Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Coin Wows Hawaii

st. damien belgium coin 20 euros silverWorld Coin News Nov. 24th: It is unusual to see a coin show with lines at the door where coin collectors are in the minority. Yet over the course of three days from Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at the Hawaii State Numismatic Association’s annual convention, this was sometimes the norm, according to a report from The Coin & Currency Institute, Inc. To the surprise of many in attendance, the hubbub was caused by a silver 20-euro coin from Belgium with such a uniquely Hawaiian twist that it made headlines in newspaper, television, radio and online reports.

The coin was issued by Belgium to commemorate the canonization of Father Damien, now known as St. Damien of Molokai, by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 11. Although he was born in Belgium, St. Damien, also known as the “leper priest,” is as revered in Hawaii as in his native land. His work of caring for thousands of sick people at the Kalawao settlement on Molokai made him a Hawaiian legend. He died in 1889 of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) while giving this care.

The coin, which was to arrive in Honolulu in time for the show, was not delivered until Nov. 2 due to a delay in Customs processing. While that caused some disappointment, buyers were undeterred, according to the report. When Hawaii’s largest newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser ran a headline saying “Coin Show, No Show,” in its Nov. 1 issue, it made the point that, “St. Damien’s foot is fleeter than international mail service” – a reference to the fact that this was “nearly three weeks after Bishop Larry Silva hand-delivered a relic of Damien’s heel back to Hawaii.”

The result of the story was that it “attracted even more folks,” said Vince Vento of Alii Coin & Currency, LLC, who is distributing the coin in Hawaii for the Royal Belgian Mint, By the close of the show Sunday, Vento had pages of reservations for the coins – so many that even after limiting buyers to just one coin per person, the initial shipment of several hundred was oversold and the Royal Belgian Mint was preparing a second shipment. Coin and paper money dealer Jim Simek said of the crowds that, “there were times where 20 to 30 people were lined up at Vento’s table,” and that it was “unlike anything I’ve seen at a coin show in a long time for a non-American coin.”

Todd Kuwaye, a local collector of Morgan dollars and U.S. gold coins, would have gone to the Honolulu show anyway but said that he went early, “just to get the coin.” He said it was “the first European coin I ever bought.” The coin is 37 mm in diameter and contains 22.85 grams of sterling silver. It is struck in mirror-finish proof quality. Mintage is limited to just 15,000 coins worldwide and 10 percent of the coins available for export have already been sold in Hawaii. Issue price is U.S. $75, or 49 euros. The Finance Ministry of Belgium is donating the net profits from the sale of the coin to the Damien Actie (Action), a non-governmental organization established in 1964 that is mainly concerned with people suffering from Hansen’s disease and tuberculosis.

For more information, contact North American distributor The Coin & Currency Institute, Inc. by mail at P.O. Box 1057, Clifton, NJ 07014; by phone at (800) 421-1866; by fax at (973) 471-1441; or by e-mail at mail@coin-currency.com. Shipping and handling is $5.50 per order. Coins are available in Hawaii from Alii Coin & Currency. The company can be reached by phone at (808) 236-2646. The Royal Belgian Mint may be contacted by e-mail at mrb.kmb@minfin.fed.be
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