The kids have a pretty terrific foreign coin collection. It has been accumulated through donations from me and their dad, our globe-trotting neighbor Bob (who gave us a whole bag a few years ago), and anyone who knows me who has ever mentioned that they are going overseas. We got it out the other day and were poking through it. I would love to say that we were doing something highly educational, like quizzing ourselves on world geography, or comparing fonts on the coins of communist vs. socialist vs. capitalist governments. We were actually looking at them to find coins to spin on the table top.
Anyway…it did get me looking through the coins again, which is always good for killing a few hours. As I pawed through them I was amazed at the variety of sizes, shapes, weights, and colors. I also noticed some surprising images and trends. Though I am not a professional numismatist (yes, I had to Google that to figure out what you call people who collect coins), I have cataloged my observations below. So forge ahead…if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the money.
1. Other countries put naked and semi-naked people on their coins.
I know that Europeans think we Americans are prudes. Just because we arrest women who go topless on beaches, just because we not only wear clothes ourselves all the time (even in bed and in the shower), but we also put clothes on our dogs, just because in 2002 our then Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered the semi-nude statue of the Spirit of Justice covered with drapes because he didn’t like her marble mammary glands in the background of his press conferences, distracting everyone when they should have been listening to him. But even a fairly liberal thinker like myself feels like the coins below have gone just a bit too far. Naked moose and kangaroos on coins are one thing (see discoveries #5 and #6 below), naked people are something else entirely.
2. Soviet coins were not full of whimsy.
Here is Lenin on a two ruble commemorative coin celebrating his 1ooth birthday, and two other Soviet coins. The images and fonts on the coins we have are not particularly homey; no flowers, animals, pretty sailboats, or lovely ladies with windblown hair (the French REALLY like to put that on their coins). Though I must say I love the font that was used for “1961”. Very strident. It’s like the coin is telling you, “It is 1961 comrade, and you’d better not forget it.”
3. The aging of Queen Elizabeth is recorded on the coins of like, a million different countries.
I’m not sure I would be up for my aging process to be recorded on coins from all over the world the way that her’s has. So many of our coins have her image on them; coins from England, Canada, Australia, Falkland Islands, East Caribbean States, Hong Kong. And these are just the ones we happen to have. I couldn’t help but wonder, why is she wearing a crown in some but not in others? Did she decide to do a “Casual Decade”, kind of like casual Fridays?
4. Just like there’s good naked and bad naked, there’s good coin profiles and bad coin profiles.
So many decisions to make when you are having your visage stamped onto currency. Crown or no crown? For women, what is my hairdo going to be? Should I wear a head dress, pearls? And for men, facial hair is a consideration. Beard, moustache, mutton chops? Do these leaders get any editorial say on the final image, because some of these are a bit unflattering. Maybe it’s just my shallow nature, but if I had the jowls of some of these folks I would have demanded a bit of nipping and tucking, if only on my coin.
5. Canadians really like animals.
Seriously guys, do you need an animal on almost every coin? Is this like some sort of contest, except that no one but the Canadians knows we are playing?
5. Sheep, owls, kangaroos, it’s like a damn zoo!
Besides our neighbor to the north, many other countries put animals on their coins. The Falkland Islands’ coin has a sheep on one side and Queen Elizabeth on the other (take that Argentina), the 1943 Aussie penny has a kangaroo, and a Greek coin (at least I think it’s Greek) has a super cool owl.
6. Lions and eagles are very popular.
I’m just guessing here, but the reason that so many countries put fierce predators on their coins instead of snails or litters of kittens may be that they think those other weak countries with the flowers and stuff on their coins are going to be too afraid to mess with them. Sort of like sending a subliminal message. Why not go all the way with that one, and put on a rabid dog, or a nuclear bomb, or bird flu virus. Or all three. That would say, “Really, really, really don’t mess with us!”