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Study: Money is Dirty
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
May 16, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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To those readers who’ve heard this before, the thought of a study identifying germs breeding on coins and bank notes may sound like: “Oh, great. Here we go again!” Well, unfortunately there is yet another study, with an agenda planned by those commissioning the study, of course. This time it’s MasterCard who sponsored it.

According to the findings, European coins and bank notes contain an average of about 26,000 bacteria each while British coins and bank notes carry 18,200.

The dirtiest currency on the continent is that of Denmark, carrying about 40,226 bacteria. Sweden came in second with 39,600 bacteria per currency item. Nothing was available at the time this article was being written regarding specifically what bacteria were carried on coins as compared to bank notes.

The study was conducted at Oxford University in England. Ian Thompson, a professor of engineering science at the university, was quoted in newspaper stories as saying, “The euros we tested harbored an average of 11,000 bacteria, which for a number of pathogenic organisms is sufficient for passing on infection.”

Then came the punch line, which the study sponsor was likely awaiting: “Most Europeans now prefer to pay by [charge] card and the majority also find it more hygienic.”

MasterCard President of the United Kingdom and Ireland Division Marion King supported Thompson’s remark, being quoted in the media as saying, “Eighty-three percent of Europeans believe that handling cash is dirty and that it contains bacteria. It is a commonly held view in Europe and in the United Kingdom that relative to other daily objects, cash is by far the most dirty.”

Thompson is talking about traces of Klebsiella and enterobacter bacteria, both of which in sufficient amounts can make a human sick. So can going over your charge card limits.

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Apparently Thompson isn’t paying much attention to the many previous studies of how many bacteria are typically found on the surface of a coin or a bank note. This study is nothing earth shattering, nor are the findings new.

Never let it be said this can’t fuel a media frenzy. The March 26 Irish Independent newspaper quoted Chief Medical Officer of England Dame Sally Davies as saying, “With bank notes passing between so many individuals there is merit in a wider study tracking the spread of resistant strains through movement of bank notes globally.”

No one appears to be talking about just how long bacteria can expect to survive on coins or bank notes or how easy or difficult it is for bacteria on currency to infect someone holding it.

People have been complaining about germs on coins at least since the time of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Gold $5 half eagle and $2.50 quarter eagle coins with a new and innovative incuse design depicting an Indian on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse were introduced in 1908. In December 1908 Philadelphia coin dealer Samuel Chapman wrote to Roosevelt, criticizing the new coin designs both for their designs and due to their incused design features being able to harbor germs.

“Teddy” (Roosevelt) didn’t take Chapman’s letter very well. According to eyewitnesses, the reply Roosevelt initially wrote to Chapman was irrationally hostile. It was reported Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow talked Roosevelt into rewording his reply into something a little more palatable.

Chapman wrote a second letter of complaint to Roosevelt, this time having the second letter published in The Numismatist as well. Roosevelt never responded to this second letter. The incuse design continued through 1929. No epidemic or plague relating to these coins was reported in the United States within this time.



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