The world of finance is at least partly based on the principle of collecting money for its practical, fiscal value. It’s simple: the more money you have, the wealthier you are. However, there’s a whole different set of monetary collectors who amass “chunks of change,” so to speak, for their novelty value and rarity – not to mention just for fun. Coin collecting, also known more broadly as numismatics, has been going on for thousands of years. In fact, there’s evidence that it took place in Ancient Rome. So it’s perhaps no surprise that, to appeal to this collectors’ market, mints and treasuries around the world have started producing unusual coins in limited quantities.
These coins often feature unique properties and innovative touches not commonly associated with regular currency, which could increase a coin’s desirability in the eyes of numismatists. Read on for 10 examples of the coolest and most unusual coins in the world.
10. Silver Pyramid Coin – Isle of Man
This distinctive coin carries a bit of history with it – as well as on it. Not only does the distinctive silver pyramid-shaped piece feature an Ancient Egypt-themed design, but the sand contained in the sun disk at the top was taken from King Tutankhamun’s tomb itself. The 1 ounce (28.3 g) silver coin, which was launched in 2009, was designed by the Pobjoy Mint for the Isle of Man Treasury, to mark the 70th anniversary of the death of Howard Carter – the Egyptologist and archaeologist who in 1922 discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The coin’s central image reproduces a wall decoration from the tomb, showing Tutankhamun being welcomed to the underworld on his “night journey.” It is part of a series that was released to celebrate the Tutankhamun exhibition that traveled across the U.K. and U.S.
9. Ural Owl Coin – Mongolia
In 2007 Coin Invest began issuing a series of coins for the National Bank of Mongolia featuring endangered wildlife. These collectible artistic pieces have proven immensely popular, often selling out quickly and going for high prices among collectors. The Ural Owl was released in 2011 and was declared the most popular coin at the 2013 Coin of the Year Awards. It is made from .999 silver, with two dark Swarovski crystals for the bird’s eyes, and has a face value of approximately one third of a U.S. dollar (500 tögrög). The first coin in the series – featuring a wolverine that also has Swarovski eyes – has been known to change hands for between $1,500 and $3,000, which highlights the demand such collectable money can create.
8. Butterfly Coin – Cameroon
This 1,000 Cameroonian francs silver coin was released in 2011. The technique used to create the very nearly lifelike effect was also kept under wraps, adding to the coin’s enigmatic appeal. From the side, the colorful creature – a rare brush-footed butterfly – almost seems to be about to flutter from the surface. This particular species is found in the tropical parts of central Africa. The 3D treatment and colored design create an appealingly unique coin – but it wasn’t unique for long. The piece launched a series entitled “Papillons Exotiques,” and further bright-looking butterflies followed. To keep the coin attractive to buyers, the release was restricted to just 2,500 units, and each one had a price estimate of $149.99.
7. Sistine Chapel Coin – The Cook Islands
The striking oval coin pictured here – which measures just 1.2 by 1.8 inches (30 by 45 mm) – is an extremely clever tribute to art. It was released in the Cook Islands in 2012. And while the coin’s head side shows the profile of the island’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, the reverse side depicts the image of Adam and God reaching towards each other, as painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Meanwhile, the small microscope above the image suggests that there might be more than meets the eye to a chip found at the top. In fact, thanks to nanotechnology, the tiny plaque contains an extremely high-resolution reproduction of Michelangelo’s entire Sistine Chapel masterpiece. The highly limited 999-unit run may have helped the five New Zealand dollar coin soon reach far greater prices online.
6. Guitar Coins – Somalia
Somalia is arguably responsible for some of the most distinctive coins in the world, and it’s a trend within the country that doesn’t look to be abating. In 2004 the country released a series of colorful and remarkable designs to mark rock ‘n’ roll’s 50th anniversary. The coins included a Gibson Flying V emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes, a Gibson X-Plorer in blue, and a yellow-colored Klein. The 1.75-inch (45 mm) pieces have a face value of US$1, and although they are attractive and intricate, they’re perhaps not the most comfortable coins to keep in your pocket. Somalia subsequently released a similar sports car series in 2010, a follow-up series of multi-colored guitar coins – pictured above – in 2012, and a collection of international map coins in 2013.
5. Meteorite Coin – Fiji
This 10 Fijian dollar coin was released in 2012 and is part of a series called “Cosmic Fireball.” The piece is a rare example of a .999 silver coin that includes moving parts – not to mention a pocket that contains fragments of an enstatite chondrite meteorite that dropped into Bavaria, Germany on April 6, 2002. What became known as the Neuschwanstein meteorite was the first of its kind in Germany to be scrutinized by the European Fireball Network. A decade later, fragments of the space object were packaged into this coin, and the black remnants can be seen from both sides. Weighing 0.7 ounces (20 g), the coin was made from .999 fine silver, and only 999 were released.
4. Glow-in-the-Dark Dinosaur Coin – Canada
Here’s one practical novelty coin – after all, who wouldn’t see the benefit of glow-in-the-dark money? This collectable piece was released by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2012. It features a colorful illustration of Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai, a hefty dinosaur that would have weighed four tons whose remains were first unearthed in Alberta. Turn off the lights, however, and the prehistoric creature’s glowing skeleton is revealed. Sadly, the depiction of Queen Elizabeth II on the other side doesn’t react in the same way. The cupronickel coin has a face value of 25 Canadian cents, although it is bigger than a standard quarter. Exactly 25,000 pieces were released, and collectors were able to purchase the coin for $29.95.
3. 3D Easter Island Statue Coin – The Cook Islands
The 10 New Zealand dollar coins seen above were issued by the Cook Islands in 2007 as a tribute to Easter Island’s monumental statues. The human figures, known as “moai,” were chiseled from compacted volcanic rock by natives of the Polynesian island between 1250 and 1500 A.D. However, coin collectors were able to do more than just look at a 2D depiction of the statues with these pieces. Etched into one side of the coin is a landscape of Easter Island featuring four moai and the Spanish name for the island, “Isla de Pascua.” The foremost statue is coated in 24-carat gold and can be separated from the .999 silver coin to stand upright. The result is a novel 3D effect that seemingly pays tribute to the towering nature of the moai.
2. Scent of Paradise Coin – Palau
The quest to create innovative and desirable collectible coins has led to some pretty unique examples so far. In 2009 the Pacific Island of Palau came up with its own novel idea through a new series called “Scent of Paradise.” While the 2010 coin shown above – the second in the series – may seem to reveal all on its surface, touching it brings something quite unexpected to light. A rub of the blue wave depicted behind the brave surfer releases the scent of the ocean. The first coin in the series also featured a scented coconut with the ship HMS Bounty pictured in the background. The 1.51-inch (38.6 mm) sterling silver surfer coin has a face value of five U.S. dollars, and only 2,500 of the designs were minted.
1. 3D Geometric Coins – Somalia
As we saw with the guitar coins, Somalia is no stranger to producing unusual currency, but in 2008 the country really pushed the boundaries with this fully three-dimensional geometric series. The collection features a pyramid, sphere, cone, cube, and cylinder, and each shape held the slightly underwhelming value of one U.S. dollar. However, what the pieces lack in monetary value and ease of use, they make up for with sheer oddness. Each of the coins – which use a simple silver design – carries the Somali crest, its denomination and the year in which it was issued.