On January 1, 2002, Europeans were not only nursing their hangovers, they were taking part in the most ambitious currency swap in history. Twelve nations—incorporating some 300-million people—threw their historic monies into the kiln to forge a common currency: the euro (symbol: € — 1€ = 100 cents), a legal tender that will enhance established trade, encourage new deals, and rival the U.S. dollar.
The first trading session of the euro was New Year’s Day (Tuesday) January 1, 2002, and all the shops and banks were closed for the holiday. People rushed to the ATMs in their respective countries to withdraw the new euro. Some machines ran out of cash or inexplicably broke down, while others simply spewed out the old currency. On Wednesday, January 2, the banks opened and they were immediately flooded with people anxious to exchange the old for the new. It was a historic day that called for something special, thus some banks (such as the Sparkasse Bank in Bad Aibling, Germany near my apartment at the time) served champagne to those who were queuing in the monstrous line that extended out the door and into the parking lot.
Today, more than 10 years later, the European Union (EU) has virtually doubled in size to 27 member countries. Of these, however, only 17 actually use the euro as their common currency. They are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
The 10 EU countries not using the euro as their single currency are: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. (Note: Some of the aforesaid countries have elected not to use the euro while others would like to be a part of the euro zone but they must wait until certain bureaucratic requirements are met. Case in point: The EU would like to avoid another Greek-style melt down.)
All euro notes are shared by the 17 participating lands and are neutrally designed the same. The set includes seven denominations: 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€ and the 500€ note.
Click here to view specimens of each note.
All euro coins are shared just the same as the notes; however, their reverse sides are designed individually by country. The set includes eight denominations: 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, 1€ and the 2€ coin. (1€ = 100 cents.)
Click here to view the obverse (common) sides of each coin, then as you wish click the denomination (in left sidebar of the page) to view the reverse (national) sides of each coin.
The chief manager of the euro is the European Central Bank (ECB), located in Frankfurt, Germany. Each euro-zone country, however, has its own national central bank, which issues euro bank notes. In Ireland, for example, its managing euro bank is called the Central Bank of Ireland, headquartered in Dublin.
To better explain how it all works, the ECB created the following video summarizing the currency's first ten years.
Get ready for the unveiling of the second-generation euro on January 10, 2013 in Frankfurt. The European Central Bank is set to introduce the second series of euro banknotes, beginning with the new 5-euro note May 2013.
Since the coins are individually designed, many people find it interesting to behold the different nations they have in their pockets. For hobbyists, the coins can be worth much more than their face value; such is the case with the specially minted Vatican euro coins featuring Pope John Paul II. Enthusiasts may also swap a higher-value coin for a lesser-value coin to complete their collection. For example, a possible trade could be the Dutch 20-cent coin portraying the blocky head of Queen Beatrix for Italy’s 5-cent coin featuring the gladiatorial Roman Colosseum or Spain’s 10-cent coin displaying the magnificent cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a jewel of Spanish Romanesque architecture and the end pilgrimage point in the Way of St. James.
Many coins are not engraved with their country’s name, so here are a few hints to help you identify what land you have in your hand. Try to find:
The Edelweiss (2¢) or Mozart (1€) for Austria.
A glasses-wearing profile of King Albert II and his royal monogram for Belgium.
Representing Cyprus look out for the Kyrenia ship (50¢, 20¢, 10¢), a trading vessel dating from the 4th century B.C., symbolic of Cyprus’ seafaring history and importance as a center of commerce.
The letters EESTI and the geographic land formation of Estonia are on every one of this country's coins.
A pair of cloudberry flowers (2€), flying geese (1€), or a heraldic lion wielding a sword for Finland; (the lion can be seen above in the header).
RF (Republic of France) for France.
The federal eagle, Brandenburg Gate, or oak leaves for Germany.
The words ΛENTA (cent) or EYPΩ (euro) for Greece.
The harp for Ireland.
RI (Republic of Italy) for Italy, (which is represented twice in the above header via the Colosseum and Botticelli's Venus with long flowing hair).
Lëtzebuerg and head profile of HRH Grand Duke Henri for Luxembourg.
The eight-pointed Maltese cross for Malta (2€, 1€), seen above in the header.
Nederlanden and head profile of Queen Beatrix for The Netherlands.
Heraldic shields and a royal seal from the mid-12th century highlight coins from Portugal.
España for Spain, and look out for the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (1¢, 2¢, 5¢), which contains the relics of the apostle St. James the Greater; (the cathedral can be seen above in the header).
Slovensko for Slovakia; the fortress of Bratislava (50¢, 20¢, 10¢) can be seen above in the header.
Slovenia is fairly easy to recognize since the eight letters of its name are separated by nine stars on the edge of this country’s coins. Most interesting is the pair of galloping Lipizzaners on Slovenia's 20-cent piece.