Irish Coinage




The 1990 'Irish Presidency' ECU coins



Back to Main Page


© 2006 - Copyright
_ Stafford-Langan
Version 1.13b
23nd June, 2006


Irish Presidency Commemorative 5 Ecu Silver coin

Ireland is a member of the European Union (The EU).  Having joined on January 1, 1973 at a time when it was locally known as 'the EEC' (The European Economic Community).

The European Union has a mechanism of a rotating presidency  where each member country has a turn at being the president country for a six month period (at the moment, June 2006, Austria is the president country and on July 1st Finland will take over the mantle - the presidencies for 2007 will be help by Germany followed by Portugal).

The European Union has a common currency mechanism controlled by the ECB (European Central Bank) which has successfully introduced the Euro currency to 12 countries within the EU and 3 additional states who for historic reasons were included
(see the list below) .

Prior to the development of the Euro currency the EU had made a previous attempt at a unified currency (I suspect the the powers that be would like to consider it as an early phase - but it pretty clearly 'crashed an burned').  This was centred around a mechanism called the EMS (the European Monetary System) which linked the European currencies together in a loose alignment and allowed them to float within limits relative to each other ('the snake' as it was called).

Ireland joined the EMS in 1978 - which decision precipitated the separation of the Irish pound from the English pound to which it had been linked at par since 1826 - or since 1927 when the currency Commission in charge of introducing the 'new' Irish currency decided to not created a separately floating currency depending on your approach to Irish history.

This separation in 1978 is reflected in changes in the circulation currency - specifically the English and Northern Irish notes quickly disappeared from circulation in the Republic.   Prior to this they had circulated freely and all Sterling notes including Scottish, Channel Island and Isle of Man notes were readily accepted and they composed a reasonable percentage of the circulating money.  Subsequent to 1978 the Northern Irish notes carry the word 'Sterling' to further distinguish them from the Republic notes.  

The English coins (and the smaller numbers of
Channel Island and Isle of Mann coins, there being no distinct Northern Irish or Scottish coins) were also taken from circulation - The new Irish pound quickly fell below the value of the Sterling pound.  This meant that that the Sterling notes and coins carried a premium which was worth the effort of extracting them from circulation and repatriating them. Notes being high value and portable in large quantities were quickly removed and the Sterling coins disappeared from circulation in proportion to their value so within a few months Sterling 50p coins were hardly seen, but the 'copper' 2 pence, 1 penny and (for a while) the halfpenny were still mixed.  

An occasional English 'copper' coin was still encountered in circulation in the Republic right up to the introduction of the new Euro currency in 2002 and they circulated with no difficulty - quite unlike the fate of an occasional Irish penny in London which had always been immediately rejected since the first introduction of the Irish coins in 1928.  Then again, a Scottish note would fare almost as poorly in London circulation indicating that the 'London' attitude was less informed by understanding than it was by a ' that's not money, I don't want it ' knee jerk reaction to anything that wasn't Bank of England coin or notes.

The circulating currency in Northern Ireland had been less mixed than in the Republic; the Central Bank of Ireland notes being less acceptable there than than the Northern Ireland notes were in the Republic, but the few that were in circulation quickly disappeared and the few coins followed suit.  The countermarking of English coins by the Nationalist community and Irish ones by the Unionist community in this period may be equally read as an indication of the mixed population's commercial priorities as much as an indication of their preference for the source of government.

As the EEC (Now the EU) expanded the frequency of each countries six monthly presidency reduced and it gradually became a more significant event in each country as its turn came up.  By 1990, when the Irish presidency was due the EMS was apparently a successful institution and a nominal monetary unit called the ECU (the European Currency Unit - and conveniently the same as a medieval French denomination) had been established.

The Central Bank of Ireland and Irish Department of Finance decided to produce a short run of commemorative coins in ECU denominations to mark the 1990 Irish Presidency of the EEC.  

The decision was to produce three coins, a 5 and 10 ECU coin in silver and a 50 ECU coin in gold.  This coin being the first Irish gold coin since the 1646 pistole and double pistole coins.   The short list now (2006) having another member in the 2006 gold 20 Euro.

The coin design is common across the three denominations (excepting the value) and is based loosely on the 1938 modified version of the Percy Metcalf 1928 design.  

The obverse harp
with the value below is surrounded by 12 stars (the number of EEC members in1990).

The reverse design is a version of the Tom Ryan red deer used on the one pound coin (also introduced in 1990), but with a landscape in the lower background unlike the plain background on the one pound coin.  The country name 'Eire' is in the field above the deer and the date 1990 is in the exergue.

With the national symbol, the harp, on one side but the country name , 'Eire',  on the other side the distinction between obverse and reverse is somewhat unclear.  But I will continue with the practice of referring to the 'harp' side as the obverse as this is the correct nomenclature for the circulating coins of this period.

The coins were minted in quantities of 20,000 for the two silver denominations and 5,000 for the gold one.

The coins were all produced in proof quality with mirrored fields and frosted designs. They were all encapsulated and should remain so.  They were packaged in individual boxes, a green box with a cream inside (with the modernised image of the Irish harp with 12 stars in blue and green on the inside of the lid) for each of the silver denominations and a better quality box in a darker green exterior and with a gold coloured trim and a similar internal design for the gold coin and for a three coin set.  The boxed coins also included a small certificate printed on cream card and folded once

The 1990 'Irish Presidency' Logo

The individual coins are often encountered without cases and it is clear that many must have been supplied without cases for various reasons.  Unencapsulated coins are less common and are most likely to have been removed from their capsules at some stage and can often show poorer surfaces as a result.

The boxes made for the gold coin and for the three coin set has a problem which often results in the green surface being damaged.  This may be associated with the cardboard slipcase in which they were originally supplied or i
t may just be that the outside surface becomes sticky after time and may not be connected to the slipcases at all.

This results in the surface of the box adhering to the slipcase and being damaged when the slip case is removed.

There was a secondary production run of boxes for the gold coins and the three coin sets and these 'new' boxes are occasionally encountered. They are characterised by a matte finish to the exterior of the box.  For the purpose of argument I shall call these boxes an official type II  box.

These coins are occasionally encountered in different boxes and it is not clear whether the packaging is a result of official Central Bank action or unofficial post issue changes.

I, myself, have bought coins directly over the counter at the Central Bank in Dame Street in Dublin which were not in the normal boxes for the issue - these included 1988 proof 50 pence coins in two different 'wrong' boxes and 1990 pound coins in one different 'wrong' box.  Generally Royal Mint boxes of various designs and mixing of 1988 50p boxes with 1990 pound coin boxes and with 1990 ECU boxes occurs - sometimes with the coin capsule loose and rattling in an insert that is too large for it.

Because of the variety of box possibilities I am talking the approach that the coins essentially come in three flavours; in an official and correct box, unboxed with a certificate and unboxed without a certificate.  The value of a coin in an incorrect box is essentially almost the same as one without a box.  The value attributable to a certificate is debatable but an official box should have one and an incorrect box often doesn't have one.  

Clearly it can be argued that if the Central Bank supplied the coin in more than one box type then it can be considered as an official issue variety, but as the error can be reproduced by simply switching boxes after the event it is impossible to establish that an example of the error is genuine.  All the alternate boxes I have encountered (Irish 1990 pound boxes, 1988 50p boxes and various boxes with Royal Mint logos on the inside lid) are more easily obtained than the official 1990 ECU boxes so there is no 'rare' combination that cannot be easily reproduced.

Just to complicate matters a number of the silver coin boxes (and possibly gold ones, but I have not seen an example) were subsequently branded by organisations which used them as corporate gifts of various types.  I have not maintained a list of the ones I have encountered and the only one I have retained an example of is the 'LIB' branded box and slipcase on the 10 ECU coin.  (I have not managed to identify the organisation behind this branding - but I have seen 3 examples so it was an intentional bulk branding and not just a casual exercise.)

Catalogue and Valuations

Coin and Packaging type Value in encapsulated proof condition
(with a clean and undamaged box if applicable
and with an original certificate if applicable)

In Euros

Silver 5 Ecu, 1990
1990 Silver 5 Ecu
in official box with original certificate
1990 Silver 5 Ecu with no box
in capsule with original certificate
1990 Silver 5 Ecu in capsule
with no box or certificate

Silver 10 Ecu, 1990
1990 Silver 10 Ecu
in official box with original certificate
1990 Silver 10 Ecu with no box
in capsule with original certificate
1990 Silver 10 Ecu in capsule
with no box or certificate

Gaoled 50 Ecu, 1990
1990 gold 50 Ecu
in Official Type I box with certificate
1990 gold 50 Ecu
in Official Type II box with certificate
1990 gold 50 Ecu  in capsule
with no box or certificate
1990 3 coin Ecu set
in Official Type I box with single 3 coin certificate
1990 3 coin Ecu set
in Official Type II box with single 3 coin certificate
1990 3 coin Ecu set in capsules
and with single 3 coin certificate
(not with 3 separate certificates
- for these see the individual listing above)

Notes :

  The 5 Ecu coin appears to be slightly harder to find in the original box with a certificate and is therefore selling for a bit more, but the unboxed coin prices for the silver coins tend to be higher for the 10 ECU reflecting that the silver content is higher as the price is low enough for the silver content to be a small factor in pricing.

  The pricing differential for the 50 Ecu boxes is based on the smaller number of type II boxes produced and the fact that the Type II box is an 'official' box and can be expected to last better.  Clearly over time as the type I boxes deteriorate they will become more difficult to obtain in clean undamaged condition and they may attract a premium.  The pattern for the 3 coin set is different as the original number of boxed sets was very low.

  Note that the 3 coin set should have a single certificate with the three coins featured, but sets do seem to have been issued with three individual certificates - but these can clearly be assembled from the individual coins and I have not attempted to price them.

  Clearly it is necessary to interpolate for other combinations.  

  I have seen photocopied certificates - and ink jet printed ones - the original certificate is on cream coloured card stock with a distinct surface weave, the card is folded once vertically to a square format.   These copies are probably not a direct attempt at  forgery, just a casual attempt to include information with unboxed coins.

   It is probably worth adding that though they are referred to as certificates, they don't actually certify anything and should more properly be referred to as information inserts.

   Damaged boxes and damaged certificates may not be a big issue, but a damaged coin quickly reverts to scrap metal value as perfect coins are readily available.  But the certificate and box from a damaged or mishandled coin have a value as they can be paired with a good solitary coin to rebuild an original package.

   In the case of the 50 Ecu gold coin the actual gold content is a significant factor in the price because even with only 5,000 coins produced the serious coin collector base is already well served so there is a surplus availability for other markets.

   Many of the coins are still in the hands of the original recipients from the various events associated with the Irish Presidency in 1990.  And there are clearly stocks in the hands of dealers in both coins and bullion as there has been a regular availability of the coins in various combinations of packaging and certificates available on Ebay over the past few years (to June 2006).

  I have no reliable figures on the number of coins which were released with and without boxes and subsequent loss and damage over time affects these, but hazarding a guess I believe that the figures may have been somewhat as follows : 

      5 ECU - total mintage 20,000 - originally boxed 15,000 - sold in bulk unboxed 5,000

    10 ECU - total mintage 20,000 - originally boxed 17,500 - sold in bulk unboxed 2,500

    50 ECU - total mintage   5,000 - originally boxed   2,500 - sold in bulk unboxed 2,500
      additionally : Type II boxes 100 

     3 coin sets - mintage included above - originally boxed 100
    (I cannot recall the source for this - if it is correct)
      additionally :  Type II boxes 100  

With the exception of the actual coin mintages these figures are entirely unsubstantiated - they are based on various chats I have had, some casual speculation and a good dose of hearsay - they have not been previously published so if you use them or encounter them elsewhere then the source is clearly this page.

The 1993 Irish ECU

There are privately produced 'coins' dated 1993 which carry the Ecu denomination and appear superficially similar to the 1990 Irish Presidency Ecu coins.

I don't know the history of these 'coins' but they are definitely not in any way official or authorised, so they fall into the category which is currently known as 'silver rounds'.  The production quality is inferior to the 1990 Ecu proofs and the engraving on the deer is clearly much inferior to the Central Bank coins.  But they are interesting in their own way and quite widely collected though outside the remit of this site (except for this mention).

The term 'silver rounds' coming from the US is a general term to include the very many privately produced coin-like or medal-like pieces that are produced by companies around the world.  The term generally excludes the official bullion coins of various mints but does include private pieces with reliable quoted silver content and weight as well as pieces which are of unstated silver content.   Certainly some of these pieces are rare, but the collecting base is weak and values may not be sustained over time as there is no effective brake on production other than failure to find a customer.

Some of these rounds while not designed specifically as counterfeit do make attempts to appear official and thereby enhance their value over their (often unstated) bullion content - this 'Irish Ecu' example falls pretty clearly into this category.  

The EURO Countries

The 12 Euro EU countries (in no particular order) :
Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Austria.

The 3 issuing states :
San Marino, Monaco and The Vatican City.

These three states are included in the Euro because their currency was formerly tied to one of the Euro countries and their coins had been issued to be identical  in size and to be interchangeable with the 'larger' countries' currencies.  The coinage of Monaco was essentially a French Franc coinage and those of San Marino and The Vatican City were essentially Italian Lire coinages.

Should the UK ever join the Euro currency then the several Channel Island currencies, the Isle of Man and more controversially perhaps, the coins of Gibraltar will all probably join this small group of elusive Euro coinages.