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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 18, May 2, 2010, Article 24

WHEN MONEY IS JUST AN ILLUSION

Dick Hanscom writes:

I found this on the BBC today - an article on the "illusion" of money! Sort of the like the ending in Bob Leonard's "Curious Currency" book. BTW, that is the first coin book I have read from cover to cover since "In Yankee Doodle's Pocket (ok, I skipped a few pages in that one). I have both Einzig and Quiggin. Obviously "Curious Currency" does not replace them, but makes the topic more interesting and understandable to the novice and layperson. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The BBC article is a lengthy one, but reading it is encouraged. Here are a few excerpts. -Editor

Paper Pound note I have been remembering when I first grasped the true value of money. I was eight. My father, in one of his rare flush periods, put into my little paw a penny coin. But this one didn't have the face of the new queen on it. In fact it was hard to make out a face at all.

Within the sliver-thin disc, worn smooth and shiny by great age, was a left-facing silhouette profile of a lighter shade of copper, raised just slightly from its dark base. I could make out a naked neck, a beaky bird-like nose, and tall brow from which hair had been swept back and tied in a ribboned bun.

It was the image of the young Queen Victoria, Dei Gratia, and the date stamped on the penny was 1859.

I am, you may be disappointed to hear, no numismatist. I can barely say the word. But coins, for me, have always had this romantically augmented richness. I grieved bitterly in 1972 when the pound became something constituted from 100 boring pence.

I had always liked the mere fact of a ha'penny; the sweetly poetic touch of putting the jenny wren - the smallest British bird - on the smallest coin, the humble farthing. I especially loved the threepenny bit for its dodecagonal - 12-sided - weirdness, its brass and nickel sallow yellow gleam and the crowned portcullis on its back.

I loved their nicknames. The long gone Victorian fourpenny piece had been known as a "joey"; our "tanners" - sixpence - seemed a chirpy thing, the right size for a small shot of merriment like sticking it deep in the depths of a Christmas pudding.

The thing about coins is their seeming defiance of monetary transience. Even when no longer legal tender, their reassuringly jingling durability remains.

It's all in the mind, I know, but not just in my mind. Ever since paper currencies were invented - not to mention stock certificates and bonds, junky or otherwise - lightness and perishability have been constant themes of monetary moralists, and all the promising by central banks and treasuries printed on the notes to "pay the bearer" has made no difference to those anxieties and suspicions.

Philip Mernick adds:

Interesting article although highly unlikely that he would have had a "sliver thin" penny dated 1859. 1859 pennies were thickish copper and didn't circulate long enough to get "sliver thin" as they were gradually withdrawn after the bronze "bun penny" appeared in 1860. The "bun" pennies did, however, remain in circulation until the UK went decimal on 15th February 1971. By that time they were very thin and the dates would have been difficult to read.

The article also discusses one of my own pet topics, the Trompe-l'il money art of artists William Michael Harnett and Otis Kaye. -Editor

To read the complete article, see: When money is just an illusion (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8654411.stm)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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