The Darwin two-pound coin

November 7, 2011 • 1:12 pm

Brits! Inspect your pocket change!

This would never fly in America, but it’s good to go among our cousins in Britain.  In 2009 they issued a two-pound coin in honor of Darwin Year. (He was born in 1809 and published The Origin in 1859.)  I didn’t know about the coin, and never saw one of these in England. No surprise, as they’re rare: Wikipedia says there are only 3,900,000 in circulation, and another site claims that they’re worth twice their face value, even in used condition.  Here’s one side:

Of course everyone who goes to England already knows that Darwin is on all the ten-pound notes.  Imagine that happening in the U.S.!

h/t: Douglas, who almost dropped his Darwin into a soda machine

81 thoughts on “The Darwin two-pound coin

  1. When I came to the UK to study last year, I found one of these and immediately separated it from the rest and keep it safely at home in Spain where I know I can’t spend it!

    1. A Darwin coin only increases the coincidence with Lincoln. These two “emancipators” were born on the same day and in the same year, and now both can be found on both the paper and coin currencies of their respective countries. On the paper side, Darwin is worth about three Lincolns, and the discrepancy is much greater in the coins.

  2. This would never fly in America

    True, but it’s also the case that Darwin was actually British. I doubt that the UK would put a famous US scientist on its money, or any foreign scientist in general. Do they, for example, have Einstein on any of their coins?

    Depictions on currency unsurprisingly tend to be very nationalistic.

    That’s not to say that US religious influence isn’t unique in the developed world, just that such influence would be only one reason one would never find Darwin on US money.

    1. My point was that even if Darwin had been an American, we wouldn’t have him on our currency. Imagine honoring evolution on our money! Fundamentalists wouldn’t touch it.

      1. Fundamentalists wouldn’t touch it.

        Isn’t that supposed to be a “good thing”? I mean, if they refuse to touch money, they will have none of it to pay for all their abhorrent propaganda!

        1. Hell, their propaganda is practically embedded in the currency – don’t US notes (or some of them anyway) bear the sentence “In God We Trust”?

          1. Sadly, yes.

            But you can scribble it out with a pen (which is not, despite some claims to the contrary, illegal)

      2. At least we have Benjamin Franklin on our $100 bills, although it’s questionable how much his status as a scientist has to do with it.

        1. But Jerry Weinberger’s book, Benjamin Franklin Unmasked, implies that Franklin was really a closet atheist more than a deist. Imagine the consternation of some folks to see a portrait of an atheist in proximity to In God We Trust on the same bill!

          1. ooh, i think the american public should be made aware of this – would be interesting seeing the wave of panic that would follow through many states! 😉

            mind you, then it might be used as a tool by some in the attempts to argue compatibility of science and religion..?

      3. It was about 2 years ago that a major movie about Darwin could not find distributors willing to show it in the USA. The land of free expression. Right.

        1. I’m sure it was that memorable line from T.H. Huxley to Darwin. “You’ve killed God, sir. And I, for one, say good riddance to the vindictive old bugger.”

      4. Would they put Asa Gray on? He had a good darwin-style beard in later life – which is an anti-forgery tool because of the detail.

    2. Tulse,

      I once had a beat-up and creased Jack Nicklaus £5 note. I would’ve kept it but the for the fact that I was a broke student at the time. Sadly, it had to traded for food. I’ve not seen one of these in the wild for along time – likely most of them have all either been saved as collectibles or destroyed by now.

      Not a scientist, to be sure, but the closest I could come up with off the top of my head.

  3. Speaking of which, when is the US going to abandon 1-dollar notes in favour of a 1-dollar coin? The smallest British note is worth about 8 dollars. (And while you’re on, a nickel that is smaller than a dime would be less confusing!)

    1. Dollar coins have been part of US currency since the beginning. According to Wikipedia, there are roughly a billion Sacajawea dollars in circulation.

      Dollar notes continue to be printed, however, largely due to the influence of powerful paper-making lobbies. As long as the notes are available, people seem to prefer them to the coins.

    2. Not quite true – £1 paper notes are still in circulation up here in Bonnie Scotland, although they’re quite rare nowadays. Correctly, the smallest English note is worth about 8 dollars (= £5).

    3. Merchants get annoyed when you pay with dollar coins. They don’t have compartments for them in their cash registers. Waitresses don’t even like them, even if you overtip!

      1. If they’d quit striking pennies (after all, we survived the demise of the half-cent ca. 1856) and printing $1 bills, there’d be places for $2’s (Jefferson!) and Sacajaweas. Problem solved.

        It will eventually happen.

        1. Add me to those who dislike carrying a lot of coins. Charities love me, because I’m forever dumping my excess coinage in Salvation Army buckets and jars at cash registers. Many, many attempts have been made circulate $1 coins in the United States over the years, including a couple in my lifetime, and it always fails to catch on because nobody wants to carry the bloody things, simple as that.

      2. Cash registers do in fact have compartments for dollar coins. Most stores cram rolled coinage in there. There’s plenty of space to put rolled coinage in the last currency slot in the drawer. Cashiers can easily manage the dollar coin. When the Sacajawea coin came out I used to get a roll of twenty every two weeks, and I spent them.

        Don’t do that now as I use debit more than cash and have one of those online only accounts where I have to pay a fee to talk to a teller.

  4. Too bad they went with the old cliche of pairing up Darwin’s head with that of a chimpanzee. The anti-evolutionists love that image for some reason.

    1. I think Darwin would have been flattered. Our cousins have a nobility in their animal nature that we humans do not (alway) have in our animal nature.

  5. A mint in Western Australia just put out a 1-ton gold (99.99%) coin. I think it has an image of the queen of England and Scotland rather than Darwin and a chimp. Since the nominal denomination is 1M AUD and the gold alone is estimated at about 50M AUD I’ll gladly make an offer of 2M AUD for it.

  6. The UK traditionally values it’s scientists and engineers. In a UK vote of the top 100 Brits, no 2 was I.K. Brunel, no 4 was Darwin and no 6 was Newton. Bizarrely, Princess Di was no 3 (WTF???)

    1. “Because of the nature of the poll used to select and rank the Britons, the results do not claim to be an objective assessment.” – Wikipedia.

      Brunel deserves to be there, simply for having the name “Isambard”.

      1. … I like the Kingdom bit too – it has a sort of ring to it. Hmmm… King Dom! I would be a merciful atheist ruler.

  7. I’ll keep an eye out. And if I find one, I’m keeping it!

    But do you have any idea how annoying British coinage is? Instead of one dollar bills they have one and two pound coins! I get and spend so much change in the UK that I got a coin purse just for the change. There is a small chance I spent one of this Darwin coins just trying to get rid of my coinage and without seriously looking at the coin.

    1. I went to the US last year and had exactly the opposite problem! Silly little notes flying all the place every time I wanted to take something out my pocket, getting all screwed up and making it hard to find the bigger ones when I needed them. I guess you get used to whatever you have.

    1. *giggle* And on the reverse side there’d be a pair of cowboy boots. It would give a whole new meaning to “giving someone the boot”.

      1. Paradoxically, the one presidential candidate most likely to mint Coynes would be the least willing to do so: Ron Paul favours the Gould standard…

  8. Actually I have three of these two pond coins one is regular uncirculated coin and the other two is a copper proof and a silver piedfort proof coin which only 3,500 were made of those so you could say I am a Darwin coin hoarder.

  9. I have a photo in jpg format of the gravestone of Anne Darwin, the great man’s 10 year-old daughter who died as she took the waters in Malvern 30 miles down the road from me. it was her death that grieved him so much.

    I sent the photo to Michael Shermer who declared he would insert it into his Darwin powerpoints. The picture is of some historical interest; BUT I do not know how to upload it onto the website (assuming you are interested).

    Can anyone give me technical advice?

    1. Another vote for Sagan on our currency (and a Coyne coin) but what I’d really like to see is H L Mencken glowering on our dollar bills. I don’t think he’s even been allowed a postage stamp.

  10. Even more amazing than having a $1 note, the US has a 1 cent coin.

    The reason most countries do away with small denomination notes is cost, they wear out too quickly.

    1. Having just come back from Tanzania, where the smallest note is 500 shillings (equivalent to approximately 0.40 USD or 0.3 GBP) and the largest note, the only one dispensed by ATMs) is 10000 TZS (8 USD or 5.90 GBP), I can affirm the utter filthiness of the 500 TZS compared to the (average) 10000TZS note. I’ve been trying to find two good copies of the 500TZS note for the numismatic album, and after 3 trips this year, I’m still struggling.
      The only Tanzanian coins I’ve seen are 100 and 200 shilling, and they are *extremely* worn. I got a couple in change for a box of matches, over 2 months living in-country. I’ve seen better-condition coins from Roman digs!

  11. I don’t think I have ever seen one of these, although I did hear about them when they were issued in 2009. Unfortunately, I have the habit of spending my £2 coins as quickly as possible, as it’s still the case that many slot machines don’t accept the damn things. Bloody hell, I hope I haven’t had a Darwin £2 coin without noticing it!

    1. But they’re the best one! They satisfy the desire for a meaty coin that was cruelly snatched away with the withdrawal of the old (proper) 50p.

        1. Bring back the graot! Three to a shilling. I like things that are divisible by three. Execpt the christian god.

          1. Actually a coin that was divisible by three in the way the Christian God is would be quite useful. You divide it into three and each of the parts is just the same as the original. Incidentally I once asked my Sunday School teacher why, if each member of the trinity is fully God, why you couldn’t go on dividing them into three and get any number of “persons” all of whom were God. I can’t remember her reply except that it was long and rambling and involved mysteries and taking things on faith. I wasn’t sent to Sunday School again after that. I don’t know if the two were connected, I suspect they were.

  12. Darwin on the £10 note, Darwin on the £2 coin. Whilst all you yanks have is “In God we trust” on your coins! Come on America, keep up!

  13. RE: $1 coins, $1 bills, and one cent coins.

    My not-so-modest proposal:

    Eliminate it the $1 bill and replace it with a $1 coin. The coin shall be the exact same size and color as the one cent coin. In fact, effective immediately, any existing one cent is now worth exactly one dollar (I’m not a penny hoarder, by the way, so I won’t unduly benefit). The new dollar coin shall be known as an Abe.


    1) don’t need a new drawer in the cash register.

    2) pennies have value.

    3) minor stimulus effect because of number 2.

    4) govt saves money cause coins last a long time.

    5) can easily carry lots of Abes in the pocket because they are so light.

      1. Yes, please! We certainly could use a little.

        That was my point 3: a little stimulus. Probably not much though. The number of pennies relative to the US economy is small.

        I’d love to have a useful dollar coin. The ones we have are not useful because they are too big and heavy.

        And we don’t really need pennies so it seems like an elegant solution.

        1. Elegant? I thought it was meant as a joke.

          We already have dollar coins of standardized size and weight, and vending machines that accept them. But you think it would be more useful to scrap all that existing infrastructure, recall a billion coins already in circulation, and confound everybody’s lifelong expectations of what coins are worth and how to make change.

          I’m all for getting rid of pennies. But waving a wand and calling them dollars would cause many more problems than it would solve.

  14. It would have been nice at lease to see Darwin on an American postage stamp.

    There is a Charles Darwin University in Australia. It was in Australia five yeara ago but could not find a CHU t-shirt.

  15. I probably had and spent several of these. It’s like the picture of Darwin on the £10 note. What’s the big deal? Wouldn’t you expect his likeness to appear on British money in 2009?

  16. I pay reasonable attention to the coinage, because the wife likes to collect the various commemorative ones … but I didn’t notice the Darwin one. And having checked the collection, we don’t have one (sometimes the wife puts coins into the album while I’m away). So I’ll have to be doubly-vigilant now.

  17. I tend to spend the £2 coins as soon as I get them, since I think they are too bulky to be of much use — I never thought about hoarding the Darwin ones. It’s probably too late to start.

  18. Strangely enough, we also have these in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, not just England…

    But then you Americans [sic!] are very fond of synecdoche.


  19. This small enclave the UK is not afraid of what it knows to be true. Darwin is a bright beacon for those in search of real truth. If truth cannot stand up to exacting standards of examination then it remains questionable.

    1. Let us not get too high and mighty Cliff! The hideous hordes of the godly are here too, a sort of “et in Arcadia” 🙁

      1. Yup, no separation of Church and State over here. How many persons have heard of Tom Paine (whom Obama quoted surreptitiously in his inaugural speech, by the way), in the country of his birth?

        I don’t understand why we have to feel proud of Darwin simply because he was born on the same landmass as us; shouldn’t it be to do with his ideas?

    2. And did those shells in ancient time.
      Leave trace fossils in mudstone?
      And was the holy GastroPod,
      On England’s pleasant shoreline seen!

  20. Whilst the UK coinage may not have the overt “In God we trust” slogan it does have a coded reference to religion. Around the Queen’s head is the abbreviation “Reg F. D.” which is short for Regina fidei defensor. This means Queen, defender of the faith. Defender of the faith is a title bestowed upon Henry VIII by the Pope before he split with Rome but now reflects the monarch’s position as head of the Church of England.

    1. I have always found it strange that Henry VIII kept title “fidei defensor” after the break with Rome and that it became hereditary. I guess there must have been a feeling that the words had some sort of magic in themselves. Incidentally Prince Floppy-Ears wants this changed to the more ecumenical “fiderum defensor” when his mum pops her clogs to reflect “multi-faith” Britain. From a logical point of view it would seem to be an impossible task to defend all the faiths at the same time, but then rationality isn’t one of HRH’s strong points.

      1. Oh, Harry-8 had good reason to keep the “fidei defensor” moniker all right, even after he cut out the middle man in 1534 (Act of Supremacy): he had appointed himself “Supreme Governor* of the Church of England”. Formally, Pope Paul III revoked the Roman sponsorship after Old Coppernose decided to cavort beringedly with Anne Boleyn and run his own franchise, but the slogan “defender of the faith” was restored with a vengeance (an anti-Catholic one) by Parliament in 1544.

        *Thus, it is substantially correct, if inhabitual, to address Her Majesty The Queen colloquially as guv’. Example: when striving to schnorr a Darwin £2 coin from Her Majesty, one might entreat:

        Spare two quid wiv man and ape, guv?

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