I was reminded the other day of one of my favourite quotes from Douglas Adams’s Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
“The exchange rate of 8 Ningys to one Galactic PU is simple enough. However, since a Ningy is a triangular rubber-coin, 6800 miles along each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one PU.
“Besides which, if you did ever own enough, you would have a great deal of trouble exchanging them, as most banks refuse to deal in small change.”
Adams perhaps had an idea that banking systems involve relying on everyone having a vivid imagination – or perhaps he was just struck by the very odd coins you see around sometimes.
Here are five of our favourites:
The 1 tonne kangaroo
Whilst we’ve never come across a Ningy, (though the quest goes on…) extra-large coins are nothing new. We’re currently offering a William III gold Five Guineas coin which is the largest denomination British Coin ever produced in the pre-decimal era.
Perth mint recently unveiled the largest coin this world has ever seen however. Featuring Queen Elizabeth II on one side and a kangaroo on the other, it weighs 1,000kg (1 metric ton) and is made of 24 karat gold.
Measuring nearly 80cm wide and more than 12cm deep, it’s probably the first coin ever that you can lose your sofa down the back of.
Holey dollar and dump
Aussies have never regularly traded in coins heavier than themselves, but they have used a bizarrely mutilated pair of coin kinds known as the Holey Dollar and Dump.
Using an idea once tried on Prince Edward Island, in 1812 Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales stamped out the centres of 40,000 Spanish dollars to fix a currency shortage – a rather literal way of doubling his money.
The centres (known as ‘dumps’) stamped with a crown on the obverse and the denomination of 15 pence on the reverse whilst the rims (now known as ‘holey dollars’) were stamped around the hole with ‘New South Wales 1813’ on the obverse and ‘Five Shillings’ on the reverse.
At least Macquarie started with ordinary coins. During the English Civil War some towns were besieged, and found that one of the many problems was a shortage of coins to pay soldiers and for ordinary trade.
Citizens were requested to offer up their silver plates and bowls, which were then hacked up and handed round as ‘siege money’. Sometimes these were made to look similar to ordinary coins, but mostly they looked like hacked up plates and bowls.
Scarborough Siege money
Regardless, they kept the soldiers happy for a bit, and some are now very valuable: a Scarborough siege sixpence coin once sold for £42,000 at Dix Noonan Webb, for example.
In this month of November, the ‘Movember’ craze has men growing moustaches for charity. It’s a suitable time to think back on beard tokens.
Peter the Great beard token
In 1705 laws instituted by Peter the Great attempted to press nobles and commoners alike into shaving. A heavy tax was levied each year on those who refused to comply. Beard tokens were given as receipts for payment: cheap bronze ones for the commoners and silver ones for the nobles.
Dyslexic Roman forgery
Last year, a Roman coin found by Rob Clements was declared by many to be the most incompetent forgery of all time.
Seemingly based on a the design of a coin marking the battle of Actium between Augustus and the joint forces of Anthony and Cleopatra, it displays the head of Julius Caesar rather than Augustus on the face, the image of a crocodile faces the wrong direction compared to the original, and the spelling of ‘Egypt’ is wrong.
This probably makes it more valuable than a genuine one – indeed the British Museum suggested it might be worth £3,000. It helps that, for whatever reason, the ‘forger’ chose to make it from solid silver, probably making it worth more than its face value anyway.