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Standard Catalog of World Paper Money: Modern Issues 1961-Date. Volume Three. Ninth Edition.
Book Review by Jan M Dyroff
Neil Schafer and George S. Cuhaj. Iola: Krause Publications, 2003. $45.00
It is hard to believe that this volume, nearly one thousand pages long, covers only the last four decades (give a bit) of world currency. The field is tremendous. I think that the reason for this situation is manifold. It has only been in the recent past that the number of independent countries has grown, particularly in Africa. But not only there, for we have in Europe and certain parts of Asia all the “new” nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union – from the Baltic to the steppes.

While the last issue of this reference work was only released to the market a relatively short time ago, it contains, I believe, some significant changes as well as the continuation of “traditions”. The section, which features color illustrations of world banknotes, is enough to get anybody hooked. These pages conclude with depictions of the euro, proudly touting it as “the new European currency,” which it is.

To hover about the euro notes for a moment, I don’t think that this book really deals with the fact that the euro serial numbers have an alpha component (as do United States notes) which signifies the country of issue – the United Kingdom, for instance, if it joined would have an “X” in its serial numbers. Since the euro coins reflect the country of issue, it is logical that the paper money would too.

And, in the bad press for euro notes department, recent analyses of the lower denominations show that an incredibly huge number of them are contaminated with greater or lesser amounts of cocaine. This, I think, is the first time I’ve ever heard of a currency posing a potential, albeit small at this time, health threat.

Skimming through the book and focusing on a country can quickly bring up the mercurial adversity of our times. We, as Americans in a coalition, are actively involved in Afghanistan. When the book began coverage, Afghanistan was a kingdom from 1961 to 1973, then a Republic from 1973 to 1978, then the Khalq Democratic Republic in 1978, simply the Democratic Republic from 1979, then a plain old Republic from 2002. Each one of those regimes issued paper, and this sort of track record in change of government is not limited to that part of the world.

With the breakup of the Yugoslavia, the new nations there were left without a currency. In the face of the need to bring something on line as soon as possible, many of the first series of the new notes were plain and utilitarian, like those of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In contrast to such simplicity, we can follow the progression of currency in Cameroun, which can be extolled as simply exotic. The first notes after independence from France followed the French tradition, with lush pastels. Then, once on its own, the notes look like woodcuts with almost folkloric references to local scenes and flora and fauna.

But we really don’t have to look too far to see a currency in flux (in design anyway). Consider the United Kingdom. At the beginning of the book’s coverage, the British were still on the sterling standard, with notes for ten shillings, a pound and higher denominations. Then they went to the decimal system, with no equivalent for the ten shillings in paper (in coin, it became the fifty pence). The pound note was in the interim replace by a one pound coin (reportedly the most counterfeited of any coin in the world, with about one percent of the coins in circulation being “funny money’).

If you want to get a British note with New Pence denominations, you have to turn to the British Armed Forces Special Vouchers – the Sixth Series is denominated in New Pence. And, by the way, this catalog is the only popularly available reference that covers this series.

So, to wrap things up, the world of contemporary world currency is a very exciting one. You can easily and affordably find many pleasing specimens. You may also, surprisingly enough, encounter some pricey items. And this is where this book comes in. You need to know what you’ve got, so you can inventory and value it correctly. And, if you’re just getting started, this catalog is worth its weight in gold in terms of what you can learn from it.
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