Forging £1 coins is apparently profitable

Three men have been convicted of forging £1 coins. The London Police Detective Inspector even got all quippy about the sentencing ("These three men are organised criminals who were intent on undermining the UK monetary system. There is nothing fake about the reality they must now face of life behind bars." -- yes, yes, very clever DI South) but what fascinates me about the story is that it can somehow be profitable to forge £1 coins.

I got passed a fake pound shortly after I first moved to the UK, almost ten years go; it was a foil-wrapped plastic slug. Not realizing it was fake, I tried to buy something with it at a corner shop and the cashier pressed it edge-on on his counter and the foil split open, revealing the green plastic disc inside.

From the sound of this article, these fakes were solid metal, which, I think, would make them more expensive than the fake I got. When you add the costs of the materials, the wages for the manufacturing process, warehousing, the discount for counterfeit cash, etc, it's hard to believe that this was worth anyone's while.

On the other hand, it's probably easier to go on counterfeiting when you're passing very small denominations as most people (me included) won't bother going to the cops over a mere pound; and it's much harder to remember where a given pound coin came from than a £20 note.

The court heard Fisher, of Rags Lane in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire, Sullivan, of Bancroft Chase in Hornchurch, east London, and Abbott were arrested during an undercover police operation in Essex last May.

Police found a storage container with 1.6 million metal discs inside and fake coins equivalent to £20,000.

Fake coins equivalent to a further £30,000 were found in a nearby car.

Three men jailed over 'largest' fake £1 coin plot [BBC]

(Image: Yet another forged pound coin, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pahudson's photostream)


  1. if you are going to make fake coins the least you can do is fill them with chocolate

  2. But what’s the penalty for forging title to millions of American homes, and then foreclosing?

  3. I totally read this wrong: “There is nothing fake about the reality they must now face of life behind bars.”

    At first I was “holy hell the UK is serious about counterfeiting” but TFA reveals sentences between two and seven years. This is “life behind bars,” but not in the “your entire life” sense.

    1. Yeah, it’s really awkwardly worded, and I read it the same way at first. It’s what happens when a speaker is too proud of his metaphor.

      It’s the difference of a comma and an “of”:

      “”There is nothing fake about the reality they must now face of life behind bars.”

      “There is nothing fake about the reality, they must now face life behind bars.””

      1. Worse yet, I thought “The London Police Detective Inspector” had sentenced them to life in prison. To hell with the courts!

  4. Here in Hong Kong, a co-worker once gave me (as a souvenir) a counterfeit HK$2 coin. Unusually, this coin has a scalloped “undulating” edge which makes it an odd choice for bogus manufacture.

    The coin, which features the old design of Queen Elizabeth’s profile (now replaced by the bauhinia flower) is made of aluminum, the color’s way off and the coin is discolored–it wouldn’t even pass a casual glance. Yet someone made these. As HK$2 = ~25 US cents, hardly seems worth the effort.

    On a more serious note, HK$10 coins (US$1.25) have been booted to the extent that they’re being phased out–a new $10 banknote was issued in 2002. While Hong Kong currency (including coins) are accepted at face value in nearby Macau, if you give them a $10 coin, they may literally bounce it back on the counter at you–it happened to me!

  5. See they counterfeited them in America, so with the exchange rate…carry the 1…you get the picture, very profitable.

  6. There was a movie made about a man who counterfeited one dollar bills. It was “Mr. 880”. It starred Burt Lancaster as a treasury agent and Edmund Qwenn as the counterfeiter.  It was based on a true story.  Very entertaining.

    1. There’s a restaurant I occasionally eat at that has a fake $1 bill pinned up among various other counterfeits they’ve received.  I can’t help but wonder how someone could get the supplies cheaply enough these days for it to make sense to try those.

  7. I have just finished the book “FAKE: The passing fortunes of a counterfeiter” by Robert Baudin.  His autobiography about how he got into making very good $USD50 copies and passed them off around the world.  It also details his flight in a single engined Percival Proctor from England to Singapore, his crash and continued flight in an Auster. 

  8. With the dizzying array of security features now built into paper money, it might be easier to forge coins.  All you need is some cheap easy to shape metal and a press.  The downside is of course spending them, since cashiers are going to examine your money closely if you try to settle a $100 meal with brand new coins. 

    1. Actually, creating a passable note is a lot easier than you’d think. Many of the security features can be easily replicated by your average printing company, with alternative means of representing the metal inwoven strips etc through the use of surface printing. Of course they wouldn’t stand up to a full investigation, but you’d be able to pass them off to 99% of people – IF you could get the paper. That’s the hardest part of currency forging in the UK at least, a unique-feel cotton based paper that gives the currency the difference between ‘feels real’ and ‘fake’.
      (spent many years at a printing co.)

  9. Key brass often contains lead in order to make it easier to machine – which would make it easier to coin, too. You just need a ridge upsetter and two dies and a coin mint (which crank by hand once every thirty seconds …)

    1. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. Give me five bees for a quarter, you’d say.

      Now where were we?

    2. This is real quantitative easing. Making new money out of nothing and putting it in the hands of real people not just giving it to the banks to hoard or gamble. (see as it happens)


    3. There was an item about fake £1 coins on Radio 4 a while back and they interviewed someone who operated coin-operated machines of some sort (parking meters perhaps) and he was claiming the figure was much higher than the Royal mint was saying but then that makes sense as there’s no risk involved in trying a fake coin in a machine.

  10. 1.6m blanks and £50k finished coins. You have to wonder what the capital investment was for that little lot. And what kind of bitcoin mining rig it would have bought.

  11. Recently customs in Belgium intercepted a shipping container containing literal *tons* of counterfeit 2 euro coins from China. And the german central bank discovered in 2011 that it had exchanged about  30 tons or 6  million euros worth of fake Chinese coins. The manufacture of these things is not, or at least no longer, in the hands of amateurs.

  12. Well except for a few exceptions, like the US cent coin, the government makes a profit on most coin, so why shouldn’t counterfeiters?  It’s all about economies of scale.  You want anti-counterfitting measures to have high FIXED costs and low MARGINAL costs.  The perfect system would require a machine that costs 100s of millions, but raw material that was very cheap.

  13. Joe Ades is quoted as saying ‘ Never underestimate a small amount of money gathered by hand for 60 years’.

    I’ve distilled this to ‘never underestimate a small amount of money’.  It’s the working principle and personal security inherent in nest-eggs, piggybanks, and stashes.

    1.  ‘ Never underestimate a small amount of money gathered by hand for 60 years’

      That’s wonderful. And assuming you started “gathering” when you were, say, 18, then you’re now 78 and have a good amount of money and… you’re 78.

      Then again, you probably have 30 years left these days, so I guess it’s good to have that good amount of money.

      1. Joe Ades was the guy in New York who amassed a fortune and lived at The Pierre on the Upper Eastside (till he moved in with his fourth wife in an apartment on Park Avenue), selling potato peelers on a street corner at $5 a piece.  He died at age 74, having never retired.

  14. Usually with fakes like these what happens is the makers sell batches to other criminals at much less than face value.  So you’d get say £1000 worth of coins for £500.  Then it’s up to the buyer to get them into circulation.  He’d probably end up selling £50 for £35 further down the chain until there are a lot of people with small amounts of coins slipping them into circulation.   

    I regularly see fake £1 coins in my change and have never had any trouble  using them for payment.  No one ever stops to check a single coin in a handful of change (which is how I end up with them in the first place).    

  15. Back in the 1980’s the economy in Mexico was very bad. To the point they could make money counterfeiting US quarters. I have one given to me by a friend in the pinball biz who say them all the time – or rather heard them. Visually they were dificult to find but the sound they made was enough different from real quarters that you could tell if their was one in hundred dollars worth. My friend could find Canadian and silver quarters the same way.

  16. The Economist claims that 3% of the £1 coins in circulation in the UK are fake. But they haven’t given a source for this.

  17. Not so long ago, a shoeshine man passed back to me two £1 coins I paid him with, on the basis of the weight difference and poor alignment. Obvious once it was pointed out! He says he receives a few every day, not surprising given he is frequently paid in small amounts.

    My 8yo daughter was very happy to receive them as a curio and still delights in examining pound coins to determine whether they are fake. She has found more than one!

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