I met Michael van den Heuvel through this blog who published a book about square coins. I got in touch with him, because it sounded like a very interesting research. He was very kind to send me an electronic version of the book so I could easily read it. Square coins in general are much easier for me to identify. There is only a few of them, at least compared to round coins, therefore they are very distinguishable. I asked Michael if he would be willing to talk about his book and research on my blog.
I interviewed Michael about his project, below you can read our conversation.
Thank you Michael for taking the time to talk to my blog readers about your book.
First, let me ask you why are you interested in square coins?
Well, Tom let me start with saying thank you for asking me about the World Square Coins book. It was a bit of a surprise since it has been a few years that I worked on the project. Why Square coins, that is the easy part. As a child I started to collect coins. I would ask everybody going on a Holiday abroad for coins, and I would get pocket change from France, Germany, sometimes even Italy and of course Belgium. I would every now and then look in to the Windows of the local coin shop and they had a Square coin. So when my birthday came, it was the Square coin I wanted for my birthday. No surprise here I did get the coin and I just loved it. At some point I kind of lost interest, but did keep my coins and many years later I took up collecting coins, mostly Danish and Dutch. But somehow it was the Square coin that kept on coming back to my mind so I started to look for them at coin fairs and on the internet.
Who is the audience of your book?
After a few years I had a pretty neat Collection of Square coins and I started to make a list of coins that I still needed to complete my Collection, the first thing to do is of course was to buy the Krause world catalogue, that is, I would buy a second hand one as they are cheaper, and from the Krause book I started to find missing coins. For most of them it was not too difficult, searching on the internet, looking at eBay in India, simply because it was a lot cheaper to bid on coins in India then in the US or Europe, even the postage was cheaper, but some coins I could simply not find, I would look in Krause and search the internet but could not find them. Now at this point I did not want to make a book, but I got frustrated with the catalog that I had. So I would go to the local library and would look at other coins books and I guess that at this point I realized that even though Krause is pretty good, it is not perfect and it has a number of mistakes. When you have many people from the Whole World giving information on coins and some countries are covered by several people and many do not even live in the country where the coin comes from then you are open to mistakes. So in the case of Surinam, a former Dutch colony, Krause would write about coins that would be 22 millimeters and 18 millimeters. But they would not write about the variations such as with or without mint mark, and other variations. I spent a good deal of time on finding the 18 millimeter ones, and of course I could not find them. Until I one day did measure them, and yes from side to side they are 18 mm and from corner to corner they are 22 mm. and so I wrote to the Dutch mint as they had produced them and they informed me that indeed the coins they made where 18 mm from side to side and 22 mm from corner to corner. Now Tom, I know your question was WHO is the audience. But before I come to that I would like to tell you that I did check the same evening all my Square coins for size, and I found the same mistakes all over. So it was that evening that I decided that I wanted to have a complete list for myself with the correct size and weight of all the coins. This resulted in lots of hours sending emails and more emails, visits to numismatic libraries, etc., etc., but at the same time I got more and more information about Square coins. Now I counted that Worldwide there would be at least 40 to 50 Square coin collectors and so I wanted to share my knowledge with them, those people that have an interest in Square coins would be my prime audience. Now I do know that writing a book for 40 to 50 people is of course strange but one must not forget that it was of course also for my own benefit. You must know how important the right size and weight is.
Interestingly enough, if you look at WHO bought the book, it is the 40 collectors and the rest is national banks, mints all over the World, numismatic libraries, and universities, in fact the smallest Group of buyers are coin collectors if I look at the sales figures.
How many coins did you find?
I have no idea how many coins I did find, I do have at least one from every country that made Square coins, and also all variations, That Means that if the Netherlands would produce a Square coin from 1913 until 1940, and everything on the coins would be the same but the year, I would try to get just one, this is how I started, but of course when I would see a 1914 at the coin fair I would also buy it. In 1943 they came out with a new design so I also have that one. This one was minted in the USA and was made for the colonies, and when the Germans had occupied the Netherlands made a Square coin from 1941 until 1943 in zinc as copper was material that was used for munition. If we look at India I have lots of coins, simply because they had several mints in the country with all their own mint mark, a diamond for Bombay, a dot for the Hyderabad mint and Calcutta had no mint mark, and then one should remember that they also would have lots of variations, such as smaller date or a bigger year, etc. etc., so from India I have a lot. But finding India was great fun, like I told you before I would make an account on eBay India and if a Square coin was expensive it would sell often for just over 100 Rupees, this is pretty much the same as 2 US Dollars and so I could win an auction. Without that it would be a financial setback. I broke my neck about 10 years ago and this limits the Work I can do and therefor also how much Money I can spend on a hobby and if that is the case it is great fun finding coins in India.
Did you list all coins from the 20th century?
Well, that is of course an interesting question, and the answer is no, I did not list all Square coins that where made between 1900 and 2000. In Australia a few Square test coins where made but they were not intended to be used in circulation and Thus for me they were not relevant. Also there was a town in Columbia in Latin America that made a gold coin, but the Columbian national bank could not confirm that they made it and that it was useful as Money in Columbia and Thus for me not a real coin.
I also did not list Notgeld from Germany. After the first World war many towns produced Money, some on paper, some on porcelain and some on metal, a few of them would be Square, I was in doubt if I should include them or not and if I ever would make an update I would include some of Square town Money as it was legal tender at least in the Towns where they made them.
How did you make sure you found all of them?
Tom I must say I like your questions, you bring up the worst nightmare for anybody making a catalog, and to be honest I am not sure I have them all, in the last hundred years we had countries come and disappear and often when countries are gone the national bank is gone, the mint is gone, especially if they minted Things them self, but Luckily enough a lot was minted in the old days by the British and they still have all the records. It is a lot of Work to get access and I had to complain and invoke the right to information act around 40 times but I did get everything they had on Square coins. I used about 400 kilos of catalogs to make sure that I did not miss 1 coin, but maybe I did still miss one, I hope not, as I worked very hard on not missing one. As I told you before many national banks and mints did buy the book simply because they did not have the records anymore and so now they use my book as an information source.
Is a coin catalog sufficient to ensure that you haven’t missed anything?
Obviously not, I used Krause, a Dutch one, British ones, French, German new ones and old ones and when you have one it is easy, when you have so many as I used you have lots of wrong information, numbers that were minted, weight size, etc. etc., now weight and size is easy to fix, I could just check them, but production numbers Means lots of emails to the British, to the government of India, or to Myanmar.
Do you own all the coins you have listed?
No I do not, there is a Square coin from jersey that was made in 1980, even though it is dated from 1981 it was made of copper nickel, about 200.000 for circulation and 10.000 in silver and 5.000 in gold, I do not have the gold coin, I do however, have the silver one and it is very nice, but I do not have enough Money to buy the gold version.
How long did it take you to get all of them?
Well, I think that 98 % was collected in 3 years, but the last 2 % took about 10 years, some coins are extremely rare due to circumstances. I remember that the 20 Baisa from Oman made for the Dhofar province made only 35.000 pieces, was very hard to get. It took me years to find one and that was a bit above the budget, just before the show I looked at Krause and they still have a wrong listing for it, and they write that a proof value is about 14 US dollars, I also checked on eBay and right now there is one for sale for 500 US Dollars. I bought mine for about 80 Dollars and felt that was very expensive, the other Baisa coins from Oman 2 and 20 Baisa from an online market place in china for less than 3 dollars, but right now a nice 2 Baisa would cost at least 20 US Dollars on eBay if nobody else would bid.
Another very hard to get coin was the 20frank gold gilded charity coin from the town of Gent in Belgium about 1000 were made and they are not that hard to find every 2 to 3 years there will be one for sale either on an online auction or at an auction house, now I of course knew that if I had to bid against other people I would very likely lose, simply because of lack of Money. so what I did was come up with all possible spelling mistakes that one could make for the 20 Frank coin and put that in as search terms for EBay and after about 5 years I got an email from eBay that somebody was selling a 20 “flank” and I kept an eye on the coin and bid in the last minute and got it for the minimum Price, but like I told you, it took about 5 years to find it.
Which coin is your favorite?
There are several coins that I like more than others, to start with I like the 15 cent coins from the Bahamas, all 3 of them the design is made by Arnold Machin, and in my opinion one of the best engravers ever. I like the 1979 5 Poisha from Bangladesh, according to other catalogs this coin does not exist, but in my book I have a Photo I found this coin by writing to collectors from all over the World and one of them made me aware of this coin, it was the cooperation with Mr. Islam Shariful that got this coin known to the World, however you will still not find it in the Krause 2016 catalog. As they do use people outside Bangladesh to give them information about coins in Bangladesh. I really like the 10 rupee from Sri Lanka, it was my first silver coin. I still like the first Square coin I got from my parents for my birthday. Well I guess I pretty much like all my Square coins, as all of them have a story to tell.
Did anybody else write about this topic before?
No, not really, there is a book about Square coins from Northern Africa, but it is a different time period.
What were your biggest challenges?
It took me over a year and 38 letters to find out how many 25 Ghirsh from Sudan where possibly minted, since the national bank does not have the information, the country is more or less at war and the staff of the national mint has been changed a few times since 1987. When I finally got in contact with a person that used to work at the mint in 1987, he did not know how many they made but could tell me that they used almost all “planchets” and they were bought in the UK. Then I started to find out how many were made in the UK and exported to Sudan. This was not so simple, it Means you have to write to the British mint, they will as a standard answer write back that they cannot help, then the next step is to invoke the freedom of information act, and make a written complaint, after about 3 weeks you will get an answer that you have the right to the information and the ministry will then write to the national British mint, whom by then are pretty tired of anybody asking for info but they will dig up the information and send it, at some point I would write directly to Chris Barker at the royal British mint to safe time, so he had not to write back that he could not help as he knew I would complain and then 4 weeks later he still had to find the information, well as it turned out the number of coins minted based on the planchets where 5 million
Other challenges, getting information from Myanmar as I did try to confirm all mintages numbers of all the coins and Thus I would contact the original producer to get access to their archives, in this case it was the East Berlin mint, but before they went over to become a unified Germany they burned all the records as these where state secrets, In the case of Bhutan I had to ask lots of people to get information and as it turned out they do not have the production numbers any more. In India I do not have the right to use the freedom of information act, but Indian people do. So I had to find somebody to help me.
Are you planning to research square coins of other eras?
Well, I have been thinking about it, I could go a few hundred years back in time, but that would be mostly about India as the rest of the World did not have Square coins before 1900, I know that one could include klippe coins but I am not so sure if that would be of interest for collectors. now looking in to what has happened since 2000 until now, there are loads of Square coins, from Poland, Latvia, Hungary, Australia, Canada, Tuvalu, Niue Island etc. etc., but they all have one thing in common, they are not for circulation, just very expensive silver coins, I just looked at a Cook Island silver coin, first man in Space Price about 120 USD, for a 26 gram coin, well coin, I mean it is maybe more a medal as I do not believe anybody would pay with that as the nomination is 1 Dollar.
So I guess the answer would be No, I feel that the book is pretty good and since I avoided putting in prices it will still be very use full many years from now.
But this does not mean that I will not write another book about coins as the research is very rewarding and the hunt for a coin and information about a coin is one of the great joys of collecting.
Thank you Michael for sharing this interesting research with my readers.
Reading Michael’s book definitely increased my appreciation and knowledge of square coins. It inspired me to get some of the missing ones, though I have to admit my collection is not even close to complete.
You can purchase the book from Portland Coins