Consumers find toonie lookalike in change

Ethiopia’s one-birr coin, one of many foreign circulation coins struck by the Royal Canadian Mint, has been turning heads since it was first issued by the East African nation in 2010.

“When getting change from a cab or the store, be sure to check the twoonies,” wrote Cliff Laurin on Dec. 9, using another portmanteau for Canada’s $2 circulation coin in a post on the Iqaluit Public Service Announcements Facebook group.

The post garnered about 30 comments plus more than 9,000 shares from other Facebook users across Canada.

Over the previous week, Laurin received two “birrs,” which are slightly smaller than the toonie’s 28-millimetre diameter; however, both coins share a bi-metallic composition. The birr’s weight is reported as 6.82 grams, slightly below the toonie’s 6.92 grams.

As of Dec. 21, one birr equals 0.026 Canadian cents, meaning $1 is worth about 37.75 Ethiopian birr.

It’s not the only time this mixup has occurred.

A 2012 Reddit thread, in which the original poster warned, “This is NOT a toonie,” drew some discussion about the “novelty” of acquiring African currency.

“This would be an entertaining novelty, the first time,” wrote one user. “I’ll pay $2 for random African coinage. But only once.”

More recently, in 2018, another Reddit thread saw another discussion centre on what one user called “the real question … if the birr works in a euro vending machine.”

“I’ve never tried it, because believe it or not the worst-case scenario is that it does,” responded the original poster. “Then I lose part of my collection.”

Since opening in 1908 as the Ottawa branch of Britain’s Royal Mint, what’s now known as the Royal Canadian Mint has produced tens of billions of foreign coins and planchets for about 90 countries.

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