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Definition of coin
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Introduction

Over the past 100 years coin collecting became a massive hobby worldwide. Coins have become cheaper, more accessible and more interesting. At the same time there were those who decided to make money on this hobby, including the central banks of most countries. They started to produce a huge amount of various products specially for collectors, made ​​of any materials, in different colors and shapes, and sell them a hundred times more expensive than the cost of manufacturing only due to the fact that they bear some denomination. Because of these products, numismatic catalogs are growing by leaps and bounds (in particular, the SCWC catalog of the XXI century reached the thickness of the catalog of the XX century already in 2015), and in numismatic stores real coins are lost among these commercial products. Already now it seems absurd, and the situation will only get worse: more and more countries will find this a convenient source of earnings.

Thus, it is obvious that there is a problem: what should we call a coin? For the merchants it is beneficial if a coin is considered a product that has only two features: it must be issued by a central bank or similar institution, and it must contain some denomination. According to them, the presence of these two features automatically means that the product is a coin, and that it was "put into circulation", even if in fact the prices for sale and purchase were defined from the beginning, and these prices do not correlate with the denomination. Is it possible to accept this "commercial" definition of coin? Of course not.

So I use a different definition, based on what coins were considered earlier - before the appearance of coin collecting as a mass phenomenon. I offer a clear set of features of a coin, as well as a classification of collectibles based on the presence or lack of these features.

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1. Coins

Coin is a product made ​​of metal (or, in some cases, of other materials), intended for cash circulation and put into cash circulation for its face value by a sovereign (a group of states, a separate state, a monarch, or their authorized organization). A coin can be intended to participate in the cash circulation of the whole country (group of countries), or some of its territories or outside of it (in occupied, leased, etc. territories, as well as in other countries wishing to use this country's currency in their cash circulation).

I.e. a coin is a product that must have all the four features at the same time:

Feature 1: The product must have a denomination

Without a denomination there may be trial/pattern coin-like products, or local payment tokens (for example, the tokens of Tatarstan), but a coin without a denomination can not exist. Denomination is the basis for the coin's participation in cash circulation.

Feature 2: The product must be issued by a sovereign

Issuing money is one of the components of sovereignty over a given territory. (In the case of unrecognized states or during a war that's the sovereignty existing de facto.)

Feature 3: The product must be intended for cash circulation

It's a complicated problem because there are lots of real coins with small mintages and improper specifications. But in most cases the intended purpose of the product is obvious. For example, in 1999 in Kazakhstan appeared some products with denomination "50 tenge", diameter of 31 mm and mintage of 50000 pieces; but by that moment already existed in circulation (a) millions of 50 tenge coins with diameter of 23 mm, (b) 20 tenge coins with almost identical design of the the obverse and with the same diameter of 31 mm. The number of collectors who collect these 31-millimeter "50 tenge" is probably close to 50 thousand. Conclusion: even if the product is given to collectors by the National Bank of Kazakhstan for its face value, it was not originally intended for cash circulation, and, consequently, is not a coin.

Feature 4: The product must be put into cash circulation

Putting a coin into cash circulation means that the sovereign gives the coin to a private person or a private organization for its face value. Otherwise, if the price is different from the face value, that's not putting a coin into circulation, that's putting a coin-like product up for sale. Coin is put into circulation by the fact of the sovereign's action, regardless of whether there is an official decision for that
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1.1. Self-valuable coins

Such coins are valuable on their own as metal products of a certain weight. Currency unit using such coins is equal to a certain amount of a metal (gold, silver, copper), and if there is paper money, it is backed by metal reserves of the central bank. These coins have been used widely up to the 1st half of the twentieth century.

Example: Peru, 1/2 sol 1908                        

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1.2. Partially self-valuable coins

They are made of an alloy, in which there is a sufficiently large proportion of a precious metal. They were in use together with the self-valuable coins as their fractions up to 1st half of the twentieth century.

Example: Mexico, 25 centavos 1951             

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1.3. Not self-valuable coins

Metal analogue of paper money. The value of the coin is determined only by the denomination indicated on it. The value of the metal is definitely lower than the denomination. If, because of inflation, the value of the metal becomes equal to or higher than the denomination, these coins just drop out of circulation (no longer minted by the state, sold by people to scrap-collecting points).

They are made primarily of non-precious metals. Individual attempts to make them out of gold or silver invariably end in failure: although the cost of the precious metal is lower than the denomination, people prefer to keep them and not to return to the circulation.

They have been massively used since the beginning of the twentieth century, although existed before.

Example: Georgia, 2 lari 2006                      

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1.4. Commemorative coins for circulation

They have all the features of coins, but also have one specific characteristic: due to the attractive design people often prefer not to return them to the circulation and keep them. In addition, a part of the mintage is always taken by collectors and thus withdrawn from circulation immediately after being put into it. Because of this, commemorative coins are present in circulation in limited amounts and for a short period of time, and in almost all countries are minor, insignificant part of the circulation. And with the release of large series, as is the case of the Russian 10 rubles, they tend to gradually move into another category - coin-like products not intended for cash circulation.

Example: Tajikistan, 3 somoni 2006             

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2. Products with separate features of coins

Now let's describe the collectible items, which have not all the four features of coins, but only some.

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2.1. Local payment tokens

Products that were put into cash circulation for their face value (sometimes marked on the product) not by a sovereign, but by a local government or a commercial organization. LPT are in use in a limited area, they are not part of the monetary system of the country and function, from a legal point of view, in the framework of civil law contracts. Although from the point of view of ordinary people they are one of the types of coins.

Example: Tatarstan, "bread token"               

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2.2. Trial/pattern coin-like products

These objects are produced by a sovereign and look like coins, but the purpose of their production is not putting them into circulation, but performing some preparatory actions before such release (which may never take place). The sovereign just wants to try different metals, different design options, etc. In some cases, these patterns may accidentally appear in circulation, but they were not made for that.

Example: Brazil, 1 real 1998               

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2.3. Coin-like products made only for mint sets

All or almost all of their specifications (quality of issue, denomination, metal, weight, diameter, thickness, design, year of issue) are similar to those of the regular coins of the country, however, they are not intended for cash circulation. They are made to be sold to collectors in sets, capsules, etc. I.e. they were put by a sovereign not into circulation, but for sale for the price that exceeds their denominations. Theoretically, the majority of these products can be used for a payment at a store, and very few people will notice that they are somehow different from regular coins. However, in this case, they will be put into circulation not by a sovereign, but by a private person, and thus will not become coins anyway.

Example: Lithuania, 20 cents 2011               

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2.4. Commemorative and investment coin-like products

Products manufactured by a sovereign, but they have nothing in common with coins, except that some denomination is written on them (in most cases - completely arbitrary and unrealistic). As well as the #2.3, they were put not into circulation, but up for sale. In addition to their denomination, right after their production the sovereign sets the prices for their sell and purchase that significantly exceed the denomination (that is the direct evidence that the denomination is fictitious). These products are called coins only to increase their attractiveness to buyers. Theoretically, they may be used in payments for their face value (though not as easy as the #2.3, because their specifications and design are different from regular coins), but even in this case they will be put into circulation not by a sovereign, but by a private person, and thus will not become coins.

Example:
Russia, golden "50 roubles" 2006 with Saint George, that was put up for sale for a price exceeding 4000 roubles

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2.5. Coin-like products intended for a fraud

They have only one feature of coins: some denomination is written on them. They were not issued neither by a sovereign nor by someone who wants to organise circulation of local payment tokens in a limited area. These products are made for one of the two purposes: (a) to be sold to collectors as "coins", or (b) to damage the cash circulation (counterfeiting).

Example:
"euro patterns" of Siberia

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3. Products that do not have features of coins

In shape and size they are similar to coins, and also may become a part of someone's collection, but they do not have any of the four features of coins.

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3.1. Tokens for goods and services

Transportation, phone, game tokens, tokens for vending machines and other products without denomination. Sometimes the name of the product or service is written on them. They mediate the sale of goods and services: the token is bought for money, and the goods or services are bought for the token (usually using some machine). They operate within the framework of civil law contracts.

Example:
token of the Saint Petersburg Metro

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