December 20th, 2012

My Two Cents’ Worth: A Pocketful of Wry

When numismatists speak of “odd and curious” items, they’re referring to Yap stones, Swedish plate money and similarly strange objects that have seen use through the centuries as mediums of exchange.

In this month’s column, the phrase “odd and curious” refers not to offbeat money, but rather to oddball news items dealing with coins or currency.

I hope you’ll indulge me if, in recapping each item, I make some observations that also might be described as odd and curious.
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A pizza purchase in Battle Ground, British Columbia, involved a lot more dough than the clueless buyer realized. According to police in Washington State, the 19-yearold man paid for the pizza, in part, with “an old Liberty quarter” worth thousands of dollars—at its face value of 25 cents.

The coin was part of a collection stolen from a home in Woodland, Washington— allegedly by the pizza buyer and his girlfriend. The homeowner claims the pair stole her coins after being hired for chores around the house.

The man was arrested on suspicion of first-degree theft. Booking of his girlfriend was deferred because she was nine months pregnant. Authorities first became aware of the spending spree when an employee of the pizza parlor called and sought a $1,000 reward for the “Liberty quarter,” which police did not further identify except to say it was worth “$1,100 to $18,500.”

The hapless perpetrators could have avoided all this unpleasantness if they had simply chosen a different kind of fast-food restaurant—say, Subway, Quiznos or Arby’s—and paid their bill with the sandwich-type coins being minted today by Uncle Sam.
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An airport baggage handler has been arrested in the theft of $20,000 in unreleased $100 bills bearing new design features meant to deter counterfeiting.

An FBI agent said the C-notes were sto-len from cargo on a plane after it arrived from Dallas at Philadelphia International Airport. The bills were part of a shipment bound for a Federal Reserve facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A courier service transporting the shipment from the airport to East Rutherford reported that the money’s container had been opened—and upon investigation, federal officials discovered that some of it was missing.

The bills incorporate new, hard-toduplicate design elements, including a “disappearing” Liberty Bell in a coppercolored inkwell and a bright blue, threedimensional security ribbon.

The revamped “Benjamins” originally were scheduled to debut in February 2011, but the BEP suspended their release indefinitely when some of the bills emerged from initial production runs with paper creases. Now, with a 2013 release date being planned, a new wrinkle has developed:

The bills contain plenty of safeguards against counterfeiting—but remain as susceptible as ever to common theft.
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Among the oddest and most curious forms of money to surface in recent months was a set of special coins issued by New Zealand to coincide with the premiere of “The Hobbit,” a new movie that revisits characters from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The coins reflect the whimsy of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s sprawling fantasy about an imagined land called Middle Earth. They portray major characters from the “Hobbit” book and movie and bear the inscription “New Zealand/Middle Earth” in both English and “Dwarvish.”

A group of three one-ounce gold coins was offered by New Zealand’s official marketing firm for $10,995. With gold worth roughly $1,700 an ounce, each was being marketed for more than twice its intrinsic value. Then again, money is no object for some coin buyers. And if enough people purchase “Hobbit” coins, they might even form a Middle Earth version of the Token and Medal Society.

They could call it the Tolkien and Middle Society.

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