When I first saw colorized state quarters, I was amazed at what private marketers could sell. The colorized 2002 Tennessee quarter being sold as a tribute to Elvis was also quite a surprise and I commented on it in this space back in 2002. I thought it was clever.
In fact, in recent years holograms on coins and colorized coins have gained increasing popularity around the world.
I remember a 1995 Cuban set where the coins featured little more than paper decals on coins. Some one-peso coins depicted female pirates as part of a pirate series. At least one of them had a wardrobe malfunction of the kind that Janet Jackson had at the Super Bowl. I don’t know if any more coins were sold as a result of the artwork, but the coins made their way into the Standard Catalog of World Coins.
Not all mints colorize coins or use holograms, but many institutions do, such our neighbors to the north at the Royal Canadian Mint. The United States Mint certainly doesn’t employ this kind of technology, which is why the door is open for private firms to adulterate U.S. coin issues and then market their output to cable television viewers and the like.
The question is: Will the U.S. eventually join the club and begin issuing colorful coins someday, or will it in a sense be a part of a reaction that at some future date make the present period of colorful coins a temporary fad?
Perhaps this is a strange question to ask, but the basic definition of U.S. coinage is being called into question. Will it continue to have a legal status apart, constrained by the narrow job of being an official medium of exchange or will U.S. coinage become just another consumer product that can be produced in all sizes, colors and compositions to suit every taste and budget?
The outcome can go either way. The repeated multi-year series of nickels, quarters and dollars argue that U.S. coinage is going the designer route.
The recent federal crackdown on the private Liberty dollars that we reported in the June 23 issue of the paper might be an indication that the 35 years of liberalization in the legal treatment of monetary novelties has reached its limit beyond which the private sector cannot push.
I have to admit that I am of two minds.
Colorized coins and coins with holograms on them still don’t look like money to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them. Some I have found very interesting and attractive.
These nontraditional forms of money work because most of us have a common reference point as to what money is. It means we can enjoy the new technology and the artists that incorporate it into their work.
But what of the people who don’t seem to have a grasp of what money is? That seems to be the limiting factor in the Liberty dollar situation. If coins come to play music and glow in the dark on a regular basis just what exactly has money become, or what will the old term “coin of the realm” mean?