Out Of Money.

Source: World Coin Gallery.

So I’m a bit of a numismatist, or, as my wife likes to put it, I pay money for money. My focus is mostly foreign coins, mainly because they’re varied and interesting, and I feel they put me in touch with the wider world, with places I’d like to visit but will probably never see. One of my favorite pieces I’ve collected is a mint set of coins for the tiny island nation of Tuvalu. Only five thousand were minted but the population is so small there are more sets in the hands of collectors than there are coins in circulation. In spite of that it’s not a particularly expensive set, which is also part of the appeal of foreign coins—they’re cheap. At flea markets if you find a coin dealer they’ll usually have a box of loose foreign coins priced at four or five for a dollar. Sometimes I’ll pull out a British pound or even a Euro and, being honest, I’ll mention that the coin is worth more than what they’re charging.

“Take a few more,” they’ll say, pushing the box toward me.

Source: Wikipedia

Like a lot of people I cringed when I read a recent story about a guy who stole a collection of rare coins, estimated to be worth at least $33,000, and dumped it into a Coin Star machine. The article says he got “just enough store credit to buy a couple of 12-packs of beer”, and I assume they mean cheap beer and not some fancy microbrewed stuff, a case of which could easily go for $33,000.



Here’s the part that most people probably won’t think about but that really makes the numismatic me cringe: even if those coins are recovered their value has been significantly diminished. When it comes to coin collecting quality matters. Scratches, nicks, abrasions, and even simple wear affect the quality of coins. A friend’s aunt found some gold coins in her attic and took them to a coin dealer. For some reason she was holding them in her hand and rubbing them together when she asked the dealer, “How much are these worth?”

“About five hundred dollars less than they were worth before you did that,” he replied.

Something else I thought about, though, is that I understand the joy of collecting, and I feel bad for the guy who lost the coins—many coins are also historic artifacts, in addition to being tokens of exchange—but if I had the money to invest in a large and expensive collection of rare coins I’d probably spend it on something else instead. You can’t take it with you, as the 1938 Oscar-winning Frank Capra film taught us, although I do a pretty good Lionel Barrymore impression, especially after a few thousand-dollar beers, but that’s another story. If I had the money I’d probably spend it on travel, on creating memories that no one could ever take.


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  1. Allison

    My mother has a beautiful sterling silver coin minted to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation – my father had it made into a pendant and she wears it from time to time – it’s stunning.

    I’ve always liked coins from other countries. I was sad when the Euro replaced francs, marcs, krone, etc.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I think of seen Queen Elizabeth’s coronation coin. It must make quite an amazing pendant.
      And I was sad too when the Euro replaced all the distinctive coins of the various European countries. Even though each country has its own distinctive Euro design it’s still not quite the same.

  2. BarbaraM

    I had a Fugio Cent for years (circa 1787) that I kept primarily because you could still read “mind your business” on it. I loved that this Country’s first minted coin said that! Unfortunately, our finances got screwed several years ago and we had to sell it – for practically nothing. But for a 220+ year old coin, it gave me a lot of enjoyment knowing that I had it. How many people wore the engravings down before I got it?!?

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s really cool. I’ve been collecting coins for years but I’ve never heard of the Fugio Cent before now. It’s amazing to think how much history that one little coin must have seen, which is one of the things I like about collecting coins. I like coins that have actually been circulated, even if they’re not worth as much, simply because I feel like it puts me in touch with all the people who’ve handled them before.

  3. Red

    China is trying to get rid of cash and go to all electronic spending. I forget the date they have on that deadline, but it’s already pretty widespread. Every fruitcart even has WeChat and AliPay QR code to scan and pay.
    I’d happily send you some foreign coins, but uh… Vietnam doesn’t use coins. Just bills. (At least, I haven’t come across any coins.)

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It doesn’t surprise me China is trying to get rid of cash. Electronic spending makes it easier to track how much people are spending and, more importantly, what they’re spending it on. It’s also why I like cash. I’m not buying anything illicit–all my purchases are strictly licit–but it’s not anyone’s business what I’m buying.
      And funny enough I have a few Vietnamese dong. I guess they’re from before they got rid of coins.

  4. SkyeEnt

    I like money too…..We run a little local store here on Skye and we get various coins mixed in with the British sterling. Mostly they are from UK dependencies such as the Isle of Man or the Falklands Islands which use the same currency (like Scottish pound notes). I also can’t resist putting them to one side and they are now part of the weigh out sweetie display behind the counter (probably still comes to less than £20 if you don’t count the two fake £2 coins). Foreign coins I mainly put in one of the charity boxes since they can use them, although I sometimes keep the funny ones.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s nice to know your local shop isn’t just for local people, and that some of the money you get isn’t local. And I’ve noticed that some stores and even restaurants will have coins or bills from other countries framed and hanging behind the register. It’s a fun way to acknowledge that they get customers from all over.
      Skye, being such a beautiful place, must attract a wide range.

  5. Ann Koplow

    Chris, I read this post when I was in L.A. and it helped me feel at home. That’s worth a lot of coin.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I often think of blogs as a sort of home for both writers and readers, places where we feel we can belong, and I’m glad I could give you a feeling of home when you were away from home.


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