Category Archives: His silver

Reading Japanese Numbers and Dates

Japan 1945 10-sen

As I’ve previously discussed, it is useful for a world coin collector to be able to read numbers and dates in different languages. This allows you to determine the proper date and denomination of a coin. That information, along with the coin’s country, is the minimum you’d need to look up the coin in a guide, check if it’s in your collection, or trade with another collector.

The Chinese Numerals

Japanese is one such language which doesn’t use Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2…). Japanese uses a number-writing system that is shared with the Chinese language, and is generally referred to as the Chinese numerals.  The symbols used to represent 0 through 10 are pictured below, with their European/Arabic equivalent:

Japanese numbers 0 through 10

Numbers above (and including) 10 are not made by combining individual digits, like in the Arabic numeral system. Instead, Japanese uses combinations of numerals which add and/or multiply to the number being written. For example, 11 is not written 一一 (1 1) – it is 十一 (10 1, or 10 + 1). 15 is written as 十五 (10 + 5). 20 is 二十 (2 10, or 2 * 10), and 22 is 二十二 (2 10 2, or 2 * 10 + 2).

There are additional Japanese symbols for larger multiples of 10:
100: 百
1000: 千

The Japanese number-writing system is known as a non-positional numeral system because individual symbols don’t identify their value strictly based on their position in the number. For example, 40 (四十, 4 10), 400 (四百, 4 100), and 4000 (四千, 4 1000) all use exactly 2 symbols in Japanese (while the Arabic numbers 40, 400, and 4000 use 2, 3, and 4 respectively). The position of a symbol doesn’t define its value; its effect on or by its neighbors does.

More examples of Japanese numbers:
32: 三十二
44: 四十四
78: 七十八
99: 九十九

Japanese Dates

In the late 1800s, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, but with a starting date (a “year zero”) that corresponded to the Gregorian calendar’s year 660 BC, making Japan’s year values larger than the year used by other countries (i.e. 1920 A.D. = 2580 Japan). This practice largely stopped after World War 2, and for most purposes Japan uses the same year as America would use.

Modern Japanese coins, however, use the Japanese era calendar to indicate when a coin was minted. An era starts counting years at 1 with each new Japanese emperor. The date is indicated by the emperor’s era name (using its Kanji symbols) followed by the year of the emperor’s reign. For example, 1989 was the first year for the current Heisei era (under Emperor Kinjo, or Akihito), so coins minted that year would contain the symbol for the Heisei era (平成)  and the symbol for 1 (一).

Japan’s era name examples

Fortunately for those who don’t read Japanese, there have only been 4 Japanese eras since 1900:

  • 明治 (Meiji) 1867 – 1912
  • 大正 (Taisho) 1912 – 1926
  • 昭和 (Showa) 1926 – 1989
  • 平成 (Heisei) 1989 – present

On Japanese coins, the date is usually read clockwise (right-to-left). It begins with the symbols for the era name (see the list above), followed by the era year, and ends with the symbol for year (年). While most coins are read right-to-left, some need to be read left-to-right (counter-clockwise). The symbol for year (年) is always at the end of the date, so if you see it at the left-hand end of a number, read it from right-to-left; if you see it at the right-hand end, read it left-to-right.

Examples from actual Japanese coins:

Left to right: 1921 10-sen, 1942 10-sen, 1995 5-yen, 1974 10-yen

From left to right:

  • Taisho year 10 – read clockwise
  • Showa year 17 (10 + 7) – read clockwise
  • Heisei year 7 – read counter-clockwise
  • Showa year 49 (4 * 10 + 9) – read left-to-right
Showa year 48 100-yen Japanese coin

On recent 50- and 100-yen coins (since 1967), the era year is shown in Arabic numerals instead of Japanese numerals, like the coin pictured here. The rest of the date is read the same way described above – counter-clockwise, starting with the era name and ending with the year symbol (年).

Calculating the Gregorian Date

Once you know the era name and year, you can calculate the Gregorian year using the era table above. Take the era’s starting year, add the era year, and subtract 1. For example, Heisei year 3 would correspond to 1991 (year 1 is 1989, year 2 is 1990, and year 3 is 1991). Here are the dates for the coins pictured above:

  • Taisho year 10 = 1912 + 10 -1 = 1921
  • Showa year 17 = 1926 + 17 – 1 = 1942
  • Heisei year 7 = 1989 + 7 – 1 = 1995
  • Showa year 49 = 1926 + 49 – 1 = 1974
  • Showa year 48 = 1926 + 48 – 1 = 1973
Taiwan 1972 1-yuan (year 61)

Comparison to Taiwan Coins

Coins from Taiwan use the same number symbols as Japanese coins, so it is easy to mistake them for each other. In the coin pictured here, the year reads 6 10 1 (61, in yellow highlighting) reading counter-clockwise and ending with the year symbol (年). Taiwan coins will of course not have one of the 4 Japanese emperor era names listed above, and frequently have the flower symbol shown here.


World Christmas Coins

As the weather turns slowly colder here in the Pacific Northwest, many people’s thoughts here and throughout the world start turning to the upcoming holiday season.

A majority of the countries in the world celebrate Christmas. Whether as a religious holiday or a secular celebration of family and friends, Christmas time is an important time of year for millions of people worldwide.

Isle of Man 2009 50p Christmas Coin
(Image from the Isle of Man Post Office.)

To celebrate the season, a few countries have issued Christmas-themed coins over the years.

The Isle of Man has issued a Christmas 50-cent piece nearly every year since 1980. They are currently in the middle of a 12 Days of Christmas coin series (the “5 golden rings” coin is shown here), but other annual Christmas coins have had images of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and various scenes of holiday festivities and decorations.

Gibraltar has also issued Christmas-themed 50-cent coins most years since 1990. Many of their annual coins have an image of Santa Claus, but the three wise men, a Christmas tree, and other Christmas imagery make an appearance.

The Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific, issued Christmas-themed 1-pa’anga coins in limited quantities in the 1980’s. Numista has a picture of the 1982 1 pa’anga coin.

And Latvia’s 2009 1 lats coin has a Christmas tree with ornaments on its reverse.

Niue Island 2010 $1 Christmas coin.
(Image from the Mint of Poland.)

Collectible coins are special, limited-mintage coins that are usually much more ornate (and frequently minted in precious metals or in unique shapes). They are usually sold directly from a mint (or an authorized reseller/distributor) – they are definitely not something you’re going to find in pocket change.

In 2010 Niue, a small island country near New Zealand, released $1 silver (yes, made of silver), $2 silver, and $5 gold star-shaped Christmas coins. The Christmas tree on the reverse of the $1 coin has 3 colored crystal ornaments on it, and the $2 coin has a colored crystal “star”. These coins would look wonderful hanging on a Christmas tree as ornaments, but don’t even think about drilling a hole through them to add a wire ornament hook.

Australia 2012 $1 Christmas Coin.
(Image from the Perth Mint.)

The Perth Mint, which makes collectible coins for Australia and other countries, traditionally issues a new Australian $1 Christmas-themed coin every year. These coins aren’t made of sliver or gold, but they do feature colorized accents on the reverse.

Canada 2012 50-cent Christmas coin.
(Image from the Royal Canadian Mint.

Finally, the Royal Canadian Mint usually issues a couple of holiday-themed coins every year.  This year they have a colorized 50-cent coin with a lenticular image (changes when you change the viewing angle) of Santa leaving presents under a Christmas tree, a $20 silver coin depicting the three wise men with a crystal star on the back, and a $10 silver coin with a color ice-skating scene, among others.

These coins can make nice gifts for coin collectors and non-collectors alike, and I bet kids would enjoy a coin with a picture of Santa Claus on it. Fortunately you can order Canada’s coins directly from the Mint’s Web site. Any of the others are going to be harder to find.

Christmas coins are few and far between, considering how many people worldwide celebrate Christmas. As usual, if you know of any coins or countries that I’ve missed, mention them in the comments so we can all benefit.

Update 11/12/2012: Added Perth Mint/Australia.

10th Anniversary of the Euro

Italy’s 1-euro coin

In 2002, 15 members of the European Union changed their individual national currencies to a new currency that would be used by them all – the euro. This was probably one of the biggest currency changeovers in modern history, and the most well-known example of a currency union (where multiple countries use the same kind of money).

2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the coins and bills of the euro (which was first used in 1999 for electronic transactions between nations). The euro (always lowercase, like dollar or penny) is currently used by 17 countries in Europe:

    • Austria
    • Belgium
    • Cyprus
    • Estonia
    • Finland
    • France
    • Germany
    • Greece
    • Ireland
    • Italy
    • Luxembourg
    • Malta
    • The Netherlands
    • Portugal
    • Slovakia
    • Slovenia
  • Spain
France’s 2-euro coin

And three independent city-states:

  • Monaco (in France)
  • San Marino (in Italy)
  • Vatican City (in Italy)
Back in 2002, the first 15 European Union members to convert to the euro were: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and Vatican City. Slovenia switched to the euro in 2007, Malta and Cyprus in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, and Estonia in 2011.  The European Central Bank has an interactive map showing the growth of the euro-using area.
The euro is worth the same amount in any of the above euro member countries (which are collectively referred to as the Eurozone). That means that if you live in France and travel to Spain, you don’t have to exchange your French money for Spanish money. (Within the United States, we’re quite familiar with this – if you travel from California to Florida, you don’t have to change your money for “Florida dollars”. US dollars can frequently be used outside of the States, but that’s not the same as a currency union like the Eurozone.)
The reverse sides of the 8 standard euro coins

The standard euro coins come in denominations of:

  • 1 cent
  • 2 cents
  • 5 cents
  • 10 cents
  • 20 cents
  • 50 cents
  • 1 euro
  • 2 euros
Individual countries may mint commemorative coins larger than 2 euros, such as Portugal’s 2.5-euro coins, Slovenia’s 3-euro coins, and Germany’s 10-euro silver coins. But these are generally only for collecting.
Euro 2-cent obverses (left to right):
Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, and France

Each country that issues euros has a unique design on the front (obverse) of their coins. These designs allow you to figure out which country the coin came from. The European Central Bank has pictures of every euro’s obverse (also called the national side) to assist you in identifying coins.  The obverse is also where you’ll find the date of the coin. Even though euro coins weren’t put into circulation until 2002, minting of the coins began in some countries in 1999 in order for there to be enough for the changeover. In France, Belgium, Finland, The Netherlands, and Spain, the coins had the year that they were minted (even though they were not going to be issued until 2002) – so it is possible to find coins dated 1999, 2000, and 2001 from these countries.

The 2-euro coins are frequently minted with special commemorative designs to honor a person, place, or event. The European Central Bank has pictures of the commemorative 2-euro coins issued by each country since 2004. Sometimes a single special 2-euro design is minted in all euro countries, such as 2012’s “10 years of the euro” coin.

The backs (reverse) display the amount and are the same in all countries. The coins are also the same size and shape in all countries, so the only difference you’ll see between an Austrian 1-euro coin and a Slovakian 1-euro coin is the design that is on the front.

Portugal’s 5-cent coin

For world coin collectors, the introduction of the euro meant that 15 countries were all getting new coins at the same time, and the former national coins were no longer going to be made. That means that over time, coins for the French franc, the Greek dinar, and the Slovenian tolar (among others) are going to be harder and harder to find. Each new country that relinquishes their national currency for the euro gives coin collectors a new opportunity to collect a new set of coins for that country. As a collector, it is exciting to have new types of coins to collect. But it is also sad to see the demise of the many and varied national coins from so many countries at once, and more to follow in the future.

Judging A Coin’s Condition

One of the useful things to keep track of in your coin collection (whether you are using a written journal, Excel spreadsheet, or online site like to organize your coins) is the quality, or condition, of your coins. It’s helpful to have a good idea about the approximate condition of each coin for a couple of reasons:

  • When trading, you can more accurately describe your coins and have a better idea about the coins you are trading for
  • When you find a coin that you already have, you can decide if it is better than the one in your collection
  • Coin values differ by condition.  Knowing your coins’ conditions will help you get more accurate estimates of their value
Coin condition is usually measured on a 70-point scale known as the Sheldon Scale, where 1 represents a coin worn down to almost nothing but a flat circle of metal and 70 represents an absolutely perfect coin. Certain numbers on the scale are given names, such as 1 = Poor, 4 = Good, 8 = Very Good, 20 = Very Fine, 40 = Extremely Fine, and 50 = About Uncirculated.’s Sheldon Scale page gives excellent descriptions of the different grades that you can use to evaluate your own coins on this scale.
Another way to evaluate your coins is to estimate the amount of the original design that is left. The Wikipedia coin grading article has a table called the European Grading System which lists the percentage of detail remaining on the coin for each grade (for example, if there is only 50% of the original detail left on the coin, then it would be considered to be in “Fine” condition).
Luckily, you don’t need to be concerned with all 15 grades in Sheldon’s scale nor the 8 grades in the European Grading System to accurately describe your own coins. For your own collection, just a few different grades should be sufficient:
  • Good (10% detail remains) – Very worn down but you can still see some of the primary features that were once on the coin
  • Fine (50% detail remains) – Words and dates are readable but worn; the picture is recognizable but worn
  • Very Fine (75% detail remains) – Words and dates are clear and show a little wear; the picture is missing some small details (like individual strands of hair on a person’s head)
  • Extra Fine (90% detail remains) – Words and dates are clear and have sharp edges; the picture has almost all details intact but shows signs of wear
  • Uncirculated (98-100% detail remains) – Coin shows no sign of wear and has the shine/glow/luster of a new coin (think about how a shiny new penny stands out when you get it back as change)
Left to right: Good, Fine, and Extra Fine estimated condition

(You can shorten this down by combining Very Fine and Extra Fine, so that you have just 4 grades to choose from.)

These 4 or 5 condition grades are fairly easy to judge just by looking at most coins, without even knowing what a perfect coin (with 100% detail) might have.  But if you need to compare your coin to another example of the same coin, you can use sites like and to see pictures of most world coins (note, however, that the coin in the picture may be in better or worse condition than yours). It may be helpful to practice on a big handful of pocket change – sort your local currency by quality into one of the 4 or 5 grades and you’ll get a better feel for what you might consider “Good” versus “Fine” versus “Extra Fine”.
Once you feel more comfortable judging coin quality, you can grade the coins in your own collection (write your condition on the back of the coin flip, and/or add it to your collection tracking information). And you’ll be better able to grade new coins you find, so you can try to replace any “Good” coins in your collection with “Fine” or better.

Great Britain’s 2012 Olympics 50p Coin Series

In 2010 and 2011, Great Britain released a series of 50-pence coins in honor of London hosting the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. The 29 coins in the series have the Queen on the front (obverse), and on the back they feature images from the 29 different Summer Olympic and Paralympic sporting events that make up the Summer Olympic Games.

London 2012 50-pence coins
Taekwondo (left) and Cycling (right)

Similar to the United States’ “State Quarter” series, the 29 different designs in the Olympic Sports series were released in phases starting in 2010 and going through 2011. While the State Quarters series had 50 designs spread over 10 years (issuing 5 different state quarter designs per year), the Royal Mint had 29 designs to release over the course of only 2 years. Like the State Quarters series, the Olympic Sports series were released to circulation so that amateur collectors could start checking their pocket change for the new coins.

The Royal Mint held an open competition for the designs, allowing anyone in the United Kingdom to submit a design for one of the Summer Olympic and Paralympic events.  Winning designs came from such people as a delivery truck driver, a toy designer, a radiologist, and a 9-year-old. You can read about the designers at the Royal Mint’s London 2012 50 P Sports Collection site.

The designs don’t attempt to fit into a mosaic like Great Britain’s regular circulation (see our blog post about Great Britain’s redesign), which would be especially hard since each coin was designed by a different person.

In 2009, the Canadian Mint issued a similar series of 12 quarters for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, BC.  The quarters also depicted events from the Winter Olympic and Paralympic games.

For Britons, collectors get to look forward to searching through loose change in order to collect all 29 sporting event coins. For those outside of the UK, however, it may be difficult to build a complete collection without ordering coins or an entire set directly from the Royal Mint.

London 2012 50 P Sports Collection Events

  1. Aquatics
  2. Archery
  3. Athletics
  4. Badminton
  5. Basketball
  6. Boccia
  7. Boxing
  8. Canoeing
  9. Cycling
  10. Equestrian
  11. Fencing
  12. Football (soccer)
  13. Goalball
  14. Gymnastics
  15. Handball
  16. Hockey
  17. Judo
  18. Pentathlon
  19. Rowing
  20. Sailing
  21. Shooting
  22. Table Tennis
  23. Taekwondo
  24. Tennis
  25. Triathlon
  26. Volleyball
  27. Weightlifting
  28. Wheelchair Rugby
  29. Wrestling

Wavy-Edged Coins

A scallop-edged coin from the Bahamas

Despite what we are used to here in the United States, coins do not have to be round to be minted and spent.

I’ve previously discussed square coins, but an even more common shape is the scalloped coin, which has a wavy edge that goes all the way around the coin. The name comes from the distinctive wavy shell of the scallop, a sea mollusk similar to a clam. This coin shape may also be referred to as wavy-edged, flower shaped, or sun shaped.

Coins with 8 (left), 10 (center), and 12 (right) peaks

Scalloped coins usually have an even number of peaks or points, most commonly 8, 10, or 12.  The peaks are the waves that point away from the coin, like the petals on a flower.  The waves that point back into the coin are called troughs.

Trough aligned (left) vs
peak aligned (right)

Scalloped coins can either be peak-aligned (so that holding the coin right-side up leaves a peak pointing straight down), or trough-aligned (a trough is in the direct center at the bottom edge of the coin).

Because of their unique shape, scalloped coins (along with square coins) are easy to spot in a big mix of coins. They are more decorative than square coins due to the larger number of points on their edge.

Like coins that have holes in them, the main reason behind using a scalloped edge on a coin is to make it more easily distinguishable from other coins. In a pocket, or in the dark, you can easily feel the wavy edge and (for people who use those coins regularly) tell which coin is which. This is also helpful for people who have trouble seeing, and is one of a great many ways that countries have tried to make their coins identifiable by touch alone.

Many countries have used scalloped coins in the last 100 years – more than have used square coins. If you compare this list to the list of countries that have used square coins, you’ll see a lot of the same names. As usual, if you find any countries missing from this list, please post it in a comment.

Countries which have had scallop-edged coins since 1900:

British Honduras
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Cook Islands
East Caribbean States
Hong Kong
Sri Lanka (Ceylon)