Based on the novel Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
By Ciara, age 12 – Co. Dublin
I remember the day I was minted like it was yesterday. The metal stamps crushed my nickel brass outer ring and my cupronickel middle together, while simultaneously marking my front with the 1 euro symbol and my back with the year 2010 and an Irish hunter horse and foal - a limited release commemorative design - and poof! I was formed.
I was immediately thrown together with loads of other freshly made coins. I could sense that the pile I was lying on was thousands of coins deep. Us coins are hardy, and I knew that the coins right at the bottom weren’t troubled very much by the massive weight on top of them, but I still pitied them. Even the minute I spent lying there with other coins raining down on top of me was unbearably boring and disquieting; I ached for whatever excitement I felt must be around the corner, while also dreading that the rest of my existence might be spent right where I was, being buried under copies of myself. Melodramatic, I know, but I was young and naive.
Luckily for me, I was one of the last to be manufactured that day, and soon the flow of coins stopped. Several slots opened at the bottom of the huge bin we were in, and we started slowly moving through a counting machine. A hundred coins would go through, then the slots would close; there would be a pause, and the slots would reopen and the machine would count another hundred coins as they went through.
This process took a long time, and as I slowly made my way to the bottom of the bin, I got to know some of my companions. A sparky coin to my right with a miniscule blemish on one of the twelve stars along her back recovered from the shock first. By the time I had come round - which, in my defence, was not that long after - she had already come up with a name for herself: Starmark. She introduced herself to me excitedly and asked me if I had a name yet. When I said no, she launched into an enthusiastic explanation of how she came to decide her name, and then about what she thought happened to the coins that went through the counting slots, and after that how excited she was to see what happened next.
I half-listened while also pondering my name as we slowly but surely made our way downward. Soon we came to the bottom of the bin. I bade a quick farewell to Starmark, then disappeared through one of the slots at the same time as her.
I fell into a bag made of rough cloth. The cloth felt strange - I had only ever felt metal up until now - but I knew that all the coins before me must have gone into the same bags, and that this was how it must be. Next the bag started moving, rattling along. That was uncomfortable, too, but in time I got used to it. I was actually quite grateful for it later, as I spent most of my life in people’s pockets being rattled about, and it was better to become accustomed to it early on.
A few moments later, the bag stopped moving. The top was reopened, and an enormous wrinkled hand reached in and picked me up. I saw the conveyor belt my bag was on, as well as the long line of bags in front of it and the short line behind it. There were two other conveyor belts either side of my one, also lined with bags. I glimpsed all this receding behind me as the aged man holding me gently pressed me against a short tube and put the other end over his eye.
I gave a start as the man’s watery blue eye, magnified tenfold, appeared over me at the opposite end of the tube. He studied my back and front, then carefully returned me to my bag, saying in a pleased voice, “Perfect. A real beauty.” And that’s how I came to decide my name: Silver Beauty.
There was a pause - I think the man was quality checking some of the other coins - and then the conveyor restarted. The bags passed through a machine that sewed them shut, and suddenly I felt my bag being tipped onto something. There were several clinks as the bags behind mine were also tipped off the conveyor, and then we were lifted up up, up and forward.
We stopped after a while, and the tray the bags were on top of was transferred onto something else that didn’t move. I heard the thing that had been transporting us leave, and we were left on our own for a few days. In this time, I got to know some of my companions. They all had named themselves after some microscopic imperfection of theirs - Smallstar, Foalscratch, Bentyear - and once they started talking, I could hardly hear myself think with all the excited chatter going on. I soon realized that I was the only coin out of those immediately surrounding me that was completely perfect, and I think this had an effect on my personality. You see, the other imperfect coins were much more rowdy and uncivilised than me - they were still fun and interesting to be around, but not as well made.
Eventually we were moved again, and we spent a long time in transport, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. We came to a place where all the bags were thrown together in a big room - I later learned that this was called a vault. Some coins had the bright idea to try to break the stitches holding our bag closed, so that we could explore and meet coins from other bags. Of course, when a human eventually came in to check on us, he was very angry to see the bags open, and there was a big fuss made of counting the coins in each open bag. He calmed down when he found none missing, but he still grumbled for a long time, with the words “Sue the factory” and “Sue the transport” repeated over and over again.
Our bags were reclosed and soon we were transported again. This time only some of us were moved - I sensed about two hundred bags being taken, and a few days of transport later we were separated again into groups of fifty. My group was taken to a smaller vault, dim but not dark, and much noise and bustling could be heard from outside during the daytime.
By now I was four weeks old and quite grown-up. One day my bag was fetched from the vault and brought to a huge room full of noise and people. The bag was placed on a counter, where a whiskered man opened it and took out two coins - me and Foalscratch. We were placed on top of some paper notes, and from there I could see the room in all its shimmering glory. Everything seemed to be gold or silver coloured or made of marble. Then Foalscratch the notes and I were pushed forward by the whiskered man, and a piece of paper with writing on it was handed to him in return, and we were picked up by a man with soft hands wearing a brown overcoat. The notes went into his wallet, and me and Foalscratch went into his pocket and we were off.
His movement caused Foalscratch to fall down to the bottom of the pocket, which was separated into two parts by a tin of mints. I stayed on top with two other coins.
As I stayed some weeks in those trousers, I may as well tell you something about them. They didn’t sway too much when the man walked, which was nice and were made of a soft enough material that let some light through to the pockets. There were many pockets filled with many coins, but I need only describe the pocket I was placed in. It was near the front of the trousers, so I didn’t get sat upon or knocked about too much inside it, and of course having the metal tin next to me was a great comfort.
I was on top of the other coins and had lots of room to move about. Right below me was a fat coin - not that humans would be able to tell - with a very pretty face and a pert little end to his number one. I said to him, “How do you do? What is your name?”
He turned his attention to me (us coins can sense each other’s attention, as we can sense most things) and said “My name is Merryone; I am very handsome. Are you going to be next to me in this pocket?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Well, then,” he said, “I hope you are good-mannered. I do not like anyone near me who is impolite.”
Just then the coin next Merryone turned her attention to us. She seemed rather ill-tempered. She glared at me and said, “So it is you who has pushed me out of my place on top; it is a very strange thing for a youngster like you, to come and turn a lady out of her own home.”
“I beg your pardon, I have pushed no-one out,” I replied. “The man whose pockets these are put me here, and I had nothing to do with it. And as to my being a youngster, I am now four weeks old. I have not yet had words with a coin older than me, and it is my wish to live at peace.” She harrumphed and turned away.
When she was distracted, Merryone told me about her. “The thing is,” he said, “Spark has had a very unhappy life. When she was first minted, she was misshapen, and when she went through the counting machine it sensed that she was not the right shape. She was sent back and had to have her outer ring and center separated again. This caused a spark, which is how she got her name. Next, she was melted down to be made into a new coin, which was not nice for her. It was not her fault that she was the wrong shape, and to go through such discomfort for it made her very bitter.”
“She was first made out of her new batch, and was at the bottom of the counting bin with the thousands of coins on top of her, and then she was at the bottom of her bag, and her bag was at the bottom of all the piles it was put in. The first man who owned her had great sweaty hands, and always put her in his back pocket where she would be sat upon. She has changed hands a few times and has always been handled roughly. That is why she is so testy; she says she has never had any joy, so why should she not be sullen?”
I felt sorry for Spark, but of course I knew very little then, and thought she was perhaps making the worst of it, being so grumpy in such a nice pocket. Soon Spark started to change her mood, though. Our owner never let his pockets get crowded, or dirty, and whenever his trousers went to the wash, he lined us up carefully on the table, then dusted us off and put us in a fresh new pocket. In his good care, and with me and Merryone’s friendly company, she soon softened up.
Eventually the time came when we were to be spent. Merryone was given to a girl who was selling handmade bracelets door-to-door. She said he was the first euro she had earned with her business and that she would never spend him, so he was safe and happy. Then me and Spark were given to a woman in a shop. She dropped us into the cash register and slammed the money drawer closed.
I spent a while in that shop, being passed from hand to hand when a different register needed coins. I was given to a customer as change, who then dropped me through a slit in the head of a giant statue of a dog. The fall was jolting, and the landing scratched me badly, ruining my perfect surface. I mourned the loss while languishing in that dark, cold space. When the huge dog was emptied, some coins and I were spilled on the floor. The others were collected, but I rolled under one of the shelves in the store.
Many dusty, dirty and unhappy hours were spent under there before a customer found me, and promptly used me to pay for her groceries, landing me right back in the cash register Spark and I had been put in when we first arrived. She was still there and had become depressed from being stuck in the dark for so long, and I was now permanently marked. We were able to spend a while in each other’s company, but soon I was taken away.
My new owner was a father of a big family. It wasn’t long before I was given to one of the children for pocket money, and I had a very rough time with them. The children were always lending money to each other, or giving each other change in return for a note, and so I was constantly swapping hands. They had all manner of hiding places for their money, from burst footballs to socks, and they played many games using coins, too. They would see who could spin a coin so that it stayed upright the longest, or use one coin to flick another to the end of the table, or substitute coins for marbles, or make a coin the centrepiece for their Ouija board…..And they were always flipping coins to settle disputes, which made me very dizzy.
Eventually I was spent again, and this time I came into possession of a lad who had decided to start saving up his money and also take up coin collecting. Before this, his hobby had been buying interesting and colourful marbles and winning marble games. He had paid his little brother to clean them and keep them ordered - not because he was lazy, but because the youngster had been asking money and also responsibility. Now that that hobby was over, the little brother wanted another job. My owner gave him the task of counting, cleaning and disinfecting his money, and keeping track of all the ones in the collection.
I was put in the collection instead of the piggy bank, as I was the first coin he had found that was made in the current year, and all was well for a while. I became good friends with my few companions and was well looked after by the brother. But after a while some strange things began to occur. From time to time, when the younger boy took us out of the box for cleaning, one of us wouldn’t come back. Or I would hear the older brother happily recounting to his parents how that day he had found a euro coin minted in a year he didn’t have yet, even though the coin from that year had been in the box for weeks, all while the little brother smiled smugly to himself. I began to realize that the younger brother was a thief.
The older brother rarely looked at his collection and had a lousy memory, relying on his coin-cleaner to tell him which coins he had whenever he needed to know. This made it easy for the little scoundrel to swindle his ‘employer’ out of money by lying to him about which coins he did or didn’t have. Eventually, the young blackguard was caught out by his even younger sister and made to hand back all the money he had taken. The sister, much to her delight, was handed on the task of managing the coins.
She was very proud of herself, having such responsibility and being put in charge of a task her brother couldn’t be trusted with, and she bragged about it often. All her friends thought a great deal of her, too, but I should say she was the laziest, most phony girl of her age I ever came near.
She never cleaned the coins properly, except for one that she would show to her brother to prove she was doing a good job. She would hardly even clean the new coins unless they were noticeably grubby, and she never disinfected them, either. The coins in the collection were always left out of order. Instead of counting the money in her brother’s piggy bank, she would estimate by glancing at it, and her estimates were never very good. And she was even too lazy to commit to memory which coins were needed for the collection, so her brother had no proper idea how close he was to completing it. No proper idea, that is, until the day he took it upon himself to look at his own collection; then all his sister’s lies were uncovered.
The boy was so disgusted at being twice deceived by his coin-cleaners that he decided to give up keeping a collection, and go back to marbles. I was therefore put in the piggy bank and was soon spent.
I was next owned by the man who worked in the shop I was spent in. He was quite a poor man, compared to my previous owners, but this made him value me more. James Buchan was his name, but as everyone called him Jimmy, I shall do the same. His wife, Molly, was a good match for him, tidy and merry with dark hair. He had a son of twelve named Harry, a good-tempered lad, and little Margaret - Peggy, they called her - was her mother all over again at eight. The family was as close and happy as a family could be, and it gave me great joy to see how they cared for each other.
Though he didn’t have much to spare, Jimmy tried to put some money aside when he could. I was put in a jar on the shelf with some cent coins and euro coins. He took good care of us, organizing us in the little time he had between working at the shop. I was nice to know that if I was ever spent, it would only be on an essential cause.
One day, a new coin was put in our jar that was very badly scratched and dented, and covered in dirt. She turned her attention to me, and it took me half a second to realize who it was: Spark! But how changed; and as we greeted each other I could tell that she was very depressed and worn out. All her old wit and spark was gone. She told me her story, and the long and short of it was that she had been mistreated from the moment she left the cashier and had thoroughly given up on happiness.
It broke my heart to see her so dejected, but I could say nothing to comfort her. I think she was pleased to see me, anyhow, for she said, “You are the only friend I ever had.” Soon afterwards she was taken out by Jimmy to be spent, and I never saw her again.
Unfortunately, Jimmy fell ill during the winter. All the money in the jar had to be spent to keep the family going without him at work. Molly seemed sad to part with me when she handed me over for milk, and I with her, for I had much enjoyed my time in that family’s sweet company.
I changed hands many more times, and none of my positions were very pleasant. Once, I was dropped on the pavement and spent a week being walked all over. When I was finally picked up none of me shone anymore. I often thought fondly about the days when I was young and gleaming, though they were now long gone.
Many, many years later, I found myself in a place where the humans spoke a different language to the one I was used to - I could still understand them, of course, but they sounded very strange. One day I was given over as change to an old man. He looked at me carefully, turning me over in his hands. He squinted hard at the year and the design on my back, but couldn’t seem to make them out.
When he returned to his house, he took out a cloth and some strange liquid and set about giving me a good polish. Soon I was nearly as fresh and new-looking as the day I had been minted, save for the scratch across my front. He looked at my back again and seemed very excited.
“Well, isn’t that something?” he said in his peculiar language. “An Irish euro all the way over here, and no regular one, either! I must find out what this design is about.”
He set me down and opened up his laptop, which was called a ‘foritos ypologistis’, in some parts of this country, or a ‘dizüstü’ in others. He tapped away on it for a while, then said, “Aha!” and rubbed his hands together. “In 2010,” he read aloud, “a limited-edition euro coin was released in Ireland bearing an Irish hunter horse with its foal to commemorate the first coins of the Irish Free State, which were issued in 1928. The original design was created by Percy Metcalfe and was featured on the half crown.” He grinned at me. “Well, aren’t you a lucky find, my little beauty?”
Well! I certainly felt proud after that. I had noticed that most other euros were different to me when I was in Ireland, and was puzzled by it, but when I started traveling I met many other types of euros, and didn’t think I was so unusual anymore. But now it had turned out that I was unusual, very unusual indeed.
It turned out that my owner knew a lot about coins, especially extraordinary ones. He soon got in touch with a collector and sold me to him for no less than fifteen euros! I did feel special then. I have been in Andreas Georgiou’s collection for over a year now. He is the best and kindest of owners, and he polishes me often. I have heard him say that he will never sell me, except to another collector, so I know I am safe, and I am at home. All my troubles are over, and this is where my story ends.