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On the verge of a cashless society :: How will Numismatics change?



Let's speculate for a moment! Some of us spend some free time following National and World events that tend to get lesser media coverage then the media outlets think is important to us, and consider how such events could change areas of our lives. One of these events in the making that I catch up on is the whole "cashless society" thing. The cashless society rumor has been floating around for decades really, but with continually advancing technology and recent policy implementation over the years, I think it's a fine time to consider how our hobby of coin collecting will change, or how long the hobby will remain attractive for some collectors.

Without generalizing too much, I'd like to indicate a couple of thresholds of collecting in the hobby: The many collectors that prefer the finest coin specimens, with the greatest lustre and detail; and those that collect the oldest coins without the same attention to mint condition, or build very specialized collections where mint state coins may not even exist. Of course, many collecting habits exist around and between, but my concern over a "cashless society" and it's effect on numismatics would be felt greater on the modern end of collecting. Maybe the newer collectors that haven't dug quite as deep in to the hobby as far as expense or rarity is concerned. The state quarter collectors, the Presidential dollar collectors, and those that assemble sets from pocket change. Where would we start our sons and daughters off in coin collecting several decades from now?

I would expect that in a cashless society, government mints would still produce coinage, but it wouldn't carry the same significance as method for commerce; but as a commodity. It would lack some of the historical lustre that circulating coinage has. Sure there could be commemorative strikes, but a famous figure or idea on a coin sometimes isn't as grand if the coin doesn't doesn't circulate. I suppose this is fine, as we do this now with proof sets and commemorative strikes, but it's just icing on the cake beyond the main purpose of a national mint.

In 2002, electronic payments surpassed check payments for the very first time in the US. The majority of people are used to making transactions with plastic, and many folks all around the world prefer it out of speed and convenience. In Canada, the name Interac has become a household name as the main financial transaction network; where as the looney is becoming a fond memory. In the US, the visa and mastercard logos are much more household, equal to brands like Kleenex and Starkist. The marketing done by credit companies is greater than ever before. When I was a boy, it was taught to me that credit cards where a luxury for those with good financial upkeep. An option to use when traveling, or to be used to keep tabs on certain purchases (fuel cards, diners club). You where extended a line of credit and some buyer protection. You where rewarded for paying off your balance promptly. Now that we've moved to debit cards, and credit cards with either predatory interest rates or disposable credit cards to give our children for online purchases, everyone can now have plastic money, to swipe to their hearts content! No need to considerately give a store clerk $10.75 for a $5.63 purchase so you get a back $5 bill, a dime and 2 cents, so he or she can keep of few more of their dwindling singles of the day to make change for someone else.

The adoption of the Euro was a significant effort toward a world wide currency rate. The currency was virtually introduced on January 1st 1999, but not until January 1st 2002 would actual coins and bank notes appear. The Euro is used by the 15 European Union members states and nine other countries; 7 of those countries residing inside European boundaries. While each member country has the ability to design their own side to Euro coins and currency, it is just that - a design option on a standardized coin and currency layout. Euro coin composition, size and denominations are the same. While this is a step forward for trade and commerce, it does little to represent an individual country's sovereignty or culture.

You'll notice with coins from some less developed countries, or where some currencies isn't highly traded or valued in the currency market, that they sometimes mint coins from alloys with less intrinsic value. Where as for example the US or Canadian Quarter is minted from a copper nickel Alloy; a similar denomination Thai, Egyptian or Swedish may have been struck from an alloy containing more tin, aluminum, or a brass alloy. That fact right there says a lot about the state of a culture. Not so much in a negative sense, just a difference. Consider When the American flying eagle cent and Indian head cent where minted out of copper and nickel during the Civil War. People took to hoarding the coins as the coins alloy was more valuable to them then denomination it represented, and left little in circulation until they where struck in a less valuable bronze alloy. What about circulating square coins? India minted them, as well as the Netherlands among others. Just stepping to a one world currency would lessen the chances of ever seeing another square coin in circulation. The Euro was designed to be a standard money layout; very recognizable denominations. Very structured and easy for the world to become accustomed to. A step towards a one world electronic commerce system, abandoning a good portion creativity and individual identity.

When the exchange period was announced to trade national currency for Euro currency, I don't think everyone said "Yay! we can finally trade in our unique coins and paper money for this wonderfully standardized money!". Progress is a good thing, and I'm certain of the significant cost savings minting a common currency, as well as dealing with exchange rates on a global level. But from a collectors point of view, it could turn out to be damaging for the long term future of numismatics. Might be something to think about for the numismatic community if changes like these continue as the future unfolds.




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