The other side of the Maria Theresa coin

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The Independent Online
JOANNE GLOVER wrote in glowing terms in last Sunday's News of the World about what is considered to be the world's most beautiful coin - the Maria Theresa thaler. She began by explaining how the coin world was in a frenzy about the distribution of these silver bullion pieces, whose origin dates back to the Holy Roman Empire. Each bore the imposing bust of the legendary Empress and the date 1780, she added.

There was no doubt that the coins had a superb reputation, Ms Glover went on, having for many years circulated as a trusted medium of exchange in the Middle and Near East. She told her readership that the thalers were bigger than a crown piece and contained nearly an ounce of silver. Her view was that the distribution would be greatly over-subscribed. "At an issue price of £28.35 each, it's not surprising. I've applied for three," she said.

lt is true that the coin world is in a frenzy about the "distribution". Indeed, they are hopping mad about this and identical "features" in the tabloid press, which are not articles but adverts.

These are the facts about Maria Theresa thalers:

q They have been struck in mints as far apart as Bombay and St Petersburg.

q All bear the date 1780, though they have been struck for more than 200 years. They are not necessarily old or rare.

q It is estimated that 800 million have been minted.

q Austrian banks sell them at a small premium over their bullion value.

q They weigh nearly one ounce but contain 3/4 ounce of silver, worth about £2.

q Specimens are widely available from UK dealers at between £4.50 and £7 each.

Having rung the Freefone number in Ms Glover's feature and been told pieces were still available, I asked: "Are they a good investment?"

The man at The Gold & Silver Bureau in llford gruffly replied: "Do you want to buy or not?"

When I said I would think about it, he slammed down the phone.

Peter Morris of the British Numismatic Trade Association (BNTA) said: "The whole tone of the advert is aimed at persuading people to part with their hard-earned cash." The advertisement has been reported to the Advertising Standards Authorities.

If you do want to purchase coins, a list of BNTA members is obtainable on 0181-466 8501.