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Birth Year Set Completed
By Dr. R.S. 'Bart' Bartanowicz
Coins Magazine

It was well over a year ago when our numismatist made the decision to assemble a world coin birth year set honoring his birth year of 1941. The announcement of this quest was published in the February 2008 installment of this column. The task was simple, he would acquire one 1941-dated coin from each country.

The announcement of this quest quickly set off tremors throughout the numismatic world. Comments ranged from "lots of people have tried this before but without success" to "he can't do it" to "more numismatists need to take on challenges like this" to "this fellow is setting the pace" to "this man needs a life - retirement has obviously provided him with too much time on his hands."

The most cutting of the comments was, "What makes him so special that he wants to honor his birth year with a coin set? What presumption!"

With encouragement and criticism, our numismatist started off on the task of acquiring one 1941-dated coin from each of the 60+ countries that had minted coins that year. The criteria was simple, the coin had to be from 1941 and undamaged. If there were several denominations our numismatist would chose the design he liked best. There was also a spending limit of no more than $5 per coin unless it was a rarity in terms of numbers minted or grade.

The acquisition strategy was through coin shows, coin dealers, online auctions and any other sources, including the generosity of friends. Also, from time to time our numismatist added 1941 coins from countries he had somehow failed to pick up in his review of the Standard Catalog of World Coins.

Some coins proved nearly impossible to find on the open market, such as the 1941 Hong Kong five-cent piece. Another was the 1941 Yemen 1/40 riyal. In these cases, as well as a couple of others, he chose to substitute a "type example." A type example being the same coin design and denomination but another year. For instance, he used a 1938 Hong Kong five-cent piece that is the identical design of the 1941 to fulfill his requirement and serve as a place holder until he found a 1941 five-cent piece.

Upon acquiring the Hong Kong five-cent piece, our numismatist declared his task as complete. His collection included 64 countries with a coin from each country. The collection included an educational paper and a list describing each coin.

Our numismatist was pleased with his work. He would present the results in a program to his local coin clubs. He would also be displaying his 1941 set at local coin shows.

He had learned a lot about the countries and the coins. Of course, 1941 was a sparse year for coin production because of World War II. Many countries were not minting any coins at all.

When all was said and done, he had fun. He had met a lot of new people including dealers and fellow collectors. As to cost, he had probably spent a couple of hundred dollars - not counting a couple of high-priced scarcer coins. He was satisfied and he had fun. And he had acquired an appreciation and respect for world coins and the people who collect them.

Well, that's the story. And yes, it's all about me.

A couple of things bear mentioning. First of all, I did not set off tremors in the numismatic world. Secondly, the concept of birth year sets is not foreign (pun intended), as most collectors have assembled U. S. birth year sets before.

In terms of cost, most world coins are very affordable. There are exceptions based on rarity or grade. For instance, one of the more difficult 1941 coins is the Southern Rhodesia one shilling.

The reverse of the coin features the ancient Zimbabwe bird. Finding one in About Uncirculated will run around $50. The same goes for the East Africa one shilling that features a lion walking on the African Savanna. This coin in About Uncirculated is going to demand $25 or so. So there are always potential budget busters.

Our numismatist is fortunate to have a lot of wonderful friends. It wasn't long after he told folks about his quest to put together a 1941 set that many of them came forward with coins from their own collections. His friend Mike provided some nice Hungarian pengos. Likewise his friends Neal and Vic came across with some nice British and French pieces. Money was offered but they wouldn't take it. Talk about friends.

You won't see this collection featured in major numismatic publications or winning major awards, but then most collections don't get this type of recognition. This is a pretty nice assemblage of circulated coins that means something to me. So I'll be showing off and sharing my collection with others and from that I'll receive immense enjoyment. And that's the point of collecting, isn't it?


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