A penny saved

“60 per cent of coppers are used only once before being consigned to a piggy bank. Clearly, few can bear to feel their pockets weighed down with coins of such small worth”

Counterpoints

When vehicle tax discs became obsolete in 2014, my thoughts turned to a dismayed young boy who had appeared on the news with his collection proudly pasted into albums. My thoughts turn to myself when I hear talk of the early retirement of copper coins as we inch closer to becoming a cashless society—a sad day indeed for coin collectors such as me.

Everyone collects money, whether as numismatists or simply by discarding  loose change in a jar. For me, marvelling at a new coin’s unique glint is one of the small pleasures in life. It’s rare to find a new coin before it loses its shine. The urge to be first can even lead you to spend more money to increase your chances of receiving one as change, which can’t be bad  for the economy.

I save unusual specimens in the hope they might be worth something one day. According to the Royal Mint,  60 per cent of coppers are used only once before being  consigned to a piggy bank. Clearly, few can bear to feel their pockets weighed down with coins of such small worth.

But removing them from circulation would create a hole in an important symbol—we would no longer be able to fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle to form the picture of the shield on the £1 coin. (If this is news to you, gather every coin under the value of a pound that bears the date 2008 or more recent and—hey presto!—a montage will form before your eyes.) Just think of the valuable moments of mindfulness we would miss doing that.

More importantly, coins unite us. Loose change has always been a carrier of time, telling stories for the present and future. Commemorative coins remind us of significant anniversaries and historic figures (the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth was celebrated with the most exquisite depictions of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck on 50p pieces). Surely these are precious conversation-starters in our dwindling social interactions?

If coins were to cease to exist altogether, it would also spell the end of the Trial of the Pyx, a ceremony of great pomp, presided over by a High Court judge that ensures that the Royal Mint is producing coins to the right weight and composition.

Hopefully that day will never come, but best see a penny and pick it up while you still can.