I have been told by the staff in our general office that it’s high time for me to make another contribution to Madazine’s pages. This request – well, it was really a demand – took me by surprise, but as it happens I did jot down what I considered an interesting note last week. It was written as a memory aid for me but my colleagues insist that it should be published, so here it is. Editor
A German friend visited me recently and among other things we talked about currencies. He touched upon our pre-decimal coins, saying that they were cumbersome and numerous. I sprang to our defence, pointing out that we managed quite well with six of them, whereas there were eight in the Deutsche Mark system. He seemed surprised by this, so I enumerated them. Our old half-penny had been demonetised well before decimalisation, so immediately prior to the change we had the one, three and sixpenny pieces, the shilling (twelve pence), the florin (two shillings) and the half-crown (thirty pence). There was also a crown, but it was a rarity, not in general circulation. At that time the Germans had in common use pieces of one, two, five, ten and fifty pfennigs and one, two and five marks.
We wandered off to other topics, but after my friend left I gave more thought to the subject of our coins in general. I was aware that we once had a plethora of them simultaneously and felt that the peak must have been reached in the second half of the nineteenth century. On looking into the matter I found that at about the time I had in mind there was an abundance of sterling coins circulating contemporaneously. I came up with what I think is a full list, comprising quarter-farthing, one-third-farthing, half-farthing, half-penny, penny, three half-pence, three pence, four pence (the groat), six pence, shilling, two shillings (florin), half-crown, double-florin, crown, half-sovereign and sovereign. That is a total of sixteen, though the first two and the sixth were minted only for certain colonies. Still, that left thirteen in the UK at the same time.
Because I like tangible currency, I am no fan of a cashless society and was pleased to see the new dodecagonal pound coin. This inspires me to speculate on what further developments may occur in the same field. If it is not too late, I would like to make a few recommendations, my first being that we should have a replacement for the two-pounder. I think should be a hendecagon, though I have no particular reason for favouring eleven sides. Of course, it would need to be distinctly larger than the one-pounder. Next, I advocate a still bigger piece as a fiver. My choice here would be a decagon, each side representing fifty pence of value.
Bearing in mind that our currency has recently fallen internationally, I suggest we anticipate the future by minting still higher denominations and that in doing so we show an innovative spirit. I propose that within three or four years we produce a triangular tenner. Naturally it should be equilateral. I would like it to have sides of well over two inches, to be tapered so that the thick edge could stand upright on a flat surface, and designed to ensure that when so placed, our monarch’s head would be the right way up.
If my initial plans are accepted, I would like to go further, the next step being the introduction of a twenty-pound coin. This would be an icosagon – one side per pound – and a good deal bigger than the tenner, say about three inches across. I can imagine tossing such a thing onto a pub bar and informing mine host of my intention to either drink my way through it or render myself horizontal in the attempt, though I appreciate that inflation may obviate any chance of the second outcome.
My final submission may be somewhat more controversial. I believe we shall eventually need a fifty-pounder in daily use, and here I would say that a really ground-breaking approach is indicated. My idea is that we might return to a smooth edge and, reflecting the high worth involved, make it about thirty inches in diameter – yes, you read that right. The main advantage of this is that an object of this size and shape could be bowled along to a store, deposited in a secure rack and retrieved at checkout time. Some people may argue that the presence of such an artefact could tend to increase street crime, but since that activity seems to be declining, I believe that any potential risk is worth taking.
Anyone who thinks of the above observations as eccentric might care to consider that the UK currency already has seven-sided coins of two different values. When the first of these equilateral-curve heptagons was introduced, it attracted some ridicule, but the basic design has since been copied by a number of other countries. With this in mind, I claim that those who think of the British attitude to novel coinage as eccentric might be well advised to wait and see how things work out.
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