Once upon a time my grandfather, fresh off the boat from England, was walking along a street in Sydney when an old coin caught his eye. He bent and picked it up: the coin was chipped and dented and completely covered in black grime, but with his fingers he could trace the a profile on one side and it made him wonder... My grandfather took the coin to a numismatist (I had to look that word up, isn't it fantastic?) who confirmed that yes, indeed, it was very old. Roman, in fact.
For an instant, my grandfather saw his future mapped out in fabulous riches. But then the numismatist continued on to explain that in fact these coins were actually extremely common. My grandfather's great find was worth, in today's terms, about $20. On a good day.
So that was that. Later he gave the coin to my father, and my father gave it to me. As a child I LOVED that coin. I couldn't have cared less about its worth. I loved holding it in my hand and imagining where this coin had been and what it had witnessed, what it had purchased, and the more than a thousand years worth of hands that had held it (thank goodness I wasn't a hygiene-obsessed child!).
I still love that coin, for the same reasons. Which Caesar is on it? I don't know because it is still covered in black grime. One day I will have it cleaned professionally, and then I'll find a way to wear my $20 Roman coin as a necklace.
In the meantime, I have fallen rather hard for the wonderful, made-up stories on coins in this art/photography project by German-based designer Andre Levy. Andre sees coins as "massively-reproduced little sculptures." I'd never thought of them that way, but he's absolutely right, just as stamps are mass-produced little works of art!
Andre transforms the faces on the back of coins into vibrant and often funny pop-culture icons. And then he poses the question on his Facebook page: "Are we able to like one cent more than others, just by injecting new stories into it?"