5 things you might not know about money

By Luke O'Mahony

There’s a lot we take for granted about money – it’s such an integral part of life that most of the time, we rarely give it a second thought. That’s a shame, because it’s a lot more interesting than you might think. Read on to find out more.

There’s more to a pound coin than meets the eye

Find the oldest penny you can, and compare with a shiny new one, and you’ll notice that the Queen looks younger on the old coin than on a modern one.


Source: Royal Mint

In fact, on the first coin to feature her portrait, the Queen wasn’t even wearing a crown – the most recent one dates from earlier this year.

The text on the outside of the coin (DEI GRA REG FID DEF) is the abbreviated version of Dei Gratia Regina Fidei Defensor, which roughly translates from Latin as “Reigning by the grace of God, Defender of the Faith”.

The design on the reverse of the £1 coin is changed every year, so one of the easiest way to spot a counterfeit £1 coin is to check that the date and the design on the reverse match.

Stamps aren’t legal tender

Contrary to what you might have seen in The Office, the only legal tender in the UK is sterling. Bus drivers (or anyone else for that matter) would be welcome to accept stamps, euros or even a Snickers as payment if they want to, but there’s no obligation for them to accept.

Interestingly, coins are only legal tender within certain limits: 1p and 2p coins are legal tender for bills of up to 20p, and 5p coins are legal tender for bills of up to £5. More on the Royal Mint’s website.

Copper coins aren’t made of copper

Until 1992, “copper” coins (1p and 2p) were made of bronze, which is 97% copper, 2.5% zinc and 0.5% tin. Now though, the coins are made of steel, and merely coated with copper. The newer coins were created in response to rising metal prices (depending on the value of copper, it’s very possible for an old 2p coin to be worth more than 2p). They’re also magnetic.

Currency doesn’t have to be paper and coins

The only reason a five pound note has any value is because we accept that it does. Throughout history, there have been some interesting examples of objects that have achieved the status of currency, but none as intriguing as the rai, huge carved stones traditionally used as money in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia.

rai stone

Source: Wikimedia commons

The stones in question are colossal, and their value is dependent on their size and quality of craftsmanship, with extra value attributed to stones that have a particularly noble history. Of course, these stones are extremely difficult to transport, let alone carry around in your wallet, so their ownership is passed by way of an oral contract, while the stones stay in the same place. Interestingly, each stone has a history of ownership which is widely accepted in the community – quite similar to blockchain, which determines the ownership of bitcoin.

Banknotes are changing

After three years of research and a countrywide consultation, the Bank of England has decided that the next £5 and £10 notes will be printed on polymer – a durable, thin plastic film. Why? Polymer is more durable and stays cleaner than paper money, and it also allows for more sophisticated security features (such as transparent windows).

The UK isn’t the first place to introduce polymer notes – you might already have seen them in places like Australia, Canada, Chile and Brazil.