The unwritten law of bizarre coinage says that the risk correlates to
the length or complexity of the coin development process.
That is, the easier it is for a nation to issue a new coin, the more
likely it is that the end result will cause collectors worldwide to
scratch their heads and say, “Huh?”
A perfect example is a 100-won coin issued in 1996 from North Korea
featuring a mint-colorized Robin Hood on the reverse. It is part of
the World of Adventure series that also featured Robinson Crusoe
(another Brit). “World of Adventure” is a great title for a coin
series, but the series lacks Korean adventures, and ironically, the
people of North Korea are not even permitted to travel the world.
Pandering and profit are two of the most common reasons for the
existence of outlandish world coin designs. Issuers attempt to pander
to various types of world collectors or net a quick profit from
noncollectors by using a popular topic.
If you are going to pander, you could do worse than aiming your
efforts at Europe. The 1999 1,000-kwacha coin from Zambia has nothing
to do with Africa. The reverse features a mint-colorized replica of a
€500 bank note along with the legend EUROPEAN UNITY, ONE CURRENCY. The
sad irony here is that of a battered currency celebrating a stable
one. The kwacha has been ravaged by inflation. On June 2, the exchange
rate reached 7,190 kwacha to the U.S. dollar and 8,058 kwacha to the euro.
Cook Islands coin issuers have mastered the art of pandering,
issuing a high number of coins that have nothing to do with its
culture or history. One example is the 1999 half dollar with the
mint-colorized likeness of Garfield. This design of a cartoon cat
created by Indiana native Jim Davis panders to people who like or
collect mint-colorized coins, cartoon-related items, felines, and
The tragic story of the Titanic in the North Atlantic is
internationally known. Fiji took advantage of that fact for the 100th
anniversary of the ocean liner’s demise in 2012. Its silver-plated
mint-colored Titanic medal is an almost perfect duplicate of a
2012 Canadian 50-cent coin. The only readily apparent differences are
the lack of a denomination on the reverse side of the medal, the
presence of a slightly different portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the
obverse, and the word FIJI replacing D.G. REGINA. This unexplained
imitation has caused confusion. Some collectors bought the medal
thinking it was the Canadian coin.
The West African nation of Liberia has authorized enough weird coin
designs to fill a book, but in this column, we’ve only room for two
examples. The first, a mint-colorized $10 coin from 2004, is part of
the 24-coin series “Moments of Freedom.”
It requires research to find the link between a moment of freedom
and “The Gene Map 2000.” The idea was that the gene map will find the
genetic roots of disease, help develop new treatments, and eventually,
bring freedom from disease. Others in the series requiring a bit of
effort to understand include William Tell and Galileo.
My vote for Liberia’s most bizarre coin goes to the 2000 silver $10
commemorative coin with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee astride his
horse. This is the singular element on the reverse. Lee is not
featured with Gen. Grant, or with President Lincoln, although there
are other coins from Liberia with those combinations. Liberia is an
African nation founded by former American slaves. Did someone forget
that Lee owned slaves and fought for the survival of slavery on the
side of the Confederacy?
The next example is not only puzzling, it looks like a puzzle. In
fact, it is a rotating 5-franc calendar piece issued by Congo. The
very thing it is designed to be clear about, the date, is also what
makes it confusing. This coin has no date of mintage on it. It was
issued in 2004 with a calendar that can determine dates between 1995
and 2044, thus the 50-year calendar would be useful for only 40 years
from its time of issue.
The second Congolese coin is a 10-franc piece from 2007 made of
plastic. A coin made entirely of clear acrylic is not necessarily a
bad idea. But this one is 50 millimeters in diameter and 20
millimeters thick, so it does not fit any standard storage system. It
doesn’t come with a custom capsule either.
But it is the subject that makes it truly odd. You won't find an
African theme here.
This coin honors a Dutch admiral, Michiel de Ruyter (1607 to 1676).
Nothing in history, previous to this coin, links Congo to Adm. de
Ruyter or his native land.