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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 09:34 GMT
Banknote buffs brace for the euro
Jos Eijsermans and his euro umbrella
Jos Eijsermans is agog for details of the new currency
The arrival of the euro is imminent, with the first coins due to be handed out at the end of this week. BBC News Online's James Arnold is on a tour of the eurozone to take the region's temperature ahead of this momentous changeover. His second report comes from the Dutch border town of Venlo.

For many Europeans, the arrival of the euro may just be a momentary hassle.

But for Jos Eijsermans, it is not far short of a revolution.

Street scene in Venlo
Banknote excitement in Venlo
Mr Eijsermans' life is intimately bound up with banknotes, after 15 years as a bank cashier, 30 years as a serious note collector, and now as organiser of the Maastricht Papermoney Bourse, the world's biggest annual get-together for monetary enthusiasts.

As euro-day approaches, Mr Eijsermans has been agog for details of the new currency, and has piles of press clippings and bank handouts to prove it.

So far, he's not exactly thrilled with what he sees.

Flowers, not towers

In an effort to avoid raising nationalistic hackles, the authorities have opted for soothingly non-specific architectural designs for the new euro notes.

Jos Eijsermans, banknote collector
Jos Eijsermans is disappointed by the euro designs
"Boring is the best you can say about them," Mr Eijsermans says.

"I don't like them at all.

"I can understand that they've avoided designs that were politically influenced - no Eiffel Tower, no Brandenburg Gate - but surely it would have been more attractive to go with flora and fauna, for example."

Cutting corners, helping forgers

Nor is he entirely convinced by claims about banknote security.

He condemns the European Central Bank's decision to print on cheap but perishable paper, rather than near-indestructible polymer.

And even worse, he says, was the failure to adopt the sort of micro-perforation technology that makes the Swiss franc the hardest currency in the world to forge.

As a former cashier, and now a collector of historic forgeries, Mr Eijsermans knows that counterfeit notes are rampant - and that the hefty 500 euro note, worth around 320, is a particularly tempting target.

Euro notes are protected by a silver hologram, a device that Mr Eijsermans says is clearly forgeable, albeit with difficulty.

The bush telegraph beats

But despite his reservations, Mr Eijsermans can't conceal his excitement.

The next Maastricht Papermoney Bourse - due in mid-April - will be the first at which the euro is up for grabs, and the collectors' bush telegraph is already beating strongly.

A chart to show what the euro is worth
Collectors are buzzing about the new currency
The euro, it seems, could prove highly collectable.

Mr Eijsermans has already been approached by French collectors, eager to get their hands on the first shipments of Dutch coins, due for release to the public at the end of this week.

And the real buzz surrounds the notes, which - unlike euro coins - are intended to be identical throughout the eurozone.

Serial offenders

Europe's monetary authorities are keeping firmly mum on the subject, but Mr Eijsermans has it on good authority - "the friend of a friend of a friend, if you understand me" - that it will be possible to tell a note's country of origin from its serial number.

The numbers on German notes will apparently end with an "X", and Mr Eijsermans hopes to draw up a definitive list in April at Maastricht.

Already, it seems, some collectors have plans to own examples of all euro notes from all 12 countries, and dealers are currently engaged in frantic cross-border telephone bartering in an attempt to be the first with the full set.

But attempts at early intelligence-gathering are being hampered by the different rules on euro access across Europe.

While genuine euro notes are widely on public display in Germany - and the German tabloid Bild on Monday promised 500 readers packets of euro cash ahead of the official launch - the jumpy Dutch authorities have refused even the merest leakage.

Goodbye guilder

But the disappearance of 12 European currencies brings Mr Eijsermans much cause for regret.

Dutch guilder notes
Jos Eijsermans mourns the colourful guilder
"If I buy a beer on a warm evening in Portugal with the same cash I use to pay the milkman at home, then some of the charm of going abroad has gone," he sighs.

Collectors may not mourn some currencies, notably the Spanish peseta and the Finnish markka - whose sober design smacks, he sniffs, of IKEA.

But Mr Eijsermans likes the "classical style" of the Greek drachma, the Deutschmark and the Austrian Schilling, and is even fond of the glaringly multicoloured French franc.

And the real design classic, he says, is the Dutch guilder, colourful without being garish, rich in exotic safety features, and full of numerological quirks for the initiated.

Tomorrow's antiques today

Trade in these imminently-defunct banknotes - although not necessarily interesting to the serious collector - is already brisk.

"As the euro approaches, we're seeing all the old coins and notes we haven't seen for years coming out," Mr Eijsermans says.

And at the same time, the nostalgia industry is also starting to get under way, with supermarkets, bookshops and post-offices already selling presentation packs of the last guilders.

And this, Mr Eijsermans hopes, could translate into a boom in banknote collecting.

"People have never been more conscious of what money looks like, of what it stands for," he says.

"For the first time, people are aware of what they are losing."


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