Latvia Introducing Euro Coins in 2014

Latvia 1-santims and 1-lats coins

Latvia is an eastern European country of about 2,000,000 located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Its neighbors are Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, and Russia to the east. In 2004, Latvia was one of 10 European nations which were accepted into the European Union.

The current currency of Latvia is the lats. 1 lats = 100 santims. But in January 2014, Latvia is expecting to become a full member of the Eurozone and replace their national currency with the euro. This would make Latvia the 18th European nation to join the Eurozone (the countries of the European Union which have switched to the euro).

Latvia euro coin design models

Latvia’s lats and santims coin designs have been in use since 1992, when Latvia restored their independence from the Soviet Union. Annual commemorative/collectible 1-lats coins since 2001 have featured animals, plants, a Christmas tree, and a snowman on their reverse.

According to the Bank of Latvia (Latvijas Banka), the country’s euro coin designs were chosen by a country-wide competition held in 2004. The original wining design for the obverse of the 2-euro coin, the Freedom Monument located in Riga, was decided to be too difficult to depict on a coin and be easily recognizable, so the image from the 1-euro coin, the Latvian folk maiden originally from the 1929-1932 5-lats coin, will be used instead. The euro cent coins will feature the Latvian coat-of-arms.

Latvia 2-euro original design
featuring the Freedom Monument

As always, it is exciting to have a new type of coin for world coin collectors to search for. But it is bittersweet because in order to have the new coins, the old lats and santims must be retired. The usual practice for switching over to the euro is to offer a period of time when the old currency is traded in for the new currency, so within a short period of time a large percentage of the old Latvian circulating coins are going to disappear. If you don’t have a full set of current Latvian coins, you may want to try to complete your collection in 2013.

Will Coins Change With New Netherlands King?

On January 28, 2013, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced that she would be stepping down (or abdicating) as the ruler of the Netherlands on April 30, 2013 (the date of the annual Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day, celebration). Beatrix became Queen in 1980, when her mother Queen Juliana similarly abdicated (retired). On April 30, Beatrix’ son Willem-Alexander will take over as King of the Netherlands – its first King since 1890.

Like many countries, the Netherlands has a long history of incorporating its current monarch on their coins. Beginning in the early 1800s with King Willem I, nearly all of the Netherlands’ coins have used a profile of the ruling monarch on their obverse.

Netherlands 1 cent 1948
Queen Wilhelmina
Netherlands 2 1/2 gulden 1970
Queen Juliana

Netherlands 1 gulden 1980
Ascension of Queen Beatrix

The last such change in the Netherlands’ coins was in 1980, when Queen Juliana gave up her rule so that her daughter, Pricess Beatrix, could take over as queen.

Netherlands 5 gulden 1990
Queen Beatrix

In 1982, the coins of the Netherlands not only changed portraits from Queen Juliana to Queen Beatrix, but underwent a complete redesign (both front and back) to give the coins a more modern look. (At the same time, the 1-cent coin was eliminated from circulation.)

Netherlands 50 euro cents 1990
Queen Beatrix

In 2002 the Netherlands gave up their national currency, the guilder, and moved to the euro. The obverses were again redesigned for the Netherlands’ euro coins (the reverses are the same for all euro-using countries) while maintaining their modernist flair.

With Willem-Alexander’s ascension to the throne, we should expect to see new designs for the Netherlands’ euro coins in 2014 or 2015. Will they stick with tradition and add a portrait of Willem-Alexander to the euro obverse? Or will they take the opportunity to switch their coin designs to incorporate national symbols instead? Only Monaco and Vatican City’s euro designs have changed significantly since the euro began in 2002, so it will be exciting to watch what the Netherlands does with their coins.

Finding the Value of a Foreign Coin

Great Britain 1/2 crown 1945

When someone comes across a foreign coin, there are usually 2 questions that immediately run through their mind:

  • Where is this coin from?
  • How much is this coin worth?

We want to know the value of things, whether coins or baseball cards or shoes or cars, so that we can determine a thing’s importance (especially compared to other things). If I see a penny on the ground, I know its value is so low that I won’t bother to pick it up. A quarter, however, is worth stopping for. If I’m shopping for a car, I want to know the value of the cars that I am looking at so that I can decide if a particular price is a good deal. When the thing is a foreign coin, which we naturally associate with money and value, it is hard not to wonder about how much it is worth.

For a world coin collector, even someone who isn’t investing in expensive coins, it can be useful to know the value of a coin:

  • It is important to know the approximate value of your coins in order to avoid over- or under-insuring your collection.
  • Comparing the values of multiple types of the same coin (different dates or mint-marks) helps you choose the more valuable coin for your collection.
  • Knowing the value of a coin can help you make sure you are making equitable trades with other people (though you shouldn’t be nit-picky when making trades – trading a 25-cent coin for a 5-cent coin is a good deal if it’s a coin that you don’t have in your collection).
  • For those valuable coins that you do run across, you’ll make sure to take better care of them so that they continue to stay valuable.


Book Value versus Market Value

When we talk about the value of something, especially something that is collectible, it is important to know that there are actually 2 different values that we can consider (and that are found in different ways) – its book value, and its market value.

Things (coins, cars, houses) usually don’t have a single, fixed “value” or “price” that everyone agrees to. If you go to 3 different grocery stores, you’ll probably find 3 different prices for the same items. For things that people commonly collect (like coins, comic books, or baseball cards), some person, group, or company has probably created a “price guide” – a book (or magazine, or Web site) which lists the different items and gives them an estimated value (usually based on a lot of research). A commonly-used price guide for cars is the Kelley Blue Book, for example. When you get the value for something from some kind of a price guide – whether from an actual book or a monthly magazine or  a Web site – it is called the book value.

Book values are useful as estimates (for insurance, or for comparing the estimated values of several coins), but they are usually not what you could actually buy or sell a coin for.

The market value of a thing is what someone would actually pay for it, which can be more than or less than the thing’s book value and can change frequently. I may have a coin that a book says is worth $100, but if nobody is willing to give me that much for it, is it really worth $100? Or I may have a coin that a book says is worth 25 cents, but it is very popular right now and I am able to sell it for $1. Finding the market value of a coin is more difficult, and requires you to do some research.  It’s also only really useful to know if you want to try to sell a coin (or are checking if a coin you want to buy is a good deal).

Finding the Book Value of a Coin

For foreign and world coins, the main book source of coin values is the Standard Catalog of World Coins, published by Krause Publications. It is currently available in multiple editions (coins from 1601-1700, from 1701-1800, etc.), and is updated annually. These are big books, listing nearly every coin ever made with pictures and the number of coins minted, with estimated values based on the coin’s date and condition. Every world coin collector should have one of these. You can find these books at Amazon, or you can check if your local library has a copy.

The nice thing about book values is that you don’t need to have the most recent book (or to buy a new book every year) to get a good sense of the value of a coin (or to compare different coins). If coin X is worth more than coin Y in the 2002 edition, that’s not likely to have changed in the 2012 edition.

Krause Publications has put their coin value database online at Numismaster.com. For a monthly or yearly subscription fee, you can look up the coin values from their current books online without needing to buy a book. Depending on what you need, it may be a better deal to buy the book or to subscribe to Numismaster.com.

In June, 2011, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) released a free World Coin Price Guide Web site based on Krause Publication’s coin value data. I don’t know if the information is any different than what is available at Numismaster, but I’ve noticed that it is not as complete as the information I can find in the printed Standard Catalog books (not all the coins are listed, and there are fewer pictures than in the book). If you haven’t yet invested in a Standard Catalog of your own, start with the NGC’s price guide and see if it is sufficient for what you need.

Finding the Market Value of a Coin

To try to figure out the current market value of a coin, you need to find out what people are willing to pay for that coin. The best way to do that is to see what people have actually paid at auction sites like eBay.com. eBay allows you to search completed auctions, which lets you know how much people actually paid for things. It is unlikely that all the sales were for the same value, so using this method you end up with a market value range – if there were 3 similar coins that sold in the last 30 days, for $1.50, $0.99, and $1.10, you can take the average to arrive at a reasonable current market value for the coin. If you were going to sell the same kind of coin, that would give you a good idea of the price to use.

The difficulty with finding a market value is finding completed auctions. eBay only allows you to search for completed auctions within the last 3 months, so for less common coins you may not find any actual sales.

Trade-In Value

While the market value of a coin gives you a good idea of what you can sell it for, it only applies to selling the coin to another collector (e.g. in person, through the mail, or in an auction).

If you’re going to try to sell a coin to a coin dealer (someone who buys and sells coins professionally), then a third value comes into play – what I call the coin’s trade-in value. Any coins that a dealer buys from you, they will have to then try to sell to someone else – that is their business. A dealer wants to resell the coin at its current market value, which means that they need to buy it from you at lower than market value (the “trade-in value”). This trade-in value may be anywhere from 25% to 50% less than the market value or book value of the coin. If you take a coin to a dealer and ask for the full market or book value, they are very unlikely to be interested.

The best choice for getting the most for a coin is selling to another collector, either in-person or online. But selling coins this way presents its own set of challenges (fees for selling your coin through an auction site; fees for accepting credit cards; risk of not getting paid; etc.) so it may be easier, though less profitable, to work with a local coin dealer instead.

Exchange Value

See our other post about the exchange value of a foreign coin.

Collecting foreign coins is about enjoying the beauty and variety of the world’s money, about glimpsing another culture through an ordinary, every-day object which is very commonplace but is also very important. Foreign coins show us what that country thinks is important enough to honor by immortalizing it in a small sculpture that will be seen by millions of people. While there are collectors who search for only rare or valuable coins, they are missing out on the thousands of other interesting coins that make world coin collecting fun. For that reason, I don’t recommend that you focus too much on how much coins are worth. Most modern world coins are minted in the millions, and are going to be neither rare nor valuable. The excitement comes from finding a coin that isn’t already in your collection, that fills a hole or completes a set and gives you a sense of building something. If the coin happens to be worth something, then that’s an added bonus, something that you can showcase as part of your ever-growing collection.

    Insuring Your Coin Collection

    1945 Mexico 2-peso gold coin

    This month we have a special guest writer, Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley of InsuranceSolutionsPlus.com.

    Options for Insuring Your Coin Collection

    If a natural disaster struck in your community, would your coin collection be covered against a loss? Or if a burglar were to target your property, do you know that your collection is insured up to its full value?

    These are scenarios we don’t want to think about, however, they are risks any collector should consider.

    Recently an avid collector in Virginia found out the answer to one of these questions the hard way. The collector, whom we shall call James, was the victim of a home burglary. Amongst some of his stolen property was his collection of foreign and domestic coins. James had looked into insurance for his collection a few years prior, and at the time was satisfied with the limited coverage provided under his existing homeowners policy. However, over the years James’ collection had increased in value and when it came time to file a homeowners insurance claim for the theft, he found out the sad truth. His homeowners insurance policy didn’t cover even a sixth of the value of his collection.

    This type of situation isn’t uncommon however it’s also easy to avoid.

    Get the right coverage

    As mentioned above, most homeowners insurance policies will provide coverage for a collection such as a coin collection, however, the coverage limit is often very low. For example, most home insurance policies place a maximum coverage limit of $200 on items such as coins, bank notes and gold bullion. This means that in the event of a loss, your policy would only pay out $200 towards the replacement of any (or all) of these items kept in your home.

    A better option is to schedule an endorsement (also called a ‘rider’) on your homeowners insurance policy that extends the coverage limit for your collection. You will need to discuss this with your home insurance carrier and they will ask you to supply an appraisal from an official coin appraiser. Always make sure your collection is insured up to it’s full value, especially if you are regularly adding new coins.

    Finally, one of the best ways to insure your coin collection is to purchase a coin collection insurance policy from an insurer that specializes in this type of coverage. This policy, oftentimes referred to as a ‘personal articles floater’ is completely separate from your homeowners policy and will oftentimes offer extended protection not offered under a home insurance policy. For example, a coin collection insurance policy will usually cover theft of your collection while you are traveling to a coin show.

    Do Your Part

    Aside from having the right insurance policy in place, take steps to avoid theft and/or damage to your coins by keeping them locked up in an inconspicuous place in your home. Don’t advertise your collection to people you don’t know well. Keep a record of every coin in your collection so that you have proof of inventory and ownership.

    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 Numista.com 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. About.com’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 Numista.com and WorldCoinGallery.com 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:

    Bahamas
    Bangladesh
    Belize
    Bhutan
    Botswana
    British Honduras
    Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
    Cook Islands
    Cyprus
    East Caribbean States
    Egypt
    Ghana
    Guernsey
    Hong Kong
    India
    Iraq
    Israel
    Jamaica
    Libya
    Maldives
    Malta
    Mauritius
    Myanmar
    Oman
    Pakistan
    Paraguay
    Philippines
    Rwanda
    Seychelles
    Singapore
    Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
    Sudan
    Swaziland
    Tanzania
    Tibet
    Turkey
    Vietnam
    Yemen