Assistant Professor of Classics and Ancient History Claire Rowan, expert in numismatics (the history of coinage) comments today on the introduction of the new pound coin,
"Today sees the introduction of the new pound coin, which is thinner and lighter than our current coin (which should make for some lighter coin purses!). The old pound coins were introduced in 1983 to replace one pound notes, and their age made them vulnerable to counterfeit - it is estimated about one in thirty pound coins in circulation are fake!
How can you tell if you have a fake pound coin? One easy method is to hold the coin up in your hand so the image is exactly upright. Then slowly turn the coin around. Is the image on the other side also exactly upright, or is it upside down or slightly sideways? If its a true coin, the image is exactly upright - on official coins the images on both sides align exactly (those who study money, numismatists, call this alignment the die axis). If the alignment is off-centre, odds are you have a fake!
The image chosen for the coin reflects the identity of the United Kingdom: on one side is the Queen's portrait, and on the other the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle and the Northern Irish shamrock emerge from a coronet. Selecting an image that reflects the identity of a community (like the United Kingdom) is a practice that dates back to the very early days of classical Greek coinage in the sixth century BC. Cities in this period those who struck coins chose motifs that reflected the identity of their city; the Sicilian city of Selinous, for example, chose a wild parsley leaf, which reportedly grew in such abundance in the region that they named their city after the plant! So when you finally get your hands on a new pound coin, remember you're grasping part of a tradition that dates back to antiquity and the world of the Greeks."
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