It’s a curious thing, currency. It’s been with us for millennia. We use it unthinkingly every day. It underpins the security of world markets. We all want more of it. Less and less of it is actually physically transacted in our electronic age.
I’ve been doing a bit of autumn cleaning and I discovered a tatty cardboard box at the back of the sideboard. It disintegrated as I opened it, coins rolling everywhere which is a little worrying on polished gappy floorboards! Rounding them up and re-boxing them in a handy Rington’s tin, I then took some time to examine the contents.
They are fascinating. Objects of history; the oldest date I can identify being a Portuguese coin from 1797, with a crown and the legend Maria 1 Dei Gratia (by the grace of God). It’s copper based, but for some reason has a reddish tinge. It fascinates me to wonder about the journey of such a coin, and how it eventually ended up in a small terrace in northern England. How many hands must it have passed through? What did it purchase?
Equally fascinating are the second world war currencies. There are 13 tiny Hong Kong 1 cent bank notes that have been folded for who knows how long, that were issued as emergency war currency in 1941 following the repeated sinking of coinage on it’s way to the island. There are German bank notes from 1939, beautifully illustrated. There is also a third reich coin, complete with swastika. This coin fascinates me – it is of little value but it is the actual visual significance of what I am seeing, handling, contemplating – and it’s place in history that is tugging at my consciousness. I’m not quite sure what to do with it.
Then there is the Palestinian 35mils coin from 1935. This is a nation state that doesn’t even exist anymore. Less than a hundred years on, this coin is obsolete. It’s also strangely pretty; shaped a bit like a copper polo!
This is just my first excavation of the box. There are about 150 more coins to go; copper pennies, silver sixpences, threepenny bits. Who knows what else?
It feels like a box of history. There are so many stories to be told. Where did they come from, and how did they end up in my sideboard (a family heirloom on my husband’s side)? I don’t know. But I’m willing to follow their glittering trail.