A nation of numismatists

Chris Carter looks at how the recent frenzy in stories telling us to check our change is turning us into a nation of coin collectors.


Your fiver could be worth more than you think

Like millions of others, you may have been checking every new five-pound note you get for one that's worth considerably more than its face value. In October after the release of the new polymer banknotes, the Bank of England sold the note with the lowest serial number available to the public AA01 000017 for £4,150 at a charity auction. Since then, the papers have been full of stories of "special" fivers going for tens or even hundreds of pounds online. Apart from those with low serial numbers, one note that bore the number "AK47" apparently sold for £8,100 on eBay.

Next came the Jane Austen fivers. Four notes were micro-engraved with a picture of Austen and put into circulation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by Graham Short, the artist who designed the portrait of the author in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of her death. One estimate based on the price of Short's other work puts the value of the notes at £50,000 each. One note was subsequently sent in a Christmas card, while the other was spent in a greasy spoon cafe. The English and Northern Irish fivers are said to be still out there.

Then, last week, it emerged that one of the new 12-sided £1 coins, due for release at the end of March, had fetched £200 online. This was actually a "trial coin", more than 200,000 of which were given to retailers last year for testing their coin-handling machines. These are not, nor ever will be, legal tender.

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This isn't the first time valuable coins have hit the headlines. There were the special edition Beatrix Potter 50p pieces, complete sets of which were supposedly selling for hundreds of pounds online. Then there was the 50p with the pagoda in Kew Gardens on it, worth £50. The silver 2p, struck in error from nickel-plated steel instead of copper-plated steel. The 20p without a date. The £2 coin where the Queen's head is upside-down. It's as if we've become a nation of neurotic numismatists.

If you think you have some unusually valuable change, consider having it assessed by a specialist, says Sophie Christie in The Sun: Chards.co.uk or ValueMyStuff.co.uk, for example. "They will help you work out if it's worth taking it to auction." For a more rough and ready idea, you can go onto eBay and see if your items have sold previously and for how much by toggling the "completed listings" option on the left-hand side of the search form. Just "remember to factor in listing fees before deciding whether to sell the coin", says Christie. It may also be worth setting a reserve price, notes MoneySavingExpert's Jenny Keefe in the same paper. She cites the example of an online seller who put a plastic £5 note up for auction and only got £3.20 for it.

Marking the jubilee

The Queen celebrated 65 years on the throne on 6 February, making her the first British monarch to reach a sapphire jubilee. To mark the occasion, the Royal Mint has issued a set of collectible coins, which range in denomination from £5 to £1,000.

The £5 coins, which cost from £13 to £1,945 depending on the metal used, depict the Imperial State Crown from its reverse side in order to show off the Stuart sapphire gem in the back of the crown. They also feature a quote from a speech made by the Queen on her 21st birthday pledging her life in service to the nation: "My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service."

The standard £5 coins can still be ordered from RoyalMint.com, but the other coins in the collection have already been snapped up by collectors. The most expensive in the set is the £1,000 solid gold coin, which weighs a kilogram. Only 21 of these were struck. Each costs £49,995.

These coins could make good souvenirs. But older, rarer coins offer far better returns. The best-performing coin of 2016, according to specialists Stanley Gibbons, was the 1738 George II, gold five guinea piece, which gained 50% in value to £45,000. Over the past ten years, the 1663 Charles II gold guinea has risen from £6,250 to £55,000.




A rare bronze Sestertius coin (pictured above) dating from 81AD went up for auction this week at Dix Noonan Webb in London, with a valuation of £80,000. The coin features one of the earliest depictions of Rome's Colosseum on one side and Emperor Titus on the other. Titus's father, Vespasian, started work on the amphitheatre, using gold seized during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem ten years earlier.


A silver stater, an ancient Greek coin, minted between 530BC and 500BC from Croton (modern-day Crotone in Italy) sold for $3,055 last month at Heritage Auctions in New York. The coin hails from the time when the famed wrestler Milo of Croton and the mathematician Pythagoras were living in Croton, then a Greek settlement. The coin is a silver disc with an image of an tripod struck into it.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.