The Royal Mint has increased its production of collectible coins in an attempt to appeal to a wider market as the use of cash declines across the country.
In August, economists at the Bank of England said that rising inflation was strengthening the case for the removal from circulation of copper coins, too often “lost to the ether” or “down back of the sofa”.
The number of 1p and 2pc coins produced by the Royal Mint last year fell by 76pc and 94pc respectively. The production of 10p pieces fell by 80pc – yet the official coin maker released a record number of of commemorative 10p pieces in 2018.
This reduction is part of the Royal Mint's effort to expand its business services beyond cash. It opened the "Royal Mint Experience", a South Wales factory tour of the coins being made, at the start of the year, and plans to boost its profits by "add sales and service to the historic coin collector market".
The latest series of 10p collectibles, the "Great British Coin Hunt", features images of British culture corresponding to each letter of the alphabet on one side of the coins. These include B for James Bond, C for cricket, F for fish and chips – and even Q for queueing.
Alongside the collection, Royal Mint released an app with a map displaying release locations, news alerts and the ability to scan coins to track the collection. It also allows the user to create and design a virtual coin of their own.
The production of commemorative 50p coins released by the Royal Mint has also increased significantly, according to Telegraph Money analysis. Eight new 50p coins were released between 2000 and 2009; since 2010, there have been 19, not including 29 variants of the 2012 Summer Olympics coins.
The coin maker has released more commemorative 50p pieces – which first appeared in 1973 to celebrate Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community – than any other denomination.
A bumper crop were released in 2012 for the Summer Olympic Games held in London, featuring the different sporting events. The football and triathlon versions rank among the scarcest and most valuable, but the Kew Gardens 50p, released in 2009 to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens, is the rarest coin of any denomination currently in circulation.
Chris Baker, research curator at the Royal Mint, described the Olympics collectibles as a turning point. "The coins captured the interest of all ages. A year on from the games, 70pc of the circulating editions had disappeared from the nation’s change, picked up by collectors. A new younger generation of coin collectors has been growing since then."
A spokesman for the British Pobjoy Mint, a non-royal coin maker based in Surrey, said she has noticed the increase of young people taking part in coin collecting and other numismatic activities. Managing director Taya Pobjoy said the key is finding subjects that draw their interest.
“That goes hand in hand with the family factor, which makes a significant impact on the industry when the younger crowd is encouraged and ultimately introduced to numismatics by their parents and grandparents.”
Commemorative coin designs traditionally focused on royal occasions or significant events in political history. Recent releases have broadened the subject matter: they have marked 50 years of work by conservationists the WWF, and the 60th anniversary of Paddington Bear’s first adventure. This collectible had its own adventure, when a mistaken early release of a coin sold for more than £16,000 in June.
A spokesman for Westminster Collections, a distributor of collectible coins and stamps, said the rise in production of commemorative coins marking popular culture has led to people checking their change more frequently.
"There is definitely a noticeable increased interest, fuelled by numerous newspaper stories, the popularity of the Beatrix Potter 50p series and the introduction of the new 12-sided £1 coin and polymer banknote."
Coin designs are submitted for selection by the independent Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC) before final approval by the Queen. Mr Baker said: "The RMAC exists to raise the standard of numismatic and medallic art in Britain and is expected to ensure that designs meet high standards of art, decency and good taste."