Human Flower Project
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Singapore: Beauty in Money
Singapore has a thing for orchids, and two new floral coins to prove it.
2007 Heritage Coin
“Dendrobium Singa Mas”
or Golden Lion
Photo: Singapore Mint
Having grown up in a country with grimy-looking greenbacks and copper pennies, the currency of places like Singapore doesn’t seem like it would spend. The island republic’s Monetary Authority has announced two new heritage coins featuring “Vanda Mimi Palmer” and “Dendrobium Singa Mas.” Not national pioneers, chieftains or generals, but orchids. The flashy $5 coins will go on sale June 25.
Singapore issued two other commemorative orchid coins—Vanda Tan Chay Yan and Aranda Majula—in 2006, and they sold out fast. What but beauty and rarity could get folks to shell out $138 for a $5 coin? Call it chump change? We think not. What a secret treat to have pockets jangling purple and yellow.
These exotic flowers, of course, are serious business in Singapore. The island supplies 15% of the world’s market for cut orchids “valued at $19.7 million in 2005.” The white orchids on tables at Charles and Diana’s 1981 wedding banquet were donated by the Singapore government. With ever-mounting competition from India, Thailand, and China, Singapore’s orchid growers circled the wagons and formed a business cluster in May 2003. Their goals were to spot threats to their market position, improve sales, investigate expansion overseas, and develop new “products.” The PR team seems to have been doing a crack job: in 2011 Singapore will host the World Orchid Conference for a second time.
$50 Singapore “orchid”
We found especially intriguing that from 1967—when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia—to 1976, the national currency was not the dollar, as it is now, but “the orchid.” There were nine denominations of orchid bills (including a $10,000 note) each with a flower on the front.
Moving at last from commerce to botany and culture, we hope one day to visit the orchid collection at Singapore Botanic Gardens and also the Mandai Orchid Garden, which draws 200,000 visitors a year.
The Vintage Garden—Mandai Orchid Garden, Singapore
200 varieties grown
“the old-fashioned way”
Photo: Mandai Orchid Garden
Begun by grower and orchid aficionado John Laycock in 1951, Mandai features orchids grown the “old-fashioned way,” planted in the earth in open beds, in the full sun. Some of Laycock’s original collection lives on here, though many of the plants were lost during World War II.
And controversy being the hallmark of culture, we recall that Vanda Miss Joachim, Singapore’s national flower, generated more acrimonious debate here than has any other plant during the two and a half years of the Human Flower Project. (At risk of stoking the fire, we wonder if any new information has emerged in the case of Miss Agnes’s integrity…. Y’all keep it clean!)
History, beauty, business clusters, conflict—and money: somehow they all drip from the tongues of these peculiar flowers, the pride of Singapore.