Archive for February, 2008

Coin collecting

Here’s my confession, my on-camera reveal of my inner nerd. I collect coins. And I do it for fun rather than for profit. It started when I was six years old, and I think part of the enduring appeal of coin collecting is that each new coin added to the collection recaptures the feeling of discovering numismatics for the first time.

I was aware of the existence of different currencies in different countries; indeed, during my youth in Italy I had already been provided my allowance in sterling on family vacations to England. This alone was not enough to do the job, but that summer my uncle John gave me a British half-penny coin, mentioning to me that the coin was no longer in circulation.

The idea that there were such things as coins without any further purpose, coupled with my subsequent discovery that the pound coin had only been introduced three years previously, gave me the insight that coins themselves have a life; the metal itself, of course, had been around for millions of years, but there was a comparatively short lifetime during which it was stamped into small discs and used for trade.

Of course, just as each type of coin has a life, each individual coin has a story; the 5-franc coin you have lying around from a trip to France might once have been spent by Charles de Gaulle himself, that 500 lire might have been the last one ever minted before the switch to euros, the humble dime in your pocket might have been the last little bit needed for the Red Cross to make their appeal goal and help hundreds of people.

This revelation was electrifying! It made me curious to gather coins from all across the world and throughout history, just to allow my six-year-old imagination to run riot with what the coins might have been, what hands had held them, what exotic places might have seen them spent.

Returning home from that vacation, I had amassed a pocketful of British change. My parents, noticing my interest, dug out the accumulated change from my father’s business trips: coins from France, Germany, Switzerland, the US, Japan… it seemed there was no end to the bounty.

Today, I own a collection of over 1000 coins – small compared to some, perhaps, but each one still makes me feel like that first half-penny did.

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