Hunting for the first coin issued by nations around the world provides inexpensive fun

Going Topical column from the Sept. 1, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 08/14/14
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Stamp collectors call them “Number ones,” the first stamp ever issued by any given nation.

This is a fascinating way to collect world coins, too. And this specialty lends itself well to different budgets.

While the first coin type ever minted by a centuries-old country could be very expensive, the firsts of newer nations are typically low cost. These collections can be expanded by pursuing different types of number ones within the same nation, such as the first Mint set or commemorative.

New nations are born nearly each year as boundaries or names change, or both. Our planet’s political climate is so dynamic, this is the type of collection that by definition can never be completed. This specialty is all about the journey, not the destination.

One of Canada’s firsts that is not difficult to find is its first 20-cent coin. In 1858, the first and only 20-cent coin that Canada would ever produce was made in silver with the bust of Queen Victoria on the obverse. Newfoundland and New Brunswick issued this denomination longer than the Province of Canada; however, the 20-cent coin was a short-lived experiment overall.

Samoa made it simple for first-coin collectors in 1967 after achieving independence from New Zealand when its 1-tala coins were issued with cards that read: “Specimen coin, First Minting of Western Samoa’s own coins.” Edge lettering on the coin reflects the date that it was introduced.

Today, U.S. dollars circulate freely alongside the tala coins, especially since the territory of American Samoa is next door.

Former British colonies are a rich source of first-type coins because many are now independent.

British Honduras became Belize in 1973 and issued its first coins that year. The first dollar coins came in 1974. Great Britain formally granted independence in 1981 so Belize has both an unofficial and an official year of independence. Perhaps a true firsts representation should include at least one coin dated 1973 or 1974 and one from 1981.

Italian Somaliland minted its last coins in 1925, and officially, Somalia claims 1960 as its year of independence. However, this means the one-year-only 1950 Elephant Head coins in of 1-, 5-, and 10-centesimo denominations (issued while Italy administered Somalia as a United Nations trust) are the closest thing to its first coinage.

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