The 300-Year Quest to Make a Foolproof £1 Coin
Can Britain’s oldest manufacturer beat modern counterfeiters?
With as many as 45 million British one-pound coins suspected fake, the Royal Mint is now making 1.5 billion new ones, which will enter circulation Tuesday. Security features include a 12-sided bimetallic design, a hologram, fine lettering and even some secret tricks to beat crooks, the modern equivalent of Sir Isaac Newton’s efforts to make the currency more secure in his tenure as Master of the Royal Mint some three centuries ago.
His successor, Mint chief executive Adam Lawrence, calls it “the most secure circulating coin in the world.”
“We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at it in terms of security features,” research curator Chris Barker said, standing in a room filled with 80,000 coins detailing the history of British money starting around 200 B.C. “Newton’s legacy at the mint was creating a better-designed coin in terms of physical design. The more intricate it is, the harder it is to replicate.”
Newton joined the mint in 1696 as an old man, setting aside physics to oversee the work that was then carried out at the Tower of London. After a brief spell replacing old silver coins, he turned to the problem of counterfeiting. His answer incorporated both science and art, with greater emphasis placed on consistency of weight and size, while more time was allowed for creating the design.
The mint, which traces its history back more than a millennium, to the time when Alfred the Great had his monogram struck on coins in 880, moved to its current site at Llantrisant, Wales, in 1986.
There’s reason to worry about counterfeits, with 1 in 30 pound coins in circulation estimated to be fake. U.K. authorities allege a Dutch coin maker manufactured 30 million copies over seven years.
The coin includes what team leader Dean Searle calls “pixie dust,” an additive encased in the nickel-plated center that will enable authorities to spot fakes. A hologram under the Queen’s portrait shows alternately a pound sign and the numeral one.
Machines are running nonstop to strike the new pounds, with around 10 presses minting around 140,000 coins per hour or 40 per second. It has 800 million already done.
The Royal Mint, the world’s largest exporter of coins, hopes increased security features will spur demand from other nations. It supplies coins to 40 countries.
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