When is a Coin not a Coin?
by Bob Reis

    In terms of my acquisitions I'm pretty much of a jellyfish.  Many, many dealers spend a GREAT DEAL of their time searching for the particular things they want, which usually means what they can sell quickly for a good profit.  But not me.  Stuff is constantly flowing in to me, I suppose because of my billon reputation or something.  I buy everything if the price is right.  What's the right price?  Whatever THE DEALER says it is, of course.  What other perspective can a dealer have?  People like YOU say, "I think I'll send this box of stuff to that guy," and mostly that's more than enough to keep me busier than I thought I
was going to be that day.
    My eye was caught recently by one of those modern numismatic confections with a color picture on it.  I found that when I'd had one of those things before I sold it quickly.  The old one was from Palau, with enameled tropical fishes and a beautiful mermaid, rather pretty.  This new one was from Namibia, and the price was definitely right.
    The coin, when I got it, was unusual in a couple of ways.  My Palau coin had its colors applied as jewel-like enamel on the raised surface of the coin.  Namibia used a different approach.  A low cartouche, flat as a pan, was raised in the field of the reverse.  On this perfect surface a screened photograph was printed in some kind of hard plastic.  The subject was intriguing: a handsome antelope walking away, flanked by the legend "Miss Universe Namibia."  I've been thinking about this for a week and I still can't figure out the connection between the picture and the words.  It seems, I don't know, what's the right word?
    Anyway, is this a coin?  And should we care?  Now, at bottom, we are collectors, and we collect what we like and that's all there is to it.  But "we" call ourselves "COIN collectors," not "decorated metal disc collectors," and with a thing like this pretty Namibia oddball we have to be near a conceptual frontier in numismatics, defined as it is as the obsessive interest in monetary tokens.
    It goes without saying that not a single specimen of this coin will ever circulate in Namibia.  It was made only as a marketing venture.  Some company went to the Namibian government and made a deal with them to make and promote this coin.  Namibia said they'd put through the legal paperwork and make the thing legal tender, for which service they would get a cut.  I bet there aren't 10 pieces in Namibia.  All the rest are out here in the coin market, where they belong, looking for some collector to love them.
    I am definitely not putting these "coinoid" objects down.  They have beauty and rarity, and being such limited run baubles, they will have enhanced antiquarian value when they become antique.  The same is true of the massive silver & gold ingots, the 5-ouncers and the 10-ouncers and the Troy pounds, struck as marketable "legal tender," that had their heyday in the late 80s.  The big problem with those was that they were so heavy that people dropped them all the time.  The first time they were dropped they broke the hard plastic case they were in.  The second time they got a big rim bump.  Admit it!  You used to see dealers walking around at shows with a pound and a half of damaged silver hockey pucks.  No more. They all got melted.  Those big things are getting scarcer.
    100 years from now those enameled and otherwise colored coins will be as appreciated as 19th century privately enameled coins are now.  And 300 years from now the hockey pucks, with their truly superlative artwork, will be as much esteemed by our descendents as today we value and covet the 17th century German multiple thalers, the NCLTs of their time.