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Stephen Hawking commemorated on new 50p coin (bbc.co.uk)
223 points by gadders 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments



A scientist is due to be chosen for the prestigious £50 note portrait this year, and Hawking would be a fine and hugely popular choice, but there's a lot of political pressure for it to be a woman, so I suspect this has conveniently removed him from the running.


I think it was probably too early for Hawking on the £50 anyway - it's more for historical figures. I can't be bothered to check but I think Churchill is the most recently alive person to ever be featured.


You are indeed right, though being pedantic, QE2 is still alive ;-D Nan Shepard and the Queen Mother have also been included on short-lived commemorative notes in Scotland only.


The Queen being on the other side is something different - she is always featured there and isn’t selected.


> isn’t selected

I chuckled.


OTH, you'll see the coin much more often.


To put it mildly. For readers not in the UK: cashpoint machines do not give out £50 notes so if you want to get one you'll have to visit a bank and ask specially. Visiting a bank is rather difficult these days unless you are unemployed and live in a city centre and even then you might find it boarded up after the latest ram raid.


Not entirely true.

I was on a night out years ago for a friend's birthday, who, for whatever reason had chosen to have it at the Casino under the Empire cinema on Leicester square. The cashpoint there only gave out £50 notes. This is when I realised I couldn't afford this birthday party.


I expect that cash point was run by the casino and gave out 50s to encourage impulsive gamblers to bet even more money than they might otherwise plan to. On the other hand most cash points are owned by banks/supermarkets who would rather not have to deal with a wide circulation of £50 notes because they tend to be more likely to be forged (but maybe that’s just because they aren’t in common circulation) so require more time to check.

Just as a side note, plenty of banks and building societies are open on a Saturday.


In my town exactly one of the four bank branches are open on Saturday. Its the main one in the town center and then only until 12:30....


They are very commonly used by tourists to the UK who've exchanged cash.

A very small number of cashpoints in London dispense them.


Visiting a bank for a 50 seems like a waste of £7


989 people met the criteria based on public nominations, you can read the list here https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/banknotes/...

I know they have to be dead to be considered but I think it stinks that Sophie Wilson never gets much of a mention anywhere near the public sphere despite the immensely broad reach of her work.


Funny that Brits don't see £50 notes that often. Most of the time £50 notes are used by foreigners (tourists or whatnot).

I always say that $100 never feels like as much money as when you're trying to spend a $100 bill. I'm guessing it's similar for a £50 note.

I'm hoping for Mary Anning, personally. Local hero.


There are better choices for a historical scientist, such as Newton, Darwin, Bacon or Dalton. Hawking was popular in the niche circles but it's safe to assume that many people, even in the UK, would be unfamiliar with him. And shoehorning an obscure woman scientist in there just because she's female is an insult to the achievements all the women who excel in science and other fields.


Hawking is a household name in the UK.


Not just in the UK. I would wager he's a household name in many houses the entire world over. His contribution to making physics accessible to everyone is... I fail to locate a word of sufficient magnitude to describe just how important and what an inspiration he was.


What if they picked a prominent female scientist?

Also, there was a theatrically released biopic for Hawking and he was featured on an episode of the Simpsons, I think he's pretty mainstream.


Did he ever find out more about that donut-shaped universe?

I would say there is a case for James Clark Maxwell, he's largely not remembered by people outside physics and electrical engineering.


Darwin was already used on tenner, Newton on the £1 note.


Why would he be disqualified, and why is there pressure to choose a woman? That seems like a bad thing to do to a man who made such contributions to science.

Edit: Anyone care to comment on why you killed this?


Anyone else find the illustration a bit lacking - it's like a 70s album cover (not a terrible thing) - but it doesn't scream blackhole at me. Writing his name seems a bit low rent too, the best coinage is a bit more subtle IMO.


The illustration tries to visualize a (gravitational) potential by equitorial lines, and to cut where the event horizon is in Schwarzschild coordinates. Such an illustration is probably an honour to Karl Schwarzschild (the guy who first solved Einstein's general relativistic field equations) but not to Hawking, who got famous for making first predictions how quantum matter interacts with general relativistic spacetimes, i.e. black holes.

It's only the equation which displays the definition of Bekenstein-Hawking entropy which is connected to Hawking.

I'm not an expert in designing coins, but I feel this is not the best way to visualize Hawkings impact on science.


I think you go too deep. For most folks, Hawking = black holes, and this is a fine illustration on a very limited canvas. I personally consider it much cooler rather than just some tiny portrait / picture of person in a wheelchair.


It also looks to me as if his name is being subjected to some weird anti-tidal effect -- stretched out laterally -- when in fact the exact opposite happens to anything falling into a black hole. (See e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghettification)

I completely see where you're coming from with regards to 70s album cover and the printing of his name.

I still quite like the design though and I suspect it would look a lot more tasteful when seen on the coin itself rather than viewed online (which might have had the images contrast turned up to make the dips and peaks of the pressing more visible)


Actually I just saw this, and I think I like it - https://m.imgur.com/TSEi2WW.

I didn't see the equation before, nor see a thumbnail: which makes it appear to have an actual hole.


Agreed. It looks like a Doctor Who logo or something. Not nice.


> He joins an elite group of scientists to have appeared on coins, including Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

He's ... not really 'appearing' though, is he? His name is. Why no illustration of the great man himself?


Newton didn’t appear either. While scientists portraits have appeared on notes, the mint avoids portraits on coins - and instead goes for a depiction of the work itself.

Darwin is the only exception I can think of, probably because by depicting him and a chimp, you are actually depicting the work.


Brunel, Jane Austen and Kitchener have all been on two-pound commemorative coins in recent years, as well as some unidentifiable athletes, so this is not a very strong rule.

https://www.royalmint.com/our-coins/events/jane-austen/ https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/coin-design-and-... https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/coin-design-and-... https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/coin-design-and-...


For anyone curious, this is the Charles Darwin £2 coin: https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/coin-design-and-...


I wonder if that's because heads would always win


Pretty sure the lady on the other side disagrees...


I suspect she's exactly the reason why you don't get portraits on the "tails" side.


From the article:

"Prof Hawking has also been suggested as the new face of the £50 banknote, which will feature a scientist. A decision will be made in the summer."


So is this a commemorative essentially non-circulating coin or do things like this get spent normally in the UK? I'm not familiar with Royal Mint commemoratives.

In the US, the mint releases a lot of commemorative coins that ostensibly and legally have a face value, but in fact will never be used as money. Contrasting with that are the state and national park quarters, which mostly circulate normally.


Most of the coins made will circulate normally, although higher quality commemorative versions will also be available to buy.


Yeah, the US Mint does that as well with the circulating coins.


These circulate and you find them in your change.

Some people collect them by getting bulk change from their banks and searching through. Here's a youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrLpq9u90Ls

You get to see from this video that there are a load of these coins in the UK.


OK, so somewhat similar to the State Quarter program in the US.

Thanks for the comment. I haven't been to the UK for 20 years (sadly).. I do remember from back then the differing pound coins.


Many people "collect" the commemorative 50p coins, possibly in the same way people collected the state quarters in the USA. There are one or two released every year[1], and the number varies.

People seem to avoid spending them for a little while, show someone if it's one they've not seen before, and perhaps put them aside at home, but eventually spend them again.

[1] https://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/coin-design-and-...


Yeah, the article was light on details. They said you could buy an uncirculated coin for 10 pounds, which led me to believe some would ALSO be circulated, but it would have been nice information for them to include :)

Wow it is already a year ago.. time flies.

This is a nice way to commemorate him!


If this were judged on scientific merit alone, and not the fact of being known to the public, Hawking would have never have made this. Does he compare to a James Clerk Maxwell? To a Francis Bacon?


All coins available for purchase have been sold or reserved already.


How do I get one of these outside of the UK? I'm also trying to find the Beatrix Potter and Shakespeare coins.

Edit: https://www.royalmint.com but it's going to cost me... a lot.


If you just want the coin (rather than the coin in a presentation pack) it might be easiest to buy it from eBay (local or UK) or a coin collecting website.

Questions for HN archivists of the future:

How long before Tim Berners-Lee gets on a British banknote or coin?

Will this happen before or after Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, or Turing?

And will Donald Davies ever get his recognition?

And will physical money even still exist by this point?


Wow the illustration looks really cool! Hopefully I can pick up a couple of these on my next trip to the UK (If the Brexit doesn't go through completely :) )


Stephen Hawking was definitely an incredible person, but were his scientific contributions alone enough to merit his appearance on currency?


I need to figure out where to order one of these.



microprint the cosmos on the coin !




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