This January, archeologists in northwest Spain credited a badger with digging up a stash of ancient coins, minted in faraway places like Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Lyons, and Rome. Around the same time, not to be outdone by a burrowing animal operating in the dark, an amateur sleuth with a metal detector found a Henry III gold penny on a farm near Devon, England. He went on to sell it at auction for £540,000. Then, this spring, a puppy lagotto romagnolo, a breed generally known for hunting truffles, went on his very first walk with his new family in a field near the Irish Sea. The little guy promptly sniffed out fifteen sovereign coins, likely from the nineteenth century and worth £6,000 (about enough to buy one kilogram of the elusive white truffle in Alba, Italy).
However rare and exciting such discoveries may be, they don’t do much for the many businesses that depend on everyday pocket change, which lately has been in short supply in several countries, including the United States. Most laundromat operators in New York City, where about 45 percent of households do not have en suite washers and dryers, would prefer people search between their couch cushions and in cup holders for quarters instead of at historic sites for pieces of eight. Indeed, the pandemic has led to a recurring “coin circulation slowdown,” which adversely affects older Americans and those without access to debit and credit cards. Banks and retailers are scrambling, while the U.S. Mint says it has already ramped up production to full capacity. In March, several prominent business associations called upon the Treasury Department to help “reinvigorate coin circulation.”
Coin production has actually dropped in this country since the arrival of COVID‑19, with demand for loonies and toonies down as much as 37 percent. But according to a recent Bank of Canada discussion paper, the vast majority of Canadians don’t have plans to go cashless any time soon. In fact, we are withdrawing more bills than we have in years, carrying on average $150 and stuffing our mattresses with $50 and $100 notes. “Precautionary motives have been important drivers of the extraordinary cash demand,” the bank’s currency department explained. In other words, we’re hoarding what many of us still think of as paper money.
Had I to do it over again, the Literary Review of Canada would have been hoarding actual paper these past two years. Instead, like so many publications, we find ourselves jostling for stock, which suddenly seems as expensive as truffles. Even election officials in some places aren’t sure how they’ll print upcoming ballots.
Originally, long before the current global supply chain disruption, this magazine was produced on newsprint, a generally low-grade affair made from coarse pulp. After sixty-five black and white issues, all of which have now yellowed with age, the format changed in November 1998 and with it so did the paper, to a higher-quality offset stock. The exact brand, brightness, and weight varied through multiple redesigns over the next twenty-one years, but not by much.
As we planned the current iteration of the magazine — which we launched with our January/February 2020 issue, right when whispers of the coronavirus began to circulate — we chose a product called Lynx Opaque. Certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, it does an excellent job of reproducing colour on our covers and in our ads. Back then, issues were run on a sheet‑fed press in Ottawa. Seven months later, we moved production to a nearby web press, which uses massive rolls instead of individual sheets. That technology is also significantly faster, which meant that, at least in the absence of ongoing postal delays, subscribers would receive their copies sooner than they had in the past.
The most discerning of readers may have noticed a minor difference with the October 2021 issue, when suppliers were temporarily unable to source our regular 720-kilogram rolls of paper. There was another change early this year, with the March issue, which, if you had held them side by side, would have felt slightly thicker in your hand than the previous number. These subtle variations portended a worsening of industry-wide headaches caused by labour disputes, pulp shortages, and mills that have retooled to prioritize cardboard boxes.
As we send this issue of the magazine to the printer, I honestly do not know what it will feel like when it comes back. I’ve been warned that it will probably be on a lower-quality coated matte stock, which is (only just) easier to find at the moment. But I’ve also been told that something closer to normal may soon be in reach. So I’m hopeful that this will be a tactile one‑off — as uncommon as one of those ancient coins.