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Monday, January 05, 2004


It's time to come clean: I have Saddam's money.

At least 350 dinars of it.

That was part of my Christmas present. Money. Saddam's money. Nazi money. Commie money. Tojo's money.

I collect foreign coins, and to a smaller extent, paper money. When I was a kid I started with some that my father and uncles had given to me, acquired during their time in the military. (Yes, by LOOTING the world, ten cents at a time.) Later I bought some from the Littleton Coin and Stamp Company (still running). They had some sort of coin club, where each month or so you'd get some coins to look at before you bought them. It was a big thrill to get the little envelopes of shiny coins---Qatar! Saudi Arabia! El Salvador! Chile! Australia!---all those exotic places I would never go.

And during the past decade or so, when I finally did visit foreign lands, I'd kept samples of the currency, intending to add it to my collection. I just never got around it it, so the money ended up in old film holders and Crystal Light containers and cardboard boxes. Until a couple months ago, when I uncovered my childhood coin collection in an archaeological dig.

Once I'd organized those coins, I turned my attention to acquiring new ones, and asked Niles for some dinero for Christmas. Prompted, I think, by the fall of Saddam, I asked for (mostly) war money: Saddam's money, like this 250 dinar note with the old buzzard's mug on it, looking only mildly scary. Of his own initiative, Niles also bought some new, post-Saddam notes, like this 250 dinar note which shows a nice tasteful astrolabe and ziggurat, and this 50 dinar note, which shows a grain silo. Da, comrade, even our money reflects glorious people's revolution in new Iraq!

I swear, there's a PhD thesis to be done---if one hasn't already---on iconography in paper currency. I've just spent quite a while sifting through the offerings on this site, and noting the various tropes used. Your Latin American nations, at least until recently, seem to go in for the same look US currency has, with grim colors and late Victorian scrollwork. Former French colonies in Africa prefer notes of great beauty, while other African nations go the socialist realism route, and stick tractors on their currency, as in this example from Ethiopia. Nothing says "Third World" like tractors, dams, or factories (or grain silos, Iraqis) on your money. No, not even a portrait of the beloved dictator for life. (You know, I couldn't find a note with a portrait of Ghadaffi, Kim Il Jong, or Castro on it, although Cuban notes sometimes have pictures of good old Che. Are some dictators for life more shy than others?)

But a lot of your more modern money is going toward the generic European look, as in this French 200 franc note: bright colors, abstract designs, random pictures of stuff, and a famous dead guy (in this case, Gustave Eiffel). Of course France is using euros now, as in this note, which is even more generic, if possible.

Back to Iraq, though...I read the other day that 6000 dinars is currently worth $3.00, so the new notes Niles bought will buy you about 15 cents American. I'm pretty sure he paid somewhere between $5 and $10 for them, say 50 times their face value. Nice racket, currency dealing.

I really wanted this beauty from 1986, which has an image of the Martyrs' Monument (a monument to the Iran-Iraq war), one of Baghdad's finer examples of fascist architecture. (I like it.) But the dealer was out of that one.

And speaking of fascists, I got some Nazi coins. The top of this page shows the motif of Nazi coins, particularly the 1939 5 reichsmark at the right. It astonishes me that the swastika, a party symbol, usurped national symbols like flags and insignia on coins, and so quickly too. Same thing with the hammer & sickle in the USSR (got the last coins issued by the USSR; no h&s). Not to mention that it's shocking to come across a swastika on a coin. You almost think it will burn you if you touch it, so powerful is the association with evil.

Scroll down that page for the interesting Japanese invasion money. These are very pretty notes with printing in English or Dutch (and Japanese). This was money printed to be used (as the caption says) in SE Asian nations the Japanese conquered in WWII. (I say "printed to be used" rather than "used" because the notes are very crisp, and may well never have been used). The $10 bill pictured was meant for use in the Philippines.

(Among the money my relatives gave me long ago, with which I started my collection, were some military scrip notes like these, used by the military in occupied Japan, thus completing the circle and allowing me to end this post.)