I just returned from the Central Bank of Ireland’s official launch of their latest collector coin this last Wednesday, which is dedicated to the personality and of course the writings of James Joyce, famed and noteworthy author of such literary greats as Ulysses, Dubliners, and Finnegan’s Wake. I must say, it’s been a while since I last enjoyed a coin launch such as this one – and for a couple of good reasons. Anyone familiar with Joyce’s writings can attest that he wrote so passionately and accurately to the smallest detail about his beloved home town of Dublin – weaving in some of the most unique and colorful characters at the same time and it was inevitable that some of the more familiar locales still standing today might be recruited to lend a hand in the coin’s launch, and this is precisely what the Central Bank did!
First stop: Invited press and guests were welcomed to Sweney’s Chemist on Lincoln Place – scene where the character Leopold Bloom buys his renowned lemon soap, the interaction which is vividly described in Ulysses: “Mr Bloom raised a cake to his nostrils. Sweet lemony wax – “I’ll take this one” he said. Located in Merrion Square almost in the very center of Dublin, the shop has changed remarkably little in the more than 150 years of its existence, though sadly, it is no longer a dispensing drug store, it remains an unspoiled glimpse into a time gone by. The interior retains its dark wooden apothecary cabinets and drawers, wood-lined walls, glass counters with wooden framed showcases, its potion & pill bottles and measuring beakers on almost every shelf and of course, the now infamous lemon soap taking pride of place on the main counter just next to the assortment of post cards.
One of the featured treats and “extras” of the pre-launch was a reading from Ulysses from Sweney’s current in-house Chemist, portrayed by PJ Murphy – O’Brien, a dedicated volunteer who donates his time in the service to Sweney’s, and their continual real-life tribute to James Joyce and other fine noteworthy writers. After a photo session with the coin and of course, some of Joyce’s best known works together on display, we moved on, yes, this was not going to be your ordinary launch, as the traveling contingent of press, guests, and Bank officials were on a road trip.
We then found ourselves at Newman House, just at the lower end of St. Stephen’s Green, the original home of University College of Dublin and the very location where Joyce once studied. In the grand spledor of the Physics Room on the second floor with its ornate stucco-work and historic interiors, the proceedings were opened by Ruth Ferguson, Curator of Newman House who spoke of Joyce’s days as a student at University College and also displayed the very photo of the class which included Joyce himself. Next to speak during the event was Central Bank of Ireland Governor Patrick Honohan, a now-familiar name and face to coin launches – he presented the new coin’s first strike to Newman House and its Curator who accepted the coin on their behalf. Governor Honohan then presented the second strike to its designer, Mary Gregiory but not before commenting on both the topic of coin as well as the design itself saying “The coin’s design, combining portrait and concept in an original manner, reflects Joyce’s standing as one of the leading figures in the modernist movement.”
With a final reading of a passage from Ulysses read by PJ Murphy – O’Brien after the presentation of early strikes, the official launch of the latest collector coin from the Central Bank was concluded. The coin is part of the EUROPA Silver Star numismatic initiative, which highlights events and / or various topics such as art, literature, noted achievements or technical endeavors for the continent of Europe.
Now, I would be neglectful in my duties if I didn’t address the recent situation with regards to the addition of a word not attributed to the actual transcript which appears on the coin as part of the design. The passage “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read” appears on the coin as the words which come tumbling out of the top of Joyce’s head and apparently includes the word “that” which is not included in the final print edition of Ulysses – from where the passage originates. I suppose “controversial” elements such as this perhaps lend a certain additional twist to the lore of the coin but, I have been lead to understand from Joyce experts that the original hand written transcript may have indeed contained “that” in the passage and as it was depicted on the coin – at this time, there is no absolute way of knowing. Another authority on the subject of Joyce’s writings tells me that the included text as seen on the coin is correct if read in other languages so… the lore continues!
The Central Bank of Ireland have commissioned 10,000 examples of this artistically innovative coin, a design I believe should be considered for coin of the year (COTY) at next year’s presentation, regardless of the error. The CBI are however… offering a refund to those who have already purchased the coin and may wish to return it lest they be upset of the addition of “that” word. Just another reason why I so enjoyed this launch, well done CBI..!
The new Joyce coin can be ordered directly from the Central Bank of Ireland at: http://www.centralbank.ie/PAYCURR/COLLECTOR/Pages/Coinsets.aspx
Sweney’s Chemist and their activities can be referred to on their website at: http://sweny.ie/site/ This exceptional tribute rely on donations to continue their work, a visit to Sweney’s while in Dublin should not be missed!
If you would like to lend your support for the new Joyce coin to be considered for a COTY award, please add your comments here!
All photos, courtesy of Michael Alexander