Canada Penny Getting Retired

According to Canada’s recently-released 2012 federal budget plan, the Royal Canadian Mint will stop making new pennies in 2012. The penny will remain legal tender (in other words you can still spend your pennies), but no more new pennies will be made. This means that pennies will slowly disappear as they are lost, tossed, returned to banks, or added to people’s collections.

The Canadian Ministry of Finance’s reasons for eliminating the penny include:

  • It costs the Canadian government 1.6 cents to make each penny, costing Canadian taxpayers around $11 million per year
  • The buying power of a penny continues to decline – they are useless on their own, and are only used to make change for cash purchases

Canada will join countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain in removing their lowest-denomination coins. Australia stopped making 1- and 2-cent coins in 1992. New Zealand stopped making 1- and 2-cent coins in 1987, and the 5-cent coin in 2004. Great Britain stopped issuing its half-penny coin in 1984.

Canadian pennies from 1962 through 2005

The Canadian penny, pictured to the right, features a picture of the Queen on the front and a pair of maple leaves on the back. The design remains largely unchanged since 1937, other than changes to who was pictured on the front (starting with King George VI in 1937, then switching to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953) and updated portraits of Queen Elizabeth over the years.

There are similar arguments for getting rid of the penny in the United States. Pennies are expensive to make, can’t buy anything, and are largely unused by the American public. I know many people who simply throw pennies away if they receive them as change. Even so, Americans seem fairly nostalgic about their pennies, and government discussions about getting rid of them have so far gone nowhere. Dollar coins, on the other hand, have never taken off in the United States, despite repeated efforts to introduce them to American circulation.

The loss of any coin from circulation is a blow to world coin collectors everywhere. But that loss is part of what makes world coin collecting interesting – designs change, new coins come into existence, and some coins (and even countries) disappear. The Canadian penny isn’t going to completely disappear any time soon – with more than 9,000,000,000 (yes, 9 billion) pennies minted in the last 10 years, there are still plenty out there to find. But this may be the last year to get a Canadian Proof Set that includes the iconic copper-colored penny.

Reading Arabic Numbers and Dates

There are several modern numeral systems used in the world today that use symbols other than 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… (known frequently as Western Arabic or European numerals) that many of us are familiar with. Japanese, Thai, and Arabic are just a few examples of languages that use different symbols to represent numbers.

For a world coin collector, it is helpful to be able to read numbers in these different languages. It lets you figure out the date on a coin, and its quantity or denomination (e.g. 25 cents) which are both important for proper cataloging of your collection.

The Eastern Arabic Numerals

The symbols that Middle Eastern Arabic uses to represent the numbers from 0 to 9 are referred to as Eastern Arabic Numerals. They are shown here with their European equivalent:

Note the “false friends” – numerals that look similar to the European numerals but don’t mean the same thing. ٥ looks like 0, but means 5. ٦ looks like 7 but means 6.

Numbers that are larger than 9 use combinations of these symbols just like we do with the European numerals:

  • 10 = ١٠
  • 25 = ٢٥
  • 713 = ٧١٣

Here are some examples on actual foreign coins:


Left to right: 2, 25, 100

Arabic Dates

Most coins from Arabic or Islamic countries use the Islamic Calendar, which began (Year 1) in 622 A.D. (by the Gregorian calendar we use in the United States). That is why the dates on modern Arabic coins are usually in the 1300s and 1400s – it’s not because the coins are 600-700 years old.

Here are some date examples on actual coins:

Left to right: 1984 and 1404, 1965 and 1385, 1956 and 1375

More recent coins frequently have both the Islamic year and the Gregorian year on them, which makes our understanding of the year it was made a little easier. But the Gregorian year is usually written using Arabic numerals (like the examples above), so you still need to practice your transcription from Arabic to European numbers to be able to read them.

Smiley-Face Penny

A smiley-face penny

I recently found this in a bag of mixed foreign coins – a US penny with a smiley face (smile) cut into it. Actually it looks more like it is laughing, which I think is a bit unique. The coin is a 1992 D US penny, which means that it is made up mostly of zinc with a thin layer of copper on the outside to give the coin it’s traditional brown color.

The face was probably cut out of the penny using a process called die cutting – a die (a shaped blade or punch) is pressed by a machine into some material (in this case, the zinc of a modern penny) to cut it into a shape (in this case, to cut out 2 eyes and a mouth). A plain round hole can be made in a coin using a drill, but shaped holes like these would be difficult to do, and to do consistently.
Coins like these are frequently sold in souvenir or gift shops as “Lucky Pennies” – to buy as a gift for someone so that they will have good luck while they are carrying the coin. This is a variation on the rhyme “see a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck” – the idea that finding a penny is considered good luck. The face certainly makes the penny look more interesting than one that you might find on the ground, but I’m not aware of any studies to determine which type of penny will bring you more luck.
In my previous post about world coins with holes, I mentioned that coins with holes drilled into them are worthless as collectibles. While a shaped hole like this makes the coin not valuable to a coin collector, there are people who specifically collect coins that have been die-cut in this manner (similar to how other collectors seek elongated or “smashed” pennies). Anyone with a drill can cut a round hole in a coin – they are not hard to make, so it would be very unusual to find someone interested in collecting coins with drilled holes. But die-cut coins require expensive tools; they are more rare and so some people do collect them.
Because pennies are considered mostly valueless in the United States (many simply get thrown away every year), you would probably find that most stores or banks would take an occasional penny like this as payment, and then simply throw it away (or keep it as a novelty item). But “Lucky Pennies” usually cost much more than $0.01 to buy at a gift shop, so there is not much value in buying them and then trying to use them as money.
Cutting holes in a United States coin like this may technically be illegal under US law (US Code Title 18, Section 331). But in practice, the law is usually enforced only when coins are changed for fraudulent use – such as cutting a penny down to the size of a dime (to use in vending machines), or painting a quarter gold so that can be passed off as a US dollar coin.
Even though it’s not really what I collect, I’m going to keep this little guy because it makes me smile.

Croatia Joining the European Union

Croatia 10, 20, and 50
lipa coins

On January 22, 2012, citizens of Croatia voted to approve their country joining the European Union (Croatia first applied to the EU in 2003). If the membership is ratified by the other 27 EU members, then Croatia will become the 28th European nation to join the Union on July 1, 2012. The last countries to be admitted to the union were Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.

Croatia’s currency today is called the kuna. 1 kuna = 100 lipa. Membership in the European Union usually leads to membership in the Eurozone (the subset of EU countries which also exclusively use the euro as their currency) a few years later, although there are some exceptions (Great Britain and Denmark have special exemptions, for example).

This means that by joining the European Union, Croatia will eventually switch their money (and, more importantly for readers of this blog, their coins) from the kuna to the euro. The last countries  to convert to the euro were Estonia in 2011, and Slovakia in 2009.

Of the current 27 European Union countries, only 17 exclusively use the euro. The other 10 are either exempt or are taking the steps necessary in order to eventually switch. With a stable currency, the switch to the euro can take as little as 2 years. But according to news articles, the current situation with Greece (which is a member of the Eurozone) may cause the Zone to be more cautious about allowing new members and may delay Croatia’s switch to the euro until 2017.

So even though you may be hearing about Croatia joining the EU, don’t expect to see any new Croatian euro coins for quite some time. The next most likely countries to adopt the euro, based on their progress through the conversion prerequisites, appear to be Lithuania and Latvia.

Coins with Holes (Holed Coins)


Ancient Chinese “cash” coin

Americans, when asked about coins with holes in them, probably picture the old Chinese “cash” coins which are featured so prominently in Chinese-style decor.  These coins had a square-shaped hole in the center, with Chinese characters around it.  The United States has never had a coin with a hole in it, so it’s not something we’re used to seeing. Plenty of other countries, however, have had one or more of this type of coin (known as “holed coins” or “holey coins”) in their recent history.

As far as I know, the holes put into modern foreign coins don’t serve any specific purpose. They are not there to make the coins work in a particular machine, or to be easier to carry (although they would be slightly lighter than a coin without a hole). The main reason that you would make a modern coin with a hole in it (or, for that matter, with an unusual shape), besides pure decoration, is to make it more easily distinguishable (by touch and sight) from other coins in circulation.

(Putting a hole in a coin would also use less metal, which may be important when metal is needed for other uses (such as during a long war). However, coins are usually made out of the most common and least expensive metals possible (you don’t want to make a $1 coin that uses $2 in metal) so I’m not aware of any examples of a country putting a hole in their coins for this reason.)

Coin from India with a large hole

Most coins that have holes in them have a relatively small hole – usually 1/4 of an inch (6.3 mm) or smaller. The hole is meant to be seen and felt, but not to be worn like a ring (wouldn’t that be interesting?). The one exception I’ve seen is the 1 pice coin from India and Pakistan in the 1940s, which had a 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) hole in a coin that was less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) across. It gives the coin a unique look, like you could almost wear it as a ring.

Coins with holes drilled in to them
to make jewelry

On coins that intentionally have holes in them, the hole is always in the direct center of the coin, and usually the design of the coin incorporates the hole (so you don’t have a hole directly in the middle of a person’s head, for example). If you see a coin that has a hole near the edge, or has multiple holes (see pictures), someone has drilled a hole in the coin in order to use it for decoration or jewelry. A single hole near the edge means that the coin may have been worn on a necklace or bracelet. Two holes toward the center of the coin, such as the one pictured, indicates that it may have been used as a button on a piece of clothing. This kind of destruction makes the coin worthless to collectors.

Japan 5-yen (left) and 50-yen (right) coins

I believe that the only country currently using coins with holes is Japan, whose 5 yen and 50 yen coins both have holes in the center. They are also nearly the same size (the 5-yen is bigger), but the 50-yen coin has a reeded edge while the 5-yen has a smooth edge. The 100-yen coin is the same size as the 5-yen, but with a reeded edge; so the hole in the center helps to make the 50-yen more noticably different than the 100-yen.

Besides Japan, many countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East have used coins with holes in the recent past, and you might be surprised by who they are. Spain added a hole to their 25-peseta coin in 1990 and kept it until switching to the euro in 2002. Hungary had a hole in their 2-filler coin, used from 1950 until 1992. Greece had holes in their 5-, 10-, and 20-lepta coins from the 1950s until the 1970s. Fiji had holes in their half-penny and penny in the 1930s through the 1950s.

Here is a list of the countries that I’ve found that have circulated coins with holes since 1900. This is definitely not a complete list, so I will update it when I find out about other countries. And since I bet that you readers know of examples that I haven’t listed, I’m going to turn on blog comments this month – so post any countries that are missing from this list (list specific denominations and years if you can).

Countries which have had a coin with a hole since 1900:

Belgian Congo
British West Africa
East Africa
French Indochina
New Guinea
Papua New Guinea

Looking for coins with holes to add to your collection?
Check out our Coins With Holes Set.

Update 1/1/2012: Added Lebanon
Update 1/22/2012: Added East Africa, Nepal, and Philippines
Update 3/20/2012: Added Papua New Guinea
Update 4/21/2012: Added Turkey
Update 5/14/2012: Added Nigeria
Update 7/22/2012: Added Zambia, Belgian Congo, British West Africa, Congo, French Indochina, and Poland
Update 12/9/2012: Added Greenland, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Guinea, and Palestine

Update 12/25/2012: Added Romania, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia

World Coin News Blog

There is a blog that I like to check out frequently, at least once a week. World Coin News, run by David Rivera of Spain, has been running since 2006 posting about new world coins as they are released, found, or otherwise announced. Posts are usually accompanied by a photo or other picture of the coin (or coins), and sometimes even a picture of what the coin represents (such as a landmark, building, or person). Some posts are about a country redesigning one or all of their coins. Others are for commemorative versions of existing coins (a coin celebrating an important date, person, place, battle, invention, etc.). New posts generally come every couple of days, and are tagged with labels to allow similar posts to be grouped together (such as by country, year, or type) using the links at the bottom of the page. You can view all the previous entries, going all the way back to September 2006.  World Coin News is an easy way to keep up-to-date on new world coins without needing to manually go check all the different world mint Web sites. I appreciate the work that David and his contributors do to provide all that information in one place.

Australia’s $50 Million Coin

In October 2011, Australia’s Perth Mint unveiled a project that they had spent the last 18 months creating – a coin more than 30 inches (80 cm) across, 4 inches (12 cm) thick, weighing over 2200 pounds (1000 kg) and made of solid gold.  The coin has a denomination (value printed on the coin) of $1,000,000 Australian dollars, but the gold in the coin itself is worth more than $50 million (US dollars) at today’s gold prices.

The coin was cast – melted gold was poured into a mold – rather than the normal process of mass-creating  coins (stamping the design onto a plain metal disc, called striking).

News articles say that this is now the largest gold coin in the world, and is 10 times larger (by weight) than the previous record holders.

The Perth Mint has a Web site at with a video of how the coin was made (also embedded below) and pictures, but surprisingly little other information about the coin or why it was made.  There are many news articles about the coin, such as:

Don’t think about trying to get this coin for your collection.  I don’t think Australia’s going to want to let this coin out of its sight.  And I can guarantee that there isn’t a coin flip big enough to properly store this giant.

Great Britain’s 2008 Coin Redesign

2008 redesign (missing
50 pence coin at bottom)

In 2008, Great Britain redesigned the reverses of their common coinage for the first time since the conversion to decimal in 1968. According to the Royal Mint, a public competition was held to come up with ideas. It was wildly popular, with more than 4000 different designs being submitted (it sure would be interesting to see some of the designs that didn’t win).

The design that was chosen, and released for the first time in 2008, is unique among modern coins because the reverses of the 6 lowest-denomination coins (1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50-pence) form a mosaic picture of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, representing the union of the countries of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Ireland), when the coins are placed in the proper positions.  The pound has the full Royal Arms on its reverse.

I’m not aware of any other set of coins which have this type of design, where the coins can be put together to make a larger picture. A complete set in a case, such as the annual sets or special display cases offered by the Royal Mint, is striking – it is high on my wish list of coin sets to acquire. I look forward to other countries experimenting with building mosaics out of multiple coins like Great Britain has done.

Great Britain reverses before 2008

However, there is a problem with a configuration like this.  The design is lost if you store the coins in any other way – such as the 20-pocket coin pages used by most collectors. While I admire what Great Britain has done with their new coins, I feel a little let down that the only way to properly display the full design is to buy a full set or a display holder, neither of which can be stored in a coin binder with the rest of your collection.

Tracking Your Collection Online

When your coin collection is small, it is easy to keep track of what coins you have using your memory alone, a notebook, or even just a piece of paper. But as it gets bigger, you’re not going to be able to remember exactly which coins you have, and trying to look in your notebook for a specific coin is going to get more and more difficult.

One option when your collection grows this large is to keep track of your coins in a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel (Google Docs and are free alternatives). Create a spreadsheet with a column for each piece of information you want to track (year, country, denomination, condition, etc.). This lets you easily add new coins anywhere in the list, and sort your list by whichever columns you want (such as by country then by year).

However, a more exciting and useful tool is to use a coin collection Web site to keep track of what you have (and even what you don’t have). There are many sites on the Web which are free to use – ColnectNumismasterNumista, and World Coin Gallery are a few. (If you are under 13, you may need to have a parent set up an account for you.)

These collection tracking Web sites have several benefits over using a notebook or spreadsheet:

  • Coin pictures. These sites have pictures of thousands of world coins, so that you can see what your coins look like without pulling out your collection. Pictures can also help you more easily locate a coin that you need to track in your collection, or make sure that you’ve identified the coin correctly.
  • Complete coin listings. A spreadsheet shows you what you have, but the coin collection Web sites list all coins for all countries. This lets you see which coins you don’t yet have and might want to get. You can see which denominations were minted for a particular year, or see when a coin changed its design, or see what kinds of special or commemorative coins exist for a country.
  • Access your collection from anywhere. Because your collection is tracked online, you can look at it from anywhere you can get access to the Internet – home, work, school, the library, etc. If you have a smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.) or tablet computer with Internet access, you can even check, or update, your collection from anywhere. This is especially handy when you’re at a coin shop or show, and need to know what you already have.
  • Want lists and trade lists. Many collection sites let you keep track of extra coins that you have to trade (a “trade list”) or coins that you are looking for (a “want list”).
  • Facilitate trading. Because these sites have lots of people using them, you can use your want and trade lists to find people who either want a coin that you have, or have a coin that you want. You can then use the messaging features of the site to arrange a trade. Some sites also let you rate people who you trade with, so that untrustworthy traders can be pointed out.
  • Import and export lists. Many of the sites allow you to import your current list of coins, if you are already keeping track of your coins in a file or spreadsheet. You can also export your online collection to a file/spreadsheet so that you have a backup on your computer (in case your Internet connection stops or the collection site shuts down). This also lets you switch collection sites more easily – if you find a site you like better, you just export your list from the old site and import it into the new site.
  • Search. Most sites allow you to find a coin by either browsing (clicking on country names and years) or searching (typing in information about a coin, like the country, year, and amount). When you are entering coins into your collection, using search is faster than the click-click-click required by browsing for the coin.
  • Mapping your collection. A few sites can show you a map of the world, with the countries that you have collected colored or highlighted. I think this is an especially fun way to look at your collection.
If you have a large collection and haven’t been keeping a list of your coins in a spreadsheet already, it can take quite a while to get your collection fully entered into a collecting site. But it is definitely worth the time because your collection will be much easier to keep track of when it’s done.
My current favorite site is Numista. Its searching ability is great (you can search for “2005 mexico 5 pesos” and it finds the right coin), the search results shows pictures of each coin, and it even shows you which coins are already in your collection. You can also browse by country, denomination, and year to find coins. Numista has a fun map that shows countries in different colors based on how many coins you have. You can mark which coins you want to trade, and when you are looking at a coin it will tell you who has one they’d like to trade. You can even add missing coins (or new coins that haven’t been added yet), or add pictures for coins that Numista doesn’t have. Numista doesn’t let you create a “want list”, and its automatic saving of the coins you select sometimes doesn’t work – so definitely double-check that it has properly added your coins. Numista does have the ability to import and export coin lists, so if you start there and don’t like it you can always take your coin list somewhere else. Update October 2013: Numista now has the ability to create a “wish list”, so that you can keep track of which coins you are searching for. This also helps other users trade with you, because if you have a coin that they want they can see the coins that you want.
A collection Web site is a great way to track and manage your coin collection (some, like Colnect, can also track other collectibles like paper money or stamps). If the site you start using can export your collection to a file, make sure to do this regularly. That file is your backup list of your coins, in case the collection site closes or your Internet connection is down.

Square Coins

Square coins are my favorite unusual coin shape. Being from the United States, a square coin is very different from the money I’m used to – it seems quite exotic, the epitome of a “foreign” coin. The square shape seems somewhat impractical – it doesn’t roll, and it seems like getting a vending machine or coin sorter to handle square coins would be problematic (though I’m sure that countries that have square coins have these problems figured out). Because of their shape, they are easy to spot in a coin dealer’s “junk” box.

Square coins come in 2 different alignments, which I call “edge alignment” and “corner alignment”.

A square coin with edge alignment

On an edge-aligned coin, the design is lined up with one of the coin’s edges so that when the coin is held right-side up it looks like a square.

A square coin with corner alignment

On a corner-aligned coin, the design is lined up with one of the coin’s corners so that when held right-side up the coin looks more like a diamond (though it’s really just a square standing on its point).

For each type of square coin alignment, the obverse and reverse can then be medal-aligned (front and back face the same direction) or coin-aligned (front and back are rotated 180 degrees). (For more on medal and coin alignment, see my previous post about terminology).

In the last century, several different countries have used square coins. These are the countries that I am aware of that have had square coins, but this is probably not complete.

World Square Coins

Bailiwick of Jersey
Burma (Myanmar)
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
East Caribbean States
Malaya & British Borneo
Netherlands Antilles


Looking for square coins to add to your collection?
Check out our Square Coins Set.

Update 11/20/2011: Added Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar)
Update 4/21/2012: Added Swaziland, Maldives, and Oman