The corruption or debasement of currency is seen as the action of an empire or civilisation that is in decline, or even about to collapse. The Roman Empire’s debasement of its money (currencies such as the denarius and sestertius) in the lead up to its total ruin is a classic example.

The declining value of fiat currency due to inflation is seen by some as the modern equivalent of this. Our currencies are being debased, but not literally in terms of a lower gold or silver content, but because they are created by the stroke of a banker’s pen.

I’d like to look at a slightly different form of debasement that has been introduced. One that harks back to the American Civil War, Cuba, and… ice cream.

But first, I hope you’ve spent all your old tenners. At midnight last night, the Charles Darwin £10 note was officially made obsolete. The new polymer version bearing the image of Jane Austen has taken its place.

Scottish paper tenners are also on the off

I was struck last year by just how fast all the circular £1 coins vanished when they were similarly rendered unfit for purpose. Fiat money – money summoned from the ether by decree – can vanish back into it just as easily. Darwin’s sombre expression and impressive beard will evaporate in short order. Jane Austen will reign supreme… until she too is decreed out of the money supply.

But as paper tenners make their departure, new 10 pence coins are making their debut. On Monday, a new tranche of 10p designs will enter the money supply. These, in my view, have been debased – but in a different way than you would expect.

Money should not be treated flippantly. It affects every in society economy whether they like it or not, and whether they know it or not. In the past, money has been revered and protected as though it were sacred. It is for this reason that many commercial and central banks exist in buildings that appear like temples, with grand pillars and imposing architecture.

But this lingering respect for coinage of the past is slowly being eroded.

Which brings me to the new 10p coins

There is now a new 10p coin for every letter of the alphabet. Each coin has been designed to resemble something “quintessentially British” according to the Royal Mint.

The coin for “I” carries the image of an ice cream cone, for example. If any could tell me how ice cream cones, enjoyed all over the world and invented by an Italian man in New York are “quintessentially British”, please let me know in the comments below.

Other “quintessentially British” symbols that apparently deserve representation on our national currency are villages in general (pretty sure these exist in other countries, though I could be wrong) and queuing (I hear Cuban society does this much better than we do anyway).

The 10p bearing the letter B is essentially free advertising for James Bond films, almost like a government subsidy for the franchise. After the American Civil War, stacks of worthless Confederate banknotes were bought and used for advertising. Everyone will pick up a banknote they find lying around, so printing an advert on top of a worthless one was an easy way of getting eyeballs on a product or service, like a rudimentary form of clickbait. But the notes back then had no value – this coinage has turned your pocket change into a branded advert, like a miniature billboard in your purse or wallet.

If you’re interested in wasting three minutes of your life this weekend, here’s the video issued by the Royal Mint on the new series.

I suppose this could just be a bad batch, but from my perspective this is just another example of money being debased. Poorly thought out at best, and nonsense at worse, the new coinage has been devalued as it has not been designed, and will not be looked at, seriously.

But who cares. It’s just 10 pence after all. Perhaps more attention would be paid if the new £20 note didn’t have a portrait of JMW Turner, and just had a big ice cream cone on it instead.

As this is small change, I doubt the new coins will garner any lasting attention. When was the last time you bought anything worth 10p, after all?

Which brings us back to the other, more common debasement of money: inflation.

Until next time,

Boaz Shoshan
Editor, Southbank Investment Research