Fake British pounds are turning into a major problem in the United Kingdom. Up to 70,000,000 counterfeits are in circulation out of 1,474,000,000 £1 coins in use. That means anywhere from 2% to 5% of the circulating pounds are phony. £1 coins are widely used for everything from paying bus fare to making change at the supermarket, so there’s a good chance that the average citizen runs into multiple counterfeit £s in the course of a day.
Here are the diagnostics for identifying a counterfeit:
1) Check that the patterns on the obverse and reverse match for the year of mintage. There were 31 different designs in the last 27 years, so there are a lot of potential mis-matches. The Royal Mint has published a guide to obverse and reverse pairings from 1983-2010. Presumably, someone producing mismatched copies could argue that they did not actually counterfeit a circulating coin; this could be why so many false pairings have been produced.
2) The color of the coin should be a coppery gold. The color of forgeries is often noticeably lighter (from added aluminum or zinc content) or darker (from excess brass or bronze). Corrosion is also more common on counterfeits. On a related note, circulating coins rarely look like they came straight from the mint. A shiny 1985 £1 in your pocket change should set off alarm bells.
3) Check the edge lettering. The edge inscription changed over time, so forgers occasionally put the wrong one. I’ll put a list of the correct inscriptions in the comments section of this post. Pay special attention to the St. George cross – many fakes mess up this detail since it calls for a special engraving character.
4) The edge milling should be regularly spaced and of uniform depth. This security reeding is particularly difficult to counterfeit (based on the error rate – I haven’t tried ripping off Her Majesty myself).
5) Check the weight. Genuine UK £1 coins weigh 9.5 grams. While this may be tricky to measure at the cash register, some fakes have been reported to weigh noticeably light (6 grams or less).
6) The orientation of the obverse and reverse should be medallic. That is, if you hold the coin at 12 and 6 o’clock and spin the coin, the front and back should line up perfectly. The design doesn’t align properly on some fake lbs. If the obverse and reverse do not line up, that indicates misaligned dies. The Royal Mint does occasionally make this mistake, but it is rare on genuine coins.
Unfortunately, this counterfeiting problem is going to make error collecting challenging for United Kingdom pounds. I wonder – is anyone cataloging the counterfeits & forming a list of die varieties? These counterfeits may be collectible in their own right some day.
If you have scans of counterfeits, I’d love to see them. Please share links in the comments!