By Richard Giedroyc
You can’t say there is anything dull about modern numismatic manufacturing technology.
In the past the collar was introduced to ensure a round coin. This was followed by reeded and lettered edges for security purposes. In more modern history we’ve seen ringed bimetal coins, color enhancements, holographic devices, and microprinting—all meant to discourage counterfeiting.
Bank note technology is advancing quickly as well. Not only are there microprinting and security strips, but there are see-through vignettes, front-to-back registration, and more recently polymer or plastic as a substitute for the traditional paper bank note.
You might think security for coinage has finally reached its zenith, but both Monnaie de Paris and the British Royal Mint are proving this to be wrong. The French 2009 International Year of Astronomy coin is only now gaining attention since the United States has decided to borrow and improve on the technology for a coin of its own, each of these being a curved or cup-shaped product. This novel technology is challenging for anyone to use. It will likely frustrate counterfeiters as well.
The BRM has announced a new Integrated Secure Identification System or iSIS technology that is hoped will frustrate counterfeiters. It will frustrate the vending machine and parking meter industry as well, which is expected to spend £20 million (more than $32 million US) to change the coin acceptance mechanisms in machines nationwide.
The mint has been careful not to give out too much information about the iSIS. Although the innovative £1 coin won’t be available for some time, there is concern since the number of counterfeit £1 coins detected in circulation has recently risen from 2.74 percent to 3.04 percent. Marcus Glindon, now serving a five-year sentence for counterfeiting, may be credited for some of this increase in bogus £1 coins. The unemployed engineer has been estimated to have minted millions of fakes. Patrick Onel, under arrest in the Netherlands, deserves much of the credit as well.
The BRM has its hands full launching this next generation of coins. The coin will be 12-sided. The planchet will be a ringed bimetal composition of metals yet to be announced. The coin will include a lettered edge.
According to the March 19 issue of the publication The Engineer, “iSIS is expected to reduce costs by replacing expensive clad and homogeneous coins with a more affordable full-plated option rather than a surface coating that is prone to wear over time.”
The U.S. Mint is also jumping through hoops to master new technology, this being what will be necessary for its upcoming cup-shaped National Baseball Hall of Fame coin. U.S. Mint in Philadelphia Manager of Digital Development Stephen C. Antonucci said, “It stretched the bounds of everything we knew about coin development.”
Studying the previous French coin has proved to be valuable to the US Mint. The U.S. Mint wants to improve the relief of the design elements, creating a laser scan model of the French coin in order to study the shape and relief of the coin.
The U.S. design team produced a test coin on which a billiard ball appears on one side, with a pool table on the other. The concept came from a team member’s joke that the team was behind the eight ball.
The U.S. Mint went one step further than did Monnaie de Paris. They produced the milling test dies for the prototype in house, cutting the time needed to be devoted to this step in the project. The next challenge will be to successfully strike the world’s first copper-nickel “domed” or cup-shaped coin. Legislation approved by U..S Congress mandates the coins be struck in gold ($5), silver ($1), and as a non-precious metal clad 50-cent issue.
Since this clad coin will involve a copper core plated with a nickel alloy further experimentation will be necessary to avoid warping or die defects.
Cup- or dome-shaped coins called scyphates were issued in gold and bronze composition about a thousand years earlier by the Byzantine Empire. Many of the surviving examples have planchet cracks caused by the problems encountered when striking a curve-shaped coin.
Once this technology is perfected it may at some later date join the British technology to produce “super coins” for circulation that hopefully will frustrate counterfeiters for a long time into the future. The technology should also make it interesting when a coin is flipped at the beginning of a sporting event.