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Two-tone pounds 2 coin arrives

THE long-delayed pounds 2 coin is to make its debut next week, after the Royal Mint finally devised an electronic "signature" that could be read by vending machines.

Fifty million of the bi-coloured coins will start to come into circulation on 15 June. The coin, larger than the pounds 1 coin but only slightly heavier, has a white centre and a yellow outer ring. Its reverse, designed by Bruce Rushin, a Norfolk art teacher, traces the progress of technological development, with the Iron Age, the Industrial Revolution, the electronic age and the era of the Internet depicted in four circles.

The coin's launch was originally planned for November last year but was postponed following concern in the vending industry about its electronic signature. Many vending machines have sensors that test a coin's metal composition by measuring its resistance to an electronic current. The Royal Mint says initial problems have been solved by minor adjustments to the production process.

Already, there are plans to use the new pounds 2 coin for commemorative coinage. Next year, a special pounds 2 coin will be issued to mark England and Wales hosting the Rugby World Cup.

It is just one of a series of commemorative issues planned for the next two years. The Royal Mint is issuing a special 50p piece this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the NHS and a collectors' pounds 5 coin will celebrate the millennium.

Another planned coin is causing controversy. Senior aides to the Queen are understood to be unhappy with plans to issue a coin bearing the head of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Courtiers said the Queen had not been informed of the plan for a pounds 5 coin and was likely to regard it as inappropriate, because it could overshadow the issue of another coin, bearing the head of the Prince of Wales, to mark his 50th birthday in November.