £2 coin.  Advanced, British-designed technology by the name iSIS means the coin will be infused with some special coating (dermatologists can rest easy, it doesn't come off on the skin apparently) to combat counterfeiting - the bane of the existing £1.

Some differences then, a fair bit of modernity - but using a traditional design that by all accounts will be making a welcome return.  You and I can get involved as well, since there will be a competition in the summer to find a design for the reverse (tails) side of the new coin (keep checking The Royal Mint website).  Hmmn, have to put my thinking cap on, I reckon!  In the meantime, I've dug out my old coin collection in order to reacquaint myself with this charming coin, in anticipation of its spiritual successor's arrival in three years' time.

**Do you like the new £1 coin?  What do you think should go on the reverse side?  Let me know your thoughts below!**

1 comment:

  1. I like the new design myself and its nod to history; as they say you need to look back before moving forwards. I'd have Britannia on the reverse as she seems to have virtually disappeared...

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