In the July 4, 2011, issue of Coin World, Rita Laws wrote a “Going Topical” article titled, “Turtles a popular coin collecting theme. At least 36 nations showcase turtles on coins.”
That seemed like quite a few countries at the time. I remember wondering, if someone had the interest, how would one get turtle coins from all those countries? Well, I can tell you now that at least 58 nations showcase turtles on coins (and paper money). And I have collected samples from 50 of them.
I thought collecting turtle coins would be a perfect way to engage my significant other, Lisa, in my coin collecting hobby. We saw a large green sea turtle while snorkeling in Maui and turtles became a special symbol of our relationship. We went to a coin show in Omaha, Neb., and bought a 1992 50-tene coin from Cook Islands, a 1941 sixpence coin from Fiji and a 1985 dollar coin from Tuvalu.
After returning home from the coin show, I told my co-workers at the Des Moines coin store that I work at about the new direction my coin collecting hobby had taken. They asked if I was aware of Hard Times tokens. An 1837 token has a tortoise on the obverse and a donkey on the reverse. Hard Times tokens are large cent sized copper tokens, struck from about 1833 through 1843, and they served as unofficial currency during a time of political and financial crisis in the United States. I bought the one example our store had. That weekend, I went to the other coin store in Des Moines and purchased a 1984 50-laari coin from the Maldive Islands.
Later that month, I dusted off my eBay account and bought a 1974 1-seniti coin from Tonga, a 1990 5-toea coin from Papua New Guinea, a 1994 1-escudo coin from Cape Verde, a 1935 sixpence coin from Fiji and a 2011 silver bullion $2 coin from Fiji.
Over the course of the next few months, the rules started to form. If copper-nickel and silver versions existed for a coin, I would go for the copper-nickel coin. I didn’t want to pay more for the coin than what was listed in the world coin price guides. Also, I decided that I only needed one turtle coin or note from a country.
It wasn’t long before the rules were broken. Something about Fiji sixpence coins appealed to me. Fiji issued 15 of these coins from 1934 to 1967; eight are made out of silver and seven are composed of copper-nickel. The silver ones can get pricey at the higher grades, but I think the most expensive one only cost me $45. I now have them all, buying some from local dealers and others on eBay. Still others were given to me by a friend.
I used the PDF versions of the Standard Catalog of World Coins books to greatly expand my list of turtle-themed coins and notes that have been minted.
My favorite turtle coin is a reproduction of the ancient Aegina turtle coin. Aegina is an island in the Aegean Sea, southwest of Athens in Greece. Around 700 B.C., the state of Aegina started making silver coins with sea turtles on the obverse side and an incuse square on the reverse side. This was such an important coin for ancient Greece, and I wanted it represented in my collection. I just couldn’t see spending $400 to $700 for the real coin, but a $40 reproduction shows what I like about this coin very well.
My favorite turtle note is the 2011 10-amero note of the Federation of North America. An idea being floated that there should be a common currency (like the euro) called the amero between Canada, the United States and Mexico. This note was printed in Canada in “preparation” of this union. The note depicts a bridge crossing the three nations. As the bridge disappears into the sky, a turtle appears. I like the design and novelty of this note.
In total, I have 96 turtle coins, tokens and notes from 50 different countries. This breaks down to 71 coins and tokens from 42 countries and 21 notes from 20 countries. I am still looking for turtle coins from the British Virgin Islands, North Korea, Norway, Russia, Tokelau, Ukraine and Vanuatu. I am still looking for turtle notes from the Bahamas and Guatemala.
I used to joke with my co-workers when I had five turtle coins that “this is the largest turtle coin collection in the greater Des Moines area.” Now that it is up to 96, I boldly claim this is the largest turtle coin and note collection in the entire state of Iowa. If someone does have a larger collection, I am sure Coin World would enjoy hearing about it.
Bob Carr got back into coin collecting a few years ago after “taking a few decades off” from the hobby. He is a member of the Des Moines Coin Club and Ames Coin Club, both in Iowa.