Vineyard Electronics is hardly the International Monetary Fund, but the electronics retail store and Radio Shack dealer located on State Road in Tisbury does display a small mound of currency from around the world in a collection that continues to grow. The free-form collection of paper notes and coins is on display in a pile at the checkout counter.
“It started last spring when we found a coin on the floor from a country we couldn’t identify,” Linda Sibley, store owner, told The Times one recent snowy day. “Someone had dropped it. We put it on the counter so people could look at it, and it just grew from there. A young guy came in a few weeks later and identified it as a Bulgarian stotinka.”
The collection had begun. “Then another guy came in from the Balkans who’d been carrying a coin in his pocket since he came to work on the Island, and he left that. The collection kind of snowballed from there,” she said. “An American who’d been in Iraq volunteered a dinar note, the first paper currency in the collection.”
There’s money from Mongolia, Macedonia, and Moldova, along with Aruba and Jamaica. There’s gelt from Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Sweden, Romania, and India; from Pakistan, Israel, Qatar, and Turkey. Tanzania and Zimbabwe are there, along with Brazil, Belarus, and the Dominican Republic.
In all, bills and coins from 33 countries, representing almost 20 percent of the world’s nations, sit on a counter in a country store on a small Island off the coast of Massachusetts. How is this possible?
Well, many Island residents roam the world for work, much as an earlier generation did on aboard whaling ships 200 years ago. Others have the means to satisfy travel interests and wanderlust. And the Island is a diverse place, thanks in large part to young seasonal workers who come here each summer.
A sense of world community seems to permeate the appeal of the money pile. “I think the young people from the Balkans really got this going. They will come in and see the pile and say, ‘Oh, I have money from my country,’ and leave a bill or coin,” Ms. Sibley said.
In America, we honor past presidents with a place on a bill. A study of the graphics on this rich variety of currency provides a snapshot of a diverse world and the cultural icons people in other countries hold dear.
Ms. Sibley does not describe herself as an expert, or even an experienced researcher on the subject of world currency, but she has Googled a lot, and she has heard many stories.
Her personal favorite involves a young worker from Macedonia who came in and identified his currency, the dinar. The bill includes the image of a Greek goddess from 200 B.C. and a beautiful mosaic featuring a peacock. “He said that the mosaic on the bill is still standing, in a village where, reputedly, Alexander the Great’s grandfather was born in the sixth century B.C.,” she said. “The guy’s gone back home, but he said he’d have a picture taken of him at the mosaic and bring it in when he comes back.”
Several themes emerge to the casual money browser. Natural life — in the form of parrots, peacocks, Mongolian ponies, and monkeys, for example — is in abundance. There is clear evidence that a lot of people worked hard to create arresting cultural art forms for these tiny canvases.
There are also images of national realpolitik. We are reminded of Russia’s drive to industrialize by a ruble featuring an image of a hydroelectric dam. An Iraqi dinar note is a chilling reminder of recent history. The bill displays a portrait of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s former president, who looks decidedly more chipper on the note than in his final public appearances in 2006.
And there is a sense of space and joy in some currencies, particularly from tropical countries. Brett Rose, a tech guru at the store, took a liking to the Brazilian real. “Well, it’s got a great picture of a monkey on it, and I collect monkey images. So I bought a Brazilian note from a guy who comes into the store,” he said.
Added together, the monetary value of these currencies is probably less than $20 in U.S. currency. The value of the money is in learning about what other people in our world treasure.