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One coin just wasn’t enough for me

Nearly 20 years ago when I made my first trip to Costa Rica, I was so taken with the paper money of the country that I began to collect it.

Over the years I have watched inflation retire the bills in the denominations of 50 colones, 100 colones and 500 colones to be replaced by coins. This is not surprising as the exchange rate is now 540 colones to the U.S. dollar.

Interest in the numismatic issues of this country was sparked by my first-hand experience of using them.

This also is how I began collecting U.S. coins. The first step to becoming a collector for me was when I actually had some coins, in this case cents, in my hand. I have happily been collecting ever since.

Newcomers do not have it so easy these days. Sure I can tell them that there are more books and information available than ever before, which is a big help once they start, but the likely sparking up of interest has to begin with a coin or coins in hand.

Making this introduction is getting tougher and tougher.

I experienced this recently on a trip to Panama. Panama basically uses the American dollar, coyly renamed the Balboa for the sake of national pride. There is a Balboa coinage, but U.S. coins also circulate along with U.S. paper money. There is nothing but a proposed 1941 issue of Panamanian paper money.

However, other than a few trips deliberately taken to a mall to get away from high priced hotel meals, my expenses did not take the form of paper money and coins. They took the form of my credit card and what became a small pile of receipts.

Few people can fall in love with the idea of collecting coins without actually having physical contact.

In the few transactions that I actually was able to pay in cash, I used American paper money. The change, which could have come in the form of Panamanian coinage, actually consisted almost entirely of U.S. coins.

There was one exception. For a pizza bill of 17 balboas, I tendered a $20 Federal Reserve Note.

My change?

The mall cashier counted out one, two $1 bills into my hand and then topped them off with a single 1-balboa coin.

The coin was a new bi-metallic piece that is slightly smaller than a quarter. It is comprised of a nickel-steel colored ring around a copper-colored center. It was dated 2012.

So in nearly four days in Panama I came into contact with precisely one Panamanian coin.

Non-collectors having this experience are not going to exactly rush to begin even a souvenir coin collection with just a single piece such as this.

So I have my memories of the Panama Canal, the old part of Panama City, a tree top tram ride and this single coin.

I also have my memory of what I did with it. I gave it to the hotel doorman who hailed a cab as I left. Even my numismatic heart could not be won by a single coin.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic 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.
• Hunter? Naturalist? Purchase the 2014 World of Hunting – Red Deer silver coin to add a majestic coin to your collection.