Which coin is most plentiful?
November 3, 2013 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Of all coined currencies in histories, which in their day, or today (kinda two part question) were the most plentiful? Not used in transactions but just physically existed, minted minus lost.
posted by Samineru to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't say for sure, but when I was a kid I loved to read the ads in Archaeology Today magazine that said "Send us $10 and we will send you a box of sand with ancient Roman coins in it!" Apparently there are so many Imperial Roman coins left over in Europe, Africa and the Middle East that it wasn't even worth the money to sort through them or even sift the sand out of them. So then somewhere near the top of your list should be Imperial Roman coins, which seem to be equally cheap today. A rough estimate is that you can probably get them for close to what their purchasing power was 2000 years ago! I would be interested to see a real economic analysis of that.

Also, I just remembered that in the late seventies when the video game "Space Invaders" appeared in Japan, it was so popular that the government was forced to mint millions of extra coins in the yen denomination that the arcade cabinets used. I'll be interested to see what other examples appear here.
posted by seasparrow at 8:39 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd have to go with something like the denarius. The Roman empire was big and wealthy, and didn't use paper money.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:40 AM on November 3, 2013

I'd have to go with something like the denarius. The Roman empire was big and wealthy, and didn't use paper money.

But even at its peak, the Roman empire had something like 1/3 the population of the United States and 1/5 the population of the EU, many of the more backwatery regions of the Roman empire maintained a barter system or used non-Roman coins, and there are reasons to think that credit played a big role in the economy, so that unofficial IOUs functioned more or less as paper money.

By coin, do you mean one specific denomination (pennies but not dimes/nickels/quarters) or the entire coinage of a currency system? If it's the latter, I don't think you'll find anything that rivals modern US or EU output.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:00 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd have to suspect it would be the US penny.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:05 AM on November 3, 2013

Geographical reach is usually associated with relatively high value -- coins like the Spanish silver dollar (the 'piece of eight') and the Maria Teresa thaler were produced and circulated by the millions as standard trade coins.

But that pales into comparison with the estimates of 300 billion US pennies minted, with perhaps half of them still in circulation (by which I mean, in jars). Or Euro coins. Or the billions of coins that were and are minted in China.
posted by holgate at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, you're most likely speaking of a current coin, as modern day mintings far exceed anything in the past by at least an order of scale, if not several. The world's biggest currencies in terms of circulation are likely the US dollar, the Chinese yuan, the Indian rupee, and the EU euro.

Numbers for how many coins some of these have minted is easy to come by. For the EU, numbers for the whole minting since its beginning are available (as in holgate's link), and show the 1 cent to be the most common at 23.3 billion coins. Given their highest age is 15 years, most will still be circulating.

For the US dollar, the Wikipedia page has minting figures going back to 1890. However, the average lifespan of a coin is maybe 25 to 30 years, so many of them will no longer exist. Again the 1 cent is the most common coin, and adding up the last 25 years gives a (frankly astounding) figure of about 229 billion coins. If true, this dwarfs the 1 euro cent figure and likely anything else.

Edit: the Euro cent figure is wrong, but the US isn't.
posted by Thing at 12:34 PM on November 3, 2013

Emperor Shen Zong (1068-1085) only had two reign titles, Xi Ning (熙宁 1068-1077) and Yuan Feng (元丰 1078-1085), for which coins were cast but these coins were produced in enormous quantities. In one year alone, more than 5 million strings of coins were produced. A "string" consisted of 1,000 coins so 5 million strings means that 5 billion cash coins were cast in just one year! Not surprisingly, xi ning and yuan feng coins are among the most common Song Dynasty coins found today and exist in many, many varieties.

- http://primaltrek.com/chinesecoins.html

This segment was picked a bit at random from the text, but may be representative.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:26 PM on November 3, 2013

What is your definition of "lost"? If a coin is buried/drowned/set in concrete so it is still whole but currently inaccessible? If a coin is taken out of circulation and destroyed by the issuer? If a coin is destroyed by someone else? What if it is just damaged by someone else?

The reason this is important is "the average lifespan of a coin is maybe 25 to 30 years, so many of them will no longer exist" as pointed out by Thing. So, would the officially destroyed currency count in your example? I'd guess that would be the biggest source of loss, followed by actual loss of the item that did not include destruction. Intentional damage or destruction by others would probably be smaller portions but still relevant to the US penny due to squishing machines, railroads, copper value, etc.
posted by soelo at 10:23 AM on November 4, 2013

« Older iOS 7 shares everyone's contacts?   |   Can't determine if this is a fraudulent email or... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.