With the third installment of Marvel’s Captain America movie franchise coming to theaters this week, it’s time to put his story into historical context. Often, it’s the odds and ends that tell us more about someone’s life than the big story moments. What stories would Steve Rogers’ pocket change tell?
The story begins
In June 22, 1943, a physically weak but passionate recruit, Steve Rogers, volunteered for an experimental Army super-soldier program, and was transformed into Captain America in New Jersey. Due to sabotage, Steve Rogers was the only such super-soldier made before the lab was destroyed. To avoid being used for research, he joined the USO for a tour of the US, the United Kingdom, and Italy.
So what United States coins might the new Captain America have carried?
During WWII, the military needed all the copper it could get, and began minting steel pennies in 1943. This penny rusted quickly, and would not work properly in many coin machines; this made it unpopular with the general public. In 1944-45, the government began issuing “shell-case” cents, made from spent ammunition shells. Some of these coins contain streaks of other colors, due to the mixed metals they were made from. In addition to the unique steel and shell-case cents, the government issued silver nickels from 1942-45, and silver quarters from 1932-1964.
Captain America likely would have had a mix of these coins in his pockets, as well as coins minted before the copper shortage, as he began traveling with the USO.
The UK and Italy Tour
For five months, Captain America toured with the USO as part of a “morale-boosting” show for troops at home and abroad. This show traveled through the United Kingdom and Italy, before Captain America broke away to raid a HYDRA facility in Italy and rescue his best friend, Bucky Barnes, along with other Allied soldiers.
British coinage did not change substantially in WWII, and Captain America likely would have found himself with a few British pennies with the 1937 George VI image, as well as the 50% silver shilling, minted from 1920-1946.
Allied troops in Italy were issued a unique banknote: the AM-Lira, worth $1 US. These notes were issued after the Allied landing in Sicily on July 9, 1943, a few months before Cap and the USO arrived.
Captain America Becomes A Hero
After the raid on the HYDRA facility in Italy, Captain America created his crack team, the Howling Commandos. Tired of having his abilities used for entertainment, Cap led his team on a whirlwind trip around occupied Europe, raiding HYDRA bases and freeing prisoners of war.
In January and February of 1944, the team destroyed HYDRA facilities in Belgium and Slovakia. Both countries had extensive coinage minted during the years of German occupation. Belgian francs and centimes were minted in 100% zinc as an emergency issue; the centime is 1/100th of a franc. Coins were available in 1 and 5 franc denominations, as well as 1, 10, and 25 centime denominations. While many coins listed the country as “Belgie-Belgique,” some coins reversed this order.
In Czechoslovakia (Soviet Slovakia at the time), a wider range of coins were available. The 5 halier coin (1942-47) was minted entirely from zinc, while the 10 (1939-47) and 20 (1940-43) halier coins were minted in brass (92% copper and 8% zinc.) The 50 halier piece had two versions: one, minted from 1941-48, was cupronickel (80% copper, 20% nickel); the alternate piece was 100% aluminium. The koruna was minted in cupronickel in the 1 koruna denomination (1940-47), in nickel for the 5 koruna (1939-47), and silver for both of the 20 koruna coins (1939-47, 1941-47).
The End of an Era
In early 1945, Captain America and the Howling Commandos helped capture Nazi scientist Arnim Zola in the Austrian Alps. During this mission, Cap’s best friend and fellow solider, Bucky Barnes, was lost over the side of the train and presumed dead. To avenge his friend and attempt to end the HYDRA threat, Captain America led a daring mission into the heart of HYDRA, and boarded the Valkyrie aircraft, which was on course to destroy New York City. Unable to change the plane’s course, Captain America chose to crash the plane off the coast of Greenland. He was presumed dead on March 4, 1945, and his disappearance released to the public on March 5. He would not be heard from for another 67 years, when an expedition dug him out of the ice.
During his short time in Austria , Captain America might not have picked up any Austrian coins at all. Until 1938, the 1, 2, 5, and 50 groschen coins were minted (in bronze for the 1 and 2 groschen denominations, and cupronickel for the 5 and 50), along with 1 and 5 schilling coins (in cupronickel and silver, respectively). After the annexation of Austria in 1938, Austrian currency was replaced with the Reichsmark.
We’ll never know exactly which coins Cap carried during his WWII days, but it’s fascinating to speculate. (And the romantic among us might carry a hope that he kept at least one British coin to remind him of Peggy Carter!)
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