Latvian central bank offers magical mushroom coin

The Latvan Central bank (Latvijas Banka, LB) is inviting members of the public to invest in a new coin designed to appeal to both numismatists and mycologists. In other words, coin collectors and fungus fans.

"Mushrooms is an old and large group of widespread organisms playing an important role in the nature: many wild animals use them as their food, while worms of insects live in the fruit bodies of mushrooms," explains LB for the benefit of anyone unaware of the importance of this fascinating life form.

"Over 70 thousand species of mushrooms have been documented in literature, but their classification has not been completed yet. In Latvia, more than four thousand species of mushrooms have been identified, including 51 protected and 33 poisonous species. Approximately 270 mushroom species are edible, but mushroom pickers usually prefer 20–30 of them," the central bank further explains.

"Distribution of hallucinogenic mushrooms is prohibited by law," adds the institution which has been headed since 2001 by Ilmārs Rimšēvičs, lest anyone should get carried away and seek a trip to fairy-land.

Happily, mind-bending psychedelics are not what the central bank is distributing in this instance.

The new coin, titled "Gifts of the Forest" is "dedicated to Latvia's nature" and "bears a message of Latvian values and traditions creating the sense of belonging to Latvia and uniting its people," according to LB.

Mushroom coin

As the image above shows, these concepts of national identity are communicated by the image of a slightly elvish-looking mushroom hunter in rapt contemplation of a snail crawling across the top of a mushroom as three ripe raspberries dangle tantalisingly in the foreground. So fascinating is this sight to behold that the fungal forager appears entirely oblivious to the basket of nature's bounty he has already collected, which is visible behind and to the right of his stooping figure.

The image seems to present a quandary requiring the wisdom of Solomon: what to do? Secure the large mushroom immediately even at the risk of disturbing the harmless invertebrate and thereby risk upsetting the delicate balance of the cosmos? Or munch the raspberries while the snail makes good its exit and risk the appalling prospect of another, less ethical mushroomer appearing from the dryadic gloom to steal the extremely tempting mushroom from beneath one's very nose?

The other side of the coin is no less interesting, depicting "mushroom with mycelium" in a stylized form reminiscent of a new mushroom-shaped constellation in the nocturnal sky. If only such a thing existed to guide errant mushroomers home and reduce the frequency with which the emergency services and army helicopters are scrambled to rescue them from Latvia's extensive forests! 

However, despite the name "Gifts of the Forest", the coins themselves will be anything but free of charge when they go on sale October 17. The price of the coin at the Cashier's Offices of Latvijas Banka is 47.00 euro each, making them very much the white truffle of the coin collectors' world.

The maximum mintage of the coin is limited to 4,000 examples. It is not the first time mushrooms have taken pride of place on Latvian coinage.

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