The Australian Numismatic Society
Some interesting coin stories by David Mee,
Because the ANS is having an on-line attendance only conference
thus year in order to conform to social distancing
rules in the pandemic, I decided to save the topic I was going to
present for when we meet in person again and do
something different this time. I decided to write about some
coins, which by themselves do not make a full paper, but
together offer at least something, I hope, for everybody.
Coherence is not the aim.
Up till recently I have been concentrating my collecting efforts on
Medieval Europe, knowing that I have been
neglecting many other very interesting historical numismatic
items from other periods and countries. Nevertheless,
sometimes coins come up for sale that are irresistible, in spite
of not really belonging to my collection in any
What makes a coin desirable? Clearly beauty is one characteristic
most collectors strive for.
This includes not just grade of wear, but also eye appeal. My other two
criteria are historical interest,
and having a story to tell, which are not necessarily the same.
I will start with a Danish penny of King Canute (Knut) who ruled both
England and Denmark in the early 11th century.
In Danish, he is known as Knud den Store (Knut the great). The
coin illustrated is quite unlike his English coins. It
comes from a mint town in North Jutland (Nordjylland), called
Ørbaek. I searched on the web for this name, anglicised
to Oerbaek and found one on the Island of Fyn and another in
North Jutland, which Google Earth showed as a paddock
with a church nearby. No sign of any ruins that could have been a
medieval mint town. I made the mistake of asking the
auction house from whom I purchased the coin if they knew where
it was, or used to be, but I obtained short shrift from
them. The said they were too busy to research it (probably true),
but I detected an annoyance on their part that they
were a bit embarrassed that they did not know off the top of
their collective heads. Nevertheless, I was getting
nowhere. In North East Jutland, the biggest town is Ålborg.
It has a museum devoted to Danish history and archaeology.
It straddles the Limsfjord, a waterway that is open to the sea
both ends and makes North Jutland an island, connected to
the mainland by the bridges at Ålborg (see map below). I
wrote (in English, I know no Danish) to the director asking
about the coin and mint town. For a long time, I did not hear
anything and I thought no one would reply, then one 6
months later, I received a reply, (in English) from the Museum
Director himself, telling me the results of his researches
and including images of some 18th Century maps. These showed the
Limsfjord before North Sea storms opened it up at
the Western end. He believes that medieval Ørbaek is
underneath the sands of the Limsfjord.
Danish Penny of Knut the Great. Ørbaek mint.
The Limsfjord separating the island from continental Jutland.
North Jutland West coast scenery.
There are many interesting medieval pennies from Denmark, as most
important towns, both in Jutland and in the
islands minted coins in their characteristic designs. What is now
Southern Sweden was also a part of Denmark in
medieval times. It is always difficult trying to compete at
auction with the Danes themselves for nice ones. Here are
two coins of a similar period from Jutland. The first is a penny
of Ålborg in the north minted during the reign of
Harthacanute and the second is a penny of Viborg in central
Jutland, minted under the king Sven Estridsen.
Ålborg penny. Harthacanute.
16th century Scotland.
We move forward in time to 16th century Scotland. The story of Mary,
Queen of Scots has been told many times,
in books and in opera (Donizetti, “Maria Stuarda”). I do not have a
portrait coin of her, but only a single Scottish
coin called a bawbee. In her early life, she travelled to France where
she married Francis, the son of the French
King Henri II. I show a teston of Henri II minted in Poitiers. He died
jousting in a tournament in 1559. Briefly, his
son Francis II ascended the French throne with Mary as Queen of France.
In 1560, Francis died of an ear infection.
The dowager queen Mary was packed off back to Scotland as a young
widow. A new husband was found for her,
Henry Darnley, a close relative of Elizabeth, Queen of England. He was
also a cousin to Mary. Mary was a devout
catholic. Mary bore Darnley a son, James, who was to become King
of both Scotland and much later, England.
Darnley was murdered less than a year after the birth of James, in
1567. The conflict between Catholicism and
Protestantism was in full swing and Mary was the victim of it.
She was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in
favour of her one-year old son James, whom she never saw again. She
fled to England, where she was imprisoned
by Elizabeth, and eventually executed by her order in 1587.
James was brought up being taught to hate his mother. I show below a
Sottish 30-shilling coin of the young James
as James VI, King of Scotland. After Elizabeth died without direct
heir, James travelled to London, where he became
James I of England, as well as James VI of Scotland, in personal union,
but still governed as separate kingdoms.
At that time, a Scottish shilling was worth an English sterling silver
penny, so 30 shillings scots were equivalent
to an English half-crown.
Mary I Bawbee
James VI of Scotland. 30 shillings scots. He was aged 26 in 1583.
The basic die was probably prepared when he was younger.
Also shown below is an interesting balance half merk of 1591, also
under James VI. A merk or
mark was traditionally 2/3 of a pound 13s/4d or 160 pennies, so a half
is 6s/8d (80 pennies).
However, these were Scots pennies, 12 to an English penny. So 6s/8d
Scots becomes 6.66d English,
or a little over a 6½ pence.
The balance and sword represent the exercise of justice. The coin is a
little worse for wear.
Henry II of France. Teston of Poitiers (G mm). Father-in-law of Mary.
Another interesting coin in my collection is a gros size coin, called a
gigliato, of the Genoese Company called the Maona
or Mahona, on the Greek Island of Chios. This island was famous
for the growing of mastic, a kind of gum.
In the 14th century the Genoese competed fiercely with the Venetians
for Mediterranean trade. In 1304, the island of
Chios was taken from the Byzantine empire by a Genoese adventurer
(pirate?) called Benedetto Zaccaria and he and his
family successors ruled it till 1328, when it was retaken by the
Byzantines and became part of their empire again.
However, in 1346 the Genoese company retook it and it was ruled by them
until the Ottomans captured it in 1566.
Chios is an island in the Dodecanese in the Northern Aegean, fairly
hard up against the Turkish mainland. It is part of
the Republic of Greece. I have not been to Chios, but I have been
to Samos and Kasadasi (Kusadasi), as shown on the
map, as Kusadasi is a good port to access the Graeco-Roman ruins
of the city of Ephesus.
While ruling Chios the Mahona issued coins. They received permission
from Genoa to mint these on the condition that
the legends used were those of Genoese coins. What makes the
Mahona coins interesting is that in addition to the
Genoese legends, they show a seated figure of the Doge of Genoa.
Genoese coins do not show a figure of the doge, but
usually a symbolic gate as Genoa, or Ianua in Latin, means gate. The
traditional legends of Genoa derive from the fact
that the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III gave the city permission
to mint coins. His name is usually on the coins:
Conradus Rex Romanorum. The “Rex Romanorum” meaning King of the
Romans, a title of the Emperor before being
crowned by the pope of the day. The other legend on Genoese coins is a
plea to god to protect the doge of Genoa. As
well as the Mahona gros, I show a gold genovino of the 14th
century Doge Simon Boccanegra. He is also famous from
a Giuseppe Verdi opera of the same name. The legends can be compared.
The Mahona coin may in fact be trying to
portray Simon Boccanegra.
The basic design of the Mahona gigliatio on the reverse is similar to
that of the knights of St. John, who occupied
Rhodes at a similar time. The name gigliato, means lilied and refers to
the fleur de lis in each angle of the cross
obverse (portrait side) legend, somewhat mangled is DVX IANVENSIVM QVEM
DEVS PTEGA(T), which translates
to The Duke (Doge) of Genoa who may God Protect. The reverse (cross
side) legend is CONRADUS REX
ROMANORVN(M). The doge is shown with a hat and chin strap
hanging. He is seated on a chair with arm rests in
the shape of lions seated. He is holding a lilied cross and orb.
Few of these gigliati are ever found in great condition, and if they
are, they are priced accordingly.
Mine has a scratch on the obverse and part of the legend is double
struck, but these coins are quite
scarce. Purchasing one at auction is always competitive.
Mahona Gigliato. Late 14th century.
Genoa: Simon Boccanegra (1356-63) as fourth doge. (He was also the
first doge 1339-1344). Au Genovino.
Mottos on United States Coinage.
The states that make up the USA which were formed as English colonies,
which were used as places of refuge for many
people who were persecuted in Europe for their religious beliefs,
and it is no surprise that many Americans today are
still highly religious. William Penn for example founded
Pennsylvania and the city of brotherly love Philadelphia as a
haven for Quakers persecuted in England and Germany. After the
American war of Independence, Philadelphia was the
capital of the USA, until Washington DC was created. Philadelphia
is also the main mint of the USA, and any US coin
which does not have a mintmark, can be assumed to have been
struck in Philadelphia.
US coins often, but not always bear the Latin motto “e pluribus unum”,
which means “out of many, one”, a reference
to the 13 states forming one country. It features on a scroll held in
the eagle’s mouth on the great seal of the USA,
designed during the American war of Independence.
During the first part of the 19th century, the USA became a powerhouse
of industry and agriculture, with the westward
movement of people. Religion was not so important. However, the
American Civil War in the 1860s over the issue of
slavery and states’ rights brought religion back to the fore. The
war was a bloodbath and almost every American family
lost sons. More men were killed in that war than in WW1 and WW2
The film “Gone with the wind” is a story of the old South and its
destruction. The details of the battles and the war is
way beyond this note.
During the war, the motto “In God we trust” was added to the coinage,
where it has stayed (mostly) ever since, but
with a few gaps. I have some nice ante-bellum coins of the USA. One is
a silver 50c or half dollar of 1824, with capped
bust. This was minted during the presidency of James Monroe. This
shows the “e pluribus unum” motto, detached from
the eagle’s mouth. The other is a golden eagle, a $10 coin of
1843. At this time the US president was John Tyler. Both
coins were minted in Philadelphia. The East Coast obviously had
sufficient gold mines to supply the mint, but in 1849
the California gold rush started and the gold from that found its
way into the later coinage. Interestingly, in the 1830s
the fineness of the gold coinage changed. Early US gold was on
the 22-carat gold standard of most of Europe, with up
to half the alloy being silver. The standard was reduced slightly
in 1837 and then slightly increased to a standard of
0.900 fine. The coinage notes this by omitting the “e pluribus
unum” motto. Note that the 1843 golden eagle has no
mottos at all. Two other small ante-bellum coins are also
interesting. One is a gold dollar of 1853 and the other a
liberty seated half dime of the same year. No mottos on either.
It was not until the cold war era of the 1950s under President Dwight D
Eisenhower, that the “In God we trust” motto
was officially adopted as the USA motto, and became mandatory on
coins. The idea was the Soviet Union declared
itself to not believe in any deity, whereas the US wished to
distinguish itself from its arch enemy. There was a lot of
argument that the USA as a secular state should separate it from
any religious belief, but the motto stays. The upshot
of this story is that some coins have both mottos, some none and some
one or the other. Each coin needs to be looked
at separately, and there is no universal guide.
1824 capped bust 50 cents. E pluribus unum.
1843 gold eagle ($10). Coronet bust. No mottos at all. 0.900 fine.
1853 gold dollar. No mottos
1853 liberty seated half dime. Arrows. No mottos
1884. After civil war. Gold double eagle. Coronet bust. Both mottos on
1885. Gold half-eagle. ($5). In god we trust.
1915. Barber half dollar. Both mottos. San Francisco mint. (s under
1905 Barber dime. No Mottos.
1943 Mercury dime. Both mottos, one on obv. and the other on rev. AW
monogram of designer. D for Denver mint.
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7th June 2020