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London (or English) obverse, left, with 177 beads, and the Indian obverse, with 178 beads.
The subject of confirming if a George V penny has a London or Indian obverse, to the non-enthusiast, may seem trivial. However, when the outcome of this distinction may make hundreds or thousands of dollars difference in price between one coin and another, then all of a sudden one starts to take extra notice!
The fashionable and time-honoured way has been to count the number of rim beads and observe the legs of the letters in the inscription and their relationship to the rim beads. This is fine when you are dealing with coins that have well-struck and defined rim beads, but not so good if the coin is poorly struck or worn in some way and the beads are illegible. What I needed was a further way of testing the obverse type without using the rim beads.
Indian and London obverse type characteristics
Published information such as Renniks and McConnelly state the following identification points:
London dies have 177 beads: The upstroke of the “N” in “OMN” points between beads and the colon “ : “ adjacent to “IMP” points at a bead.
Indian dies have 178 beads: The upstroke of the “N” points at a bead and the colon “ : “ adjacent to “IMP” points between beads.
Thus the primary test is the number of beads and the supporting tests are the letter alignment. Without the help of a counting gauge, most people including myself give up on counting and just use the “N” letter alignment. I had always imagined that the variation of letter alignment was only due to the difference in the number of beads, but now I’m not so sure. A lot of observation of the “N” of coins of both obverse types has led me to the conclusion that another difference is the lateral position of the “N” in relationship to the “M”.
An additional method
Accept the observation that the “M” of “OMN” is consistent in its relationship with the beads on both types of obverses. It is seen that the last leg of the “M” always lines up with a bead. Next, accept the observation that the “N” is always the same font width as counted in bead numbers. But when one observes the distance between the adjacent legs of the “M” and the “N” on both obverse types, this distance is wider by ½ of bead space on all the Indian obverses viewed. This is the reason the upstroke of the “N” either points at a bead or between beads on the different obverses, while the “M” remains constant. The variation has little to do with the bead total numbers!
Indian placement of the "N". Note how the right leg of the N lines up with the denticle.
London (or English) placement of the "N". Note how the right leg of the N lines up with gap between two denticles.
The difference in bead numbers is 177 to 178. As the coin is approximately 1.2 inch diameter the circumference is 1.2 x pi = 3.84 inch. The difference of one bead would be 1/177 x 3.84 = 0.02 inch, but spread evenly around the rim beads, that is, each single bead is 0.02/177 = 0.0001 inches different from one obverse to the other! Nowhere near enough to account for the ½ bead space difference, 0.01 of inch, of the position of the “N” or the “ : ” for that matter.
So, to detect obverses, what we need to do is measure this distance between two selected points on the “M” and “N” legs. I found a convenient measuring point is the little concave section near the top of each leg, as the outline sweeps around to form the “knob” at the top. When measured with a rule calibrated in 1/100ths of an inch a London coin measures 3/100ths inch and an Indian coin nearer 4/100ths inch. Study the images above and note the “N” is placed wider on the Indian obverse coins, being the 0.02 inch or one half a bead width to the right.
Testing methods suggested
First, test is the number of beads, second is the letter alignment of the “N” and the “ : ” and when the beads are not visible, then the distance between the “N” and the “M” may be used as further evidence. I have found that the coins of most need of this test are the London varieties of the 1920 date. This coin is sometimes very poorly struck on the obverse and that, combined with wear, can frustratingly remove all but the weakest trace of the rim beads. Also of great interest are the worn 1931 Indian obverse coins, particularly the dropped “1” variety, as this is excessively rare.