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Collecting World Coins, Eleventh Edition
Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff
Tom Michael and George S. Cuhaj; eds., Iola: Krause Publishing, 2006. $34.99
This new edition of a reference volume for coins of the twentieth century has a number of features to recommend it. First, and sort of most obvious is that it is not as large as it’s more comprehensive cousin, The Standard Catalog of World Coins, Twentieth Century. While both books cover the same time period, this one is a slimmed down version, as it focuses only on coins that have actually been put into circulation, in other words, real spending money.

What have been left out are the issues that fall into the category of non-circulating legal tender (or, in some case, non-circulating non-legal tender). These are a class of coins which are dear to many collectors, inasmuch as they tend to be attractive (i.e., well-designed and well-struck) and meet a perceived need in areas of collectors’ interests – if you want to specialize in coins with dogs or cats or historic airplanes or famous ships, you’ll find them in this category).

Non-circulating legal tender issues do have an advantage in that they offer mints opportunities to try new techniques, like colorization (which has been utilized by Canada on business strike quarter dollars) or a hologram grid (which has been introduced in the United Kingdom), but still they are specialty items for a specialty market.

Clearly, one of the reasons that governments like non-circulating coins is that they are a source of almost pure profit. Seignorage is the difference between what a coin is worth (it’s value as spendable) and what it takes to produce. Thus, for a circulating commemorative like one of the state quarters, the seignorage would be the difference between the face value and the metal content and the cost to produce. In the case of the quarter the seignorage is fairly high, while in the case of the cent (with the rise in the market value of the components) it is fairly low.

It is through the phenomenon of seignorage that issuers can actually lose money that is when the cost of the metal plus the cost of production rises above the value on the street. Gresham’s Law will drive these over-valued items out of circulation, and the issuer is left to scramble.

Non-circulating non-legal tender coins almost never produce a loss through seignorage. How can they? They are sold almost as bullion items, and are never subject to the vagaries of the street (as in how many carrots would they buy).

My reason for touching on seignorage is to provide support for the notion that non-circulating non-legal tender issues are not “real” coins – a Sacagawea dollar is a real coin, a Morgan Dollar (fetching one hundred cents when originally issued) is a real coin, a Silver Eagle (minted since 1986 as a one-dollar silver coin) is not a “real” coin. You could take your Morgan dollar to your local convenience store today and (silly though it might be) spend it, but you could not do the same with a Silver Eagle.

So, this book covers a century’s worth of “real” coins, and it is a treat to use. You can think of it as a SCWC light. And, unless you’re into the special, collector items, you will find this a very handy and useful tool.

One of the features I like in the book is it’s handling of the newest and one of the most important of the world’s currencies, the euro. Although this series has been around a relatively short period of time (since January 1, 2002), keeping track of the issues can be a bit daunting, as so many different nations use them and at least one country, Germany, has multiple mints. In my opinion this is a very attractive series and one that needs attention, which indeed it does receive in this volume. It is a bit disappointing that many euro-issuers have come up with non-circulating non-legal tender items – but I suppose the call of surefire profit cannot be ignored.

As an aside, those of us who are collectors in America are in the euro zone: can you think of where? Well, in South America there is French Guiana, and in the Caribbean there are the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St, Martin, and in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of Newfoundland lay the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon (the sole remaining vestige of France’s once vast North American Possessions).

As a lean and succinct reference book, this compilation is worth of high praise. It is like the SCWC used to be, comfortable and easy to use. Do consider it for inclusion in your library. It does excellently what the editors say they intend – presenting “more than a century of circulating issues, 1901 to the present.”
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