The old Round Pound and the new 12-sided £1 coin

With the introduction of the COINS Act Cents (S. 759) and Sensibility Act (H.R. 2067), there is a possibility that the U.S. Mint will be required to make changes in the coinage it produces for circulation. Although the chances of either of these bills being passed are not very good, we can watch what is going on across the pond to see how a smaller country, albeit with a significant economy, handles a change in their coinage.

After three years of design and production plans, the Royal Mint has produced what they are calling the most secure coin ever. The 12-sided, bimetallic coin includes micro-lettering, a latent image that is like a hologram, and something embedded in the metal to change its electromagnetic signature so that coin operated machines can detect counterfeits. These changes were made necessary by an effort criminals made to flood the market with counterfeit the previous £1 coin.

Initially, there have been complaints about coin-op systems not being able to accept the coin. Everyone from parking lots with metered and machined payment to the London Underground has been seen as not ready for the change even though the Royal Mint produced test coins in 2016 to help businesses convert. In England, where supermarkets charge to use the shopping cart in a manner that U.S. airports charge to use luggage carts, some major chains have unlocked their carts because they cannot accept the new £1 coins.

Acceptance is not the only problem they have run into. The new pound coins appear to have errors.

The first error to show up caused people to think that the coin was being counterfeited when the thistle on the reverse did not strike properly. The Royal Mint confirmed that these were not counterfeits. They were errors in the minting process. Although it was reported that the Royal Mint did not examine the coins, after seeing the images they said:

As you would expect, we have tight quality controls in place, however variances will always occur in a small number of coins, particularly in the striking process, due to the high volumes and speed of production.

First new £1 coin error found with missing detail on the thistle

Next came the center-melt error. A woman in Birmingham found a coin that looks like the copper-nickel center melted across the coin. When minting bimetallic coins, the centers are supposed to expand in order to fuse it to the outer layers. The design crossed over the edges of the two metals to help with the anti-counterfeiting and to make sure the metals are locked into place. Since the coin is struck evenly, it is likely that either the alloy making up the center contains more of the softer nickel than specified, or that the coin was struck as second time causing the already fused centers to melt because of the friction.

Too hard of a strike is likely to have caused the copper-nickel center to melt across the coin.

A European coin expert familiar with the bimetallic minting process suggested that the pressure on the presses were set too high. This caused the coin to not eject properly from the collar leaving it in the machine for a second strike. The second strike on the higher pressure caused the center to melt and position the coin in a way to force it to eject. He is looking for an example to make a closer examination.

A final error find was the separation of the center from the outer ring. Even though the Royal Mint has said that this is impossible and all but accused the person who found the error of a crime (destroying coins is a crime in the United Kingdom), it is possible for the parts to separate if the strike pressure is not hard enough to fuse the centers to the rings. If the melting centers are caused by too heavy of the strike, the removable centers are caused by too light of a strike.

A weak strike can prevent the two metals from fusing properly allowing them to separate

It is theorized that the Royal Mint has two possible issues: quality control when resetting the coining presses when changing the dies and a design that cannot handle the tolerances.

Even when dies are changed for coins struck on a planchet with a single metal, the press has to be adjusted to ensure the coins are struck with the proper force. Even if the dies are made by the same person and machines, they can be mounted millimeters off. Operators are supposed to run a few coins and check the striking tolerances. If the strike is too hard, it will cause the dies to wear quicker (the first error) and possible cause multiple strikes (the second error) when the coins get stuck in the collars. Set too soft and the friction does not generate enough heat to fuse the metals (third error).

Looking for errors on eBay’s UK site, errors include coins without Queen Elizabeth’s portrait and 2016 trial strikes given to merchants to test coin-op machines that ended up in circulation.

Trial strikes found without the effigy of Queen Elizabeth, II

While the Brits are having fun with the Royal Mint’s error, it is nothing like the “Godless Dollar” outrage by the easily offended when the edge lettering with “In God We Trust” was accidentally left off of the Presidential dollars. Maybe the United States cannot handle change to their change!

Credits

  • Thistle error image courtesy of The Sun.
  • Melted pound image courtesy of The Sun.
  • Separated pound image courtesy of gtgadget.

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