The landmark events of 2012 are an ideal opportunity to begin your journey into the rewarding world of coin collecting
All eyes are on us in 2012 for what is guaranteed to be a landmark year for British history, celebrated across the world.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games offer a rare opportunity to celebrate a significant year with commemorative coins, and perhaps to start a collection.
As a nation of collectors, Britons’ take great pride in acquiring and storing away memorabilia. However, mugs break, t-shirts tire, and posters fade. In a year of such historical significance, a coin is one souvenir that is set to survive the decades.
“People often commemorate the year of their wedding or the birth of a baby by buying sets of coins,” says Dr Kevin Clancy, director of The Royal Mint Museum. How many of us have a 1977 silver Jubilee crown, or a Churchill crown tucked away in a drawer, bringing back not only memories of the event but also the doting aunt or loving grandfather who gave it to us?
This summer the nation will rejoice as the Queen becomes only the second monarch in British history to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee. To mark the occasion, The Royal Mint has issued a new 2012 UK coin – the first ever struck to commemorate a Diamond Jubilee. The Queen’s official £5 Diamond Jubilee Coin features a new portrait specially created for 2012.
Coins tell many stories about social and cultural history. For example, coins have not always depicted the head of state. “In Medieval Britain the coins simply bore a crude image of a man, rather than a likeness of the monarch,” says Clancy, “It was only from the start of the Tudor dynasty that British coins bore the monarch’s image.”
Coins were also the first form of mass communication. “They were produced in larger quantities than any other item, and were usually the only way that subjects knew what their rulers looked like,” he says.
This historical legacy is part of the appeal of coin collecting, also known as numismatics. A coin can be a direct link between an historical occasion and personal family history. “A coin is on a hand-to-hand journey through history. Collectors often like to speculate about who previously held a coin in their hand,” says Clancy.
Today there are millions of coin collectors worldwide, drawn in by the fundamental attraction underlying all collecting: the thrill of the chase. You can start by searching through the coins in your pocket.
The 50p coin that explains football’s offside rule is expected to be especially popular with people who collect circulated coins (and will be a major point of discussion over pub tables).
Those who collect the full 50p Sports Collection – created to commemorate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – will have to track down all 29 designs. Alternatively, The Royal Mint sells the coins in uncirculated condition for £2.99 each, in a colourful presentation card.
At the other end of the scale, 2012 marks the issue of the UK’s first-ever kilo coins. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Gold Kilo Coin, designed by sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, is being released in a limited edition of just 60. Minted in .999 fine gold, it costs £100,000.
Without doubt, 2012 will be a year to remember for generations to come. Don’t miss out on getting your own piece of history that you can hold in your hand – and that will last forever.
Heads and tales of collecting
The beauty is in the detail, says one enthusiast
Coin collector David Andrews [not real name] says: “I love coins because they are miniature works of art that you can easily handle.”
David‘s enthusiasm for coin collecting started early. “My parents bought me proof sets of the pre-decimal coins and the then-new coins when I was about seven. My family regarded them as precious, so mostly they were locked away, but occasionally I could persuade my mum to get them out and let me look at them.”
Andrews now collects ancient coins from biblical times, and sets of new proof coins bought direct from The Royal Mint.
“It’s a contrast. With the biblical coins I like to think about who has held them and where they have travelled. With the proof sets I love the intricate details of the design and the shining faces.” Andrews likes to collect proof sets of new coins that are issued to go into circulation. “Proof sets allow you to see the beauty and intricacy of design of everyday coins that most of the time is simply overlooked,” he says.
As a member of Mint Marque, an invitation-only club for selected Royal Mint coin collectors, he has been invited to events that enable him to explore his interest in coin design.
Andrews has also taken up invitations to visit The Royal Mint to see the minting process, and The Royal Mint Museum, which is not open to the general public.
Andrews advises others considering starting a coin collection: “This is a good time to do it because there is such a wide range of proof coins available this year. There is likely to be something that suits your interests, from royalty to sport, literature and wildlife,” he says.
“The only thing to beware of is overenthusiasm that can lead you to want everything, so be selective and watch your budget.”
An expert’s guide to becoming a serious collector
Starting a coin collection is easy. Ideally your collection should have a theme, otherwise it risks getting out of hand.
“You can be a magpie and buy whatever attracts you at first, and your specialist interest will develop from that,” says Graham Dyer, past president of the British Numismatic Society and a collector since the age of six or seven.
You could collect the coins from a particular reign, those bearing particular emblems such as ships, or examples of the penny from eras throughout history.
Research your subject. Get hold of a good book on coins that suits your theme, such as Coins of England and the United Kingdom available from leading coin and medal dealer, Spink. “Even just flicking through the pictures regularly will teach you a lot,” says Dyer.
Visit important coin collections to see examples of coins. The British Museum is the largest collection nationally but there are others such as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the National Museum Wales and the National Museums of Scotland.
Visit coin fairs to see – and ideally handle – a wide range of coins to familiarise yourself with their appearance and range of conditions you could find them in.
Always buy coins in the best condition you can afford, ideally uncirculated (never issued for public use).
“Get to know the grading system and aim to buy only coins that are in VF (very fine) or EF (extremely fine) condition or above, unless they are great rarities and worth buying,” says Dyer.
Never clean your coins, as this will wear away the detail that makes them so fascinating.
Join a local numismatic society. “Members will be delighted to share their enthusiasm,” says Dyer. Later you can graduate to the British Numismatic Society (www.britnumsoc.org) or the Royal Numismatic Society (www.numismatics.org.uk).