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New Zealand Lions Collect Obsolete Coins
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
May 13, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The Lions Club of New Zealand is promoting its Heads Up for Kids benevolence program while funding it by collecting pocket change New Zealander’s keep in their homes but never use.

The Heads Up for Kids program might as well be a continuation of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s “Change for the Better” program of 2005, at which time the 5-cent coin became obsolete. The central bank argued the 5-cent coin was valued at about a third of what a cent purchased in 1967 when New Zealand first introduced decimal coins, and for that reason should be withdrawn.

The 2005 changes included reducing the diameter of the existing 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coin denominations, while changing their composition to a lighter, less expensive metal. It was particularly important to change the diameter of the 10-cent coin since the coin closely resembled the circulating dollar coin. Contemporary reports indicate the similarity was so close people were putting two 10-cent coins into parking meters sandwiched together and receiving a dollar’s worth of parking time without jamming the mechanism.

The coins issued through 2005 are composed of copper and nickel, while the later coins are plated steel. Since the newer coins have magnetic properties it has been estimated the changeover helped remove about $5 million in foreign coins from circulation due to the magnetic signature of the newer domestic coins.

The older and larger 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins as well as the 5 cent ceased to be legal tender after October 31, 2006, although they remain redeemable at the central bank.

That was seven years ago. What happened to the coins that weren’t redeemed? According to Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s “Old Money Facts,” the average domestic household still has 200 old and foreign coins in its possession. Men hoard more coins than do women. The average New Zealander carries nine or 10 coins on his or her person, although the central bank information did not indicate the average face value of these coins being carried. The highest denomination now in circulation is $2.

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One of the more interesting factoids is that the bank issued more than 500 million of the now obsolete 5-cent coins between 1967 and 2006. An astonishing 350 million of these coins were never recovered. This is about 70 percent of the coins that are still being hoarded.

The last statistic is what likely caught the attention of the Lions Club of New Zealand. Seizing on these facts the organization has come up with a number of positive promotional points based on funding their program by collecting the delinquent obsolete coins.

Among these points is that the Heads Up for Kids funding initiative saves taxpayers the cost of buying new coins since the old coins will be recycled. The Lions are promoting that they will recycle the copper and nickel—“The metals that the older coins were made from can be sold for scrap metal and recycled.”

Another point being made is that the efforts of the Lions Club will boost the economy by bringing what they call idle money back into circulation. Building on this, if it is true there are 350 million 5-cent coins that have never been recovered this represents $1.755 million New Zealand (about $1.5 million U.S.). This still ignores the potential value of the outstanding demonetized 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins.

The Lions Club fund raiser brings the hoarding of obsolete coins to the forefront. The situation is not unique to New Zealand. There are news stories in the Around the World column almost monthly of coin shortages being caused by coins being scrapped for metal content value that exceeds the face value of the coins. Not all of these are obsolete issues. There are coin buyers sweeping the United States almost continuously seeking obsolete silver and gold coins still being hoarded by the general public.

Perhaps the Lions Club initiative will become contagious in other countries, especially since the coins they seek have scrap value but are not precious metals.

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