Hoefler & Frere-Jones' Typography.com compares and contrasts the new line of UK coinage with the new U.S. five dollar bill. The implication that for $525 million and 2,500 people, the U.S. is getting a worse deal than British public are ignores the fact that the the Royal Mint got the benefit of approximately 500 entrants (per the Royal Mint's Competition site) and only has to pay a very small fraction of them (presuming they're paying the winner and a subset of the invited artists).
The striking new designs, selected from an open competition that attracted four thousand entries, are the work of a 26-year old graphic designer named Matthew Dent. They are Mr. Dent's first foray into currency design.
That sounds a lot like spec work.
Moreover, Hoefler & Frere-Jones is only giving one side of the numbers. For starters, all 2,500 employees they say the U.S Mint has aren't all working over engraving stations (and apparently sucking). Just as the 915 employees of the Royal Mint didn't judge the coin competition.
Looking at budget figures from each mint's respective 2006 report, the Royal Mint [pdf] had sales of $228 million with an operating loss of about $4 million. The U.S. Mint [pdf] had $1 billion in sales with $85 million of profit.
Sure, the UK coins are handsome, but budget and employment figures aren't the cause or fault for pretty or ugly money. The agencies themselves aren't far apart when each country's population (60 million vs. 301 million) is taken into account. Wait, actually the U.S. has one mint employee per 120,400 residents, the UK one for every 65,000 or so.
H&FJ's take seems like a one-sided anti-bureaucratic cheap shot that misses another way to frame it: The Royal Mint didn't have one employee out of 915 they wanted to design their money.