Britain's new pound coin enters circulation on eve of Brexit process launch

Britain's Royal Mint launches new £1 coins with a 'hidden' security feature after one in 30 is estimated to be a counterfeit.
Britain's Royal Mint is making 1.5 billion new one pound coins, which will enter circulation on Tuesday, with security features such as a unique 12-sided, bimetallic design, a hologram, fine lettering and some secret tricks to beat crooks.
Britain's Royal Mint is making 1.5 billion new one pound coins, which will enter circulation on Tuesday, with security features such as a unique 12-sided, bimetallic design, a hologram, fine lettering and some secret tricks to beat crooks. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON (AFP/BLOOMBERG) - Britain's new £1 coin with the symbols of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland goes into circulation from Tuesday (March 28) on the eve of the launch of a Brexit process that has put national unity in doubt.

The 12-sided coin is the first change to the shape of the £1 coin since its introduction in 1983. Britain's finance ministry said the new coin would be "the most secure of its kind in the world" to prevent a rise in counterfeits.

About three per cent of the current round-shaped coins are fakes.

The new pound coins will be thinner, lighter and slightly bigger than the old ones and will have a hologram-like image that changes from a "£" symbol to the number "1" when viewed from different angles.

"Staying ahead of sophisticated counterfeiters remains a constant challenge and this coin helps in that battle," said Adam Lawrence, head of the Royal Mint, which is producing around 1.5 billion new coins.

The new bi-metallic coin has the same shape as the popular old "Threepenny bit" that was introduced in 1937 and went out with decimalisation in 1971.

Queen Elizabeth II's portrait will be on the obverse side of the coin, while England's rose, Scotland's thistle, Wales's leek and Northern Ireland's shamrock will be on the other side, held in a crown.

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.

The old coins cease to be legal tender on Oct 15.

Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday is set to formally notify the European Union of Britain's intention to leave the bloc in a process that has caused a steep plunge in the value of the pound compared to the euro and dollar.

Britain as a whole voted to leave the EU in a referendum last year.

Most voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted Britain to stay in the EU, but a majority in England and Wales opted for Britain to leave the bloc.