Meet the cash collector

Thursday April 23, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Chris Mussell at The Waterline Restaurant and Beach Bar in Arorangi, with some of the bills he collected over the years. 20041715 Chris Mussell at The Waterline Restaurant and Beach Bar in Arorangi, with some of the bills he collected over the years. 20041715

Cook Islands’ best-known cash collector isn’t Revenue Management Division. The honour goes to a restaurateur in Arorangi – and now, he’s offering one of his Cook Islands $3 notes to the widow of the man who designed them.

Chris Mussell has been collecting currency for more than 50 years.

His passion for collecting different types of notes has taken him around the world – including to some dangerous places in Afghanistan.

With his partner Akisi, Mussell owns the Waterline Restaurant and Beach Bar in Arorangi.

He has the walls there decorated with some of the vintage notes he collected during his expedition – among them a 1910 Russian Rouble that he bought in Afghanistan in the 1960s, before the country disintegrated into a series of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars that ended in Soviet occupation.

“I was in a gunsmith shop in Kandahar, it was making big rifles and pistols before Russian and American weapons came in. The gun shop had a cabinet with a glass top and I was looking at the guns when the three big bills of Russian Rouble caught my eyes.

“I bought one, I should have bought all three of them because they are now worth a considerable amount of money. I paid a dollar for that, and in those days it was quite a lot of money … you can live for a dollar a day in that part of the world easily and quite comfortably.”

Chris says he has been offered $US500 to $1500 (NZ$829 to $2486) for the note.

“I have been offered a fair amount of money for some but not enough to sell. They are not worth that much but to a collector they are worth the amount they are willing to pay for. I trade them rather than sell them.”

Chris has notes from more than 150 countries. Most of them were collected by him and some have been left by visitors who dined at his restaurant – but one of his biggest collections is of the world-famous Cook Islands $3 notes.

He was longtime friends with the painter Rick Welland, whose depiction of Ina riding a shark has now become internationally-renowned. Welland died in 2016, and Cook Islands News reported last week that his widow Gwen had given away her last $3 note.

Mussell said he’d like to give her one of his (“I’ve got quite a lot of them”) so she had something by which to remember her husband’s work.

“I sold some online several years ago and got a good amount of money for them. So I’d be happy to give one to Gwen.

“I started collecting notes in 1960s when I was traveling a lot in South East Asia through the Middle East and on around the world, sailing, hitchhiking and that sort of travel.

“I just kept one from each country to start with and then I started to think ‘this is cool’ so I collected several from each country, the ones you could afford to keep when you are traveling on a shoestring budget. I really got into it and now it has just become a long time hobby.”

Guests who visit his restaurant and beach also leave behind some of their countries’ notes.

“They sign and date them and I will put them up so when they return they can see them. They might not come back in years but their notes are still up there.”

Until the coronavirus travel bans, Chris traveled at least three times a year around the world for business.

And in between work, he manages to find time to hunt for more notes to add to his incredible collection.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Richard Fisher Thursday, 23 April 2020 17:24 posted by Richard Fisher

    Fabulous Chris - always enjoyed scanning my eyes over the collection . Missing my visits to Waterline and chats with you and Akisi - One day, " I will return "

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