Monday, December 17, 2012

Insuring Your Coin Collection

1945 Mexico 2-peso gold coin
This month we have a special guest writer, Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley of

Options for Insuring Your Coin Collection

If a natural disaster struck in your community, would your coin collection be covered against a loss? Or if a burglar were to target your property, do you know that your collection is insured up to its full value?

These are scenarios we don’t want to think about, however, they are risks any collector should consider.

Recently an avid collector in Virginia found out the answer to one of these questions the hard way. The collector, whom we shall call James, was the victim of a home burglary. Amongst some of his stolen property was his collection of foreign and domestic coins. James had looked into insurance for his collection a few years prior, and at the time was satisfied with the limited coverage provided under his existing homeowners policy. However, over the years James’ collection had increased in value and when it came time to file a homeowners insurance claim for the theft, he found out the sad truth. His homeowners insurance policy didn’t cover even a sixth of the value of his collection.

This type of situation isn't uncommon however it's also easy to avoid.

Get the right coverage

As mentioned above, most homeowners insurance policies will provide coverage for a collection such as a coin collection, however, the coverage limit is often very low. For example, most home insurance policies place a maximum coverage limit of $200 on items such as coins, bank notes and gold bullion. This means that in the event of a loss, your policy would only pay out $200 towards the replacement of any (or all) of these items kept in your home.

A better option is to schedule an endorsement (also called a 'rider') on your homeowners insurance policy that extends the coverage limit for your collection. You will need to discuss this with your home insurance carrier and they will ask you to supply an appraisal from an official coin appraiser. Always make sure your collection is insured up to it’s full value, especially if you are regularly adding new coins.

Finally, one of the best ways to insure your coin collection is to purchase a coin collection insurance policy from an insurer that specializes in this type of coverage. This policy, oftentimes referred to as a 'personal articles floater' is completely separate from your homeowners policy and will oftentimes offer extended protection not offered under a home insurance policy. For example, a coin collection insurance policy will usually cover theft of your collection while you are traveling to a coin show.

Do Your Part

Aside from having the right insurance policy in place, take steps to avoid theft and/or damage to your coins by keeping them locked up in an inconspicuous place in your home. Don’t advertise your collection to people you don’t know well. Keep a record of every coin in your collection so that you have proof of inventory and ownership.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Reading Japanese Numbers and Dates

Japan 1945 10-sen
As I've previously discussed, it is useful for a world coin collector to be able to read numbers and dates in different languages. This allows you to determine the proper date and denomination of a coin. That information, along with the coin's country, is the minimum you'd need to look up the coin in a guide, check if it's in your collection, or trade with another collector.

The Chinese Numerals

Japanese is one such language which doesn't use Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2...). Japanese uses a number-writing system that is shared with the Chinese language, and is generally referred to as the Chinese numerals.  The symbols used to represent 0 through 10 are pictured below, with their European/Arabic equivalent:
Japanese numbers 0 through 10
Numbers above (and including) 10 are not made by combining individual digits, like in the Arabic numeral system. Instead, Japanese uses combinations of numerals which add and/or multiply to the number being written. For example, 11 is not written 一一 (1 1) - it is 十一 (10 1, or 10 + 1). 15 is written as 十五 (10 + 5). 20 is 二十 (2 10, or 2 * 10), and 22 is 二十二 (2 10 2, or 2 * 10 + 2).

There are additional Japanese symbols for larger multiples of 10:
   100: 百
   1000: 千

The Japanese number-writing system is known as a non-positional numeral system because individual symbols don't identify their value strictly based on their position in the number. For example, 40 (四十, 4 10), 400 (四百, 4 100), and 4000 (四千, 4 1000) all use exactly 2 symbols in Japanese (while the Arabic numbers 40, 400, and 4000 use 2, 3, and 4 respectively). The position of a symbol doesn't define its value; its effect on or by its neighbors does.

More examples of Japanese numbers:
   32: 三十二
   44: 四十四
   78: 七十八
   99: 九十九

Japanese Dates

In the late 1800s, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, but with a starting date (a "year zero") that corresponded to the Gregorian calendar's year 660 BC, making Japan's year values larger than the year used by other countries (i.e. 1920 A.D. = 2580 Japan). This practice largely stopped after World War 2, and for most purposes Japan uses the same year as America would use.

Modern Japanese coins, however, use the Japanese era calendar to indicate when a coin was minted. An era starts counting years at 1 with each new Japanese emperor. The date is indicated by the emperor's era name (using its Kanji symbols) followed by the year of the emperor's reign. For example, 1989 was the first year for the current Heisei era (under Emperor Kinjo, or Akihito), so coins minted that year would contain the symbol for the Heisei era (平成)  and the symbol for 1 (一).

Japan's era name examples
Fortunately for those who don't read Japanese, there have only been 4 Japanese eras since 1900:
  • 明治 (Meiji) 1867 - 1912
  • 大正 (Taisho) 1912 - 1926
  • 昭和 (Showa) 1926 - 1989
  • 平成 (Heisei) 1989 - present

On Japanese coins, the date is usually read clockwise (right-to-left). It begins with the symbols for the era name (see the list above), followed by the era year, and ends with the symbol for year (年). While most coins are read right-to-left, some need to be read left-to-right (counter-clockwise). The symbol for year (年) is always at the end of the date, so if you see it at the left-hand end of a number, read it from right-to-left; if you see it at the right-hand end, read it left-to-right.

Examples from actual Japanese coins:
Left to right: 1921 10-sen, 1942 10-sen, 1995 5-yen, 1974 10-yen
From left to right:
  • Taisho year 10 - read clockwise
  • Showa year 17 (10 + 7) - read clockwise
  • Heisei year 7 - read counter-clockwise
  • Showa year 49 (4 * 10 + 9) - read left-to-right 

Showa year 48 100-yen Japanese coin
On recent 50- and 100-yen coins (since 1967), the era year is shown in Arabic numerals instead of Japanese numerals, like the coin pictured here. The rest of the date is read the same way described above - counter-clockwise, starting with the era name and ending with the year symbol (年).

Calculating the Gregorian Date

Once you know the era name and year, you can calculate the Gregorian year using the era table above. Take the era's starting year, add the era year, and subtract 1. For example, Heisei year 3 would correspond to 1991 (year 1 is 1989, year 2 is 1990, and year 3 is 1991). Here are the dates for the coins pictured above:
  • Taisho year 10 = 1912 + 10 -1 = 1921
  • Showa year 17 = 1926 + 17 - 1 = 1942
  • Heisei year 7 = 1989 + 7 - 1 = 1995
  • Showa year 49 = 1926 + 49 - 1 = 1974
  • Showa year 48 = 1926 + 48 - 1 = 1973
Taiwan 1972 1-yuan (year 61)

Comparison to Taiwan Coins

Coins from Taiwan use the same number symbols as Japanese coins, so it is easy to mistake them for each other. In the coin pictured here, the year reads 6 10 1 (61, in yellow highlighting) reading counter-clockwise and ending with the year symbol (年). Taiwan coins will of course not have one of the 4 Japanese emperor era names listed above, and frequently have the flower symbol shown here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Christmas Coins

As the weather turns slowly colder here in the Pacific Northwest, many people's thoughts here and throughout the world start turning to the upcoming holiday season.

A majority of the countries in the world celebrate Christmas. Whether as a religious holiday or a secular celebration of family and friends, Christmas time is an important time of year for millions of people worldwide.

Isle of Man 2009 50p Christmas Coin
(Image from the Isle of Man Post Office.)
To celebrate the season, a few countries have issued Christmas-themed coins over the years.

The Isle of Man has issued a Christmas 50-cent piece nearly every year since 1980. They are currently in the middle of a 12 Days of Christmas coin series (the "5 golden rings" coin is shown here), but other annual Christmas coins have had images of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and various scenes of holiday festivities and decorations.

Gibraltar has also issued Christmas-themed 50-cent coins most years since 1990. Many of their annual coins have an image of Santa Claus, but the three wise men, a Christmas tree, and other Christmas imagery make an appearance.

The Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific, issued Christmas-themed 1-pa'anga coins in limited quantities in the 1980's. Numista has a picture of the 1982 1 pa'anga coin.

And Latvia's 2009 1 lats coin has a Christmas tree with ornaments on its reverse.

Niue Island 2010 $1 Christmas coin.
(Image from the Mint of Poland.)
Collectible coins are special, limited-mintage coins that are usually much more ornate (and frequently minted in precious metals or in unique shapes). They are usually sold directly from a mint (or an authorized reseller/distributor) - they are definitely not something you're going to find in pocket change.

In 2010 Niue, a small island country near New Zealand, released $1 silver (yes, made of silver), $2 silver, and $5 gold star-shaped Christmas coins. The Christmas tree on the reverse of the $1 coin has 3 colored crystal ornaments on it, and the $2 coin has a colored crystal "star". These coins would look wonderful hanging on a Christmas tree as ornaments, but don't even think about drilling a hole through them to add a wire ornament hook.
Australia 2012 $1 Christmas Coin.
(Image from the Perth Mint.)

The Perth Mint, which makes collectible coins for Australia and other countries, traditionally issues a new Australian $1 Christmas-themed coin every year. These coins aren't made of sliver or gold, but they do feature colorized accents on the reverse.

Canada 2012 50-cent Christmas coin.
(Image from the Royal Canadian Mint.
Finally, the Royal Canadian Mint usually issues a couple of holiday-themed coins every year.  This year they have a colorized 50-cent coin with a lenticular image (changes when you change the viewing angle) of Santa leaving presents under a Christmas tree, a $20 silver coin depicting the three wise men with a crystal star on the back, and a $10 silver coin with a color ice-skating scene, among others.

These coins can make nice gifts for coin collectors and non-collectors alike, and I bet kids would enjoy a coin with a picture of Santa Claus on it. Fortunately you can order Canada's coins directly from the Mint's Web site. Any of the others are going to be harder to find.

Christmas coins are few and far between, considering how many people worldwide celebrate Christmas. As usual, if you know of any coins or countries that I've missed, mention them in the comments so we can all benefit.

Update 11/12/2012: Added Perth Mint/Australia.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

10th Anniversary of the Euro

Italy's 1-euro coin
In 2002, 15 members of the European Union changed their individual national currencies to a new currency that would be used by them all - the euro. This was probably one of the biggest currency changeovers in modern history, and the most well-known example of a currency union (where multiple countries use the same kind of money).

2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the coins and bills of the euro (which was first used in 1999 for electronic transactions between nations). The euro (always lowercase, like dollar or penny) is currently used by 17 countries in Europe:
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Cyprus
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
France's 2-euro coin
And three independent city-states:
  • Monaco (in France)
  • San Marino (in Italy)
  • Vatican City (in Italy)
Back in 2002, the first 15 European Union members to convert to the euro were: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and Vatican City. Slovenia switched to the euro in 2007, Malta and Cyprus in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, and Estonia in 2011.  The European Central Bank has an interactive map showing the growth of the euro-using area.

The euro is worth the same amount in any of the above euro member countries (which are collectively referred to as the Eurozone). That means that if you live in France and travel to Spain, you don't have to exchange your French money for Spanish money. (Within the United States, we're quite familiar with this - if you travel from California to Florida, you don't have to change your money for "Florida dollars". US dollars can frequently be used outside of the States, but that's not the same as a currency union like the Eurozone.)

The reverse sides of the 8 standard euro coins
The standard euro coins come in denominations of:
  • 1 cent
  • 2 cents
  • 5 cents
  • 10 cents
  • 20 cents
  • 50 cents
  • 1 euro
  • 2 euros
Individual countries may mint commemorative coins larger than 2 euros, such as Portugal's 2.5-euro coins, Slovenia's 3-euro coins, and Germany's 10-euro silver coins. But these are generally only for collecting.

Euro 2-cent obverses (left to right):
Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and France
Each country that issues euros has a unique design on the front (obverse) of their coins. These designs allow you to figure out which country the coin came from. The European Central Bank has pictures of every euro's obverse (also called the national side) to assist you in identifying coins.  The obverse is also where you'll find the date of the coin. Even though euro coins weren't put into circulation until 2002, minting of the coins began in some countries in 1999 in order for there to be enough for the changeover. In France, Belgium, Finland, The Netherlands, and Spain, the coins had the year that they were minted (even though they were not going to be issued until 2002) - so it is possible to find coins dated 1999, 2000, and 2001 from these countries.

The 2-euro coins are frequently minted with special commemorative designs to honor a person, place, or event. The European Central Bank has pictures of the commemorative 2-euro coins issued by each country since 2004. Sometimes a single special 2-euro design is minted in all euro countries, such as 2012's "10 years of the euro" coin.

The backs (reverse) display the amount and are the same in all countries. The coins are also the same size and shape in all countries, so the only difference you'll see between an Austrian 1-euro coin and a Slovakian 1-euro coin is the design that is on the front.

Portugal's 5-cent coin
For world coin collectors, the introduction of the euro meant that 15 countries were all getting new coins at the same time, and the former national coins were no longer going to be made. That means that over time, coins for the French franc, the Greek dinar, and the Slovenian tolar (among others) are going to be harder and harder to find. Each new country that relinquishes their national currency for the euro gives coin collectors a new opportunity to collect a new set of coins for that country. As a collector, it is exciting to have new types of coins to collect. But it is also sad to see the demise of the many and varied national coins from so many countries at once, and more to follow in the future.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Judging A Coin's Condition

One of the useful things to keep track of in your coin collection (whether you are using a written journal, Excel spreadsheet, or online site like to organize your coins) is the quality, or condition, of your coins. It's helpful to have a good idea about the approximate condition of each coin for a couple of reasons:
  • When trading, you can more accurately describe your coins and have a better idea about the coins you are trading for
  • When you find a coin that you already have, you can decide if it is better than the one in your collection
  • Coin values differ by condition.  Knowing your coins' conditions will help you get more accurate estimates of their value
Coin condition is usually measured on a 70-point scale known as the Sheldon Scale, where 1 represents a coin worn down to almost nothing but a flat circle of metal and 70 represents an absolutely perfect coin. Certain numbers on the scale are given names, such as 1 = Poor, 4 = Good, 8 = Very Good, 20 = Very Fine, 40 = Extremely Fine, and 50 = About Uncirculated.'s Sheldon Scale page gives excellent descriptions of the different grades that you can use to evaluate your own coins on this scale.

Another way to evaluate your coins is to estimate the amount of the original design that is left. The Wikipedia coin grading article has a table called the European Grading System which lists the percentage of detail remaining on the coin for each grade (for example, if there is only 50% of the original detail left on the coin, then it would be considered to be in "Fine" condition).

Luckily, you don't need to be concerned with all 15 grades in Sheldon's scale nor the 8 grades in the European Grading System to accurately describe your own coins. For your own collection, just a few different grades should be sufficient:
  • Good (10% detail remains) - Very worn down but you can still see some of the primary features that were once on the coin
  • Fine (50% detail remains) - Words and dates are readable but worn; the picture is recognizable but worn
  • Very Fine (75% detail remains) - Words and dates are clear and show a little wear; the picture is missing some small details (like individual strands of hair on a person's head)
  • Extra Fine (90% detail remains) - Words and dates are clear and have sharp edges; the picture has almost all details intact but shows signs of wear
  • Uncirculated (98-100% detail remains) - Coin shows no sign of wear and has the shine/glow/luster of a new coin (think about how a shiny new penny stands out when you get it back as change)
Left to right: Good, Fine, and Extra Fine estimated condition
(You can shorten this down by combining Very Fine and Extra Fine, so that you have just 4 grades to choose from.)

These 4 or 5 condition grades are fairly easy to judge just by looking at most coins, without even knowing what a perfect coin (with 100% detail) might have.  But if you need to compare your coin to another example of the same coin, you can use sites like and to see pictures of most world coins (note, however, that the coin in the picture may be in better or worse condition than yours). It may be helpful to practice on a big handful of pocket change - sort your local currency by quality into one of the 4 or 5 grades and you'll get a better feel for what you might consider "Good" versus "Fine" versus "Extra Fine".

Once you feel more comfortable judging coin quality, you can grade the coins in your own collection (write your condition on the back of the coin flip, and/or add it to your collection tracking information). And you'll be better able to grade new coins you find, so you can try to replace any "Good" coins in your collection with "Fine" or better.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Great Britain's 2012 Olympics 50p Coin Series

In 2010 and 2011, Great Britain released a series of 50-pence coins in honor of London hosting the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The 29 coins in the series have the Queen on the front (obverse), and on the back they feature images from the 29 different Summer Olympic and Paralympic sporting events that make up the Summer Olympic Games.

London 2012 50-pence coins
Taekwondo (left) and Cycling (right)
Similar to the United States' "State Quarter" series, the 29 different designs in the Olympic Sports series were released in phases starting in 2010 and going through 2011. While the State Quarters series had 50 designs spread over 10 years (issuing 5 different state quarter designs per year), the Royal Mint had 29 designs to release over the course of only 2 years. Like the State Quarters series, the Olympic Sports series were released to circulation so that amateur collectors could start checking their pocket change for the new coins.

The Royal Mint held an open competition for the designs, allowing anyone in the United Kingdom to submit a design for one of the Summer Olympic and Paralympic events.  Winning designs came from such people as a delivery truck driver, a toy designer, a radiologist, and a 9-year-old. You can read about the designers at the Royal Mint's London 2012 50 P Sports Collection site.

The designs don't attempt to fit into a mosaic like Great Britain's regular circulation (see our blog post about Great Britain's redesign), which would be especially hard since each coin was designed by a different person.

In 2009, the Canadian Mint issued a similar series of 12 quarters for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, BC.  The quarters also depicted events from the Winter Olympic and Paralympic games.

For Britons, collectors get to look forward to searching through loose change in order to collect all 29 sporting event coins. For those outside of the UK, however, it may be difficult to build a complete collection without ordering coins or an entire set directly from the Royal Mint.

London 2012 50 P Sports Collection Events
  1. Aquatics
  2. Archery
  3. Athletics
  4. Badminton
  5. Basketball
  6. Boccia
  7. Boxing
  8. Canoeing
  9. Cycling
  10. Equestrian
  11. Fencing
  12. Football (soccer)
  13. Goalball
  14. Gymnastics
  15. Handball
  16. Hockey
  17. Judo
  18. Pentathlon
  19. Rowing
  20. Sailing
  21. Shooting
  22. Table Tennis
  23. Taekwondo
  24. Tennis
  25. Triathlon
  26. Volleyball
  27. Weightlifting
  28. Wheelchair Rugby
  29. Wrestling

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wavy-Edged Coins

A scallop-edged coin from the Bahamas
Despite what we are used to here in the United States, coins do not have to be round to be minted and spent.

I've previously discussed square coins, but an even more common shape is the scalloped coin, which has a wavy edge that goes all the way around the coin. The name comes from the distinctive wavy shell of the scallop, a sea mollusk similar to a clam. This coin shape may also be referred to as wavy-edged, flower shaped, or sun shaped.

Coins with 8 (left), 10 (center), and 12 (right) peaks
Scalloped coins usually have an even number of peaks or points, most commonly 8, 10, or 12.  The peaks are the waves that point away from the coin, like the petals on a flower.  The waves that point back into the coin are called troughs.

Trough aligned (left) vs
peak aligned (right)

Scalloped coins can either be peak-aligned (so that holding the coin right-side up leaves a peak pointing straight down), or trough-aligned (a trough is in the direct center at the bottom edge of the coin).

Because of their unique shape, scalloped coins (along with square coins) are easy to spot in a big mix of coins. They are more decorative than square coins due to the larger number of points on their edge.

Like coins that have holes in them, the main reason behind using a scalloped edge on a coin is to make it more easily distinguishable from other coins. In a pocket, or in the dark, you can easily feel the wavy edge and (for people who use those coins regularly) tell which coin is which. This is also helpful for people who have trouble seeing, and is one of a great many ways that countries have tried to make their coins identifiable by touch alone.

Many countries have used scalloped coins in the last 100 years - more than have used square coins. If you compare this list to the list of countries that have used square coins, you'll see a lot of the same names. As usual, if you find any countries missing from this list, please post it in a comment.

Countries which have had scallop-edged coins since 1900:

British Honduras
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Cook Islands
East Caribbean States
Hong Kong
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Canada Penny Getting Retired

According to Canada's recently-released 2012 federal budget plan, the Royal Canadian Mint will stop making new pennies in 2012. The penny will remain legal tender (in other words you can still spend your pennies), but no more new pennies will be made. This means that pennies will slowly disappear as they are lost, tossed, returned to banks, or added to people's collections.

The Canadian Ministry of Finance's reasons for eliminating the penny include:

  • It costs the Canadian government 1.6 cents to make each penny, costing Canadian taxpayers around $11 million per year
  • The buying power of a penny continues to decline - they are useless on their own, and are only used to make change for cash purchases

Canada will join countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain in removing their lowest-denomination coins. Australia stopped making 1- and 2-cent coins in 1992. New Zealand stopped making 1- and 2-cent coins in 1987, and the 5-cent coin in 2004. Great Britain stopped issuing its half-penny coin in 1984.

Canadian pennies from 1962 through 2005
The Canadian penny, pictured to the right, features a picture of the Queen on the front and a pair of maple leaves on the back. The design remains largely unchanged since 1937, other than changes to who was pictured on the front (starting with King George VI in 1937, then switching to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953) and updated portraits of Queen Elizabeth over the years.

There are similar arguments for getting rid of the penny in the United States. Pennies are expensive to make, can't buy anything, and are largely unused by the American public. I know many people who simply throw pennies away if they receive them as change. Even so, Americans seem fairly nostalgic about their pennies, and government discussions about getting rid of them have so far gone nowhere. Dollar coins, on the other hand, have never taken off in the United States, despite repeated efforts to introduce them to American circulation.

The loss of any coin from circulation is a blow to world coin collectors everywhere. But that loss is part of what makes world coin collecting interesting - designs change, new coins come into existence, and some coins (and even countries) disappear. The Canadian penny isn't going to completely disappear any time soon - with more than 9,000,000,000 (yes, 9 billion) pennies minted in the last 10 years, there are still plenty out there to find. But this may be the last year to get a Canadian Proof Set that includes the iconic copper-colored penny.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reading Arabic Numbers and Dates

There are several modern numeral systems used in the world today that use symbols other than 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... (known frequently as Western Arabic or European numerals) that many of us are familiar with. Japanese, Thai, and Arabic are just a few examples of languages that use different symbols to represent numbers.

For a world coin collector, it is helpful to be able to read numbers in these different languages. It lets you figure out the date on a coin, and its quantity or denomination (e.g. 25 cents) which are both important for proper cataloging of your collection.

The Eastern Arabic Numerals

The symbols that Middle Eastern Arabic uses to represent the numbers from 0 to 9 are referred to as Eastern Arabic Numerals. They are shown here with their European equivalent:
Note the "false friends" - numerals that look similar to the European numerals but don't mean the same thing. ٥ looks like 0, but means 5. ٦ looks like 7 but means 6.

Numbers that are larger than 9 use combinations of these symbols just like we do with the European numerals:
  • 10 = ١٠
  • 25 = ٢٥
  • 713 = ٧١٣
Here are some examples on actual foreign coins:

Left to right: 2, 25, 100

Arabic Dates

Most coins from Arabic or Islamic countries use the Islamic Calendar, which began (Year 1) in 622 A.D. (by the Gregorian calendar we use in the United States). That is why the dates on modern Arabic coins are usually in the 1300s and 1400s - it's not because the coins are 600-700 years old.

Here are some date examples on actual coins:
Left to right: 1984 and 1404, 1965 and 1385, 1956 and 1375
More recent coins frequently have both the Islamic year and the Gregorian year on them, which makes our understanding of the year it was made a little easier. But the Gregorian year is usually written using Arabic numerals (like the examples above), so you still need to practice your transcription from Arabic to European numbers to be able to read them.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Smiley-Face Penny

A smiley-face penny
I recently found this in a bag of mixed foreign coins - a US penny with a smiley face (smile) cut into it. Actually it looks more like it is laughing, which I think is a bit unique. The coin is a 1992 D US penny, which means that it is made up mostly of zinc with a thin layer of copper on the outside to give the coin it's traditional brown color.

The face was probably cut out of the penny using a process called die cutting - a die (a shaped blade or punch) is pressed by a machine into some material (in this case, the zinc of a modern penny) to cut it into a shape (in this case, to cut out 2 eyes and a mouth). A plain round hole can be made in a coin using a drill, but shaped holes like these would be difficult to do, and to do consistently. 

Coins like these are frequently sold in souvenir or gift shops as "Lucky Pennies" - to buy as a gift for someone so that they will have good luck while they are carrying the coin. This is a variation on the rhyme "see a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck" - the idea that finding a penny is considered good luck. The face certainly makes the penny look more interesting than one that you might find on the ground, but I'm not aware of any studies to determine which type of penny will bring you more luck.

In my previous post about world coins with holes, I mentioned that coins with holes drilled into them are worthless as collectibles. While a shaped hole like this makes the coin not valuable to a coin collector, there are people who specifically collect coins that have been die-cut in this manner (similar to how other collectors seek elongated or "smashed" pennies). Anyone with a drill can cut a round hole in a coin - they are not hard to make, so it would be very unusual to find someone interested in collecting coins with drilled holes. But die-cut coins require expensive tools; they are more rare and so some people do collect them.

Because pennies are considered mostly valueless in the United States (many simply get thrown away every year), you would probably find that most stores or banks would take an occasional penny like this as payment, and then simply throw it away (or keep it as a novelty item). But "Lucky Pennies" usually cost much more than $0.01 to buy at a gift shop, so there is not much value in buying them and then trying to use them as money.

Cutting holes in a United States coin like this may technically be illegal under US law (US Code Title 18, Section 331). But in practice, the law is usually enforced only when coins are changed for fraudulent use - such as cutting a penny down to the size of a dime (to use in vending machines), or painting a quarter gold so that can be passed off as a US dollar coin.

Even though it's not really what I collect, I'm going to keep this little guy because it makes me smile.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Croatia Joining the European Union

Croatia 10, 20, and 50
lipa coins
On January 22, 2012, citizens of Croatia voted to approve their country joining the European Union (Croatia first applied to the EU in 2003). If the membership is ratified by the other 27 EU members, then Croatia will become the 28th European nation to join the Union on July 1, 2012. The last countries to be admitted to the union were Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.

Croatia's currency today is called the kuna. 1 kuna = 100 lipa. Membership in the European Union usually leads to membership in the Eurozone (the subset of EU countries which also exclusively use the euro as their currency) a few years later, although there are some exceptions (Great Britain and Denmark have special exemptions, for example).

This means that by joining the European Union, Croatia will eventually switch their money (and, more importantly for readers of this blog, their coins) from the kuna to the euro. The last countries  to convert to the euro were Estonia in 2011, and Slovakia in 2009.

Of the current 27 European Union countries, only 17 exclusively use the euro. The other 10 are either exempt or are taking the steps necessary in order to eventually switch. With a stable currency, the switch to the euro can take as little as 2 years. But according to news articles, the current situation with Greece (which is a member of the Eurozone) may cause the Zone to be more cautious about allowing new members and may delay Croatia's switch to the euro until 2017.

So even though you may be hearing about Croatia joining the EU, don't expect to see any new Croatian euro coins for quite some time. The next most likely countries to adopt the euro, based on their progress through the conversion prerequisites, appear to be Lithuania and Latvia.