Bank ignored Joyce coin warnings

The limited addition James Joyce collector coin issued by the Central Bank of Ireland. Picture: PA

The Central Bank was warned of potential design and copyright problems before issuing a flawed James Joyce commemorative coin last month — but went ahead regardless.

Documents obtained by RTÉ News under freedom of information legislation show that Department of Finance officials flagged the possibility of difficulties with the Joyce estate on a least two occasions.

The coin was issued anyway on Apr 11 and sold out, despite an error in text taken from Joyce’s most famous work, Ulysses. The coin, which also bore an image of the author, was described by Joyce’s grandson, Stephen Joyce, as “one of the greatest insults to the Joyce family that has ever been perpetrated in Ireland”.

Documents released to RTÉ News show the Central Bank Numismatic Advisory Committee originally wanted to mint a collectors’ coin commemorating Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, as part of a Europa series on prominent European writers.

However, the department urged that Joyce might be a more suitable choice, with more international appeal. It also noted that “there may be problems with copyright in the case of a Joyce coin”, according to the minutes of a meeting between officials from the department and the bank last May.

An internal submission to Finance Minister Michael Noonan a month later noted the bank had suggested a number of other prominent Irish writers as options, including William Butler Yeats, Seán O’Casey, Bram Stoker, and Maria Edgeworth, as well as Swift.

The submission added that the department was instead recommending “James Joyce as the first option with William Butler Yeats as the second option in the event that difficulties are encountered with the Joyce estate”.

Kieran McNamee of the department’s financial services division subsequently wrote to the head of the currency issue department of the Central Bank, Daragh Cronin, to say that Mr Noonan had agreed in principle that the bank should consider James Joyce as the first choice for the 2013 Europa silver coin, with William Butler Yeats as a second option “in the event that difficulties are encountered with the Joyce estate in terms of the coin design”.

The copyright on Joyce’s works expired on Jan 1, 2012, on the 70th anniversary of his death.

The error on the coin made headlines around the world and forced the Central Bank to compose a note of clarification for insertion in the coin’s commemorative case on the day it went on sale.

On that day, head of the bank’s currency issue division Lucy O’Donoghue said sales were very high, with 70% of the 10,000 coins minted already sold.

She added that the bank was “researching” the artist’s source and that the artist “appears to think it may be an error”.

Aside from the textual error, the image of James Joyce on the front of the coin also displeased Stephen, who manages the author’s estate.

He described the image as “the most unlikely likeness of Joyce ever produced“.


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