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Treasures in Your Wallet

In a few days, twelve European countries will introduce the euro. Coin collectors are frantically searching for hidden treasures among the old national coins in the different countries.

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Euro starter kits are already becoming collectors' items

Coin collectors will pay hundreds or even thousands of euro for some rare German coins. A 50 pfennig coin, for instance, which was minted in 1950 and bears the inscription "Bank Deutscher Länder" could fetch about 500 euro.

Such 50 pfennig coins should never have been issued. In 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, was founded and all coins minted from that year onward should display the words 'Bundesrepublik Deutschland' rather than 'Bank Deutscher Länder'.

"Only 30 thousand of these coins were ever minted," explains Heinz Senger, a coin collector from Berlin. When the national mint noticed the mistake, it quickly substituted the words 'Bank Deutscher Länder' with 'Bundesrepublik Deutschland'. But some of the wrongly minted coins had already gotten into circulation.

Finding a rare item like that, even if it's just a one pfennig piece, is what motivates coin collectors.

For coin collector Heinz Senger, any shopping spree will undoubtedly turn into a search for hidden treasure. He closely examines each coin he gets as change to see if it's of any special value.

"Searching for coins yourself - that's real collecting," he explains. "The other way is basically just amassing coins. Anyone can do that. But looking yourself is like hunting for treasure. That's the difference."

Senger says that his wife once got lucky: at a kiosk, she was given a rare five mark coin from 1958. At the time "it was worth about 200 marks," Senger says. "Today it's worth about 1500 marks! It's always worth taking the time to examine your small change."

Treasure hunting has been Heinz Senger's business for about 30 years. Senger runs a shop dealing in coins in Berlin. The shop is fuller than ever because of the changeover to the euro.

Every day people come in with their piggy banks. They ask him if they should exchange the deutschmark and pfennig coins for euro or keep them as an investment.

Sometimes Heinz Senger really does find rarities in these piggy banks. "One mark coins from 1950 are fifty years old now. Sometimes people bring them in mint condition. Their grandmothers put them away for a rainy day in the fifties and forgot about them. The ones in top condition can be worth hundreds of marks."

But most coins are just worth the amount that's minted on them. Only rarely does someone make money from money.

Heinz Senger thinks that even the new euro has potential to become a collectors item.

"I can well imagine that someone will come in and ask if we have the two euro cent coin from France or from some other country. It's very likely, in fact. Collecting all the coins could become very interesting."

Heinz Senger is already looking forward to the new common European currency. "I'm a European and I welcome the new currency. I want to be able travel everywhere and pay with the same currency. I think it's a big step forward and I'm happy that it's going to happen.

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