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Coins similar to British £2 cause concern

When you consider how many different coins are issued worldwide it is amazing there aren’t more coin types that are identical in weight and diameter that could be used in vending machines in some other country.

Although the British £2 coin has been around since 1998, it now appears some individuals are taking advantage of the fact the ringed bimetal coin is similar to some lower value foreign coins that these individuals have been using as substitutes.

The problem has become sufficiently widespread that the West Midlands Morrisons grocery store announced during mid-June that it was suspending the acceptance of £2 coins at its self-service checkout counters.

According to a supermarket chain spokesman, “A number of stores have had foreign currency passed off as £2 coins at self-checkouts. While we fix the issue we have temporarily stopped them accepting any £2 coins, although customers are still free to use them at all manned checkouts. We apologize for any inconvenience it is causing, but don’t expect the fix to take long.”

An unnamed spokesman for Jewellery Quarter Bullion Ltd. was quoted by several local newspapers as saying, “The key with these machines is weight and diameter. A £2 coin weighs 12 grams. It may well be that shoppers are not looking to rip anyone off. In some cases there is very little difference in currency value. They are simply trying to use change they gathered while holidaying abroad.”

Another unnamed spokesman, this one representing www.24carat.co.uk was quoted by the same newspapers as adding, “We don’t yet fully understand why counterfeiters would be turning to forging £2 coins when we would have thought it would be easier and more worthwhile to focus on £1 coins. The only reason we can think of is that it is becoming more widely known that many fake pound coins are in circulation, hence subject to greater scrutiny.”

The culprits appear to be the Iran 250-rial and Thailand 10-baht coins, each of which is able to pass undetected as a £2 coin in some machines that vend coins. The British £2 coin has a diameter of 28.4 millimeters, a thickness of 2.5mm, with a nickel-brass outer ring and copper-nickel inner plug, and a milled edge. This is consistent with the ringed bimetal rial and baht coins of Iran and Thailand.

The foreign coin problem appears to be relatively new. The British Royal Mint was diligent when first planning the new denomination.

According to the BRM website, “After a review of the United Kingdom coinage in 1994, it emerged that there was a requirement for a general circulation £2 coin. A consultation process took place with the vending machine industry, members of the public, and special interest groups such as the RNIB and Age Concern. The consensus of opinion from the consultation favored a bi-color coin because it would be easily distinguishable from the other coins in circulation.”

The vending industry was focused on the electronic signature of the coin rather than in its physical appearance.

The BRM website does explain: “Originally the intention was to issue the £2 coin in November 1997 and millions of coins were struck with the Raphael Maklouf portrait of the Queen on the obverse in readiness for launch. Concerns, however, emerged from the vending industry prior to the issue date. Production was placed on hold whilst further tests were carried out and resumed in 1998, featuring the new portrait of the Queen by Ian Rank-Broadley on the obverse. The £2 coin was eventually launched on 15 June 1998, when millions of both versions of the coin were released. Because of the two different portraits, however, many confusing stories have arisen. The most common misconception is that the £2 coin bearing the Raphael Maklouf portrait of the Queen in which she is wearing a necklace, was made in very modest numbers. Since millions of these coins were minted this is simply not the case.”

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