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Euro or Not, Here I Come
January 25, 2012



It is almost time for me to go to the World Money Fair in Berlin. It will be held during the first weekend in February at the same time as the Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo.

There is much to be done before I leave on Monday, but for today I am simply thinking about the possible lessons the euro notes and coins might have to teach us here in the United States.

The euro notes start at the 5-euro denomination. Because the notes increase in size as the denomination rises, it creates a problem. The 5-, 10- and 20-euro notes fit into my wallet. The 50 does not. I have to fold it in half from top to bottom if I want to fit one in my wallet, or I can just leave it sticking out of the wallet I carry in my back pocket.

I’ve tried it both ways. Folding the note makes my wallet thicker and more uncomfortable to sit on. Leaving the top edge of the 50-euro note sticking out subjects it to strange wear patterns that usually involves tearing and crumpling. It also shows I am carrying cash to anyone who sees me take it out of my pocket.

I have never carried the 100, 200 or 500-euro notes. I don’t want to. The 50-euro is enough of an inconvenience.

Germany is more of a cash society than the United States is, so I like to have a little walking around money before I depart, including the 50-euro notes to pay for the expensive taxi rides to the center of the city and my appointments there.

The coins are another matter. I take my American preference for paper money with me.

There is a McDonald’s near the Estrel hotel that I have used as a point of experimentation with coins. Spending 1- and 2-euro coins for coffee is fine as far as it goes, but I still worry about the coins rolling out of my pants pockets.

On a trip several years back I had accumulated quite a few 20-eurocent coins and I chose to spend 15 of them to get an Egg McMuffin and a coffee just before jumping into a taxi to the airport.

The clerk was a little startled with the handful of 20-eurocent coins, but once she counted them out and found they covered the 2.97 euro bill, I received a 1- and a 2-eurocent coin as change.

Both are smaller than the current U.S. cent. These could be the American future as they are made of copper-coated steel.

Do we want future U.S. coinage to look like the past? Should the cent, if it survives, continue to be a copper color, preserving the illusion of monetary continuity, or do we want a complete break with the past and start something new? What a about introducing a 2-cent denomination?

The U.S. usually opts for continuity as was the case when it adopted copper-nickel clad coins in 1965 to replace silver coins because they have similar electromagnetic signatures and a predominantly silvery color.

In 1982 when the copper-coated zinc cent was introduced, it closely resembled the 95-percent copper coins it was replacing.

Dramatically smaller dollar coins jarred the public when they were introduced in 1979 and the public still hasn’t gotten used to them and won’t use them even as they were given a golden color to prevent confusion with the quarter.

Using euro notes and coins makes me have to think about what I am doing. That’s the problem. None of us in the United States really wants to do that, so continuity is the safe bet.



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Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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