Hogs and History Surround Bermuda’s Coins|
November 21, 2013
“Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty Mama…” was the siren call of the Beach Boys back in 1988, when they sang about the Caribbean island of Kokomo, a tropical paradise that could only be seen by those who qualified as pure of heart. But they started their ballad by mentioning a very real set of islands, and one that has been connected to coins – and thus to collectors – for a very long time: Bermuda.
It wasn’t long after Columbus’ historic voyage that Bermuda was found by Europeans, specifically by the Spanish sailor, Captain Juan de Bermudez, who neared the island in 1505. But it was 1609 before anyone really managed to lay claim to the islands. Several colonists – or would-be colonists – bound for Virginia by ship, under the command of Sir George Somers ended up shipwrecked there that year, and the island group took the name “the Somers Islands.”
Somewhere in those earliest years, even though there were no permanent colonists, some visiting crew released a group of hogs, the idea being that if they flourished, there would be meat on the islands, as well as wood and fresh water, for any who stopped on their way across the Atlantic. Accounts vary as to who released the animals, but this might just be where the expression “hog wild” came from (wink, wink), as the hogs certainly did multiply. It is definitely where the first coins of Bermuda came from, at least when it comes to their common design. You see, even today, the series of 2, 3, 6, and 12 pence coins collectively called Hogge Money are considered amazing collectibles from early colonial America.
Mr. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United states Coins, often just called the Red Book, lists the Hogge Money as second only to the Spanish 8 reales or milled dollar coin. These crude, copper or brass coins, which originally had been lightly silvered, qualify as the first money made specifically for England’s colonies in the New World, and thus have a special place in the hearts of folks who collect early American issues. Unfortunately for most of us, these coins also cost an arm and a leg, even in badly worn condition (and use on the islands, where the air is moist, means that plenty of surviving pieces are heavily worn). If you do have the means to bid on one of these pieces, you still will have to wait for that time when it comes up for auction, as these are definitely not common items.
It’s a long jump from what many collectors consider those historic coins of Bermuda to those that most of us would consider modern. In 1959, Bermuda moved away from British coinage a bit, and produced a crown coin of its own, and did so again in 1964. The first shows both a historical sailing ship and a very modern one on the reverse, flanking a map of the islands, and thus commemorating their discovery. The second shows the islands coat of arms on the reverse, including the motto: Quo Fata Ferunt, which is Latin for “Wither the fates carry us.” Some collectors of world coins try to add one of each of these to their growing collections, as they are made of silver (0.925 fine for the first, and 0.500 fine for the second).They are quite attractive and they are still reasonably priced.
In the 1970s, Bermuda took the leap away from pegging its circulating coinage to the British pound, and instead linked itself to the U.S. dollar. Or, maybe we should say the Bermuda Monetary Authority took that leap. Even today, the BMA oversees the circulating money system of the islands, as well as the commemorative coinage. The website leads into quite an array of purchasing options when it comes to all the coins Bermuda has to offer. But a person can also start at any local coin show, or well-stocked dealer’s shop, since the smaller denomination circulating pieces can often be had for little more than pocket change. The reverse of several of the smaller denominations are often dominated by an animal or plant, including the Bermuda hogs on the back of the little one cent coins. Thus, some folks use these as additions to any topical collection that includes various flora or fauna.
In 1984, Bermuda came out with a series of quarters that were commemoratives for the different cities and parishes, and that were issued both in copper-nickel and in silver. The reverses offer the different coats of arms of the cities and parishes, and the silver versions were issued in small enough quantities that island lovers will have something of a challenge when trying to assemble a set. The good news is that either in precious or base metal, the costs are still very reasonable.
If collecting quarters is too small for you, denomination-wise as it were, well, Bermuda has a dollar or two that might just catch your eye. As early as 1970, the BMA issued a dollar coin in silver, and while the silver would not remain in these big coins for too long, the idea of using them to commemorate some event or cause had caught on by the 1980s. Thus, even when the circulating dollar coins became small nickel-brass pieces in 1983, a pretty steady stream of large commems made themselves known among the collector community, some in silver, and some in base metal. Today, the nickel-brass dollars are often the stuff again of dealer bargain bins. Any commemorative dollars that were not made with silver also still remain very affordable.
The commemorative dollars have been a steady platform for the commemoratives of Bermuda, but as the 1990s dawned, the denominations rose a smidge, and several different $2 coins were produced for the collector market. Plenty of these big, silver disks depicted some form of wildlife on the reverse, while Queen Elizabeth routinely occupies the obverse. Even today the prices for such silver dollars are not too bad, as they really are not all that much higher than the bullion value of their silver metal.
Silver isn’t the only precious metal to find its way into the coinage of Bermuda. Starting in 1989, there was a limited mintage of $10 gold pieces, each with 1/10th of an ounce of gold in them. Finding one of the 500 pieces that were minted that first year might be a challenge, although the collector base for them probably is not too large. But a few $10 pieces in a single year ended up becoming the tip of a very large iceberg, one might say. It only took a few years for gold commems with face values as high as $250 to appear, and the commemorative themes ran quite the gamut, from royal visits to the Hogge money that we’ve just mentioned.
With all this commemorative coinage, it probably comes as a surprise to no one that Bermuda has issued a series of commems that are – here it comes – triangular. Yes, the famous Bermuda Triangle has in its own way ended up on the gold of the islands. A series of gold pieces honoring several of the area shipwrecks, for example, have graced the reverses of the $3 gold coins (yes, triangular coins with face values of $3) . These collector favorites appear still to be available through the online store run by the BMA.
Going even further, Bermuda now produces a series of colorized coins for the collector market. Of late, several are available as a gold piece, with the same design in silver with color, and the same design in base metal. The denomination changes with the metal, but the design does not. Mintages for the 2012 and 2013 issues are not high at all, but again, there are not many folks who really focus on assembling full collections of these coins to begin with. Plus, they are still advertised at the BMA website, and thus should be available.
As if a huge commemorative program and a large series of gold and silver coins are not enough for the curious numismatist, Bermuda remains one of the first lands to have issued palladium coins – a metal that, in 1987 at least, was known only as a commodity for catalytic converters and electronics, if folks had heard about the element at all. The one-ounce palladium pieces, each with a nominal value of $25, were made as proofs for the collecting community, perhaps because precious metals investors had not really gravitated towards this rare element back then. Today these coins can become a part of any collection of bullion coins or of palladium coins. As with most of the issues from Bermuda, there is not a huge number available, but some patience on the part of an interested collector could be well rewarded.
Looked at as a whole, it seems that the coins of Bermuda have come a very long way from the rough pieces made for a fledgling colony in the 1600s to the large program that is today aimed at collectors worldwide. Those first Hogge money pieces may be the stuff of dreams, but a collector can have a lot of fun assembling a collection of the modern coins, circulating or commemorative, of Bermuda.
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