Using usable money to buy "useless' money

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You need money to make money, they say.

Some people in Ho Chi Minh City want money, but don't seek to make it. Brought together by their "love of money," the Gia Dinh Money Collectors' club has been, since 2007, sharing and researching information to enrich themselves with knowledge of rare currency notes, coins and other bills of exchange, particularly those used in Vietnam and neighboring countries.

The club's members, young and old (the youngest is 15, the oldest, 70), mostly became interested through coming in contact with another person's collection, and have remained fascinated with what they can learn from it.

The Vinh, 35 years old, said collecting antique money is one way of preserving a nation's cultural heritage and enriching one's knowledge.

"At first, I had no interest in old money. But when my friend brought and showed me his grandfather's coin collection, it impressed me. That is how I started, 16 years ago."

Vinh said that he could imagine the historical periods of the countries of origin when contemplating the images printed on the currencies.

"Currency collecting is not simply having different kinds of money of different origins or having as much money as possible. It is to do with knowing the tangible value of each kind of money," said one club member, Nguyen Thanh Minh.

Vu Quoc Thang, another member, is proud of his unique polymer banknote of VND50 released in 2001 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the State Bank of Vietnam.

"This banknote, which has never been in circulation, bears the signature of Le Duc Thuy, the governor of the bank, and that makes it invaluable and unique. Signing on money is something that has never happened in the history of money in Vietnam," Thang said.

Thang continued his presentation by showing another note worth VND30.

"Some countries including Myanmar are known for their very odd currency denominations, like the 15, 35, 45, 75 and 90 kyat notes. How about Vietnam?

"In addition to traditional divisors of currency including one, two, and five, Vietnam did issue a series of VND30 twice in 1981," said Thang.

The notes also point to interesting developments in history. Minh spoke of how the country dealt with counterfeit money in the past.

Fake money had to be guarded against during the war time, because it was printed in four or five different localities. The way to prevent these notes being faked was to stamp each note with a seal. "Our club is now collecting these stamps," Minh said

The members also dug in to find out why the paper quality, colors and patterns, including the portrait of Ho Chi Minh, were so different. This was cleared up when the club had the chance to talk to Tran Quoc Du, former executive of the department of money printing during war time in the central region.

Du said, "Money during that time was printed from wood-engraved moulds that were moved around. Different teams were responsible for printing the money, and this caused the differences."

Minh compared his hobby to research work that "can tell us about the lives of people in a certain period, the economy and bronze-casting techniques."

Therefore, most collectors arrange their collection according to the period of circulation, patterns or historical events, he said.

"Some of our members even collect checks, bills or ordinances concerning money during a certain period," he added.

Nguyen Van Quynh, 70, the club's oldest member, regrets he took up the hobby late in life because it "requires a lot of time and a basic knowledge of money as well."

Quynh, who is the club's member, said that "in order to have a better understanding of the language and symbols on different currencies, as collectors, we must know Chinese, for it is really a challenge when we deal with money that originated in China or a Chinese-speaking region."

The club, which meets every Sunday, plans to strengthen links with counterparts in Hanoi and Hai Phong cities in the north, and set up a forum to chat and exchange information, make enquiries and report findings.

The members are united and sustained by their hobby, but sometimes they face some challenges from their own families, ranging from ridicule to opposition.

Nguyen Quang Chien said, "My family often makes fun of me for being willing to spend useable money for unusable ones, though sometimes money alone cannot buy what is valuable."

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