Year of the Dragon

February 2012, Volume 49 No. 2
Taking issue THIS month’s front cover sees the numismatic celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, and inside the magazine you will find Dr Kerry Rodger’s excellent article detailing those countries that are (and those that aren’t) issuing coins for the “world’s biggest coin programme”. Later on in the magazine you will find a letter commenting on precious metal new issues and how it is becoming virtually impossible to collect them because of the price of the metal—and this got me thinking. Whilst it is true that gold has slipped back a little in recent weeks and silver seems a little more stable the fact remains that precious metals are far more expensive to buy that they were a few years ago and most certainly our wages and pensions have not kept up with them. This coupled with the fact that the world’s mints seem determined to produce new issues to commemorate just about every possible event on earth made me wonder about the future of this branch of our hobby. It is perhaps unfair of me to bring this up now, after all the Chinese New Year coins have been around for a while and so the mints and issuing authorities cannot really be accused of jumping on a band wagon for the sake of it, but you only have to look at the coins available to realise that things have moved on quite a bit in the last couple of decades.

Where once a mint would issue one coin to celebrate an even—and then cannily issued it again in precious metal form, proof form and piedfort form (and any combination of the above) now we find there are two, three, four or more coins issued for the same celebration. Different denominations, different metals, added precious stones, added colour, clever design techniques all offering the collector a massive selection of beautiful coins to choose from. Except that isn’t how collectors work is it? We don’t actually want to choose one of the items on offer, we don’t just want a $1 coin when the full set actually includes a $2, a $5 and a $10 (or whatever) and we don’t just want a BU example if a BU example with coloured accents exists. We all know that collectors, by our very nature, want an example of everything, we don’t necessarily want more than one—we aren’t hoarding for the sake of it—but we do want to have at least an example of everything we can in our collection. It isn’t quite so bad if you set out back in the 1980s to simply have a BU base metal example of everything one mint produced—you can still do that quite comfortably even if you find yourself forking out for the odd “special edition”. However, if you decided some time ago that you were going to buy an example of every silver coin produced to commemorate the Lunar New Year (or the Olympics or any other regular event) then you may well find that as things stand you can no longer carry on collecting as once you did.

In the beginning you may have bought five or six silver coins a year—an affordable way of collecting. All the same denomination, all “standard” coins (i.e. they were coin shaped and all one colour) and all at a reasonable price (silver you will remember had collapsed in 1980). Today if you tried to maintain that collection you would find yourself confronted by dozens of coins of all sorts of denominations and weights (right up to the massive 10 kilos) with various different “design features” that make them more miniature metal pictures than coins and you have to make a choice. Either you decide to go for it and quite possibly bankrupt yourself in the process or you say “enough is enough” and rationalise your collection—not an easy task if you’ve been collecting the same thing for years. The same thing goes for those who don’t collect “commemoratives” per se and instead have collected just a particular mint’s “new issues” over the years. That was fine when they only had a few a year but now every band wagon rolling is jumped on and countries that have no logical reason for commemorating an event suddenly find themselves doing so in metal form (with the above mentioned varieties very much in evidence)—again the collector will find himself faced with an impossible choice, spend far more money than he ever envisaged when he started down this route or rationalise what he is collecting.

To non-collectors the answer is simple—rationalise! Stop collecting one of everything and cut back, that, however, isn’t how things work and we all know that the moment we say “no” to a variety then our collection becomes incomplete—and no-one wants that. I don’t have an answer to this dilemma except to say to the mints that whilst we know the recession hasn’t hit our hobby as it has others and we also know that many of your coins are struck as bullion and many who buy them are interested only in their metal content do please occasionally spare a thought for the average collector, the man in the street, who has faithfully bought your coins for years. He simply cannot carry on buying every variety you produce, not with precious metals being as they are, and if he can’t do that he may stop buying altogether rather than risk having an incomplete collection, and that would be a great shame for us all.

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In This Issue

Feature article35
Year of the Water Dragon
A review of the largest numismatic programme on the planet
Spotlight40
Now you see it . . .
A new sovereign discovery?
Medallic Miscellany43
Lanark Air Show medals 1910–2010
Commemorating Scotland’s first ever air show
Insight47
Leaping horses and galloping inflation, a one billion mark German Notgeld coin
The “Emergency” money of a country in crisis
Collector’s notebook53
Displays can enhance the appeal of coins
Creating interest with a personal collection
Tokens57
A token tour of Birmingham
Some fascinating issues of an industrial city
Back to basics67
A fine distinction
Getting to the bottom of weight and fineness
Banknote feature70
Kirkwood & Sons
Taking a closer look at Scotland’s finest copperplate engravers
Papermoney76
Will the real Essad Pasha please stand up?
Getting to the bottom of an Albanian banknote myth

Regulars

Editor’s Comment2
Coin news & views12
View of the Bay20
Around the World22
New issues coin update24
Royal Mint Bulletin26
Market Scene29
Price Guide to FIVE & TWO POUNDS61
Coin of the Month65
Banknote News69
Price Guide to NATIONAL COMMERCIAL BANK OF SCOTLAND, NORTH OF SCOTLAND & TOWN & COUNTRY BANK AND NORTH OF SCOTLAND BANKS LTD74
New issues banknote update75
Letters83
Dealer Lists84
Diary Dates86
Semi-display adverts90
The Web Directory92
Classified advertising94
ADVERTISERS INDEX95