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Coins & Currency of the Middle East

Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff
Tom Michael and George S. Cuhaj, editors. Iola: KP books, 2006. $17.99
This is a remarkable book. The editors have pulled together information on almost the whole range of collectibles related to the conflicts in the Middle East. Though their up-front focus is on coins, there is also coverage of paper money, pogs, military medals, challenge coins, commemorative medals and tokens, books, comic books, propaganda leaflets and personal memorabilia.

From the first, it should be noted that there is a definite time frame involved. Mostly the coins begin with issues in the late sixties or early seventies. They are supposed to represent what military personnel stationed in the region might encounter, either in daily commerce or on their travels. Naturally, the areas of main interest are Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

This is a handsome book, printed on heavy semi-gloss paper, which means that the illustrations – and there are hundreds of them in full color – are a delight. When it comes to values, for all items in all categories, there are just two grades–– worn (circulated) or new (uncirculated).

The intended audience is, clearly, not exclusively numismatic. There is a heavy interest in the role of the U.S. military in the region, and nearly every page in the coins section has some depiction of American personnel – playing soccer, administering medicine, giving toys to sick children.

The paper money section is very nicely done, again with striking illustrations. While the coins are more-or-less generic, and static, the paper money is more fluid. And, somewhat surprisingly for an Islamic area, portraits of the leaders of the issuing countries are commonly encountered – imans, generals, and the like.. One good thing about the paper money is that there is usually the name of the issuing authority somewhere on the notes, in English.

Pogs are a distinctly different item; sort of numismatic but not quite. The name derives from the Haleakala Dairy on the island of Maui, Hawaii which produced a blend of passion fruit, orange and guava which they bottled for sale. The inserts on the bottle cap contained the acronym POG (from the fruits).

Today’s pogs, at least in the confines of this book, are technically gift certificates in denominations of five, ten and twenty-five cents issued by the Army and Air Force Exchange Services. While not officially currency, they are used in the field as such. As a rule they are quite colorful. While many have been brought back by service personnel, whole series are available on eBay at fairly reasonable cost.. The value for pogs ranges from fifty cents to two dollars.

The section on military medals is succinct and, like the other items, well-illustrated. No prices are given for these, as they are awards to individuals for participation in certain campaigns like the Liberation of Kuwait, the Liberation of Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is easy to forget that military medals are an important subset of numismatics (the American Numismatic Society recently deacquisitioned much of their holdings).

The final strictly numismatic category is “Challenge Coins,” and these, I suspect, are not on the radar screen of most non-military collectors. Dating from perhaps World War II, the purpose of challenge coins remains the same — to foster morale and instill pride in one’s service and unit. During the Vietnam War the tradition of always carrying your Challenge Coin and of challenging for drinks grew into a widespread practice with service personnel.

In effect these are privately issued medals – either from a commercial service or from a private mine as commissioned by a commanding officer. They are marks of comradeship and esteem. Their values range from $12.50 to $25.00.

In sum, this is a curious book. It is a direct response to the conflicts in the Middle East. I can think of no other book written about the memorabilia of a conflict while the conflict was still in progress. This is a somewhat singular approach. The work under consideration would be a most apt addition to the library of someone who has served or is serving in that part of the world or to a member of their family or loved one.
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