Volume 58, Number 1, January 2021
The spice of life THIS MONTH we carry a letter from a reader (page 87) asking whether or not it is time to rename some of the things we are currently calling “coins”. He points to Dr Kerry Rodgers’ article last month detailing various Christmas coins that included a 3D coin with a moving train on it and one that was housed in a Matryoshka Doll case. Having recently been one of the judges in the Coin Constellation 2020 competition to find the best coins of the last year, I can tell you that the pieces Mr Haines pointed out are merely the tip of the artistic iceberg when it comes to coin technology. That particular competition saw entries that included some incredible coins—there were, as expected, coloured coins and those with selective plating but there were also those in ultra-high relief (some practically models in their own right), others with intricate engraving. There was one that was made to look as if one coin had been pushed through another (creating eight semi-circular surfaces) and another that was constructed of 238 micropuzzle pieces all coming together to make Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. There was one with a “crack” going through it holding an actual piece of meteorite (the crack symbolised the meteor’s trajectory towards earth), whilst another was able to stand fully upright (a symbol of the Berlin Wall that fell 30 years ago). One held a piece of the actual foil that provided thermal protection for the Apollo 11 Command Module and another included a porcelain insert (along those lines regular COIN NEWS readers will also remember the Wedgwood coin we had as a competition prize last year). One, named the “Investment Chip”, was simply a gold version of one of those crisps you get in a can and can’t stop eating and another had some 18th century cognac included in it! In short, so many of these coins were miniature works of art and at no point were they ever designed to form part of what Mr Haines refers to as a “monetary exchange”. That being the case, are they really coins? The definition of a coin is very simple, Merriam-Webster says it’s “a usually flat piece of metal issued by governmental authority as money” and dictionary.com says it’s “a piece of metal stamped and issued by the authority of a government for use as money”. On that basis these pieces being produced by the world’s mints seem to fall down. Forget the “flat” description, the key thing is “used as money” and it’s clear that none of these are ever intended to be used in a transactions so, therefore, they can’t be coins, can they? Well, this is where it gets a little murky, as whilst no, these wondrous pieces of technology and engraving were never destined to be exchanged for a packet of sweets (or in the case of some of them, a modest semi-detached house), they do fulfil one very important criteria—they are legal tender. Now “legal tender” is an oft misunderstood term that many people mistakenly believe refers to what a shop has to accept as payment. This is not true: a shopkeeper can take whatever they like in payment, and they can refuse whatever they like too (this has become particularly evident with the ceaseless march of the cashless society in the face of Covid). Rather “legal tender” simply means what must be accepted as payment of a legal debt in court. This being the case, the items highlighted above are money and as such are coins; each one has the mark of an issuing authority or government on it and each one should, in its country of issue, be acceptable as payment of a fine. Now you would, I suggest, be rather foolish to use a 100 franc denominated gold coin containing a capsule of Gautier cognac from 1762 to pay a fine should you ever find yourself in a court in the Democratic Republic of Congo as, on current exchange rates, 100 Congolese francs is worth just under 4p and I’m guessing your limited mintage solid .999 gold coin would have cost a little more than that, but it’s nice to know you could if you wanted to! Of course, everyone in numismatics knows that the coins being produced using 3D technology, those with cognac in, those made of Jasperware, those made containing bits of meteor or those that are mini puzzles aren’t ever going to be used as “money”, but there’s something about that mark of an issuing authority, that legal tender status, that makes them just that little bit more interesting, that little bit more desirable than simple objets d’art. No, they aren’t the same as Athenean Owls, Gothic Crowns or Cartwheel Pennies but they are still part of this hobby and personally I rather like them; variety is, after all the spice of life and wouldn’t it be terribly dull if everything was always just the same?
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