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A coin is usually a piece of hard material, generally metal and usually in the shape of a disc, which is issued by a government to be used as a form of money. Along with banknotes, coins make up the cash forms of all modern money systems. Coins are usually used for lower-valued units, and banknotes are usually used for the higher values; also, in most money systems, the highest value coin is worth less than the lowest-value note.

The value of a coin
The market exchange value of a coin comes from its historic value, and/or the intrinsic value of the component metal (for example gold or silver).
However, in modern times, most coins are made of a base metal and their value comes strictly from their status as fiat money. This means that the value of the coin is decreed by government fiat rather than agreed by the people, which really makes it less a coin and more a token in the strictest sense. To distinguish between these two types of coins, as well as from other forms of tokens which have been used as money, monetary scholars have defined three criteria that an object must meet to be a "true coin". These criteria are: It must be made of a valuable material, and trade for close to the market value of that material. It must be of a standardized weight and purity. It must be marked to identify the authority that guarantees the content. By the above definition, the invention and first known usage of coins comes from the Kingdom of Lydia circa 643-630 B.C. Under three generations of Lydian kings, the money of Lydia gradually moved from being lumps of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold) to coins of a guaranteed weight and purity, marked with the seal of the King. True coins also developed very close to this time frame in both India and China. The history of coins is a long and interesting one. For example, in 1979 and 1980 a Chinese architectural team excavating the region surrounding the ancient kingdom of Loulan discovered some Mesolithic stone tools and coins.

Coin debasement
Throughout history, governments have been known to create more coinage than their supply of precious metals would allow. By replacing some fraction of a coin's precious metal content with a base metal (often copper or nickel), the intrinsic value of each individual coin was reduced (thereby "debasing" their money), allowing the coining authority to produce more coins than would otherwise be possible. Debasement of money almost always leads to price inflation unless price controls are also instituted by the governing authority. Some consider a classic example of this phenomenon to be the behavior of price levels in the United States since 1964 (the last year circulating United States Coins were minted of 90 percent silver). It should be remembered, however, that for most of the era of U.S. silver coinage, such coins were actually fiat money, because the value of silver was relatively low. For example, in 1960, the silver in a dime was worth less than four cents. It also should not be inferred that such debasement and inflation were unique to the U.S. Virtually every other country debased their coinage too. The United Kingdom saw similar inflation during the same era. What is unique to the United States, among the developed countries, is that the U.S. has never revised its coinage system to accommodate this inflation, and as a result, coins in America today are scarcely regarded as "money" in any practical sense. Increasingly common are coin counting machines which charge money to consumers for converting their "coins" into "cash".

Features of modern coinage
The milled edges still found on many coins were originally designed to show that none of the valuable metal had been shaved off the coin. Prior to the use of milled edges, circulating coins suffered from "shaving," a common problem where unscrupulous persons would shave a small amount of precious metal from the edge of a circulating coin. This is the reason some modern coins have ridges, known as "reeds," on their edges; the presence of reeding shows that the coin's edge has not been shaved. Circulating unmilled British sterling silver coins were known to be shaved to almost half of their minted weight. This form of debasement in Tudor England led to the formulation of Gresham's Law. The monarch would have to periodically recall, paying only bullion value of the silver, and re-mint circulating coins.
Traditionally the side of a coin carrying a bust of a monarch or other authority, or a national emblem, is called the obverse, or colloquially heads. The back side is called the reverse, or colloquially tails. However, the rule is violated in some cases. [1] Another rule is that the side carrying the year of minting is the obverse, although most Canadian coins are an exception. The orientation of the obverse with respect to the reverse differs between countries. Some coins have coin orientation, where the coin must be flipped vertically to see the other side; other coins, such as British coins, have medallic orientation, where the coin must be flipped horizontally to see the other side.

Coins that are not round (British 50 pence for example) usually have an odd number of sides, with the edges rounded off. This is so that the coin has a constant diameter, and therefore will be recognised by machines whichever way it is inserted. If a coin had an even number of sides this will not be true. Some older such designs remain, such as the 12-sided Australian 50 cent coin.

Euro coins
The euro (EUR or ) is the currency of 12 European Union (EU) member states - Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain - four European microstates - Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City - Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as various EU institutions.Euro coins and banknotes (see euro banknotes) came into circulation on January 1, 2002.One euro is divided into 100 cents and there are eight different denominations. All coins have a common front side showing how much the coin is worth, with a design by Belgian designer Luc Luyckx. The design of the 1, 2, and 5 cent coins symbolises Europe's place in the world as a whole. The image on the 10, 20, and 50 cent coins shows the EU member states coming together (note that the EU members who are at this time not part of the euro are also depicted). Finally, the 1 and 2 euro coins depict a Europe without frontiers. All coins feature 12 stars in their design. The year featured in the coins can date back to 1999, when the currency was formally established (only on French, Spanish, Belgian, Finnish and Dutch coins). These countries traditionally put the year when the coin was minted on the coin, instead of the year in which the coin was put into circulation. Each country participating in the euro has its own design on the national side of the coin. These designs vary from simply depicting the same design on all coins (e.g. Belgium) to a different design for every coin (e.g. Italy). However, all coins again feature 12 stars in some way or another on this side as well. In nations that are monarchies, the national side usually features a portrait of the country's monarch, often in a design carried over from the former currency. Non-monarchical countries often feature more stylized graphics of things such as national monuments or symbols. Though they are not members of the EU, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City (but not Andorra) also have euro coins featuring a national side, but these only occasionally end up in general circulation as their scarcity leads to greater interest from coin collectors. The coins from Monaco feature the royal family's coat of arms and seal and the portrait of the late ruler, Prince Rainier III. Future coins will presumably feature the current ruler, Prince Albert II. Those from San Marino have various towers and public buildings from the small nation on them as well as the national coat of arms and the Vatican coins present the portrait of the late Pope John Paul II. Future coins will feature his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Having coins with the effigy of a religious leader accepted as legal tender caused some controversy in certain countries such as France. As for Andorra, it has secured the right to mint its own national reverse from the EU since the country will join the EU tax evasion system in 2005. For the time being, the authority to mint coins has been transferred from the Bishop of Urgell to the Andorran government recently. The coins were minted in several of the participating countries, many using blanks produced at Birmingham Mint, Birmingham, England. A problem has arisen in differentiation of coins made using similar blanks and minting techniques. The Turkish 1 Lira coin resembles very much the 2 euro coin in both weight and size, and both coins seem to be recognised and accepted by slot machines as being a 2 euro coin, which is roughly worth 4 times more. However there are now vending machines which have been upgraded to refuse the 1 Lira Coin.

Small denomination coins
Finland does not use the one and two cent coins in circulation. The Netherlands have also considered decommissioning the 1 and 2 cent coins, pressured by the retail business who claim dealing with 1 and 2 cent coins costs them too much money. In May 2004, shops in Woerden have run tests in which all cash transactions were rounded to the nearest five cent amount. Because of the positive results of the test, retailers in the whole of The Netherlands are permitted to round cash transactions to the nearest 5 cents since September 2004. The coins will both remain a valid method of payment.
Nevertheless, if a country decides not to mint these denominations, coins from other member states would remain legal tender. This is the case in Finland and The Netherlands in present times. However, as the "foreign" monetary mass is lower than the internal, the number of 1 and 2 cent coins would stay marginal, hencefore, not being a great concern for most retailers. Because Finland does not use 1 and 2 cent coins in circulation, but has still minted them, these coins are greatly valued in collector circles. Finnish 1 and 2 cent coins in good condition can be priced at almost one thousand times their face value.

Design changes
No further changes will be made to the common side of the coins until 2007 at the earliest. It is expected that eventually the 10 new E.U. members will be added to the common face of the euro coins (they are out of date since 1 May 2004).
Member states must keep their national reverse for five years. There are some exceptions, though. If the head of state of a country dies or abdicates, coins depicting the new one may be minted. There are no plans to move to common reverse issues in the near future. It has been reported in UK Coin collecting magazines that the new EU member states will be added to the coin designs in the coming 12-18 months.

Gold and silver commemorative issues
A legacy of old national practice is the minting of silver and gold commemorative coins. Unlike normal issues, these coins are not legal tender in all the eurozone, but only in the country where the coin was issued. For instance, a 10 Finnish commemorative coin cannot be used in the Netherlands.
Despite this, these coins are not really intended to be used as means of payment, so it does not constitute a serious problem.
It is uncertain whether the Council of Ministers will grant them legal tender status elsewhere outside national boundaries, as San Marino, Monaco and Vatican City also issue these kind of coins.

2 Commemorative issues
The European Commission allowed the minting of commemorative coins from late 2003. From that time any eurozone country may issue commemorative 2 coins. Such coins are legal tender throughout the eurozone.
Greece was the first country to issue this kind of coin. The 2 coin commemorates the 2004 Olympic Games. See Greek euro coins for more details. Finland issued a 2 commemorative coin, celebrating the entry of the 10 new member states to the European Union on 1 May 2004. See Finnish euro coins for more details. Luxembourg issued a 2 commemorative coin with the monogram of the Grand Duke. Other countries that will issue this kind of coins include Austria, San Marino (Borghesi October 2004), Italy FAO ("World Food Program") and Vatican City (St.Peter's / Vatican Basilica).

In 2005, Belgium issued a joint 2 commemorative coin, with the pictures of the Belgian king and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg on the reverse. Other Commemorative issues in 2005 for European countries include Austria and Spain. Refer to these countries' coin pages for further information.

Fantasy coins
Private agencies (e.g. International Numismatic Agency in the United Kingdom or Europ-Mint in Switzerland) have created some fantasy euro coins intended for sale to collectors, both for the EU countries outside the European Monetary Union (e.g. Cyprus, Malta, Sweden) and some other European countries (e.g. Andorra, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway) and territories (e.g. Corsica, Crete, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey). None of these coins are legal tender anywhere.

Italian euro coins all have a design unique to each coin, though there is a common theme of famous Italian works of art from one of Italy's renowned artists. Each coin is designed by a different designer, from the 1 cent to the 2 euro coin they are: Eugenio Driutti, Luciana De Simoni, Ettore Lorenzo Frapiccini, Claudia Momoni, Maria Angela Cassol, Roberto Mauri, Laura Cretara and Maria Carmela Colaneri. All designs feature the 12 stars of the EU, the year of imprint and the overlapping letters "RI" for Repubblica Italiana (Italian Republic). There are no Italian euro coins dated earlier than 2002, even though they were certainly minted earlier, as they were first distributed to the public in December 2001. The choice of the design of the coins was left to the Italian public by means of a TV broadcast where alternative designs were presented, letting the people vote by calling a certain telephone number. However, the 1-euro coin was missing in this "election", because Economy minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had already decided it would sport the Vitruvian man of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo's work is highly symbolical as it represents the Renaissance focus on man as the measure of all things, and has simultaneously a round shape that fits the coin perfectly. As minister Ciampi observed, this represents the "coin to the service of Man", instead of Man to the service of money.

Austrian euro coins have a unique design for each denomination, with a common theme for each of the three series of coins. The minor coins feature Austrian flowers, the middle coins examples of architecture from Austria's capital, Vienna, and the two major coins famous Austrians. All designs are by the hand of Josef Kaiser and also include the 12 stars of the EU and the year of imprint.

Belgian euro coins feature only a single design for all eight coins: the portrait or effigy of King Albert II of Belgium and his royal monogram. Also part of the design by Jan Alfons Keustermans are the 12 stars of the EU and the year of imprint. In 2002, two Polish statisticians performed an experiment that indicated that the Belgian €1 coin lands on heads more often than tails.

Finnish euro coins have three designs, though two of them are each found on one coin only. The design for the minor and middle series of coins is by Heikki Häiväoja, the design for the 1 euro coin was done by Pertti Mäkinen and the national side of the 2 euro coin is by the hand of Raimo Heino. All designs feature the 12 stars of the EU and the year of imprint. € 0.01 and € 0.02 coins are not used in Finland; only few were minted, for collectors. Sums are rounded to the nearest € 0.05; hence sums ending in € 0.01, € 0.02, € 0.06 or € 0.07 are rounded down, and those ending in € 0.03, € 0.04, € 0.08 or € 0.09 are rounded up. The rounding is applied to the grand total only, while individual prices are still shown and summed up with € 0.01 precision.

French euro coins feature three separate designs for the three series of coins. The minor series was designed by Fabienne Courtiade, the middle one by Laurent Jorio and the major two coins are by Joaquim Jimenez. All designs share the 12 stars of the EU and the year of imprint as well as the letters "RF" for République Française (French Republic).

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