By Kerry Rodgers
On Dec. 16 the final run of Britain’s circulating round pound coins came off the production line at Llantrisant’s Royal Mint in the Welsh county of Rhondda Cynon Taf.
The round pound was introduced on April 21, 1983, as a replacement for the pound note which was phased-out over the following five years. In the 33 years the coin has been in circulation some 2.2 billon have been struck.
However, the coin is very much yesterday’s technology. In its present monometallic, nickel-brass form it is vulnerable to counterfeiting. It is estimated that at least 45 million fakes are presently in circulation or some 3 percent of the 1,553, 000,000 legit coins presently in tills, pockets, purses, and bank vaults, as well as down the back of sofas.
In 2014 the British media claimed the impending replacement of the round pound by a new 12-sided bimetallic secure coin had been spurred by Dutch plans to flood Britain with at least 30 million fakes.
Following a tip-off from the British police their Dutch counterparts raided what had been believed to be a legitimate private mint in Amsterdam. They found it set-up to produce hundreds of round pounds a minute all of comparable quality to those struck by the Royal Mint.
In retrospect it appears this counterfeiting operation had been under way since at least 2006 during which time it had produced about 4 million fake pound coins each year. While this is regarded as the largest operation of its kind, in 2009 the Italian police had foiled a scheme to bring 500,000 fake pounds to Britain.
Whatever the motivation, the round pound’s days have long been numbered but, like the pound note it replaced, it will take some years to strip all the nickel-brass coins from circulation.
The 22.5 mm diameter, 3.15 mm thick, 9.5 g coin has been struck in all years for circulation since 1983 except in 1998 and 1999 when it was present in collector sets only. Its nickel brass alloy consists of 70 percent copper, 5.5 percent nickel, 24.5 percent zinc. The edge is milled.
Apart from 2004–07 and the capital cities’ designs from 2010–11, each coin comes with a Llantrisant mint mark in the form of a small crosslet found on the milled edge.
From a collectors point of view Tony Clayton lists 33 distinct types of round pound coins on his website: www.coins-of-the-uk.co.uk – leaving aside, proofs, off-metal strikes and piedforts. That is, one for each year of the coin’s existence.
To date the obverse of the coin has been graced by four effigies of Queen Elizabeth II. The sculptor/artists were Arnold Machin (1983, 1984), Raphael Maklouf (1985-1997), Ian Rank-Broadley (1998-2014), and Jody Clark (2015). The inscription around the Machin, Maklouf and Rank-Broadley obverses reads ELIZABETH . II . D . G . REG . F . D .along with the date. That around the Jody Clark portrait is less contracted: ELIZABETH II . DEI . GRA . REG : FID . DEF . [Elizabeth II by the Grace of God Queen of Great Britain, Defender of the Faith.]
In the Machin portrait the Queen wears the “Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara” without its base. The same tiara, but complete, appears in the Rank-Broadley rendition. In the Maklouf and Clark effigies Her Majesty sports the “George IV State Diadem”.
The reverse design has changed each year from 1983 through 2015. This has allowed the coin to successively show emblems representing the different parts of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, as well as Great Britain itself. On all reverse designs the sole inscription is ONE POUND.
The reverse of the first coin issued on 21 April, 1983, (KM#933) showed the Royal Arms representing the United Kingdom. The design was by Eric Sewell. The edge bore the historic inscription DECUS ET TUTAMEN [An ornament and a safeguard]. The same design was used again in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008 (KM#964, -993).
Each year from 1984 through 1987, and repeated from 1990 through 1992, the reverse designs bore the royal diadem accompanied by national symbols of Scotland (KM#934, -959), Wales (KM#941), Northern Ireland (KM#946), and England (KM#948): thistle, leek, flax plant, and oak tree. The respective accompanying edge inscriptions were NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT [No one provokes me with impunity], PLEIDIOL WYF I’M GWLAD [I am true to my country], and DECUS ET TUTAMEN for both the Northern Irish and English pounds. All the designs were the work of Leslie Durbin.
In 1988 a revised Royal Arms by Derek Gorringe was used along with the regular DECUS ET TUTAMEN inscription (KM#954). The plain shield of the Gorringe design echoes that of Lewis Pingo’s 1787-99 George III “spade guinea” so named as it royal arms resembled a shovel.
In 1994 through 1997 came a second cycle of nationalistic designs of the four component parts of the United Kingdom: a lion rampant for Scotland (KM#967), a dragon passant for Wales (KM#969), a Celtic cross with pimpernel surrounded by a torc for Northern Ireland (KM#972), and three lions passant guardant for England (KM#975). The designs were by Norman Sillman and were repeated on the 1999 through 2002 pounds (KM#998, -1005, -1013, -1030). The edge inscriptions were as for the previous national designs.
A third cycle in 2004 through 2008 by Edwina Ellis was focused on bridges. Once again Scotland led off with the cantilever Forth Rail Bridge (KM#1048). Wales followed with the Menai Suspension Bridge that links the island of Anglesey with mainland Wales (KM#1051). From Northern Ireland comes Macneill’s Egyptian Arch in Newry used by the Dublin to Belfast railway (KM#1059). And England contributed the tilting pedestrian and cyclist Gateshead Millennium Bridge (KM#1074). Edge inscriptions were as before.
From 2008 through 2014 a third Royal Arms appeared each year, this one by Matthew Dent (KM#1113). Concurrently a set of four pounds showing the badges of the capital cities of the United Kingdom were struck; two in 2010 and two in 2011. Designs were by Dr Stuart Devlin, Goldsmith and Jeweler to Her Majesty the Queen.
In 2010 Belfast and London were featured with edge inscriptions PRO TANTO QUID RETRIBUAMUS [What shall we give in return for so much] (KM#1159) and DOMINE DIRIGE NOS [Lord direct us] (KM#1158), respectively.
In 2011 it was Cardiff and Edinburgh with edge inscriptions Y DDRAIG GOCH DDYRY CYCHWYN [The Red Dragon shall lead] (KM#1198) and NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA [Without God all is in vain] (KM#1197), respectively.
In 2013 and 2014 floral emblems of England (KM#1237), Wales (KM#1238), Northern Ireland (KM#-) and Scotland (KM#-) decorated the reverses of four pound coins: rose and oak, leek and daffodil, shamrock and pimpernel, and thistle and bluebell. Again two coins were released each year. Designs were by Timothy Noad. Edge inscriptions are as for 1984 to 1987.
Last year another version of the Royal Arms graced the reverse. The design of Timothy Noad elevated the prominence of the arms’ supporters, England’s Lion and Scotland’s Unicorn. In addition it incorporated all four national floral symbols: rose, leek, shamrock and thistle. This is Britain’s last circulating pound.
However, this year the Royal Mint has stuck a special commemorative Royal Arms pound. This will be the last to ever appear. It marks the end of an era. The design by artist Gregory Cameron shows the four Royal Beasts cavorting about St Edward’s Crown: England’s lion, Scotland’s unicorn, Wales’ dragon, and Ireland’s stag.
These last round pounds feature in the 2016 collector sets. Nonetheless the coin itself will not be vanishing from British lives in a hurry. A spokesman from the Royal Mint told the BBC it will take several years for every vending machine, shopping trolley, and gym locker in the country to be changed.
Caveat: The Wikipedia round pound page lists a 1982-dated coin showing a “Dragon passant” on the reverse with the Welsh edge marking PLEIDIOL WYF I’M GWLAD. It gives a mintage of 100. This coin does not appear in any catalog available to the author including those listing trials and patterns. When approached the Royal Mint Museum could find no record of such an item.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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