I recently spent some time in Europe, visiting Austria, Greece, and Bulgaria. Like any good coin collector, I was excited at the prospect of seeing the circulating coins from each country. I brought back a bag full of coins along with my observations about coins and currency in circulation. This post will focus on my coin related experiences Bulgaria with some comparisons to the American coins and currency.
The Bulgarian unit of currency is the Lev. The system is decimal based with 100 Stotinki = 1 Lev. The exchange rate is about 1.4 Lev = 1 US Dollar.
Bulgaria recently joined the European Union, although they have not yet issued Euro coins. The hotels in larger cities accepted both levas and Euros, but in the smaller town and villages everyone just used levas.
I encountered the following coins in circulating 1 stotinka, 2 stotinki, 5 stotinki, 10 stotinki, 25 stotinki, 50 stotinki, and 1 lev. The paper currency I encountered in circulation was the 2 leva, 5 leva, 10 leva, 20 leva, and 50 leva.
All Bulgarian coins I encountered were dated 1999 or 2000, except for the 1 lev coins which were all dated 2002 . Subsequently, I learned that new coins and banknotes were introduced in 1999 when the Lev was redenominated. In 2002, the 1 lev coin was introduced to replace the 1 lev banknote. All coins I received were fairly well circulated, except for the 1 stotinka and 2 stotinka coins, which had seen little circulation.
Overall, I only received a few 1 stotinka and 2 stotinka coins. These were received at the McDonald’s and a very large toy store which might be considered a “big-box retailer.” Both stores priced their items ending in 9 stotinki (example 4.99). All other stores and shops ended their prices in round numbers. There wasn’t any sales tax added to purchases, so the 9’s or round numbers carried through to the final bill.
This is a big contrast to the American coin experience. The one cent coin is our most highly produced denomination and the most abundant in circulation. Last year, the US Mint produced over 5.4 billion one cent coins, more than double the next most produced denomination. It seems like there has been an eternal debate about eliminating the penny in the United States, but the denomination has endured. The pricing practices of stores, sales tax, charities, sentimental feelings, and the zinc lobby are most often cited as the reasons why we still have the penny.
The 1 lev coin was used exclusively in circulation for the for that unit of currency. As mentioned, I subsequently learned that the coin had been introduced in 2002 to replace the 1 lev bank note. The 2 lev banknote was used very frequently as the lowest denomination paper currency.
I did not find the use of 1 Lev coins cumbersome and it very quickly seemed natural. I think the main reason the use of 1 lev coins seemed acceptable to me was the widespread use of 2 lev banknotes. Whenever receiving 1 lev coins in change, you would never receive more than one because of the use of the 2 lev banknote.
There has been a steady effort by the United States government to use dollar coins in circulation instead of bills, but these efforts have not been very successful. Common complaints are that the coins are too bulky or that the dollar bill is easier to carry and use. I have previously heard the idea of stopping production of $1 bills and producing a smaller number of $2 bills in their place, as a way of coercing the public to use dollar coins. After experiencing the end result in commerce, the idea seems to make sense.
Lastly, I talked to a few people about Bulgarian coins and coin collecting. The hobby didn’t seem to be very widespread in the country. Someone mentioned a rare 1 stokinka coin that people sometimes looked for in their change, but no one knew any collectors. I didn’t see any coin stores, but sometimes found a few old coins displayed in antique shops. When I asked someone about gold and other precious metals bullion, he wasn’t sure whether buying bullion was allowed in Bulgaria.