A Penny, Lira, Peso, Etc, For Your Thoughts

So, you were asking how it was that I began collecting foreign coins.  You weren’t??!  Well, get with the program here.  I’ve got an ego to support.  Alright, don’t beg.  I will reveal all.

Once upon a time….I like that opening so much more than, “In the beginning”!  My father had a few coins tucked away in a fireproof cashbox.  They included some old Canadian large-pennies, bigger than quarters.  They were fifty years old or more, I’m embarrassed to say I sneaked a few out to buy penny candy.  No wonder the store keeper was so happy to accept them.  In a fit of remorse, I bought a bunch back for him when I was in my forties, at a dollar apiece.

He also had a few foreign coins.  He may have just picked them out of pocket change, or he may have got them from servicemen returning from Europe when he was stationed in Halifax during W.W. II.  However he got them, as a Scottish child, I was always interested in money.  Money maybe, but not always coins.  I worked in a bank for almost a year.  An 18 year-old kid, and I walked seventeen $1000 bills a mile down the street one day, but still had no real interest in coins.

When I worked at the metal-fab plant, I liked to take my breaks and lunches with the guys in the plant.  If I stayed at/near my desk, there was always somebody asking, “Can you check this?  Can you phone this guy?”  As I’ve said, the list of nationalities working there was varied.  The other young guy in my department was born before me, during the Second World War, and was brought to Canada as soon as they could get out, after hostilities ended.  I asked him one day what country, and found that, by the time he emigrated; he had lived in three countries, and never left the house.  They kept re-aligning the borders.  His family was *German*, but he was born in Austria, then his village became part of Hungary, and finally settled in Czechoslovakia.

Especially around vacation time, I would hear guys say, “I’m going home to see my parents.” Or, “I just got back from visiting my grandparents.”  Often I would ask where – Poland, Portugal, Italy, Romania.  One day one of them said, “I’ve still got some coins left from the trip,” and pulled them out.  The first ones were Polish, I believe.  I oohed and aahed, and he asked, “Do you want them?”  I never saw the bus coming.  I said, sure.  Not even knowing what to do with them, I showed them to the wife, and left them on the dresser.

A couple of days later, one of the other guys said, “You took some Polish coins from Potrzebi, would you like my Portuguese pesetas?”  Oh great, can’t insult him.  Sure.  I went back into the office and commented on how I had just acquired coins from two European countries, and a newly hired female clerk piped up, “I just came here from Peru.  Would you like some Peruvian coins?”  Well, the genie’s out of the bottle now, might as well.

Now I started watching for foreign coins, and discovered that there were quite a few floating around, if you kept your eyes open for them.  I also started asking guys in the plant, “Going home to Jamaica at Christmas?  Bring me a few coins back.”

Strangely enough at that time, I could not find a local coin club.  There was one in the smaller city fifteen miles away, so, once a month I would drive over and attend a meeting.  They were concentrated on Canadian coins, with maybe some American, but there were always a couple of dealers with a slush-box which included cheap foreign coinage that I could buy for ten, or twenty-five cents each.  One night, at the club auction, I went wild and spent two dollars for a two-headed coin.  It’s a British, Churchill commemorative Crown, with the Queen on the front, and bull-dog Winston on the back.  It’s the only legal English coin with the face of anyone but a monarch on it.  They say Cromwell doesn’t count.  He was just a usurper.

As people found out about my foreign coins, I got more and more donations from people who got stuck with them in change.  My wife’s twenty-year-older sister was a Catholic nun who was a house-mother to foreign female teen-age students at an English convent boarding school.  It used to be a sign of good luck to place money in the wall of a newly erected building.  The convent decided that they wished the dining hall renovated, and the beautiful, old, dark, oak wainscoting was ripped off the walls.  Out rolled this thin, quarter-sized coin.

Our nun picked it up.  At first she thought it was something from a game, perhaps like Monopoly, something one of the girls had shoved in.  As she looked at it, she realized it was a real coin, worn till it was almost illegible, but real.  She saved it, and when her contract was up and she returned to Canada, she gave it to me.  It turned out to be a silver, Edward II, short-cross sixpence.  It was minted between 1547 and 1552, the years of his reign.  Back then, they didn’t date coins.  It’s badly worn, but still worth about $25.

I have coins from places like Russia, and Cuba, where coins aren’t legally allowed to leave.  Collecting foreign coins is an exercise in both geography and history.  Where’s that coin from?  South Pacific?  Where exactly?  British East Africa?  That’s Mali now.  French West Africa?  That’s Zimbabwe.

I have WW II coins, both from free France, with their Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite motto, and from German-occupied France, where the Nazi-imposed motto was Travail, Famille, Patrie – Work, Family, Homeland.

The best historical run of coins I have starts with the Weimar Republic, soon to be incorporated into the newly organized Germany.  I have pre-war German coins and Nazi-German coins. I have East German coins and West German coins.  I have re-unified German coins, and finally German-minted Euro coins.

I have over 500 coins, from over 100 countries, and still keep an eye out for more.  The Scotsman has found that money isn’t just for saving, or occasionally, grudgingly, for spending.  It can be fun, and educational.

It’s Only Fair

First, I attended the Multicultural Festival.  All I had to do was eat and ogle, for both of which I am eminently over-qualified.  Then I had to expend a little more energy to transport the daughter and her stuff, and set her and her friend up for the Cherry Park Festival.

Friday night, the city held its annual cruise night.  They block off six blocks of the main street, centered on the city hall, assemble three hundred antique cars at the big park, and have them do a drive-past to their assigned spots.  Antique to them is anything over twenty-five years old.  Antique to me is anything older than I am.  I don’t want to see a Bondo-filled example of some rusted-out piece of crap I had to junk.

Sadly, there were only two Corvettes, neither of them the scoop-side model that I adore, but the newer StingRay.  There were some older vehicles. The oldest was a 1902 something whose name I don’t remember.  Back then, there were lots of tiny little companies which made a few cars a year.  Ford was the first to install the assembly line.  It’s like the local Bob’s Motors, a real name to conjure with.  Would you buy a car from a place called Bob’s?  Some people do.  I see the occasional licence-plate ring.  Or the German-named Wunder Car Sales.  I think his motto is, “If you get a good car, it’s a Wunder!”

Sunday, the daughter and I went to another Free-Thinkers’ meeting, more on that in a later post.  The first time we went, the city was having a Car-Free Sunday, and the entire main street was closed to traffic.  The handicapped lady had to hobble two blocks to the venue.  This  Sunday they merely closed off three blocks and lined up tables in an attempt to set a Guinness record for the longest/largest picnic.

Saturday I transported the daughter, her friend and all their stuff to the big park and helped (?) set them up for the Anti-Violence Festival.  It’s held on a wooded island.  The daughter’s gazebo tent and a couple of other, unprotected displays were the only ones to be in the sun most of the day.  The Liberal Party suddenly packed up and left about 2 PM.  Maybe they got too hot.  Maybe they had to rush off to buy another vote.  Attendance was poor, perhaps because of the heat.  Once you got there, under the trees, it was nice, but the getting there was hot, hot, hot!

Again, commerce was the unifying factor, but both the sales and community-service displays were a little more towards the “hippy, tree-hugger” end of the social spectrum.  Booths included Bahai, Sexual Assault Support, the YM and YWCAs, Healing Gemstones, Hatha Yoga, the Liberal political party, who bailed early, Transition K-W, which is a bit like the Unlearn group, teaching new ways to conserve and preserve water, air and land.

There was the Qigong Oasis teaching oriental ways and thought processes, a Ride-For-Cancer sign-up booth, some mostly organic-type, snacks and drinks, and a booth teaching meditation.  The local Aids Awareness group was there trying cut down on bullying and harassment of gays.  The Barterworks group was there, and a group called Time Banks.  They trade services.  I fix your toilet, you repair his car, he shampoos someone else’s carpet, and so on, and so on.  The Conservative party was not represented, but the NDP was, as well as the save-the-environment Green Party.

The Human Rights people were there, as was the Right To Vote group.  That surprised me.  I thought that everyone, of-age, in Canada had the right to vote.  There was a booth promoting the upcoming Link Festival, which is like the Multicultural Festival, just without all the food.  I saw Dollars and Sense, a monetary reform advocate group, World Without Wars, Earth-Friendly Living and Hope Stream.

I picked up a lapel button which reads Imaginez La Paix, which means Imagine the Peace, in French.  The French are serious about peace.  The only country which has surrendered more, and faster, is Egypt, during the Six-Day Israeli War.  Put down the guns, put up the hands.

There was a group called Fair Vote, which is a proponent of proportional representation.  They don’t think it’s right that any political party which garners only a few more votes than its opponents, gets a majority government, while, for example, the Green Party gets a million votes, but only one seat in government.  They had a huge bowl of wrapped caramel candies that they urged people to take.  Once you’d peeled the wrapper off, you were supposed to vote for one of the three main parties by dropping the wrapper through one of three labeled holes in a sheet of Plexiglas.  When you did that, you saw that every wrapper wound up in the same shiny galvanized garbage pail with a sign that said, “That’s where all your votes go.”

On Saturday, as we were doing Anti-Violence, our twin city up the road was holding an AfroFest.  Next week, in our big park, there will be a Craft Beer and Ribsfest.  On the 28th, in a smaller park, nearer to us, is a Croatian FoodFest.  There’s food and foreign culture from all over the world in this city.

The Link Festival is in early August, and, in early September, there will be a Word On The Street Festival, with book sales, free books, learn-to-read groups, and lots of other Printed S**t.  There is a small WordsWorth bookstore downtown, and three book exchanges/second-hand.  The entire family are friends with two of the proprietors, with me going back 45 years, five locations and three owners, at one.  I imagine we’ll all turn out for that one.  Among the three of us, we have almost as many books in this house as the smallest of the three stores.