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Taking things at face value in Thuya Garden

A brief look at any of the guestbooks in the Thuya Lodge, from 1931 to the present, will reveal that Thuya, like the Abby and Azalea gardens, has always had visitors from all over the world. This fact is also reflected in the money deposited in the donation box and in the wishing well. We get more than dollars and cents. We get a world tour through the varieties of currencies.

The donation box is emptied daily during the visitor season, and the well is drained, and the coins gathered up every fall (as well as whatever else people have dropped in). American and Canadian currency is deposited in the bank to support the work of the Preserve, and the rest is set aside. This winter presented an opportunity to sift through the foreign currency that has accumulated over the years, and it included some interesting finds.

All told, 37 countries besides the United States were represented, from nearly every continent (apparently, Aussies don’t make wishes, and Antarctic penguins probably don’t carry loose change). We have pesos from Argentina and Mexico, bolivars from Venezuela, kroner (Denmark), koruna (Czech Republic), kronur (Iceland), and krona (Sweden), baht (Thailand), halalas (Saudi Arabia), bani (Romania) and dalasi (Gambia). Not to mention the yuan, jiao, and fen, all from China. The list goes on. A few tokens were also in the mix. We can get a free game at Pirate’s Cove in Bar Harbor, or a free ride on the Centre Line from the Centre Area Transportation Authority in Pennsylvania.  

As one would imagine, there were quite a few Euro coins, but we also had a number of older currencies from countries now included in the eurozone – francs, deutschemarks, Irish pence, and Portuguese reis. The reis was also the oldest regular currency we found, dating to 1909. However, it had been drilled through the middle, right through the head of Manuel II (1889-1932), who was the last king of Portugal, and who perhaps fittingly also had the nickname of “the Unfortunate.” Drilling holes in coins used to be a thing, allowing coins to be nailed to walls or threaded to make jewelry. As seen in the photos, this one has red yarn through the hole, so perhaps someone wore it somehow. The owner may not have realized that this 200 reis coin is over 80% silver; the hole is large enough to be a significant loss. Europe also yielded a coin from the youngest country represented, a 2 denari coin from North Macedonia, which broke off from Yugoslavia in 1991.  

Some of the more historically interesting finds came from closer to home. A 1934 U.S. quarter, at 90% silver, stood out visually from the other quarters from the well. From the donation box just last year, the dollar bill shown in the photo stood out from the other money, especially the blue version of the great seal to the right of George Washington’s image. This bill turned out to be a silver certificate from the 1930s. It is labeled ‘series 1935 A’, which refers to a minor format revision of the 1935 issue in some subsequent year. Silver certificates were issued by the US government between 1878 and 1964 and were at one time redeemable for silver dollar coins or, for one year in the 1960s, for raw silver bullion. This meant that the treasury could only issue currency for which they had silver reserves on hand. The history of silver certificates is entangled with 19th century political controversy. Bills passed by Congress in the 1870s dismantled the bimetallic (gold and silver) standard established by Alexander Hamilton, eventually removing legal tender status from silver-backed currency. As a result, silver prices dropped dramatically. There were fears among the citizens that the amount of total currency would run low, and lobbying efforts by members of Congress from western mining states demanded the government to act. Finally, in 1878 the Bland-Allison act was passed, which required Congress to purchase silver bullion and issue silver-backed currency such as this, with denominations running from $1 to $1,000. This continued until the 1960s, ending with the expectation of dwindling silver reserves. Today, the worth of silver certificates as currency is the same as regular legal tender notes. This one-dollar certificate looks like standard one dollar bills, but silver certificates from other years and other denominations vary quite a bit, including some with images of native Americans or both George and Martha Washington.  

Another unusual, and certainly the oldest, item came from the well about 10 years or so ago. It is shown in the photos. It is a one penny token from Nova Scotia, dating to 1832. Nova Scotia was the first, and one of a few, of the provinces in the then-British colonies to authorize the minting of these tokens as a substitute for regular British money.

There had been a long history of a severe shortages of currency in the colonies, going back to the days of French rule (pre-1760), due to trade imbalances and the policies of the French and British governments. These shortages made it difficult for everyday economic activity in colonies that were trying to move past the barter system. Some private manufacturers and merchants even created their own tokens to facilitate transactions. Eventually provincial governments decided to create more official tokens such as this to act as currency. This was done by the Nova Scotian government without the approval of the British government, and so these tokens are considered semi-regal coinage. The actual minting was done in Britain.

The thistle tokens like this one were called such because of the image of the Scottish thistle on the “tails” side (the thistle representing a link between ‘Old Scotia’ and ‘New Scotia’), and were first minted in 1823, and again in 1824 and 1832. The 1832 tokens still had the image of King George IV, even though King William had reigned for two years at that point.

The shortage of money must have been dire, for even these tokens were counterfeited, most likely in the area of Montreal, during the same period (1830s). Perhaps someday we will be able to determine if our token is real or counterfeit. Though not particularly valuable, both tokens and counterfeits are collected by numismatists. 

By Rick LeDuc, Thuya Garden Manager

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