Foreign Currencies

Why there are so many foreign coins and notes for exchange…

Although they aren’t legal tender in the UK, foreign coins and notes have a habit of winding up in people’s pockets anyway. Their lack of value means that they can’t be exchanged at airports, and travellers often return from abroad with pockets full of small change. Over time, these collections can build up. Interesting designs and memories of travel can make spare coins from overseas valued mementoes.

With around 200 countries in the world, most of them issuing their own coins, there are a bewildering variety of foreign coins on the market. The most common coins found in the UK are the coins of the Euro, used in 22 European nations, together with the coins of other English-speaking nations such as the United States and Canada. Canadian coins are even sometimes found in tills in the UK because of the resemblance between Canadian and British low-denomination coins

Some coins commonly found in British households even come from currencies that no longer exist, such as the French franc or Spanish peseta. These currencies were supplanted by Euro coins in 2002, but as popular holiday destinations for British tourists, these countries have contributed coins to many British collections.

With their busts of monarchs and national symbols, British coins can appear a little staid compared to the odd designs of some foreign coins. For instance, coins of the Croatian kuna show various Croatian natural plants and animals on the reverse side. This can lead to the somewhat strange sight of a tuna on the reverse of the two-kuna coin. The reverse of Latvian one-lats coins minted in 2011 shows a tankard of beer with a foaming head, a symbol of the Latvian summer solstice festival.

Some older coins, as well as modern Japanese coins, have distinctive holes in the centre. The practice of piercing coins probably originated in ancient China to make it easier to store coins by hanging them on a cord, but modern coins with holes are intended to be distinguished more easily by touch from coins without.

Some of the world’s stranger coins are a little less likely to turn up in the pockets of returning travellers. For instance, the Canadian $1 million coin is minted from 100 kilograms of solid gold, with only five known to exist.

Whether brought back from overseas travel or acquired as part of a collection, foreign coins can either be useless clutter or treasured souvenirs of other places and times.

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