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Brit Tip #10

Save your UNC junk.

On the subject of cupro-nickel and nickel-brass coinage.

I have posted some of this information on this subject before, but it bears repeating, especially for the benefit of newer forum members and visitors to my website.

Silver threepences were phased out slowly beginning in 1937 with the introduction of the twelve-sided nickel-brass threepence. This larger coin became much more popular with the locals than the tiny silver piece. In order to help pay off the Lend-lease debt to the United States, in 1947, production of all silver coinage save for the Maundy sets was halted in favor of using base metal – cupro-nickel. Silver halfcrowns continued to circulate alongside the Cu-Ni until just before decimalization. The sixpence, shilling and florin were all eventually phased out, but the silver continued to appear in change once in a while (as opposed to the US, where silver vanished much more quickly).

Cupro-nickel coins were not particularly well loved or hoarded. Virtually every year, there were high mintages. The mass production process put out coins with a good number of bag marks. The coins lost their lustre very quickly as well. I have spent a good number of years trying to accumulate a top quality set of nickel-brass and cupro-nickel £sd coins. The catalogue prices were so low and mintages so high that I thought it would be easy. It turned out to be a much tougher challenge than I ever expected. Here are some of my observations:

  1. Most UNC coins I find have an ugly brownish film on them – not the most attractive toning one would like to see. In coin-hunting expeditions to the home country, I have found very few top specimens. In fact, many of the coins that appeared uncirculated were in fact shopworn.

  2. Top Cu-Ni specimens are easier to find in North America (and perhaps Australia?). Especially in dry climates like Colorado, the coins appear to retain their lustre. North American tourists took these coins out of circulation either as souvenirs or just as loose change, thereby removing them from the wet climate of the UK.

  3. Ni-Brass coins corrode easily. Many otherwise top grade coins show corrosion spots.

  4. Cu-Ni coins before 1962 were not set aside for date sets, perhaps because no penny was issued in 1954-1960.

  5. Cu-Ni specimens were not “keepers,” but workhorse coinage. Silver coins were held for their silver value or because they were much more attractive to look at.

  6. Many British dealers still use PVC - a lot. It is used mainly for temporary storage. All of these factors have made base metal coinage become much more interesting today. There really is a shortage of lustrous top grade Ni-Brass material for many dates except 1937, 1953 and 1961-1967. Top grade Cu-Ni material from 1947 to 1952 and 1954-1961 is also in short supply. If you see shiny UNCs of coins like these, buy them! They are rarer than you think. Spot free, fully lustrous specimens with few or no bag marks probably will command prices 10 to 100 times their current book values in UNC at some point in the future.

In the next tip, I will discuss “dates to watch for” in modern (1937-1970) £sd coinage.

Posted on CU 8/15/2003