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Legal Tender Touchy Topic
February 20, 2008



Steve Bieda, a Michigan hobbyist and member of the state's legislature wants to crack down on advertisements for questionable coins from questionable countries.

Many collectors would laud his attempt at consumer protection. They see red when coins from the Marshall Islands can't be redeemed when taken to the Marshall Islands.

However writing law is a tricky thing. It has to apply equally to everybody and to every country. You might want to take aim at one, but you likely will hit unintended targets.

If the news story I read is accurate, the broad brush of the law would make it illegal to advertise that the European Union's euro was legal tender in Michigan without a disclaimer that it "cannot be exchanged or redeemed at face value for U.S. currency in the United States."

The five-euro note and the 50 euro cents coin I had left in my pocket when I came back from Berlin are not readily exchangeable for U.S. money for face value though they are legal tender all the same. I know. I spent way too many euros while I was in Germany. The question isn't legal tender status, it is the cost of using the banking system to make foreign exchange transactions.

The new commemorative two-euro coin introduced by Germany is legal tender, but I wouldn't want to attempt to exchange one for U.S. currency. That's why some airports have donor boxes for good causes. It is well known that coins and small bills cannot be redeemed because the fees involved far exceed the face value. Tourists make the best of it and give to good causes as a result.

Some people can be misled by claims of legal tender. That's not a point I would disagree with. It is sad to think that numismatics would now mark coin related items like we do stepladders.

Perhaps we should ask foreign countries for edge lettering on all of their coins saying, "This cannot be spent in the United States of America."

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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, Bank Note Reporter 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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