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'Yasui' Custom of Chinese New Year
By Richard Geidroyc, World Coin News
April 09, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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What’s the story behind the red envelopes traditionally given to children at the time of the Chinese lunar new year?

Teaching children about thrift is likely the bottom line to this custom. In Chinese society the adults hand out “yasui” money in these red envelopes following the children saying something auspicious about the adults. While coins are traditionally given as yasui money in China, Taiwan “Lay see” paper money is presented by parents not only to their children, but to their own parents as well. Similar traditions exist in other Oriental countries.

Why will banks exchange current foreign bank notes but not current foreign coins?

Bank notes are relatively consistent in size, they are lightweight and can be “read” by scanning machines. There are so many sizes, shapes, weights and metal composition foreign coins that it would take very costly mechanisms to process them. The notes typically have a higher value than do the coins, meaning there is more value in return for the time committed to accepting notes. Banks have to consider the time and labor it takes to process this money.

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This is becoming more of a problem today than in the past since there is an increasing number of countries that have replaced low denomination bank notes with coins. These are not “small change” coins.

Where can I learn if my foreign coins and bank notes are current?

There are some excellent websites that can identify coins and bank notes that are current or are obsolete but remain as legal tender. In print the only source I am aware of is the MRI Banker’s Guide to Foreign Currency published by Monetary Research Institute Inc. in Houston, Texas. MRI is popular with banks and foreign exchange companies; however, it only offers information on what are current bank notes.

What is tantalum, and is it being used to strike any coins?

The Kazakhstan Mint recently made a presentation at a coin show in Europe in which the mint announced it would introduce commemorative coins composed of tantalum. Tantalum, or tantalium as it sometimes called, is a corrosion-resistant refractory group metal that is sometimes used as a substitute for platinum. Its primary uses are in tantalum capacitors in electronic equipment including DVD players, mobile telephones, computers and video game systems. Tantalum is blue-gray and lustrous.

What is the origin of the wooden nickel?

Substitutes metals and other objects for standard coin metals dates from the time when armies would besiege a city in an effort to starve out the inhabitants. Metal coins would be hoarded, but commerce needed to continue until such time as the city fell. Books and leather are among the objects used to replace coin money during these sieges. Such sieges were not common in the early Western Hemisphere; however, plantation owners occasionally found it to be handy to pay workers with coinage substitutes, including hacienda tokens made by branding a piece of wood. This is likely the forerunner of the first true wooden nickel issued in 1931 to 1932 in Tenino, Wash.

Can you explain the origins of the love token?

Love tokens appear to have originated in England during the 17th century. The best description of the interest in them I could find is from the April 1882 issue of American Journal of Numismatics, in which it says, “A somewhat similar craze to that described above is also prevalent among school girls, who beg small silver pieces of their sweethearts and friends, one side of which having been smoothed, is engraved with the initials of the giver. The greater the size, or mintage, the more desirable is the necklace.”

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