Although it has been available to collectors for some time now, Britain's new twelve sided pound coin has now officially entered circulation. The new pound coin was designed as a response to growing concern over increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting of British coins. The royal Mint is touting this new pound coin as the most secure coin in the world.
According to a survey done by the Royal Mint in 2014 as many as three percent of one Pound Coins in circulation are counterfeit. Amounting to approximately 45 million coins. More alarming than the shear number of coins though was the rate at which these counterfeit coins were entering into circulation. In 2002 less than 1% of coins in circulation were considered counterfeit, by 2010 that number had increased to over 3%. The sophistication of the forgeries had also increased to a point where they are virtually indistinguishable from the originals. If that trend were to continue the United Kingdom could face a crisis in just a few years.
So with that in mind the Royal Mint set out to replace the old “round pound”, which has been in circulation since 1983, with a new more secure pound coin. The new coin features a twelve sided bi-metallic design, with several new security features. The obverse depicts the 5th portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth, as designed by Jody Clark. The reverse in turn depicts a design where the English Rose, Welsh leek, Scottish thistle and the Northern Irish shamrock are all growing from a single stem, surrounded by a royal coronet.
The new coin is slightly larger than the old, measuring 23.43mm(0.9224 inch) at the widest point. The coin is also thinner at 2.8mm(0.11 inch) and lighter at 8.75 gram(0.3 oz).
The 12-sided rim is milled on alternating edges. Micro lettering appears just inside the rim of the coin. The micro lettering on the obverse reads “ONE POUND” while the reverse side has the date of production, in this case “2017”.
At the bottom of the obverse is a specially designed latent image in the form of a shield. It has an image like a hologram that changes from a ‘£’ symbol to the number '1' when the coin is seen from different angles.
There is also a hidden security feature which the Mint is keeping to themselves for now. Speculation on this has ranged from imbedded RFID tags to radio active component such as strontium 90. Turning science fiction to science fact however, I believe that the key lies not in wild speculation but rather statements made by Mint personnel about the Royal Mint creating and patenting new technology to combat counterfeiting.
Fortunately the Royal Mint doesn't own too many patents and fewer still within the given timeframe of when the new coin was developed. So enters a patent holly owned by the Royal Mint as of March 14, 2014. The technology application of the patent is described as such :
“Formation of an authentication element by deposition of a metal layer with embedded particles on a metal substrate, wherein the embedded particles are configured to convert energy from one wavelength to another. The embedded particles may be upconverters, downconverters, or phosphorescent phosphors, which can be detected and measured with analytical equipment when deposited in the metal layer. A metal substrate may include coinage.”
From this we can surmise that inorganic fluorescent particles will be imbedded into the metal, most likely into the protective upper aRMour layer of the coin, which can be read(for lack of a better word) by specially designed detection systems. These may include coin sorting machines, for example. Stated plainly if the imbedded material is exposed to energy, such as a light of a certain wavelength, it will for a short time emit(or glow) energy of a different wavelength. Like those glow in the dark toys or the UV lights that crime scene technicians use to tell if someone was doing something they weren't supposed to(a slight over simplification, but you get the point). Or using a slightly more numismatic friendly analogy – it's like using a black light to see if a banknote has been forged or not.
Delving deeper into the text of the patent reveals that the detection technology will not only measure the spectrum of energy but the time it takes to convert it as well. In other words not only the right type of light but how long it lasts as well.
Keep in mind though that this information on the “hidden security feature” is all speculative on my part, as the royal mint has not confirmed or denied anything as of the time of writing. Having said that – all the proverbial pieces seem to fit. Taking information revealed by the Royal Mint, Mint officials, documentation from HM Treasury concerning the new coin and then matching it all against this patent. It all seems to balance out however, things can change – but until they do this what I'm sticking with.
The new pound coin will co circulate with the older 'round pound' until October 15th 2017. At that time the old 'round pound' will be demonitised and will no longer be regarded as legal tender in the UK.