This is a quick piece I wrote about the demise of coins for Standpoint Magazine.
When tax discs became obsolete in 2014, my thoughts turned to a young boy who had appeared on the news with his collection proudly pasted into albums.
He was dismayed at the prospect of his hobby being curtailed and deliberated over how best to continue doing what he loved.
One and two pence pieces may be safe for now, but talk of their early retirement is rife. If they are going to suffer the same fate as tax discs as we inch ever closer to becoming a cashless society, then it will be a sad day for coin collectors like me.
Collecting money is something everyone does, whether as self-confessed numismatists or someone anxious to increase their purchasing power. For me, marvelling at a coin’s unique glint before pocketing it is one of the small pleasures in life. It’s a race, almost, to find a new coin before it loses its shine. The urge to be first can even lead you to spend more money on fripperies to increase your chances of receiving a new coin as change, so it can’t be a bad thing for the economy.
Whenever I find an unusual monetary specimen, on the other hand, I’m inclined to deposit it in a money jar to be hidden away, never to use, in the hope that it might be worth something one day.
This, in fact, is also the fate of much of our lowliest valued coinage. According to the Royal Mint, 60% of coppers are used only once before being stowed away. Clearly few can bear to feel their pockets weighed down with coins of such small worth.
Why not take the much-maligned 1p and 2p pieces out of circulation altogether? For one thing, it would create a hole in an important symbol. If they were to disappear, we would no longer be able to fit our existing coins together like a jigsaw puzzle to form the picture of the shield on the £1 coin. (If this is news to you, gather every coin under the value of a pound that bears the date 2008 or more recent and, hey presto! a montage will instantly form before your eyes.) Just think of the valuable moments of mindfulness we would miss doing that.
More importantly, coins unite us. Loose change is and always has been a carrier of time, telling stories for the present and future. Commemorative coins remind us of significant anniversaries and historic figures (the 150thanniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth was celebrated with the most exquisite depictions of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck on 50p pieces). Coins like these are precious conversation starters in our dwindling social interaction counts.
If coins were to cease to exist altogether then it would also spell the end of the Trial of the Pyx, a ceremony of great pomp and grandeur, that tests the nation’s coinage. The trial, presided over by a high court judge, ensures that the Royal Mint is doing what it should, producing coins to the right weight and composition.
Hopefully that day will never come, but best see a penny and pick it up while you still can.