Coining it in

Peter Kammerer finds developing a passion for collecting coins unearths treasures far greater than the monetary value they represent

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 3:44am

It takes all kinds to make the world go round. My long-deceased grandfather used to say this whenever he encountered someone acting peculiarly, and he would in all likelihood have said it had he found out about my latest passion. Shaking his head, he would have muttered something like: "Coins? Why are you collecting coins? Go and do something useful with your money like buy a beer." Then he would have walked off muttering to himself about the strangeness of the younger generation.

A highly practical man, my grandfather. Yet coins - big silver ones, preferably from the 19th century and earlier - are what have of late taken my fancy.

My acquiring them, mostly through the online auction site eBay, is less about a desire to collect than to provide memories, an heirloom and, if the need arises, cash. They can be expensive, but I justify each new purchase by their beauty, weight in sterling silver and how much I am saving by staying up all night to bid on them rather than spending time in pricey bars.

The looming 25th anniversary of my time in Hong Kong prompted my behaviour a month ago.

With the occasion fast approaching, it occurred to me I had nothing physical to show for it. Yes, I have two sons who were born here, but they call far-off Australia home. I don't own a flat and, being blind, don't have an album full of photographs, shelves bulging with books or paintings. Music stirs my soul, but in digital form, it is files on a computer, not CDs and vinyl of old.

An uncirculated set of Hong Kong coins from 1988, the year I arrived, started it all. Then another from 1997, to mark the handover. One came from Canada, the other Britain; getting them from overseas proved several times cheaper through eBay than buying them from coin dealers in Mong Kok. Apparently, the higher local prices are in part due to demand from mainland Chinese, who have a particular liking for currency bearing the British monarch's head.

Hong Kong covered, next came the country of my birth, Australia. Pre-decimal 92-per-cent-silver coins were the target. Then, my German heritage in mind, five-mark pieces from the reign of Bavarian king Ludwig II in 1874, followed by gulden and thalers from earlier centuries. Along the way, there have been Roman imperial silver discs, a Cuban peso, a dragon-emblazoned Japanese yen, a US Peace dollar, a battered Spanish eight reales from a sunken galleon and on and on.

There is history aplenty, each coin with a story to tell, and every one I can hold in my hand. I have many memories and there will be more to come, but they are bound to fade with age. Coins seem an odd way of expressing myself, but there is method in the madness.

There's the thrill of the eBay chase; those final five seconds before bidding time ends, more about tactics, reflexes and luck than auctions. Then there's the possibility that what has been purchased could eventually be worth more than it has been bought for. Maybe one day, the coin will be as treasured by another generation. Mostly, though, it's about a visually impaired guy who has reached a milestone, belatedly chronicling that which is intangible with that which is compact, beautiful and physical.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post