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Protean Coinage


As readers may have noticed, a chief concern of the Rag Tree is beauty in its many forms; RT sees no reason why this topic should not include coinage, which from its introduction in the 6th century B.C. has included superb examples of the minter’s art.

But RT also thinks that there is something special (or peculiar, depending on one’s viewpoint) about the beauty of coins. In the first place, they are legal tender, and thus a sign of competence, success, and power. They are usually issued, moreover, by a government, and thus reflect that government’s strength and financial stability. And, until recently, coinage had a value based in its constituent metal, most often gold or silver, but occasionally extending to platinum and palladium. Paper money and base-metal coinage are inventions of the modern age.


Coins are as intimate as a dime in someone’s pocket, as distant as a gold tremissis issued in Europe 1,300 years ago. This kind of beauty has a powerful hold over us, independent of its value.

And RT should know. When he was a boy, he adopted his older brother’s interest in coin collecting, and at one point had several albums full of pennies, nickels,  and dimes. But as he entered his teenage years, his interests moved onto other things (including poetry); it was only when he had to start paying rent that the reality of money’s practical uses was driven home to him.

Creator of all wealth? Source of all evil? A convenient medium of exchange? RT prefers to say that money (and especially coinage) is a reflection of human need and obsession. To no small extent, we are the money that we earn, save, and spend, and how we do these things reflects our inner values and achievements.    RT


Photo: top:  Greek_Silver_Hemidrachm_of_Tegea_(Arcadia), mid-5th century B.C.; WikiCmns; CC 2.0 Generic; author: Exekias. bottom: Golden Tremissis, Europe, 7th-century A.D.; WikiCmns; Public Domain.


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