A right royal mint for Easter mint

Maundy money given by the monarch can be worth a fortune
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WHEN might 69 pence be worth up to £500? When it is Maundy money, the special currency presented each year by the Queen.

At Coventry Cathedral on Thursday, she presented 69 men and 69 women with 69p in real silver coins as well as with £5.50 in ordinary currency of the realm. The significance of 69 is that she is in her 69th year.

A set of Maundy money comprises a groat, or fourpenny piece, a threepence, a twopence and a penny. The latter is about the size of a shirt button.

Each of the men and women, chosen for their outstanding service to the Church and the community, received Maundy coins to the value of 69p - that is six complete sets, each worth about £90 to collectors, and three coins to make up the odd 9p. They were handed to the recipients in white leather bags. Officials at the ceremony were also given Maundy coins.

Only 1,486 complete sets will have been struck this year. The odd 9p would have resulted in an additional striking of a further 138 of the four, three and two-pence coins.

The majority of the coins will be cherished and treated as treasured heirlooms. Only a small percentage of Maundy money finds its way to the market, mainly from the 600-odd sets given to officials.

Spink, the London coin dealers, advises that 1995 sets will retail for around £90. However, by next year their price is likely to have dropped to £50 as the demand from collectors seeking the latest issue will have been satisfied.

According to Spink's Mark Rasmussen, some earlier Maundy in choice condition is very rare. The four denominations of a sought-after date in mint condition would cost up to £500 if their colour was perfectly matched. In "fine" condition, which means considerable wear, the price would be about £70. However a near-mint-state late Victorian example would sell for only around £40.

Prior to 1909, it had become the practice for the general public to be allowed to purchase sets through banks. However, Edward VII ordered that this should cease as it reduced the value of coins to recipients. The effect was dramatic. In 1908, 18,150 silver pennies were struck: the following year the number was 2,948.

Since then, the number of complete sets struck has never exceeded 2,000. Despite these low mintages, sets from 1911 generally sell for around £40 to £50. The exception is the 1953 Coronation set, which is keenly sought because the portrait of the Queen differs from subsequent years. It sells for around £200.

As the number of recipients and the number of coins given increases with the monarch's age, earlier examples of the current reign should be worth more than later ones. But the supply/demand equation is complicated by the number of sets given to officials each year and the make-up of the coins given to each recipient. In 1966, 1,206 complete sets were struck while the following year the number was only 986, although Seaby's Standard Catalogue lists both dates at £50.

The modern sets are undervalued, according to coin experts.