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Government nixes fantasy coin

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By Richard Giedroyc

There are some very imaginative non-circulating legal tender commemorative coins (NCLT) to be collected.

There have been coins depicting the ill-fated ship Titanic issued in the name of a country bordering the Indian Ocean (The Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean.).

There have been coins issued depicting racing cars minted in the name of countries that can barely afford fuel for any combustible engine. There have been coins issued by yet other foreign countries depicting unauthorized images of living U.S. presidents, with no compensation being given to these men.

Dinosaurs, astronauts, Operation Desert Storm, and many more subjects have appeared on NCLT coins issued in the name of countries that had nothing to do with the event or the subject being depicted.

Many of these coins are sold accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Those of us who do not collect them have often wondered why a certificate of authenticity would be necessary. Who would ever counterfeit these coins?

Perhaps we were wrong. According to a May 22 Government of the British Virgin Islands press release, a noncirculating legal tender British Virgin Islands coin has not been counterfeited, someone has simply issued such a coin without the approval of the British Virgin Islands government!

A coin marking the Pope's visit to Brazil was not authorized by British Virgin Islands.

A coin marking the Pope's visit to Brazil was not authorized by British Virgin Islands.

Commemorative coins have been issued almost since when coins were first invented. The Battle of Marathon is celebrated by a crescent moon behind the owl on ancient silver tetradrachm coins of Athens. Ancient Roman emperors often commemorated events including military victories on their coins, bragging about victories even when in fact the campaign had been lost. Commemoratives have good propaganda value.

Many of the pre-unification German states celebrated the births, deaths, weddings, and baptisms of the local ruling family on commemorative coins. Beginning in 1952 the International Olympic Committee realized sales of commemorative coins marking the next upcoming Olympiad could be used to raise money to pay for the events.

Not long after this many governments began to realize that NCLT commemorative coins represent a profit center. So did the mints that strike such coins. Government-owned mints began dedicating more coining press time to such issues rather than to circulation strike coins.

Privately owned mints soon got into the act as well. Many of these mints will approach a foreign government, offering to pay that government for the rights to issue coins in the name of their nation. The mint rather than the government of that nation selects the subjects to appear on these coins. This allows the mint to sell the coins to non-collectors who are interested in the subject depicted. This is called target marketing. The bottom line is that in the mind of the buyers these objects are coins, not medals.

When a mint doesn’t have a host country in whose name the coins can be struck there are always fantasy places such as Atlantis, Sealand, and Bermania in whose name coins can be struck. There are also places such as South Georgia Island where there may or may not be any human habitation in whose name NCLT coins have been issued.

The problem the BVI government is now addressing is that someone issued coins in the name of the British Virgin Islands without permission from its government.

According to the BVI press release, “This ‘coin’ allegedly commemorates the visit of Pope Francis to Brazil and bears an image of Her Majesty the Queen on the front, together with the wording ‘British Virgin Islands.’

“All interested parties are advised that this ‘coin’ has never been approved by the government, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or Her Majesty the Queen.”

“Immediate action is being taken to investigate the perpetrators of this distribution. In the meantime, the government of the British Virgin Islands is alerting any potential purchasers that this item is not an authorized coin.”