Faux Pas

Paying the Price for a Typo on Coins

Have you heard of the Republic of Chiie? No, it’s not a new tea and coffee shop, nor is it a greenhouse specializing in the sale of Chia Pets. It isn’t even one of those fake countries like San Serriffe that get written about on April Fools’ Day. The Republic of Chiie is an actual country, at least, if you are to believe the currency it issues. On the other hand, perhaps it isn’t quite as simple as that.

In July, we reported the curious case of the Australian $50 banknote that was printed 46 million times before someone discovered that it contained a misspelled word. Those who were responsible for that blunder can take some measure of comfort. In that case, the misspelled word was a bit of microscopic print and hard to read without a magnifying glass. While embarrassing, it isn’t nearly as bad as the country that misspelled its own name on its coins.

Misspelled Chilean 50-peso coin, with error highlighted

The South American country of Chile released new 50 peso coins in 2009 (worth about 6¢). The front of the coin bears the image of Bernardo O’Higgins, the leader in Chilean independence from Spanish rule. Around O’Higgins’ stately profile are the words “Republica de Chile.” Well, that was the intention, anyway. What it actually said was, “Republica de Chiie.”

Somehow the coin design got past all of the alleged quality control measures at the Chilean Mint. Thousands of misspelled coins entered circulation. What’s worse is that nearly a year went by before anyone noticed the problem.

Engraver Pedro Urzua explained that he unknowingly left off the bottom part of the letter “l” when, in December 2008, he was hurriedly fixing a minor deformity in the original mold for making the dies to stamp out the coin.

“I have been accused of having written the word ‘Chiie’ deliberately, but it was an error spotted by neither myself nor the entire chain of people who saw and approved it afterward,” said Urzua. He was subsequently fired for the mistake and brought a lawsuit against his former employers for denying him severance pay. Presumably, he would have been willing to accept the defective coins as compensation. Although they officially retain their face value, they are highly sought after by collectors, who will pay substantially more than 50 pesos to obtain them.

Officials remained ignorant of the error in the coins until October 2009, when a coin collector called to report the mistake. The error was corrected, but another batch of bad coins was sent to the Central Bank, anyway. Later investigation showed that Mint officials asked employees “that we not say anything to anyone” about the error, according to the Urzua.

Urzua was not the only one who paid for the mistake. The mint’s General Manager, Gregorio Iñiguez, was likewise fired.

Thanks to Dummr.com for the post that inspired the research into this article.

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