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Why no current events on coinage?

By Richard Giedroyc

CoinsWeekly.com publisher Ursula Kampmann made some interesting remarks regarding the lack of current events on coins in her Feb. 4 editorial.

According to Kampmann, “… I am sure that I will see at the Media Forum on Friday [Worlds Money Fair in Berlin] quite a lot of new coins dedicated to all kinds of jubilees, historical buildings, rare animals, and old traditions. That’s nice. But, 200 years from now, what will a numismatist think about the times we are living in when looking at these coins?”

“The Swiss commemorative coin on the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel tells a different story. It tells the story of a small country that realized a project of a century. It tells of state-of-the-art technology and the needs of constantly increasing traffic between nations. It tells of the things we are concerned with today, and which we can take pride in.”

The 2016 20 Francs Swiss silver coin honoring the completion of the Gotthard Tunnel was issued just before the tunnel's opening.

The 2016 20 Francs Swiss silver coin honoring the completion of the Gotthard Tunnel was issued just before the tunnel’s opening.

Kampmann continues, “I know how difficult it is to strike commemorative coins with contemporary relevance. Usually, they don’t sell well (especially when tackling political issues). What’s more, commemorative coins have such a long preparation time that our ephemeral world has almost forgotten all about the relevant event at the time the coin is being released. There is just one exception: sporting events, perfectly predictable and easily sellable. But is this really the world we want to pass on, on our coins, to future generations? A world where all figures deemed worthy of being depicted on a coin have been dead for 50 years at the minimum, a world that is made only of anniversaries?”

Kampmann makes some good points that need to be reconsidered. The only current event that comes to mind that quickly became a coin is the Aug. 31, 1997 death in Paris of Princess Diana. The privately owned Pobjoy Mint planned and executed coins on Sunday, the date following her death. Can’t government-owned world mints do better than that?

This is not an attempt to promote the Pobjoy Mint, but this mint has even issued coins promoting Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies. There are coins on which dinosaurs are depicted, but this is about as far from marking a current event as you can get.

About the only U.S. coins in the first commemorative series to mark any current event were the Columbian Exposition coins of 1892 and 1893, 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition issues, 1926 Sesquicentennial coins, and those on which a living person (Alabama Gov. T.E. Kilby in 1921, President Calvin Coolidge in 1926, Virginia Senator Carter Glass in 1936, and Arkansas Senator Joseph T. Robinson in 1936) was depicted.

World coin collectors will want to check out the Chicago International Coin Fair, held April 15th to the 17th.

World coin collectors will want to check out the Chicago International Coin Fair, held April 15th to the 17th.

The second series of commemorative U.S. coins includes several Olympic Games issues, but no other current events. A coin marking World War II didn’t come until 1993 (48 years after the war ended), while the Korean War that began in 1950 was marked by coins two years earlier. It took the Soviet Union 22 years before it issued a World War II commemorative in 1967 In contrast Operation Desert Storm was honored by the Marshall Islands with a non-circulating coin almost as soon as the war ended. The Marshall Islands did not participate in that war.

Great Britain has issued coins marking royal family anniversaries and weddings, but nothing further regarding current events. Early modern coins issued by German states and others often marked weddings, funerals and anniversaries for the ruling family, but nothing like the sestertius issued by Roman Emperor Titus in 80 C.E. to mark the completion of the building of the Colosseum. Where are the coins celebrating modern architectural achievements, sporting events (Philip II of Macedon celebrating his equestrian victories during the Olympic Games on his coins through 336 B.C.E.), military victories, and more?

Consider this to be an editorial as well as news story, but let’s face it, we’re a long way from marking something of current relevance on coins?

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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More Collecting Resources
• Come on down to the Chicago International Coin Fair in Rosemont, Ill. on April 14 to 17, 2016 to see impressive world coins, meet new collectors and participate in Heritage Auction’s fantastic coin auction.
• Keep up to date on prices for Canada, United States and Mexico coinage with the 2016 North American Coins & Prices guide.

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