Brexit? Flip a coin

Brexit reminds my of The Clash's song Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Brexit reminds my of The Clash’s song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

While there is enough going on with U.S. politics to make one’s head spin, on Thursday, June 23 the United Kingdom will hold a nationwide vote on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union. The last time the U.K. held a referendum on joining the E.U. was in 1975, which predates the modern European Union. It is called “Brexit,” a portmanteau of the term “Britain Exit,” as in should Britain exit the E.U.?

The European Union was formed after World War II in various forms in an attempt to collectively rebuild Europe by integrating their resources. The first formal attempt was the Treaty of Rome in 1957 signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany to create the European Economic Community (EEC) and established a customs union. What we know today as the European Union was established when the Maastricht Treaty became effective in 1993.

As part of the integration under the E.U. is the common currency known as the Euro. First distributed in 1999 with 14 participating nations, now includes 19 of the 28 nations plus the Vatican, Monaco, and San Marino who are not formally members of the E.U. The United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Whales) continues to use the pound sterling, sometimes referred to the Great Britain Pound. Ireland, sovereign from the United Kingdom, uses the euro.

British Prime Minister David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron

The U.K. is holding this vote because Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold this vote as part of his 2015 campaign. When the Conservative Party won the majority of seats in Parliament, Cameron, as party leader, was elected by Parliament to serve as Prime Minister.

Interestingly, many of the arguments for leaving the E.U. are similar to those being applied by the apparent nominee for the Republican Party in the United States while those campaigning to remain in the E.U. are similar to the apparent Democratic Party nominee. It just goes to prove that regardless of which side of the pond you live, politics is polarizing.

For those of us Yanks who want to learn more, BBC News has published a good overview with links to more in-depth that you can click here to read it, if interested.

So why is this significant for a coin collector’s blog? We do look at economic matters affecting collecting including those whose collection are being put together for speculation including the purchase of bullion-based numismatics. Also, the outcome could not only affect the world economic system but could also have an impact for those who collect foreign coins.

If the U.K. votes to remain in the E.U. then the status quo remains. The British will go back to their partisan politics and scratch their heads over the U.S.’s partisan politics known as the 2016 presidential election. Markets that have tightened in anticipation of what Brexit may mean could see this as a temporary reprieve.

If the U.K. votes to leave the E.U. the markets may not like it and the economy can go into a freefall. Markets do not like uncertainty and a vote for the U.K. to leave the E.U. would bring about the uncertainty of “what happens next?” and “now what?” Business leaders, who are largely in favor of remaining the in E.U., has noted that it makes it easier for them to move money, people and products around the world. What happens when those doors are closed?

As we have seen when economies are uncertain, markets react by selling off speculative assets, like stocks, and running to safer investments like trustworthy bonds and precious metals. In the last three weeks in the run up to Brexit, gold is up $56 (4.6-percent) in the last three weeks and silver is up $1.41 (8.8-percent). Both are off their annual highs set on June 16 when published polls are suggesting that Stay has a lead greater than the margin of error over Leave.

NOTE: Charts do not update

Sample of the ballot that will be used for the EU Referendum "Brexit" vote

Sample of the ballot that will be used for the EU Referendum “Brexit” vote

It is likely that world markets will decline and precious metals will go up on Thursday as investors try to figure out how the Brits will vote. Polls close in the U.K. at 2200 GMT, which is 11:00 PM in London and 6:00 PM on the east coast of the United States. There are 382 polling districts throughout the country. Each district is counted and forwarded to one of 12 regional centers. Once the regional center verifies the counts it will be forwarded to a chief counting officer that will announce the results at Manchester Town Hall. BBC suggests that results should be reported starting at 4:00 AM or 11:00 PM on the U.S. east coast.

Market watchers can watch what happens to the Tokyo Nikkei 225 market index and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index. Both are the major indexes in the Asia/Pacific region and will be around their midday trading sessions on Friday.

Collectors looking for something numismatic to add to their collection might want to consider the In/Out UK EU Referendum Medallion produced by Chard(1964), a British metals dealer. These copper medals were produced for the Britons who were undecided. Flip the medal before you vote to decide whether to remain or leave. The Remain side has the E.U. flag surrounded by “Remain,” “Better Together,” “United,” and “Stronger in Europe.” The Leave side has the British Union Jack with “Brexit,” “Independence,” “Leave,” and “Sovereignty.”

Medals are 31mm in diameter and weighs 14 grams. They come in pure copper or Abyssinian Gold, a type of brass made of 90-percent copper and 10-percent zinc that has a gold-like color. They can be purchased for £2.95 each ($4.33 at the current exchange rate) plus shipping (estimated at £6.00 or $8.80) directly from Chard’s website.


  • Brexit combined flags image: Credit Philippe Wojazer/Reuters via the New York Times.
  • Image of PM Cameron is an official photo downloaded from Wikipedia.
  • Static metals graphs courtesy of Kitco.
  • Referendum Ballot image courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Brexit Medal images courtesy of Chard.

Royal Mint video show their striking standards

Royal Mint Striking Standards

Royal Mint Striking Standards

The Royal Mint, an institution that can trace its history back over 1100 years, has produced a video describing their striking standards for bullion coins. The video titled “What is the difference between Proof, Brilliant Uncirculated and Bullion coins?” interviews some of the people on the multi-step journey to create the dies and strikes for different bullion coins.

As part of the article and video they discuss the differences between the three types of uncirculated commemorative coin finish: Proof, Brilliant Uncirculated, and Bullion. For the Royal Mint, proof are the highest standards followed by brilliant uncirculated then bullion.

While this may be intuitive to experienced collectors, novice and new collectors may be confused by the difference. The Royal Mint does a very good job at explaining the difference in a short, well produced video. It should be interesting to the beginning and expert collector to see how another mint does their work.

Image and video courtesy of the Royal Mint.

Mint v. Mint

As part of my perusal of the Internet looking for numismatic-related stories, I stumbled upon an article at the website for The Guardian about the Royal Mint’s operating income and profits. The story touted how the Royal Mint, whose history can be traced back over 1,000 years, increased over 70-percent from the previous year.

Using The Guardian’s reporting, I wondered how the Royal Mint would stack up against the U.S. Mint. Even though the story was published on July 23, 2015 and the U.S. Mint’s data is for Fiscal Year 2014 that ended on September 30, 2014, I am using the conversion rate of at the time I write this of £1 is equivalent to $1.55.

Royal Mint v US Mint


The Guardian reported that the Royal Mint earned £260 million in revenues. This is equivalent to just over $404 million. In contrast, the U.S. Mint boasted revenues of over $3.1 billion or a bit over £1.995 billion. Yes, that is BILLION with a “B.” While the Royal Mint’s revenue was depicted as being the most in the institution’s history, the U.S. Mint’s record revenues came in 2011 when it earned $4.970 billion.


What good is making money if there are no profits. The Royal Mint reported a record profit of £11.5 million or just over $17.7 million. The U.S. Mint did slightly better by reporting a seigniorage of $367.9 million or more than £236.756 million. Even if you take it as a percentage, the Royal Mint’s profit margin is 4.38-percent while the U.S. Mint has a profit margin of 11.86-percent.

Benefit to their respective governments

The Royal Mint is wholly owned by the British Treasury. They pay a £4 million ($6.218 million) dividend to the British government. By law, the seigniorage earned by the U.S. Mint is deposited in their Public Enterprise Fund. The Treasury Department requests a budget for the U.S. Mint which is then approved by congress. The funds are withdrawn from the Public Enterprise Fund. Allowing for overages, the Secretary of the Treasury then transfers the rest of the money to the U.S. General Funds where it is used to pay whatever the government needs. In 2014, $272 million (£174.971 million) was deposited into the General Funds, more than 43-times the dividend that the Royal Mint pays the British government.

The U.S. Mint is the most profitable agency in the United States government. No other mint in the world can match the U.S. Mint’s production, income, and profit. The U.S. Mint even out performs private industry. The average profit margin in the United States is 5.1-percent.

The next time someone complains that it costs too much to make a specific coin, remind them that the U.S. Mint provides more benefit to the government than the loss of a little profit on a few coins.

Royal Mint logo courtesy of the Royal Mint.
U.S. Mint seal courtesy of the United States Department of the Treasury.

Remembrance Day 2012

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“In Flanders Fields” was written during World War I by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian physician stationed in northern France. Aside from being a physician, he was a teacher, poet, and author. McCrea was appointed as a field surgeon and was in charge of a field hospital during the Second Battle of Ypres when his friend and former student Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed in the battle. The death and funeral of his friend inspired McCrae to write the poem.

“In Flanders Fields” was published anonymously in the British magazine Punch on December 8, 1915. However, the index for the year printed only a few weeks later attributed the poem to McCrea. The poem became one of the most popular of the war and was extensively printed in the United States while its leaders were debated whether to join the war.

McCrae died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918 while commanding No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne. He was buried with full military honors at Wimereaux Cemetery near the English Channel 3 miles from Boulogne.

2004 Canada Poppy Quarter, the first colorized coin ever issued for circulation by any mint.

McCrae’s poem has made the poppy a popular and powerful symbol of Remembrance Day celebrated on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the Commonwealth Realm to mark the anniversary of Armistice Day in 1919. In the United States, we celebrate it as Veterans Day.

The remembrance poppy is not as strong a symbol in the United States since the nation did not declare war on Germany until April 1917. The American Legion has used the poppy as part of its fund raising efforts.

Maybe the United States should embrace the poppy as well. Why not create a commemorative coin with a colored poppy as the design and use the seignorage from the sales to support the work of the Department of Veterans Affairs? How about changing the reverse of the Roosevelt Dime to be a red-colored poppy to raise awareness of all our veterans? Using the Roosevelt Dime would give it a needed refresh and would tie both World Wars in one coin. Then the U.S. Mint could strike special silver dime for sale to the public.

Maybe it is an idea whose time has come.


Making of the 2012 London Olympics Medals

With the 2012 Summer Olympics starting next week in London, the folks at CNN Money did a report about the making of the medals by the Royal Mint.

Medals made for the XXX Olympiad in London are the largest medals ever made for a summer Olympics. Their specifications are as:

  • Diameter: 85mm (approx. 3.346 inches)
  • Thickness: 7mm
  • Weight: 412g (approx. 14.5 ounces)
  • Designer: David Watkins
  • Obverse Design: Nike with Panathinaiko Stadium in the background
  • Reverse Design: The River Thames and the London Games logo with angled lines in the background
  • Composition of Gold Medal: 92.5% silver, 6.16% copper, 1.34% gold
  • Composition of Silver Medal: 92.5% silver, 7.5% copper
  • Composition of Bronze Medal: 97% copper, 0.5% tin, 2.5% zinc

The metals used to make the medals were supplied by Rio Tinto and was mined at their Kennecott Utah Copper Mine and Oyu Tolgol project in Mongolia.

Here is the CNN Money report about the making of the medals by the Royal Mint:

Image of the London 2012 Olympic Medals courtesy of London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games
Video courtesy of CNN Money

Silver Is Still Beautiful—Britannia Edition

Silver can bring out the best in nearly every design. Another silver coin worth collecting is the Britannia. After joining the United States and other countries to offer gold bullion coins in 1987, the Royal Mint celebrated the tenth anniversary of their program by introducing a £2 silver coin. Silver Britannias are struck in what is called Britannia silver, an alloy consisting of 958 parts per thousand silver. As a comparison, sterling silver consists of 925 parts per thousand silver. Comparatively, the American Silver Eagle contains 999 parts per thousand silver and the Canadian Maple Leaf consists of 999.9 parts per thousand silver. The balance of the alloy is usually copper.

Britannia was originally the Latin name that the Roman Empire gave to the island of Great Britain and its possessions. After the fall of the Roman Empire it had lost most symbolic meaning until the rise of British influence and being renewed during the time of Queen Victoria. Still depicted as a young woman with brown or golden hair, she kept her Corinthian helmet and her white robes, but now she held Poseidon’s three-pronged trident and often stood in the ocean, representing British naval power. She also usually held or stood beside a Greek hoplon shield which sports the British Union Jack. At her feet was often the British Lion, the national animal of England. Britannia first appeared on the farthing in 1672, followed by the halfpenny later the same year under Charles II.

When introduced in 1997, the Silver Britannia was minted with the official “hid Portrait” of HM Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. This portrait was designed by Raphael Maklouf FRSA and shows the Queen with the Royal Diadem which she wears on her way to and from the State Opening of Parliament. The fourth official portrait of Her Majesty the Queen was introduced for all Commonwealth coinage in 1998. It is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS, FSNAD. Her Majesty is wearing the tiara which was used in an earlier coinage portrait by Arnold Machin. The Queen is shown facing right, in accordance with a tradition dating back to the seventeenth century, where successive monarchs face in alternative directions on the coinage.

From their introduction in 1987, the gold Britannia coins used the standing Britannia design on the reverse. On the tenth anniversary of the program and the introduction of the silver Britannia, a new deisign was created. The design was a figure of Britannia driving a chariot in the manner of Boudica was designed by Philip Nathan. Boudica, also know as Boadicea, was ruler of the Iceni tribe in eastern England and Queen of the Britons. She led her forces in revolt against the Romans and sacked Colchester, St. Albans, and London before being defeated by the Roman governor, Suetonius Paulinus. She died in the year 62 CE. This design was used in 1997, 1999, and 2006.

Following the successful launch of the silver Britannia coins, the Royal Mint returned to the standing Britannia design. Created by Philip Nathan, Britannia is depicted adorned in flowing robes standing proud in defense of Britain’s shores. The design recalls the design used on florins of Edward VII. this design also appeared in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006.

With a few other designs mixed in, the 2010 is also a single year design designed by Suzie Amit who said that she wanted to portray Britannia as a strong and courageous looking but not overly warlike woman—more peaceful and protective. The coin is struck with shiny surfaces without contrast from frosted designs. Unfortunately, it made it difficult to image. Although this image does not capture its beauty, it is a very nice design and worthy of completing my one ounce Silver Britannia collection.

American Silver Eagles, Chinese Pandas, and Great Britain Britannias are not only beautiful silver coins, but make a nice set to collect. Even with silver prices on the rise, they do make nice sets.

Do You Want One In Your Easter Basket?

Even in a down market, there is always someone ready to capitalize on those who still have the money to afford extravagance. In Great Britain, the high-end retailer Selvridges is selling Melt’s Recession Proof Egg. Melt, the Selfidges house brand, is offering a hand-made to order chocolate egg made with a one-ounce gold bullion Britannia coin and decorated with 18-karat gold leaf.

Gold is currently $880.80 per ounce (£600.31 at the current exchange rate).

If you have a spare £1,000 ($1,467.25) and happen to be in the area of Selfridges’ Oxford Street store in London, you might want to pick up a unique easter gift.

Image courtesy of Selfridges.

Weekend Change Hunting

Needing to catch up on a number of tasks this weekend, I decided to take time out and go through my pocket change. While I like to examine my change, sometimes it is not possible. So I drop the coins in a small box and promise myself to search them later. The box was overflowing making it time to search.

First, I separate quarters. Quarters are easier to examine because of their size and the fewer errors I have found. I also fill up coin tubes so that my wife has soda money for work. While searching this small box, I found two 1976 quarter with the Drummer Boy Reverse designed by Jack Ahr. It still remains one of my favorite designs.

While searching the quarters, I found a 1992 Great Britain 10 pence coin. This coin is 24.5 mm in diameter and 1.8 mm thick with a reeded edge. A US quarter dollar is 24.26 mm and 1.75 mm thick with a reeded edge. Although the design is different, the size and the silver-like color could easily have this coin mistaken for a US quarter. My only problem is that even at the current exchange rate (it takes $2 to equal £1) the coin’s value is 20-cents leaving me 5-cents short!

Within the nickels, I was able to find a well circulated 1954-S coin. It is not worth much in its current condition, but it is nice to find a coin older than me and with the mint mark on the reverse.

When searching change, there seems to always be more to find within the little brown coins that many want to complain about and eliminate. For change searching, pennies usually yield some of the more interesting finds. Aside from the number of early Memorial reverse copper cents, I was able to find 1972-S and 1974-S cents. For someone on the east coast, finding San Francisco Mint coins in change is not usual.

Of course I found a few wheat back cents. The oldest is a well circulated 1941 cent. Two others, 1956-D and 1957, are in good to very good condition with a nice, even chocolate brown toning.

We cannot forgot our neighbors to the north. With the dollar about on par with the Canadian dollar, the prospect of making a virtual profit on finding Canadian cents induces dreams of past economic times. But this time, I found two 1979 and one 2000 cents. The 1979 cents have the modified tiara portrait, a smaller portrait from previous versions, and 3.26 grams of .980 copper. It contains 2.57 (US) cents worth of metals.

The copper-plated zinc 2000 Canadian cent, contains about one (US) cent worth of zinc.

If nothing else, it gave me a couple of hours to relax.

Royal Mint Redesigns British Coins

For the first time in 40 years, the Royal Mint is redesigning the reverse of British circulating coins. To come up with a new design, the Royal Mint held an open competition for the new design. The goal was to find a design that would represent the country but in a “modern, fresh way.” After receiving over 4,000 entries, a novel design based on the Royal Arms was chosen to appear on all six circulating coins.

Said to be “firmly rooted in the heraldic traditions of the British coinage yet beautifully contemporary,” the design calls for the penny and pence coins to show a section of the Royal Arms that includes the heraldic designs that have been a part of British coinage since the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). It has been called a “jigsaw puzzle effect.” To unify the design, the £1 coin will contain a full image of the Royal Arms. To understand the effect, the image to the right of this paragraph shows the reverse of the coins laid out to show how the parts fit the whole image.

The obverse will continue to use the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II designed by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The winning design was submitted by Matthew Dent, a 26 year-old professional graphic designer. With a sense of history and artistry, Dent created the design for its symbolism and the jigsaw idea to represent the unity of the nation. Dent wrote, “I liked the idea and symbolism of using the Royal Arms, where individually the coins could focus on specific elements and when placed together they reveal the complete Royal Arms.”

Coinage design in the United Kingdom is different from here in the United States. The Royal Mint is a corporation of the crown, meaning it is owned by the monarch and subject to the Queen’s decrees. Royal Mint management decided to redesign the coins with the approval of the Queen.

The competition was managed by The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC). Established by King George V in 1922 to raise the quality of the coinage, the RMAC fulfills the same role as the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Committee of Fine Arts does in the United States. However, unlike the US, the RMAC has authority to recommend themes and other design elements. In the US, themes and design elements are part of the law passed by congress and signed by the president.

Once the design was selected, the recommendation was sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his capacity as Master of the Mint. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would be equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury here in the US. Following the approval by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the design was delivered to Queen Elizabeth for royal approval.

The Royal Mint is working on preparing dies and producing coins for both the collector and circulation by the Bank of England. Circulating coins are expected to reach the public by the summer. When they are released, old coins will continue to circulate along side the new coins.

A video produced by the Royal Mint discusses the new design, the competition, and has an interview with Matthew Dent.

The design is a phenomenal idea. I was impressed with the concept as soon as I saw it on the Royal Mint’s website. Since the Royal Mint will be attending the World’s Fair of Money® this July in Baltimore, I look forward to seeing the sets in person.

Image courtesy of the Royal Mint.

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