It’s not just the United States that has urban legends about its coins. Other countries have some pretty strange stories, too!
In Singapore, a new dollar coin minted in 1987 featured an intriguing design: a bagua, or octagonal shape. This would normally make very little impact, but the coin was released only two months before the new Mass Rapid Transit system began to operate. The story spread that the new mass transit tunnels had ruined the feng shui of Singapore, and only drastic measures could avert disaster. To offset the feng shui effects, each Singaporean should carry an octagon at all times. What better way to ensure this than by incorporating the design into a coin?
Of course, the two events were unrelated, but it’s no wonder that the timing led to an urban legend!
Another Singaporean legend involves a banner with the words “Majulah Singapura” inscribed on it. When this design appeared in 1990, the downwards-curving banner made the design on the coin look like a frowning face to some Singaporeans. The coin was supposedly redesigned in 1997 due to the Asian currency crisis, and featured an upwards-curving banner. A story began circulating that this was done after consulting feng shui experts. The truth? According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the older design was due to limitations in the technology. The newer design is made with different technology that can properly display the upward-curving banner. And this design was actually introduced in 1992, not 1997.
This story, from South Korea, is probably the strangest yet. According to this urban legend, Kim Min-Ji, the daughter of the president of the Korean Mint, was kidnapped and murdered, and her body torn apart. The murderer was never found, and her father worried that his daughter’s spirit would never rest easy. In order to put her ghost to rest, the Mint began to place images of Kim Min-ji’s body in coins and currency. According to the legend, you can see her head with flowing hair in the beard of Admiral Yi on one coin, her arm in the crane’s legs on the 500 Won coin, her legs in the design of King Sejong the Great’s robe on the 10,000 Won banknote, and more. The Mint insists that the story is baseless, and that they do not have that kind of control over the intricate details on the coins and currency that the legend requires. It’s another case of pareidolia, the phenomenon when a person sees a face or other recognizable object in a pattern where none exists. For more of the details on this story, check out the extended post on this CoinTalk thread.
Coins also power a match-making site in Japan, according to the local legend. If you visit Yaegaki Shrine in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Japan, you’ll hear the tale of the rescue of Princess Kushinada from an eight-headed dragon by her true love, the god Susanoo. Modern legend says that a visitor to the shrine can put a coin on top of a piece of paper, and set it adrift on the Mirror Pond. If the paper sinks rapidly, you will soon find the love you’ve been seeking. If it takes longer than half an hour, your dreams will be deferred.
Another Japanese urban legend has a less traditional spin. Most payphones in the country are green, sometimes gray, but for years there have been rumors of a gold payphone in the Yotsuya neighborhood of Tokyo. According to the story, the phone was painted gold in honor of a royal marriage parade; if you call your crush from the gold phone with a coin with a reeded edge, your feelings will be returned.
None of the legends here have any provable base in fact, but it’s incredible to see how such stories spread!