|An Introduction to the|
Coinage of Pseudo-États
Erik Victor McCrea
One day I was visiting Washington D.C. and I ventured into the Capitol Coin and Stamp Company. With me, I had a list of nations from which I was still missing a coin. I had been an on-and-off collector since I was a youngster, and I was experiencing some renewed interest in resuming my hobby where I left off. My goal now was to obtain at least one coin from every major country (I had not yet gotten to a majority of the sub-countries like Biafra, Chinese Soviet Republic, Euzkadi, Hejaz, Irian Barat, Katanga, Keeling-Cocos, Lahej, Montenegro, Sharjah, Tannu-Tuva, Tonkin, etc...). I wanted to leave Mr. Whitman's store with as many coins as possible without going “broke”. I had never been in a coin shop as large and well-stocked as that one, so it is not surprising that I hit the jackpot that afternoon, in spite of my budgetary constraints. Additionally, in one of the bargain-bins, I found a coin that remained mysterious to me for several years to come: a Lundy Puffin. I had unwittingly purchased my first micro-national coin. This was in the pre-Internet days, and to make matters worse, I didn't have ready access to numismatic catalogs or well-informed experts. It was such a normal-looking coin, yet so abnormally mind-boggling. There was no mundane explanation for this otherworldly coin, but I knew the answer was floating somewhere. It was as if inside that establishment there was a fissure in space, a rift in the molecular fabric of thin air. Eventually, the fog lifted and I was able to ascertain all the fascinating details pertaining to the unidentifiable coin; but I had no inkling there were other bizarre coins of this ilk to unearth. Little did I suspect that a small element of a hidden “counter-world” had snuck into my life.
Nearly a decade later, frustrated by the lack of coin-buying opportunities in my area, I began to make purchases through the mail and via the computer. In one of Metro Change's printed price-lists, there were a few offerings from Hutt River Province. I had that startling sensation again, seeing a modern coin from a location with which I was not even remotely acquainted. I picked up the telephone and called Joseph Lang, who patiently explained it to me. The coin-dealer even helped me to make a selection, since I hadn't the faintest clue as to which one to choose. This time I knowingly and intentionally purchased my second micro-national coin. When I received it, I was amazed; it was a priceless feeling, like I had discovered something profoundly new.
Slowly, I became more cognizant of these strange and compelling coins. I began to acquire them from time to time, in a steadily increasing fashion. I also came across an earlier edition of Colin R. Bruce II's Unusual World Coins catalog. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. At some unforeseeable point, the scales tipped and I became more avid, active, and absorbed. Nevertheless, I didn't plunge in all the way. For example, I still resisted buying a coin from Sealand. Did I think there was something unauthentic and phony about it? Something I didn't trust about a coin-issuing offshore platform masquerading as a bona-fide country? Something outlandishly shady and sham-like? Or was it merely something about the dryly uncreative name itself which bothered me? I was still skeptical and turned off by some sites, and I carried these biases for a long period of time. I also remember receiving a set of Purple Shaftieuland coins from Frank Robinson. I opened the envelope, looked at the coins, cringed, re-packaged the items, and sent them right back. I am sorry to admit that they really didn't “agree” with me; to be honest, I was even slightly repelled by them. I understood that there was some humor behind them, but I was not mindful of the whole story. Surely, these coins were a put-on or someone's idea of a joke? Only now do I “get” them, if only in my own subjective way; and I am extremely fond of them. Funny, how our tastes change and evolve. There were other coins which were so fantasy-based or offbeat that for the longest while I just could not take their eccentricities seriously. I did not even regard them as suitable candidates. I just looked down on them and/or ignored them. They did not fit into my scheme of things. They were not worthy of my attention or my dollars. After all, ours may well be a small world, according to the timeworn cliché, but is there really such an oppressive shortage of homelands that we must indulge ourselves with the escapism of castlebuilders? And unless there is a marked dearth of coins, tokens and exonumia of all stripes, aren't we already busily amassing enough of them without having to pursue the manufactured figments of a stargazer's reverie?
Which brings us to this: at some stage in my coin-strewn path, I had to undergo a conscious and gradual “paradigm shift”. I had to put aside what I thought I knew about the “world” of coins, and consider/adopt some new suppositions; some peculiar realities. I had to rationally broaden my acceptance and allow these atypical coins to teach me histories, biographies, and geographies of which I was still absolutely oblivious. Like a series of stepping-stones, they ultimately turned me into a more perceptive, richer person. After all, knowledge is one of the primary, life-long rewards that coin-collecting affords us. Brought to light, many of these previously undetected coins offered stories and tales from a “parallel-universe” of sorts, which seemingly exists side-by-side with our own. We stumble upon these pleasingly exotic coins largely by chance, even though they have been there all along. Like with any fantastic pastime, the more you learn, the more it spurs you to add to that learning. I had to become less judgmental of these singular coins and less suspicious towards the people responsible for them. I had to come to terms with many of these incomparably odd coins and appreciate them for what they are: objets d'art. To exclude them from my collection would merely serve to restrict the amount of enjoyment I could derive from this enlightening diversion. I've developed an insatiable appetite for these savory coins, which now leads me to rue the disappointing fact that there aren't more of them being generated. For my two cents worth, I consider these underrated coins to be the most exhilarating and awe-inspiring pieces being fabricated anyplace on the planet.
If you think about it, you'll see that I'm really not exaggerating about how exceptionally esoteric and far-removed from ordinariness these coins once were. Ten years ago, how many of us were regularly surfing in cyberspace, or were frequenting its major auction house by the Bay? The Internet has become a fountain of information for us, and some of these coins have become fairly commonplace, almost ubiquitous. Nowadays, there is no excuse for a collector to not be thoroughly aware of Duchy of Avram, Minerva, Nova Roma, and Seborga (but then again, there is surprisingly little data online to gather about the coins of integral places like Occussi-Ambeno, Outer Baldonia, Wikingland, or Vinland/Midhgardhr. Regrettably, a few micro-national architects opt to remain faceless and/or nameless; they avoid openly claiming involvement with the very coins they've had struck on their own behalf. They eschew authorship and remain uncommunicatively secretive and evasive, making it bewilderingly difficult to obtain earnest or straightforward answers even in instances when these fellows can be successfully uncloaked). We can practically take most of those realms for granted and forget how exciting it was when they were true renegades, and their rebellious coins were amazingly novel and unique. In those days, only a limited number of people were “in-the-know” or had a few specimens handy, while the rest of us remained in the dark. But I take comfort in sensing that there is a young collector out there who is thrilled to finally get hold of a coin from Dahomey, let's say. Then that same pulse-racing, energizing joy is rekindled when he or she discovers that there exists a coin-emitting Damanhur, and that collector expands his or her horizons to embrace something unfamiliar.
First, how may we distinguish a micro-nation? There is an abundance of tiny countries, colonies/protectorates/dependencies which could be technically and liberally defined as micro-nations (the modern-day list includes Alderney, Anguilla, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montserrat, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Pitcairn Island, St. Barthelemy, St. Helena, San Marino, Tokelau, Tristan da Cunha, Tuvalu, Vatican City, etc...), especially if our criteria is acreage and population. But this only serves to confirm that the term “micro-nations” is not specific or adequate enough to delineate our charmingly minuscule family of coins. To me, a micro-nation (whether semi-autonomous or fully autonomous) is more than just a nation that is small, small-scale, little, trivial, diminutive or minute. My overarching definition encompasses an entirely different set of connotations, the keystone of which hinges upon the micro-nation in question being imbued with an “unrecognized” status. For some reason or other, the public won't accept that a micro-national entity belongs in their community; the populace refuses to recognize its presence in the world. A micro-nation — even if it physically exists somewhere on our planet and it can be visited or toured — has its origins outside the pages of an atlas. They are localities wholly dependent upon an imaginative/invented yardstick than on real-world benchmarks. Perhaps we could coin the term “pseudo-états”. As imperfect as it may be, this would in effect be a more suitable term because it lacks the inconsistencies and contradictions of the term it is replacing. Upon research, one realizes that there is the venerable “old school” variety, which tried to vocally assert their dominion territorially and politically. Their only recourse towards establishing legitimacy was to stake their claim to a meager plot of soil as lawfully as possible. Though these sites may be truly land-based (however isolated or barren), their missions and motives varied, of course. Upon emerging, they may actually have competed with their burlier unsharing neighbors, or clashed with unsympathetic bureaucracies. Evidently, long-standing states are not generally noted for their congenial generosity or willingness to compromise with rabble-rousers and their folly. This class of pseudo-état continues to crop up in unexpected places, such as Torgu in Estonia. There is also the upstart “new school” type, which is represented by a high-spirited, lone individual at his/her drawing table or personal computer who is single-mindedly making his/her own ideas become an actuality; almost foisting them upon the diplomats, the media, the masses, the consumers, the rumor-mill, and anyone else who will look, listen, and take notice. These newfangled sites, which range from the fittingly frivolous to the unconditionally sober, may have no credible real-estate or even a mailing address. Sometimes they are not really traditional locations at all, but associations and organizations such as the AOCS (American Open Currency Standard), the International Foundation for Independence, NORFED (National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and the Internal Revenue Code), RCC (rec.collecting.coins) newsgroup, Sovereign Carbon Community Bank/Sustainable Community Commons Bank, or the Universala Ligo. I realize that there aren't any clear-cut distinctions to aid us in unequivocally formalizing these demarcations, so I don't mean to oversimplify matters by lumping all of them together under one all-encompassing term. I would propose to characterize these diverse sites, even the embarrassingly juvenile ones, as being outside the mainstream geo-political/socio-economic arena. Oftentimes roguish or subversive sites that go against the grain of commonly acknowledged current events. Ego-driven sites which may espouse unconventional spiritual avowals or philosophical points-of-view. Courageous sites which actually have gone as far as crossing the very threshold into acceptability (widespread or modest) and securing recognition beyond the inferior status of quasi-statehood. Citizen-lacking, turf-less, fragile sites on the verge of nonexistence which battle to have their inconspicuous names become more than just footnotes in someone's article.
Secondly, when did this micropatrological phenomenon begin? There have been innumerable pseudo-états, and it would not be feasible for me to paint a detailed picture of the vast pseudo-landscape they inhabit, nor to provide an itemized time-line of their evolutionary life-cycles, trends or plateaus. Besides, such an unwieldy assignment, utilizing even the broadest of brushstrokes, would not be entirely pertinent to the scope of this essay. For the sake of our compilation, it is necessary to condense the micro-national panorama as concisely as possible. For the full-scale task of assembling a sequential or alphabetical listing of the countless pseudo-états, someone reminiscent of Erwin S. Strauss would have to come along. There probably have been literally thousands of fleeting pseudo-états, most of which have had the life-span of a fruit-fly and vanished without a trace. Of that plethora, perhaps hundreds have peddled “cinderella” stamps; and maybe dozens have emitted banknotes. But for our purposes, the quantity becomes even narrower: it is the “handful” of coin-begetting sites that appeal to us the most, and thereby we shall continue to place our immediate focus on them.
Thirdly, how is it decided which coins make it into the latest volume of Unusual World Coins? One of the main factors is that it include coins which are not listed in Krause and Mishler's Standard Catalog. But what is it exactly which differentiates our special sub-category of coins and sets them apart as somehow not belonging in that massive book? How may we classify these overlooked, left-over coins in a more manageable way, so that there is as little “crossover” as possible? A key element is that these coins are unofficial issues in the purest sense; that is, they are almost always privately-made instead of churned out from a government mint, or from an international mint which contractually caters to smaller countries that do not have their own mints. Furthermore, these coins can no longer be designated as non-circulating; some are indeed routinely used in commerce, like “complementary currencies” (Christiania, Damanhur, Lasqueti Mint, Salt Spring Island, the Tyrolean Hour), as well as “alternative currencies” (American Open Currency Standard, Aspen Silver Dollar, Community Dollar, Dixie Dollar, NORFED/Liberty Dollar, Phoenix Dollar, Historic Silver Valley, Mattole Free State, Shenandoah Valley Free Money, Sherman Dollar). The coins of Nova Roma, Seborga, Torgu, United Transnational Republics, and Universala Ligo also purportedly change(d) hands. Collectively, the astonishing coinage of all pseudo-états (or whatever we choose to call them) would be otherwise neglected if not for the pioneering work of Richard D. Kenney and Colin R. Bruce II. Both of these gentlemen have endeavored to elevate the overall desirability of these coins and to imbue them with an air of well-deserved respectability.
The precise date-of-origin of various pseudo-états can be difficult to pinpoint with reliable accuracy. To briefly summarize, the 1700s fostered what may have been the earliest coin-bearing locality, Castorland (1793). The 1800s introduced the Free Commune of Moresnet (1816), Rio-Grandensse Republic (1836), State of Deseret (1849), Kingdom of Araucania-Patagonia (1860), La Parva Domus Magna Quies (1878), Republic of Eutopia (1886), and George Junior Republic (1895). The 1910s to 1930s yielded the League of Nations (1919), Free State of Flaschenhals (1919), Kumalongoola (1920), Lundy (1925) and Atlantis (1933). The 1940s and '50s resulted in the State of Jefferson (1941), Universala Ligo (1942), Benelux (1944), Kingdom of Elleore (1944), United Nations (1945), Boys' Republic of Civitavecchia/Boys' Town of Rome (1945/1953), Celestia (1948), Outer Baldonia (1948), “Utopia”/Mundus Unum (1948), and Buck Island (1958). In the 1960s, Na-Griamel Federation (1963), Principality of Seborga (1963), Kingdom of Biffeche (1963), Tarim (formerly Arabia, circa 1965), Cherokee Nation (1967), International Foundation for Independence (1967), Principality of Sealand (1967), Atlantis/ATCOPS (1968), Evrugo Mental State (1968), and Sultanate of Occussi-Ambeno (1968) came into being. The 1970s presented us with Hutt River Province (1970), Purple Shaftieuland (1970), Free City of Christiania (1971), Greenpeace (1971), Republic of Minerva (1972), Kingdom of Bermania (circa 1974), Federation of Damanhur (1975), Confederation of Antarctica (1976), Sovereign State of Barbe Island (1977), Republic of San Serriffe (1977), and Principality of Wikingland (1977). The 1980s gave us Duchy of Avram (1980), Empire of Atlantium (1981), Kerguelen Islands (1981), Conch Republic (1982), Ludwig von Mises Institute (1982), Poarch Creek Indians (1984), Vinland/Midhgardhr (1985), Aerican Empire (1987), McMurdo [Station] (1987), Kingdom of Kamberra (1988), and Kingdom of Romkerhall (1988). In the 1990s, Enderbyland (1990), Padania/Lega Nord/Repubblica del Nord (1996/1991/1990), Principality of Paradise (1990), Foundation for Cosmonoetic Investigations (1991), Principality of Freedonia (1992), Commonwealth of New Island (1992), Kingdom of Torgu (1992), United Federation of Koronis (1994), RCC newsgroup (1994), Riviera Principality (1994), Nation of YAN (circa 1994), Principality of New Utopia (1996), United Future World Currency (1996), Lasqueti Mint (1997), Regency of Lomar (1997), Holy Empire of Réunion (1997), Republic of Molossia (1998), NORFED/Liberty Dollar (1998), Northern Forest Archipelago (1998), Nova Roma (1998), Kingdom of Wallachia (1998), Empire of Antoninia (1999), Piedmontese Federalist Movement (1999), and Kingdom of Riboalte (1999) sprung into existence. By this time, as the 20th century was quickly winding down, collectors of Unusual World Coins witnessed a dramatic resurgence in virtual “nation-building” — a veritable renaissance, especially of non-territorial entities that make their presence felt thanks to the World-Wide Web (typically, these “states” merely wield/administer piddling domain names as opposed to concrete territorial domains). The Internet has a survival-of-the-fittest mindset all its own; and sometimes, it is quite unpredictably not the most well-known, upper-echelon pseudo-états which produce coins. Numerous relevant sources (cyber-based or otherwise) for our numismatic collectibles have arisen, and shall continue to appear, in the new millennium: United Cherokee Nation (2000), Ferdinandea (2000), Global Country of World Peace (2000), State of Numisma (2000), Shawnee Tribe (2000), Sovereign Barony of Caux (2001), Republic of the Earth (2001), Free State Project (2001), Salt Spring Island (2001), United Transnational Republics (2001), Grand Duchy of Westarctica/Antarctic Territory (2001), Microna (2002), Nichtsburg and Zilchstadt (2002), L'île d'Héliopolis (2003), State of Sabotage (2003), Sherman Dollar (2003), Historic Silver Valley (2003), Republic of Mirage Islands (2003), Kingdom of Atlantis (2004), Dominion of British West Florida (2004), Ile Crescent (2004), Dixie Dollar (2004), The Most Serene Republic of Excelsior (2004), Gaferut (2004), Grand Duchy of Greifenberg (2004), Klef Raraha (2004), Mägi Päiväine (2004), Mattole Free State (2004), Ultimate State of Tædivm (2004), Viinamarisaar (2004), Adélie Land (2005), Amsterdam and St. Paul Islands (2005/2007), Crozet Islands (2005), Republic of Monte Cristo (2005), Phoenix Dollar (2005), Shenandoah Valley Free Money (2005), Principality of Vikesland (2005), Kingdom of Robland (2006), Tyrolean Hour (2006), Tender Island (2007), Union of North America (2007), Xenostrov (2007), American Open Currency Standard/AOCS (2008), Änän Munän-Ylhä/Änän Täntaimon/Änän Ylhätuoli (2008), Bouvet Island (2008), Free Lakota Bank (2008), Nuikviss Aoi (circa 2008), Pampapana (2008), Vostok [Station] (2008), Wirtland (2008), Abemana (2009), Kingdom of Calsahara (2009), Community Dollar (2009), Sovereign Carbon Community Bank/Sustainable Community Commons Bank (2009), Aspen Silver Dollar (2010), and Soto Nations of the Anishinabe Nations (2010).
Finally, why the field of numismatics? I find the burgeoning Unusual World Coins “movement” perplexing, vis-à-vis pseudo-states. I view coins symbolically (dare I mention semiotics?), like postage stamps, currency, flags, coats-of-arms, passports, anthems, formal titles/styles, maps, decorations, badges, and insignia. In this sense, coins become archetypal objects: enduring symbols of identity and nationalism. They signify what we sentimentally hold near and dear to our hearts. Coins are a contemporary medium for stamping many of those immutably meaningful symbols onto something that will last indefinitely; something tangible that will probably outlive us all. Coins are powerful symbols, and these artifacts can be conveniently grasped in our fingers or pocketed. They are also pieces to which we ascribe agreed-upon precious value, not just in a monetary sense. These are perhaps some of the reasons why micropatrological dreamers (personified as barons, dukes, emperors, kings, queens, presidents, princes, prime ministers, and other potentates/dignitaries) have a tendency to gravitate towards coinage. Inspired, these self-styled rulers attain a compelling vision of devising something larger and mightier than themselves. They have an overwhelming need to re-create the malleable, communal symbols which swirl around us in order to reflect their own images, beliefs, or constructs. By personally reinterpreting these weighty, perennial symbols with their own private language, those inventive individuals strive to become more than a one-person island. They proclaim a newly-minted sovereignty to which theoretically we all have a right to declare. These strong-willed idealists, while seeking permanent methods of commemorating their experimental autonomy, arrive upon the inherent possibilities of the numismatic treasures we cherish, along with the age-old capacity of coins to immortally ennoble one's achievements. They realize that a coin can become an everlasting reflection of a uniquely memorable micro-nation. At the risk of unfairly being too psychoanalytic, I fancy they could be part-time dwellers of another locale: an uncharted ou-topos (Greek for “non-place,” “non-locus,” “non-land”) or Na-koja-Abad (Persian for “Land of No-where”) situated here, albeit not-here; and they would aspire to lure open-minded, armchair travelers to visit or join the independent realms and outopias they have founded there/here. Perhaps, to quote Octavio Paz, theirs is a “voice that comes from there, a there that is always here”. The coins they have engendered are a direct outcome of their conceptual exertions. These keepsakes are artistic invitations to us and to future generations of ardent numismatists; tokens of affinity, affiliation, even membership. They are medallic relics which memorialize, for posterity, their designers' idyllic imaginings. Thus, the mundus imaginalis of each visionary becomes as ontologically real as the world of our senses. Their coins are a public statement, hand-held “monuments” to be shared with the surrounding larger world. They are metallic messages to be traded and prized; but most of all, to be remembered and reiterated for centuries to come.
Copyright © 2003-2011 Erik Victor McCrea