The Design Observer Twenty

Adam Eeuwens | Projects

One Word, Plastics

Dubbeltje: The Dutch ten-cent coin

Since leaving my home country of The Netherlands for the United States in 1996, I have always kept a Dutch ten-cent coin in my wallet. It is fondly dubbed a dubbeltje and is no longer a valid currency since the introduction of the Euro in 2002. Yet, for me, this coin brings luck, and to this day seems to open doors. For example, I was once at a job interview which was going south: in a last ditch effort I pulled out my coin, grabbed a CD from the table, and put the coin in the middle hole, where it fit exactly. The size of the hole was determined in The Netherlands, by the inventors of the CD at Philips in Eindhoven. And so my dubbeltje continues to live on in the world, as billions of holes in CD disks. I went on to explain that money has literally become air — perhaps the largest contribution Dutch design has made to our planet. And I got the job.

The nominal value of that same dubbeltje is about $0.05. This is about the same cost as a plastic card measuring 3.370 by 2.125 inches, with whatever logo you wish, when ordered in bulk. Equipped with a magnetic stripe, this card can be loaded with an exchange value; equipped with a chip, the card can be loaded again and again with currency; and with a magical string of 16 numbers and an expiration date, the card can provide access to all the pleasures on the globe, at an average interest rate of 14.17% (here in the United States). 


“One word…plastics,” the annoying Mr. McGuire whispered into the ear of the recently graduated Benjamin in The Graduate (1967): “There is a great future in plastics.” Personified by a young Dustin Hoffman, this was a symbolic moment that announced a generation of American youngsters, about to revolt against the staid existence of their parents. Now identified as the so-called baby boomers, at the end of the 1960s this generation chose a lifestyle more inclined toward sex, drugs and rock and roll. And those plastics? Ha, well, those came in handy in the 1980s while chopping up another line of coke.

The defiant Benjamin, now aged, is a sighing sixty-something with a Jiminy Cricket problem. Had he listened and in 1970 invested a $1,000 into the Visa credit card system, he would have earned a return investment in excess of 10,000%, with an annual growth exceeding 20%. Visa operates in over 200 countries for half a billion clients, with more than a trillion dollars in transactions every year. Instead of owning his share of these millions, our Benjamin has recently seen his retirement savings evaporate; he can no longer refinance his house; and the only thing between him and the abyss is a plastic card. But it's no longer a credit card, since he maxed out on his credit limit about three months ago. Our Benjamin has no Benjamins anymore. No, now he depends on food stamps — no longer a paper coupon, but also made available on a standard plastic card measuring 3.370 by 2.125 inches. His rebellion has long faded and he is a slave to a system that never had his well-being as a priority. All he can do is wait for his Social Security to kick in at age 65, another magical card, one which is still printed and issued on specially designed pre-printed banknote paper, and costs — you guessed it — the equivalent of a dubbeltje to produce.

This article above was originally written for the magazine of the Graphic Design Museum in Breda, The Netherlands. For a new exhibition, opening June 27, 2009, the Museum is assembling a huge wall of credit-card sized plastic cards, coordinated by color. This is an invitation and call to action for designers in the Americas to donate or give on loan, any credit cards, gift cards, discount cards, hotel key cards, phone cards you have either designed yourself, or have used as a consumer. From expired American Express Cards to Target Gift Cards to the Las Vegas hotel key card you forgot to return, all are welcome to become part of this historic visual statement on the omnipresent standard plastic card. If you have cards to give, please contact Adam Eeuwens through email: fluxus [at] earthlink [dot] net, or mail them directly to: Adam Eeuwens, 11009 1/2 Strathmore Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90024. If you would rather loan the Graphic Design Museum your items, this can be arranged too. Please contact Adam Eeuwens with all your questions.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

Comments [6]

What a wonderful approach to currency design. What makes the Dutch such great designers is that attitude that says 'Why not?'. Let's just divide the coin right down the middle, let's take the unconventional route. And it works.

michael Troy

what a clever post, im going to go make a payment on my credit card now, seriously

'Just threw out all my dad's old plastic cards after clearing his estate. Old Amex, old Sears cards, old hospital cards …

Bill, received your cards in the mail, thank you so much. Now how to get all your Design Observer readers to check their wallets and closets and send all their old unused plastic cards to me?
Adam Eeuwens

thank you / it is brief notes on whimsy, shrewd happenstance, that keep me hopeful. . .
Nick Gorski

Its nice post about the what Dutch ten-cent coin played role in your life it sometime happens in life that some attached things of our life works for us.
Plastic Card

Adam Eeuwens Adam Eeuwens is a writer, editor and co-author of False Flat, Why Dutch Design is so Good, and partner in Rebeca Méndez Design in LA. He is the Correspondent Curator for the Americas for the Graphic Design Museum in Breda, directed by graphic designer Mieke Gerritzen.

Jobs | April 01