Dubious Offers from the Royal Mint
Most of the collectors coins offered by the British Royal Mint are very nice, even though we do think that some of them tend to be slightly expensive, mind you this is written by someone who would consider £2.50 for a "café latté to be a "rip-off".
Marketing Costs Money
We appreciate that packaging and marketing costs money. Before 1970, the Royal Mint only issued proof coin sets on special occasions such as coronations, these sets must were issued at cost price or a small loss. In order to make them available to a wider public, it was prudent to cover the increased costs this entailed. In 1975 the Royal Mint was converted to a "Government Trading Fund", which functions as a government owned business, part of whose aims are to make a profit. We do feel however that some of products offered by the Royal Mint, and some of their prices, should come with a warning.
Warning - Double the Price - Half the Quality
One offer the Royal Mint made in 1991, was a "Queen Elizabeth II Crown Collection". This was sold in 1991 at £34.50 for a set of eight crowns, one each from 1953, 1960, 1965, 1972, 1977, 1980, 1981, and 1990. The 1990 crown had a face value of £5, all the rest were 5 shillings or 25 pence. The total face value came to £6.75, and the set was packaged in an attractive 4-section folder with brief notes about each coin. We can vaguely remember seeing the offer at the time, and thinking that the price was incredible, because we would have charged half the Royal Mint's price at the most, except that we could not offer the snazzy packaging. Presumably the Royal Mint's argument would be that if people bought the sets, they must have been happy with the product, and we realistic enough to believe in market forces. All this would be no better than a rather belated moan, if it were not for the fact the the coins contained in the sets have been completely ruined.
Warning - Substandard Goods
All the crowns in these sets have been cleaned! Now there is no law against cleaning coins, although it did used to be illegal to deface them, but most coin catalogues warn beginners against cleaning coins. This is not because it is wrong, per se, to clean coins, just that more coins get ruined by careless or ignorant cleaning than in any other way. Most experienced dealers and collectors will have cleaned a small percentage of their coins at some time, for further information, please see our page about cleaning coins. There are ways to clean most coins, provided the cleaning is done carefully. It is important not to scratch or abrade the coins in the process, and also to ensure they they are left with a pleasing natural colour. What the Royal Mint have done with the coins in these sets is hard to believe. They appear to have cleaned them by using a barreling machine. This consists of a rotating drum usually containing ceramic chips or steel pins together with a detergent. The problem about using this method for cleaning coins is that it scratches and dents all the surfaces of the coins. Although it does succeed in making them bright and shiny (no spoonerisms please!), it leaves them looking very unpleasant and reduces the grade of the coins from uncirculated to VF at best.
Who Buys Them?
We can only assume that the Royal Mint get very few complaints and returns, otherwise they would avoid this practice, and that the people who buy these sets are not coin collectors, and many may have been purchased as gifts. We wonder if the recipients were happy with them; it can be embarrassing to receive unsuitable gifts, and not want to offend the giver by complaining.
We always feel rather sad when people come in with sets such as this whether or the vendor can remember the original purchase price. We are reluctant to offer much above face value, and we certainly wish to avoid upsetting the vendor, who often expects, quite reasonably to get near to half their money back. We don't want them to get the impression that we are to blame for making a low offer, so we take the time to explain why our offer is so low in relation to the original purchase price. We don't like to have to do this, and we often feel as if we are apologising on behalf of the coin trade as a whole, and it's not really fair that we should be placed in such a position as to feel it necessary.
Ignorance or What?
One aspect of this we would dearly like to know is who at the Royal Mint decides on these offers, their pricing, and the treatment given to the coins to spoil them. We presume it's somebody with a marketing degree, who knows or cares very little about coins. We believe it is only through sheer ignorance that large quantities of perfectly acceptable coins are ruined by such unsuitable treatment, and that any future value of the purchase should be so badly compromised.
Long Term Danger
We are also concerned that this and similarly blind marketing practices could, in the long term, cause a loss of confidence and trust in both the Royal Mint and the entire numismatic trade, turning people away from a potentially interesting hobby. We believe the Royal Mint has a duty to its customers to ensure that the products it sells are of high quality. A high retained value must surely be desirable in most non-consumable products. An example of this would be the high retained value of Mercedes cars matching their reputation for quality, and the fact that Ladas are the butt of most jokes about car quality and value. How would the Royal Mint prefer the public to view its products, as Ladas or Mercedes?
We certainly get frustrated to think that people waste their money on such poor quality products, and that the Royal Mint charge so much for ruining perfectly good coins. We have always believed that many old coins, real ones which were actually made for their original purpose as money, are under-rated, under-appreciated, and offer wonderful value compared with their created-for-collectors modern counterparts. Before we are accused of bitching unfairly, let me say that we started as recently as 1999, to offer "modern issues" for sale, having given in to popular demand. We can appreciate the artistic merit in many coins, and that many people want to acquire new coins or coin sets, often as gift items. We try be be careful in selecting only products which we feel are of lasting quality, and try to be scrupulously frank in both our advertising and our direct communication with customers, to advise them to buy for pleasure rather than investment. Think Positive
The only positive thought we can muster from all this is that non-processed coins will become scarcer, and ultimately more valuable.
Many of the earliest of the modern Royal Mint proof sets, from 1970 to about 1984, seem to have been very badly designed and packaged. Coin sets from these years often shown considerable tarnishing, which appears to be due to unsuitable chemical residues in the packaging materials. While this is now general knowledge among most dealers, it cannot be what customers expected when they purchase the sets originally. As we see it, many of these coin sets were unfit for the purpose for which they were sold. It would be interesting to know of people who have complained to the Mint, and what results they have achieved.
It's Still Happening
We have just heard that the Royal Mint are offering to their mailing list customers, two different "collections" based around the new 2001 Victorian Era crowns. We are not quite sure about the details, but one offer appears to be a gold "reverse proof" £5 gold crown, together with a type set of 4 different Victorian sovereigns, which we understand will be in at least VF condition. The price for this set is £1,145. When you consider that the issue price for the existing £5 gold proof crown is £525, that leaves £720 for four Victorian sovereigns. We offer a similar set for £325. There are two other points which concern us more than the Mint's high price. Firstly, will they barrel-clean and therefore ruin the Victorian sovereigns in the same manner as the Elizabeth II Crown Collection? The second and most serious point is that the collectors are not being offered much choice. If they wish to obtain one of the reverse proof versions, they can only obtain one by acquiring four possibly unwanted, impaired and overpriced sovereigns. We are still waiting to hear details of the other offer which we believe may include a silver reverse proof crown.
Secrecy & Unfair Practices
Every year the Royal Mint makes certain coin issues available only to customers at various levels of its mailing list and marketing scheme. While this may make good marketing sense in some respects, it seems unfair to other collectors who never even get the opportunity to consider the new offers. It is also unfair to dealers who are in this manner denied access to certain of the Royal Mint's offers and schemes. It is made seriously unfair by the fact that the Royal Mint has a complete monopoly of its position as producer of British coins. Any holder of any monopoly should take great care to ensure that their monopoly is not abused. An official government owned body with public responsibilities should be doubly careful to ensure that its monopoly is not abused.
Our advice to any customers who are offered similar collections, is not to buy them, but to write to the Royal Mint to request that the newly issued component of the collections is available separately.
This guide was originally published on our "24carat" website in 2001, which may explain some of the anachronistic dating, but most of the content of this page is still relevant today.
Author & Copyright Notice
This page was written by Lawrence Chard of Chard Coins, and is extracted from our exisitn websites. We hope you find this page useful and informative, please feel free to use the information we have provided, but please note we retain copyright on all contents including both textual content and images. Please do not copy our text or images without our prior written permission.
If you found this guide interesting, informative or useful, please spare few seconds of your time to vote for it by clicking on the "Yes" button below, thanks.
You may be interested in viewing our other guides:-