[Dave Birch] Pottering along the M4 (otherwise known, but not by the inheritors of Queen Boudicca’s robust policies on European integration, as the E30) the other day, I really enjoyed an edition of Moneybox on BBC Radio 4. It had everything: plastic card fraud, card charges and the cost of cash in a bizarre context. Which was that they had a story about a chap who blogs about what he finds discarded by the Coinstar machine in his local supermarket. Frankly, the Internet was made for this.

It’s amazing what people leave behind on the Coinstar change counter machine in my local Sainsbury’s…

[From The Copper Counter Blog]

There was a serious side to the story though, which was about the cost of converting cash into other forms. The machines currently charge 7.9% and this about to rise to something like 9.5%.

Supermarket coin-changing machines are popular, even though they charge a fee. Banks change money for free – but it is not always so convenient an option.

[From BBC NEWS | Programmes | Moneybox | Have your say: Pin fraud and coins]

Judging by the interviewees, and other previous discussions I’ve been involved in, people seemed quite happy to pay the massive transaction charge of heading towards a tenth in order to use up coins in the supermarket. You put in ten quids-worth of coins and you get back a voucher for £9.21 to use at the checkout. As the Copper Counter blogger pointed out on the show, this is odd, since if you pour the coins into the self-checkout machine then you pay no transaction charge at all. Anyway, the point is that coins are so much of a pain that customers will pay a high fee to get rid of them.

Low-value coins are a waste of resources. If we’re going to have coins, we should have coins that are worth something, as in the good old days of Queen Boudicca.

The 824 so-called staters were found, using a metal detector, in a broken pottery jar buried in a field near Wickham Market… the coins dated from 40BC to AD15 are thought to have been minted by predecessors of the Iceni Queen Boudicca… their value when in circulation had been estimated at a modern equivalent of between £500,000 and £1m

[From BBC NEWS | UK | England | Suffolk | Huge Iron Age haul of coins found]

So roughly a thousand coins were worth roughly a million pounds. That makes each coin worth around £1,000 in today’s money. What could they have been used for? Like 500 euro notes, they could only have been used for tax evasion: I’ll bet their Celtic inscription translates as “don’t render unto Caesar”.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. An interesting twist is the exchange of gift cards for coinstar credit: coinstar buys the cards from a vendor at a discount, say 10%, and then passes that on to the coin exchanger at full face value. Coinstar still pockets their 10% skim, and the exchanger gets face value for the coins exchanged.

  2. The coins-for-prepaid-cards model is popular with many Coinstar users in the US. Just as consumers are now accustomed to purchasing gift cards from a variety of merchants at their local supermarket, they can now exchange coins for a (albeit smaller) selection of cards.
    I suspect that Coinstar might even prefer consumers to take the gift card option versus cash. I know that in many cases gift cards sold in supermarkets are done so at a discount that exceeds the 7-10% range that Coinstar charges for cash conversion.

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