The Chinese once manufactured their coins with holes in the middle so
that the possessors could run strings through them and carry them that
way, in lieu of a change-purse.
When the Canadian two-dollar coin appeared in 1996 (dubbed the ‘toonie’ in a collective unimaginative continuation of the pop title given to the one dollar ‘loonie’ of a few years earlier) the early versions had a tendency to fall apart. I thought at the time it might be wise for my compatriots to embrace the old Chinese practice, and string coins through the big empty spaces in the middle of the so-called toonies. It would provide a practical way to carry the cumbersome coins, and also offer the side benefit of a tinge of nostalgia for recent Asian immigrants.
Now, the since rectified falling apart business was pretty stupid, when you think about it. It came about because of the initially dumb idea of using two different metals in one coin. Whatever federal mint wonk arrived at concept (in the name of esthetics, one assumes) didn’t have a basic understanding of the properties of metals – which is, that they tend to contract at different rates when exposed to cold.
Metallurgical ignorance on Ottawa’s part (there’s lots of ignorance in the federal capital, so why should metallurgy escape the buffoonery of the overpaid and underworked who ostensibly toil therein) notwithstanding, I have never liked the concept of the two-dollar coin. It’s big and cumbersome, and it leaves me with a tendency to think I am broke, because all I have is change in my pocket. Coinage, frankly, doesn’t seem like real money, only folding money does. I like foldin’ money. That’s ‘cash’, ‘lettuce’, whatever you want to call it. A two-dollar coin somehow seems less valuable than one of those old red bills.
In truth, I don’t really understand why we even hold on to a two-dollar denomination. The Americans don’t use them any more. Once upon a time they had two-dollar bills. Once upon a time they had them, but the denomination was defeated by superstition. Somebody, somewhere, decided the denomination was bad luck, maybe even satanic, and voodoo could only be assuaged by ripping off the corner. Eventually the treasury decided to phase them out. Anyway, they thought, who the hell needs them? A dollar bill and a five-dollar bill will work fine.
Likewise, the British don’t have a two pound note. They go from one to five, and none of it makes much difference, since the purchasing power of a fiver there is about the same today as was that of the long-defunct farthing in its day.
So, doesn’t Canada get rid of the denomination and join the rest of the grown-up world? I really have no answer, but am reminded of the fact that we are dealing with the same people who thought years ago that the fifty-cent piece made no sense. What a boneheaded decision that was.
Now, if you want coinage that does make no sense (at least the silliness of the penny had been addressed) look to the nickel and dime. Dimes are such a pain in the ass because they’re so small, and nickels I invariably confuse with quarters. You could even mount an argument to do away with that quarter. A four-bitter, on the other hand, would still retain a bit of cachet at the till, much as the fifty-pence coin does in the UK.
When the toonie did arrive nearly two decades ago, there was much debate over what to call it. ‘Two-dollar-coin’ was too cumbersome, even for Ottawa bureaucrats, who normally thrive on cumbersomeness – witness ‘Human Resources Development’ for the old and I guess politically incorrect ‘Manpower’. So, they had to think of something more user-friendly. Again, a typically bureaucratic response to a situation. This is vox populi stuff. Civil servants don’t make such decisions, the public does. Titles for currency, as for many other institutions, are ‘folk-art’ of a sort, never something imposed from above. Nobody in the ranks of officialdom ever decreed that a dollar should be called a ‘buck’, or the pound, a ‘quid’ in another jurisdiction.
Even the public was uncertain at the beginning, and for a while toyed with the name ‘doubloonie’. That was in respect that the coin was the value of two loonies, and it had a certain piratical air about it, no doubt.
My personal preference was ‘Queen with a bear behind.’ Not out of disrespect for Her Majesty, but because it described the coin – the Queen was on the face, and there was a wandering bear on the obverse. I mean, if the Queen can handle the Cook Islands currency with her head on the front, and the hugely phallic sea-god ‘Tangaroa’ with his big schlong hanging down on the back, she can take anything.
Eventually ‘toonie’ prevailed, and now we are stuck with them, even though I retain my displeasure with the concept. Our quest now should be to keep the bastards from tampering with the five-dollar bill, which they have also threatened to do away with. I’m sorry, but my upper thigh is already bruised from lugging loonies and toonies around.