Old coins


The Dutch are hiding their money

A half-billion euros worth of guilders remain tucked away as deadline passes to exchange the outdated currency.

By Sunny Bleckinger

Five years after switching currencies, the final days of exchanging guilder coins for euros came to a close on 30 December. According to surveys conducted last year by De Nederlansche Bank (DNB), roughly half of the households still in possession of guilders did not realise that a monetary exchange was still possible. So, during the last three months of 2006, DNB beefed up their efforts with an awareness campaign, which included a pamphlet entitled Help!I’ve found some guilders! and the addition of every Postbank to the list of possible places for exchange.

The result: over 300,000 coin-laden folks showed up for the trade and 14.6 million euros were handed out—and one third of this occurred in the last two days of the year, with 100,000 people standing in line.

According to DNB press spokesman Loek van Daalen, the returned coins were melted down and sold to the metal industry, where the raw material is used for potentially anything—forks, fietsventielen, steamboats, you name it. As for the paper guilders, their deadline for exchange isn’t until 2032. (Stay tuned for an update.) Why such long grace periods?

‘When the euro was first introduced,’ explains Van Daalen, ‘an agreement was made to make a long period, to give people a chance to bring them back. Many people told us that they were very attached to the guilders for sentimental reasons. Others said that the amount they had in guilders was of so little value they didn’t want to bother bringing it in.’

And many people didn’t. According to DNB’s counts, on 1 January 2004, there were 3,571,500,000 guilders still among the people. Two years later, that number only dropped to 3,544,400,000. ‘Today,’ says Van Daalen, ‘there’s about a half-billion euros’ worth of guilders still out there.’

That adds up to a heck of a lot of sentimental value. And a lot of metal—all in our hands. Might there be a better use for the old coinage than merely stirring up emotions? Maybe building cars from kwartjes? Or diningware from dubbeltjes? Perhaps even a brass-plated, stuiver-studded new hat for the queen?

‘That would be funny,’ replies Aaltje Loeshuis, a fourth-year literature student at UvA. ‘For me, it just started out sentimental. I really liked the guilder and I hoped it would come back. The euro is so ugly, and when my friends and I saw the new money, we were really throwing up.’

But for Loeshuis, it was more than mere aesthetics. ‘When the euro came in, we were all bankrupt in a way. Our old money didn’t have its value anymore and turning it in was a sort of loss.’

But last month, Loeshuis finally exchanged most of her old coins. ‘Well, it was a good moment to clean the house,’ she smiles. ‘At first, I thought I didn’t have so much, but then I saw I had twenty euros. You can get something nice with that. But I kept one of each of the coins—and a lot of stuivers for the I Ching. You need old coins for that.’

Retired businessman Koenraad Dijkstra didn’t return any of his leftover coins before the deadline. ‘The main reason for me to keep them is to show them to my children and, hopefully, some grandchildren. But I always like to keep things from the olden days—a specimen, just to have it. I don’t, however, think they will have a market value in our period of the economic horizon. What I mean by that is, in the coming twenty or twenty-five years, so many coins will remain in existence that even if it were to become a popular subject for collections, maybe they might become a little more expensive than their original value. But it is not an investment which gives a profit. It is simply a memory of a period.’

He points out that the names of the old coins continue to live on in the language, and he recalls some standard sayings, like the sad but often true, Als je als ’n dubbel-tje geboren wordt dan wordt je nooit ’n kwartje [‘If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter’]. Dijkstra then rubs one of his old dimes fondly, and places it back into a box with the others. ‘As a matter of speaking,’ he says, ‘the old money will remain in the collective hearts and minds of the people.’