Every morning on the way to school we drive past a house where a different flag is displayed daily on the front lawn with its country name written below it. My kids love to guess the country each flag belongs to. It reminds me of my childhood hobby of collecting stamps from all over the world, and displaying them under the delicate, vellum paper in my album next to the country name. I especially liked the colorful ones from countries I couldn’t pronounce. Maybe it’s the sign of the times, because when I asked my daughter if she wanted to collect stamps, she wasn’t interested.
But the other day I found an old coin purse filled with coins I had collected from some of my travels. Her eyes flashed with interest as she examined the lire, centime (“lady with flying hair”), pesetas (“the 25 peseta coin has a hole in the middle”), pounds (“the queen!”), pfennigs and euros.
She put them in a bag and took them to school when it was her turn to share and make a presentation to her class. We talked about how many of the coins are no longer in existence since the euro was introduced in Europe and replaced the currency of participating EU countries (in Italy it was introduced in January, 2002 after a transition period. I believe it was February, 2002 when lire were no longer accepted. There was talk of many mattresses being emptied during this period).
My husband and I witnessed this change to the euro while living in Europe. One day we used our thousands of paper lire (which bought like, maybe, a coffee?), and through a transition phase we switched to the crisp, clean, shiny new euro. People complained of too many coins while the elderly fumbled with special euro change purses designed to help separate the different currencies. Some said it was an excuse to raise prices. I personally missed the colorful lire and found the euro a much plainer substitute, although admittedly it was much easier to travel to many neighboring countries without the hassle of exchanging money. Pretty soon, as what happens with change, we all got used to it and collectively rolled our eyes when entering the UK or Switzerland, two countries which had the nerve to inconvenience us by not adopting the euro at that time.
I haven’t given up on getting the kids interested in stamps, but we’re just having fun with our small collection of coins. My daughter loves counting them -without realizing she is doing math. It”s an opportunity to learn more about other places in the world and their currencies in comparison to ours. You can collect coins when on family trips, or look up ancient Roman or Greek coins and learn about their history. In fact, coins issued during Cleopatra’s reign provide the only image we have of her today, which is only a profile.
For those interested in more serious endeavors into coin collecting – or “numismatics” – I have found the following web sites are helpful. They say every coin has a story to tell.