Numismatic/Micro-national Musings

Numismatic/Micro-national Musings
Erik Victor McCrea

     For starters, it would be helpful to know what is meant by the term “micro-nation”…

     Peter Ravn Rasmussen provides us with a very useful definition ( “A micronation is an entity created and maintained as if it were a nation and/or a state, and generally carrying with it some, most or all of the attributes of nationhood, and likewise generally carrying with it some of the attributes of statehood. Though a micronation may well have begun as a mere drollery, it has the potential (given the evolution of a sufficiently vital national culture) to develop into a true nation, and possibly to achieve statehood. The concept of a &sdquo;micronation’ thus extends across the spectrum from a few people ‘playing at countries’ to (relatively) large and successful ventures with all the attributes of a major nation, except for size.”

     Now, for my meaningless meditations…

     It seems that one of the most elusive goals for a micro-nation to reach is that of longevity. To begin with, there are too many micro-nations. And the average person pays no attention to them whatsoever. In fact, most people think that micro-nations are nothing but frivolous jokes. So, most projects end up disappearing without a trace. So how can a micro-nation achieve longevity? Time and effort must be invested in the project. It must be a labor of love, and the person must strive to attain something meaningful. The person must be faithful to his/her project year after year, decade after decade. The creator of a micro-nation needs to stick with it until he/she is old and gray. In his/her efforts, that’s where the magical seeds are planted, and many of them might take years to germinate. The person might then even be able to pass his/her micro-nation on to someone (an “heir” or a “successor”) else who is willing to continue in their footsteps. It is also important for the founder to thoroughly familiarize himself with the history of micro-nations. It is fascinating to read stories about the “old school” or “classic” micro-nations (the venerable ones that have earned some actual respect); how they were created and even why they ended. That’s where all the important lessons are learned. A modern micro-nation needs to have a succinct vision, or a clear goal of some sort. And it is the responsibility of its creator to deeply immerse himself/herself in the project and to fully commit himself to achieving this mission. Part of this task involves putting together a cabinet or a body of officers to assist in his/her mission. And if these individuals are not up to the task, they will have to be replaced with people who are indeed willing to work (and not just receive nice-sounding titles). It might take time for industrious volunteers to find out about the project and to make the right inquiries. It can’t always be friends and family. If it’s meant to be, then the RIGHT people will eventually discover the project and ask to become associated with it.
     Coins can play a very important part in “promoting” a micro-nation, in advertising it to a wider circle of people. They are like calling cards, in a manner of speaking. Having coins gives the project the possibility of a very long life; it virtually guarantees that people (not just coin collectors) will be interested in it for many decades to come. Coins can be instrumental in the quest for longevity simply because they guarantee that a micro-nation’s name will be remembered for centuries. Coins are flashy and they get people’s attention. But overall, they are only one aspect in this sought-for longevity. For the most part, coin collectors are stuck in a narrow world of their own. And only a small percentage of them really care anything about the micro-nation that is actually issuing the coin. A majority of them just want to own the coin, and that is the whole extent of their involvement. Only a very small percentage of collectors are actually interested in the “story” behind the coin. Thus, coin collectors should not be the true audience for micro-nations, because coin collectors are incapable of helping a micro-nation to achieve its true long-term goals. Coin collectors do not have the power to elevate a micro-nation to any special status. The most they can do is make small financial contributions to the micro-nation, by paying for the coins on an individual basis. And we know that the sums of money we are referring to are very small indeed. There are no profits to be made, and the money is not enough to serve any larger purpose. At best, the money just helps a person to recoup some of the cost of minting the coins (or all of the cost, if he/she is very lucky indeed), and to help keep the dream alive for a little while longer. Thus, the founders of micro-nations should not put all their eggs in one basket; they should invest their time and money in other necessary ventures, beyond coins.
     In all actuality, micro-nations need to target the newspapers, magazines, the media, government institutions. Micro-nations need to gather attention, headlines. Of course a Web-site is important, but micro-nations need to publish pamphlets and leaflets. They need step away from the computer and perform real-world actions. The micro-nation’s founder might need to get involved in worthwhile things in his/her very neighborhood. He/she might need to participate in local activities, charities, and other goings-on. He/she might need to try to make a positive impact in his/her respective communities. Only this way can a micro-nation grow and expand over time: in reputation, in stature, and in influence. An important micro-nation needs to blossom into something that people can be proud of. The Internet can only do so much. It is too easy to set up a micro-nation on the World-Wide Web. These types of micro-nations are a dime a dozen. In the final analysis, the Internet is not a very tangible thing. It is just an illusion, and the micro-nations that dwell in cyberspace are basically illusory. So for a micro-nation to have a genuine impact, it needs to leave the Internet from time to time. A “real” micro-nation needs to leap out of the computer and MOVE and ACT in the three-dimensional world. It needs to stretch its legs and flex its muscles; not just ask people to “click” on a link in one of its pages. After all, what is to be found BEHIND the name of the micro-nation? Is it something commendable or is it something disappointingly lame? What does its name signify and what principles does it stand for? What will people remember about the micro-nation and what kind of a legacy will it leave? Coins can be a small part of that legacy, but not the whole enchilada.
     Personally, I am only interested in micro-nations for their numismatic output. I invented my fantasy nations (Nichtsburg/Zilchstadt and Héliopolis) solely for artistic reasons, just like a person would create a poem, a song, or a painting. The REAL micro-nations are an entirely different animal. They should strive to become more than just an amusing fantasy. That is the crux of the micro-national matter.

     Apart from micro-nations, there are lots and lots of ethnic groups (races, tribes, clans) scattered around the world — many of them live in areas that encompass more than one country — that could potentially issue coinage of their own. If one or more of them were to ambitiously do so, I am fairly certain that most of the coin hounds (myself included) at the Unrecognised States Numismatic Society ( and would without hesitation try to acquire those numismatic collectibles. Let us suppose one of these highly determined groups wishes to assert some type of symbolic sovereignty (or even full-blown independence). And even though its leadership/representatives may not be able to formally establish what the governments of the world would consider an officially recognized nation, they could nevertheless decide to produce a coin — or currency, a constitution, a coat-of-arms, postage stamps, passports — that celebrate their group’s individuality or uniqueness. The same applies to small nations trapped within larger nations, as well as breakaway/secessionist states. Any of these entities can find it worthwhile to issue a coin (for publicity, for propaganda, for fund-raising). So that is why numerous numismatists — especially the aficionados of “unusual” coins who belong to the USNS — find it convenient to call that particular group an “unrecognized state”. Basically, “unrecognized” implies that the coin-issuing entity is not an official country. Bear in mind that in this specific context, I am referring primarily to real-world places (the term “unrecognized states” actually embraces a much broader array of coin-making entities, ranging from imaginative individuals to dubious organizations). These are locations which actually exist somewhere on the globe (though for the most part you will not find their locations on an ordinary map) and which have a unique ethno-cultural and/or socio-political history of some sort (fantasy/fictitious places — micro-nation or otherwise — have nothing to do with this; if they issue a coin, they are automatically and absolutely of interest to the USNS). They have not been granted recognition by the world at large and the powers-that-be. For those of us at the USNS, there is no basic “rule”. We just like oddball, offbeat coins. We don't have a checklist that we consult to help us determine if a place is “recognized” or “unrecognized”. We just like to see coins from unusual and atypical places. The term “unrecognized” is not written in cement. It is actually pretty arbitrary. It's a vague and flexible term, and it should remain so. We just like to collect coins from places we never heard of. Places we have no clue about. Places we are completely unfamiliar with. Places we simply don't “recognize”.

     Who amongst us has taken it upon themselves to issue heaps of unofficial and/or micro-national coinage? This is a rhetorical question, of course. I advise those persons to invest time and money in one project at a time, instead of various projects at the same time. It is better to spend exceptional time on a single project rather than stretching themselves too thinly over several simultaneous projects. It is better to focus on quality instead of quantity (this applies to any creative endeavor, actually). If those persons attempt to tackle too many projects at once, their valuable energies will dissipate; the efforts devoted to creativity will become much too diluted. By rushing instead of slowing down, these people could end up with lukewarm results instead of a marvelous outcome. If they paced themselves more effectively, they could end up with something that could be admired for generations to come. Too much becomes too tiresome. The field of “unusual” coins was much more intriguing when the coins were rarer. Now they are coming out every month like cheap magazines. This makes them appear too common and too easy to produce. Anyone can seemingly do it now. The entire process becomes too routine and blasé. Where is the SPECIALness of our “unusual” coins if there are too many of them out there? They lose their distinctive appeal. Most USNS-type coins are interesting to look at, but only for a limited time. Mostly, they remain out of sight, in our boxes and storage bins. Very few coins manage to repeatedly grab our attention, beckoning us to look at them time and time again while thinking to ourselves “boy, this is some fantastic coin!”
     The way I see it, there was a “natural” rhythm to the birth/discovery of USNS-type coins. Every once in a while, one of our lucky numismatists would make a major/minor discovery. Sometimes it would be a brand new piece. Other times it would prove to be something that’d already been in existence for a few years, but that we’d simply never known about. The pace was a pleasant one. It was leisurely. It didn’t keep us from searching for new coins, though. Sometimes we all felt like picking up the pace a little bit. But I think that for the most part, we enjoyed it. We could savor each new coin and appreciate it much more fully. We were part of a natural ebb and flow that had existed for decades. But when people come along and begin to produce too many coins, it was like some dangerous and unpredictable energy had been unleashed on the “natural” numismatic tempo to which we had grown accustomed. It was like something was tampering with the numismatic “ecosystem” and threatening the delicate balance by forcing more and more coins recklessly upon it.
     Personally, I allowed my own coinage ideas (Nichtsburg/Zilchstadt and Héliopolis) to “simmer” over a long period of time. And the payoff was amazing. My designs were works-in-progress that took months, even years, to complete. I learned that sometimes it takes a long time for a new visual/thematic element to present itself to a designer. A person might be reading a book or watching a movie, and suddenly, a new idea presents itself, to add to the complexity/fullness of the overall design. The challenge is to come up with some vibrant/innovative touches that will make the coin exceptional to look at time and time again. But the “speed” of inspiration is sometimes leisurely. That is why I began designing all of my coins as early as possible — I started sketching the latter ones years before they were actually scheduled to be minted. That way, over a lengthy period of time, it allowed things to mysteriously come together and to exquisitely cohere. All of the different elements for the 6 coins emerged at different stages, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. I did not try to rush this amazing process. I tried to keep my antennae up and my eyes open to any new ideas. I was always hopeful that the “net” I threw out into the ocean of creativity/inspiration would collect all the information that I needed for my projects. I truly believed in the sacredness of this artistic process. All the information in the universe is floating around in some mysterious place (either “out there” or inside of ourselves). Fortunately, we all have the ability to access this information; we can all tap into this source. I kind of believe that creative people send out “signals” based on what they want/need. We send out “signals” and we receive exactly what is missing or what is necessary to complete the project. But it sometimes takes many months or even years for that information (that “gift”) to finally find us and get tangled up in our intuitive “nets” or to attach itself to our psychic “magnets”. The process often takes its time, and there is no way to speed it up. That’s why it’s a good idea to get a head start on creative projects whenever possible. Our “signals” take time to reach their “sources” and it takes some additional time for the “concept” (the “gift”) to reach the person (for a person to find himself in a particular location/situation in which he sees/hears something quite special/specific that gives him another “eureka” moment). This might sound ridiculous, but I've experienced it often enough to realize that there is definitely something outside of ourselves that is set in motion during the creative process.

     Why collect? Is it all just a meaningless pastime? I have always had an “existential” conflict with my coin collection (or any of my material possessions). I’ve always been rather anti-materialistic, in a sense. I have a true disdain for the overall materiality of my coin collection: the sheer bulk and volume of it feels like a big, burdensome rock or heavy millstone tied around my neck; an anchor that is slowly weighing me down. That is my personal dilemma with coins: I like them, but I am also bothered by them. It is a love-hate relationship. Why do I collect them, and what is the purpose of my collection? Why do I devote so much time and energy to this hobby? How absurd! I don’t know how much longer I can maintain my curiosity and excitement about coins. Sometimes, I feel like I am wasting my time with coins and I actually feel like quitting. I long for freedom, to NOT be shackled/chained to hundreds of round metal objects.
     So that's basically why I make an earnest attempt to not get any more carried away than I already am. I shy away from complete sets and I am not keen on obtaining multiple coins from any specific coin-issuing entity (unless they are stunningly gorgeous or I have a powerful emotional bond to them). I already feel like I’m always “wanting” more, and this desire never goes away because there are always more coins to “want”. My conscience keeps wondering if I will ever be able to rein in a majority of these insatiable cravings and somehow become more satisfied with what I already have. To curb the appetite. To take back control. But is there a way to objectively trim down my wish-list and to sensibly focus on what I truly “need”? And am I bold enough to go one step further: to reach into my collection and to purge it of all the “superfluous” items? Therefore, from time to time, I've asked myself to ponder and re-define what is numismatically “essential”. There is indeed a satisfying catharsis to this process.

Copyright © 2003-2009 Erik Victor McCrea

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