Collectability is a difficult thing to measure! People collect different things, different types of coins, different denominations, different themes etc. The Check Your Change Collectability/Rarity scale attempts to assign a number from 1 to 10 to denote collectability, based on price, rarity, perceived rarity (which is a bit different) and general demand. As the market develops and more information comes to light, it is perfectly possible that the Collectability rank of a coin could be adjusted in either direction.
1 – A coin that is usually readily available at or very near to face value.
2 – A coin with increased interest, but still usually inexpensive to buy.
3 – Slightly harder to find in your change, but not particularly expensive to source.
4 – A little harder to find and often with lower than average mintage number.
5 – A coin that people currently pay many times face value for!
6 – A sought after coin, more expensive, often hard to find.
7 – Currently quite sought after.
8 – Currently very sought after.
9 – For serious collectors only, generally very rare or with high demand.
10 – Extremely rare or very high demand.
The value of any commodity is set by the relationship of the supply (or perceived supply) and the demand for it. It’s the same for coins. When the supply is greater than the demand values are low. When the demand far outstrips the supply (or the perceived supply), values are high.
The mintage is just a number. It doesn’t really matter if there were 100,000 or 10 million produced. If there are considerably less people than the total mintage that want that actual coin, then it theoretically should mean that values for all remain low. However, it’s not as simple as that, the perceived rarity and hype surrounding a coin plays a big part.
With the exception of the odd error coin (e.g. the mule 2p, or withdrawn Aquatics 50p) the coins of the UK are made in massive numbers! Often many millions, hundreds of millions or larger amounts. There are generally plenty to go round, plenty to spend and plenty for people that want to collect them. There does however seem to be a new psychological 1 million mintage boundary and it seems to lead to coins with a mintage of less than 1 million being more in demand than coins with mintages of multiple millions. It never used to bother collectors of decimal coins before, it simply wasn’t a factor until a couple of years ago, but although a mintage of hundreds of thousands is still plenty to go round (the numbers of serious decimal collectors isn’t that high), it does seem to be a phenomenon that is here to stay for the time being, as coins with mintage of 1 million or less consistently seem to change hands for more than face value, and this is reflected in the Collectability scale (and in the prices in the “Collectors’ Coins – Decimal Issues of the United Kingdom” book). It could also be true that the number of decimal coin collectors has genuinely increased over the last couple of years. Perhaps there really are 1 million people all looking for the same coin! The affect this will have on values and Collectability, well, we’ll see in time.
To demonstrate how meaningless the mintage number can sometimes be though, take for example the 1999 £2 coin with the standard Technology reverse – this coin has a massive mintage of over 38 million! Despite this, they are very difficult to find (in better than average condition), due to the fact that none of them were ever sold as uncirculated coins in sets and all of the 38 million were used and abused. Not many people thought of keeping one when they were still shiny in 1999.
There are companies that specialise in selling new coins. The Royal Mint itself is basically also just a company (at least it’s collector sales department is) albeit with the unique position that they have a state monopoly on the manufacture of UK coins and are viewed by many as holy. For the sellers of new coins, it’s in their best interest to hype up new coins and coins in general. They do this with press releases and other razzmatazz, which is mostly seen through as the marketing sales tactics that it inveritably is, but occasionally the main stream media will pick up on a ‘rare coin’ story, sometimes a genuine rare coin, but often something considerably more blurry and bam, prices of the particular coin go through the roof! The most significant example of this was in early 2009 concerning the dateless 20p mule. It was a genuine error coin, something quite interesting, but it was blown out of all proportion by massive media exposure. The Royal Mint released a statement and were always truthful and upfront, but I think the public only read the bits they wanted to read, and the reports of prices realised (many of which were not genuine sales) in the mainstream media caused a frenzy. During ‘peak frenzy’ the Collectability scale of the dateless 20p would have certainly been a 10, because there was a huge demand for that particular coin from people that had previously barely glanced at the coins they use every day. Once it started to die down and people noticed that there were hundreds of the error coins selling online every week, the coin became less desirable, the bubble burst and prices being paid decreased to a much more realistic level. Currently the coin is rated on the Collectability scale as a 4. The only way for it to rise from that level, as far as I can tell, would be if the demand drastically increased all of a sudden. That could be caused by renewed media exposure, but would it be a frenzy like last time? I doubt it, simply because many people probably learnt their lesson first time round.
There has been other media exposure for other coins since then, but one story that stood out recently was concerning HMS Belfast staff giving out the 2015 Royal Navy £2 in change to tourists. A big thing was made that only 100 were given out and that the portrait of the Queen would be changing soon, so none of the coins (that feature the older portrait) would be released for circulation. This was technically true, but is also a bit naughty as the story didn’t really make it clear that there were already thousands of coins, identical in every way, sold in packs or as part of annual sets of coins! For all we know, the staff at HMS Belfast may have run out of £2 coins for change on that day and may have decided to break open 100 Royal Mint coin packs containing the coin, as they simply weren’t selling well and they didn’t want to have to pay to send them back! There were some people advertising the coin in question as HMS Belfast coins, but this time round the public didn’t really fall for it, possibly because they’ve experienced the same kind of thing before and are more immune to it.
Bear in mind that for some genuine rarities that have never had any media exposure and/or have very few collectors, the coin’s Collectability scale can also be much lower than it really should be! There are some decimal coins that have low Collectability despite being really hard to find! For example, high grade (Uncirculated, or as-new) 2007 Slave trade £2 coins without the DG initials, Large head 1992 20 pence coins in uncirculated condition, some of the lesser known 10p and 1p varieties are also, it would seem, quite rare. There are it seems, very few collectors for whom such details are important.
When coins are new, there is a slightly increased demand for them because people like to be the first to get one (to be able to admire them and tuck them away in their collections!). For this reason the Collectability of the coins dated in the current year is always a little higher than similar coins from previous years. As soon as all the people that want one, have one, there is less demand and the Collectability decreases a little.