- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

LONDON While Britain is stubbornly sticking to its pounds and pence, a set of euro coins emblazoned with a profile of Queen Elizabeth II is already in existence and selling for as much as 25 times the face value.
The golden alloy and copper coins are likely to buy nothing more than a chuckle from any street merchant outside Buckingham Palace.
But to dealers and hobbyists, these privately minted "pattern coins" prototypes for the real thing, should Britain adopt the currency of its European Union partners are must-have items that are selling out fast.
"Once the eurozone collectors heard about them, they went absolutely silly," said London dealer Lawrence Chard, the first to discover the coins.
Indeed, one seller at online auctioneer EBay recently started the bidding at $210 for a nine-piece, limited-edition sterling-silver set (about a $9 face value). Mr. Chard saw a posting for $250. Not bad for coinage that's not even real.
Beginning Jan. 1, euro cash became the exclusive currency in 12 of the 15 nations of the European Union. The British opted to keep their money unchanged, though Prime Minister Tony Blair may soon call a referendum on the hotly debated issue.
Denmark and Sweden also haven't joined the monetary union.
The 50 billion euro coins so far in circulation have a similar design on one side Luc Luycx's map of Europe but the other side reflects the history and culture of the nation that mints them. The Italian 50-cent coin, for instance, depicts a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback.
The fake British euro coins, whose thickness and rim pattern differ from the real thing, are decorated with Donald R. Golder's portrait of the queen and are stamped with the year 2002. They range from a simple 1-cent piece to a bold 5-euro coin.
Unlike regular-issue euro coins, these reverse designs depict not a European map but a sailing ship, a dove, the scales of justice and Britannia standing.
A small, private Cheshire company called the International Numismatic Agency produced 20,000 of the base-metal version sets earlier this year and 2,500 of the more valuable silver set, all of which are sold out from the source.
One German dealer bought 1,500 of the silver sets, and others have offered double the price if only the company would make more, according to Peter Jackson, who runs the business with his wife.
"It's become a sort of cult thing," said Mr. Jackson, who can't keep up with phone calls, e-mails and faxes from interested customers. "We don't even have to advertise now."
Mr. Jackson, who has created legal tender for Commonwealth nations such as Zambia and Ghana, said the idea to put the queen on a euro just hit him.
"I suddenly thought it would be fun to do a design to see what a British euro would look like," he said. "I think people thought if we joined the euro, our coins would look like 'eeww.' We showed that it could look good."
Some question the legality of privately minting euros. EBay's German branch forbids selling the coins, a spokeswoman said. They "could be confused with real money," she said.
Mr. Jackson insists he did his homework and that everything is on the up and up.
Ordinarily, the royal household would never give permission to use a monarch's image in such a way. Because this is the year of the Golden Jubilee celebrating 50 years of the queen's rule, Mr. Jackson said his coins fell under an exception.
In a letter thanking him for a sneak peek at the set, the deputy comptroller of the palace's Lord Chamberlain's Office neither objected to nor endorsed the coins. Mr. Blair's office, right in the middle of the country's euro debate, sent a similarly neutral response when mailed some coins.
Mr. Jackson also sent some on to the European Commission and was informed by Jean-Pierre Malivoir, who is in charge of the information and communication campaign on the euro, that the submission would go into a "'museum' on the history of the euro."
Even the man who introduced the pound coin has chimed in.
"To be critical in detail," wrote former Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe in another letter to Mr. Jackson, "I wonder whether some of the British elements you have introduced may be a shade too 'jingoistic'?
"But keep it up by all means," Mr. Howe, a pro-euro observer added.
Already looking ahead to the next idea, Mr. Chard is displaying "fantasy" photos of yet-to-be Danish euro coins on his Web site. Regardless of whether Denmark joins the eurozone, he's hoping someone at least produces a limited-edition pattern set.
It looks like he'll be getting his wish. Mr. Jackson is debuting 15,000 sets this month.


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