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Are You Really Sure That's Money?
By Richard Giedroyc

We're being invaded, sort of. Perhaps someone has an overactive imagination or has stayed up too late at night. Coins have been recently appearing in the name of such places as the British Indian Ocean Territory, Darfur, Easter Island, Eregion, Galapagos Islands, L'ile d'Heliopolis, Massacre Island, Mosquitos, Nichtsburg et Zilchstadt, Sant Jordi, Stoltenhoff Island, and even Tatarstan. About the only place in whose name coins aren't being issued isn't of this earth. This would be the space station orbiting around us somewhere up there.

In stamp collecting, such issues would be called Cinderellas. In coin collecting, we often scratch our heads, then relegate most of these things to the Krause Unusual World Coins catalog. What few collectors and virtually none of the non-collecting public understands, is that these issues are not made to be used as money, but are coins of dubious legal tender status made by somebody simply to make a profit for themselves. Most are struck by privately owned rather than by government owned mints.

Fantasy issues are a specialized area of coin collecting. As long as the collector understands what he is buying, nothing is wrong. But the number of people who even know where these places are, if they exist, is another story. The Kingdom of Bermania, as an example, exists in the mind of well-known world coin dealer Allen Berman of Connecticut. Nevertheless, token coins have been issued in the name of Bermania, and the Bermaniacs hold court annually at certain coin shows.

Tatarstan is a breakaway republic that has negotiated to become a reasonably autonomous federal republic within the Russian Federation, so at least it physically exists. A 2008 set of seven commemorative ruble denominated coins depicting native wildlife is currently in the coin marketplace, but the legal tender status of these coins is in question. In the past Tatarstan has issued tokens that were redeemable for petrol or for bread, but no legal tender coinage has so far been identified.

The British Indian Ocean Territory consists of more than 1,000 islands making up the Chagos Archipelago. The largest of these islands, which doesn't say much for their size, is Diego Garcia, where the United States and Great Britain share a military installation. The Pobjoy Mint recently issued a copper-nickel 2009 �2 commemorative coin, the first ever issued in the name of the island group.

The Sultanate of Darfur is part of Sudan and has been making news recently due to the civil war and mass starvation of the civilian population, despite attempts at bringing in humanitarian aid. There is a 2008-dated set of seven dinar denominated coins on which African wildlife appear that have been recently encountered in coin collecting circles. No information was immediately available regarding who issued these coins or if proceeds from their sales would help bring humanitarian aid to the devastated region. One thing is certain - the coins do not circulate in Darfur or anywhere else in Sudan.

Easter Island is another strange place in whose name someone has issued coins. Once again these are commemoratives struck in 1,000- and 2,000-peso denominations. I don't know who would spend these on this rock way out in the Pacific Ocean.

Then there is Eregion, a second age realm settled by elves somewhere in the Lord of the Rings fiction books. This so-called coin is shaped like a holly leaf, with a song written on it in some fantasy Elvish language. Mercifully, only 750 pieces were struck, by whom is not known.

Even the Galapagos Islands has gotten into the act, despite the fact the islands are a national park on which no one is authorized to land without permission from the owner, that being Ecuador. A gold $100 and silver $25 commemorative, each dated 2009, have recently appeared. No gold or silver has ever been found there, but what makes these so-called coins interesting is that Ecuador uses U.S. coins rather than their own sucre denominations. Does that fact place these issues in the same nebulous area as are coins of the Marshall Islands, a U.S. protectorate that is not authorized to issue coins but does anyway?

Massacre Island, also known as the Isle du Massacre or as Dauphin Island, is off the coast of Alabama. In 1699 it was settled by the French, being named due to human (likely Indian) bones found on the coast due to a disturbed burial mound. Be careful if you encounter one of these coins; they, too, are disturbing. Someone has recently issued 1699-dated 1-sol coins depicting French King Louis XIV on the obverse, with heraldry including three skulls on the shield on the reverse. The fantasy is struck in the style you would expect of a French coin of the late 17th century.

Mosquitos and Sant Jordi are both off the coast of Africa and have been claimed by another non-entity calling itself the Kingdom of Riboalte, which is itself somewhere in Spain. Ringed bimetal 1-riboalte coins dated 2009 have been recently issued in the name of each of these rocky shoals.

Nichtsburg et Zilchstadt and Heliopolis are another story. Neither of these places exist, but it didn't stop coin collector Eric Victor McCrea from issuing coins. McCrea issued 2007-dated 1-miden coins for Nichtsburg et Zilchstadt on which he appropriately placed the legend Omnia Fint ex Nihilo, which translates to "everything is created from nothing." Incidentally, miden is Greek for zero. His 2008 L'ile d'Heliopolis half coles coin is composed of glass.

According to world coin dealer Joel Anderson in Grover Beach, Calif., "He [McCrea] announced there would be no further issues."

Don't let the sophisticated name Stoltenhoff Island or the excellent depiction of the ships appearing on the 8 pence to crown denominated coins issued in the name of this place fool you. You would be hard pressed to spend these coins as money on Stoltenhoff Island, considering the island is uninhabited. The Stoltenhoff brothers, Gustav and Friedrich, attempted to settle the place between 1871 and 1873. Today the island is governed by Tristan da Cuhna, who authorized the 2008 coins through the Commonwealth Mint.

Not to be excluded is the 2008 ringed bimetal $10 coin of Westarctica issued by Grand Duke Philip I, who sources tell me has never visited this desolate place. At least the folks who issued the Hutt River Province coins in Western Australia actually live there.

 



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