Game of Thrones and the Coin Technology of Westeros

 

 

Game of Thrones, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, has a world so dense with detail that it feels real. The world of Westeros even has its own coinage, and those coins can speak volumes about that world. (For the purposes of this post, all references to specific coins are to replica coins based on the TV show.)

 

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Copper star of Robert Baratheon

There are 8 denominations of Westerosi currency. The halfpenny, penny, halfgroat, groat, and star are all made of copper, while the stag and moon are silver coins. The only Westerosi gold coin (at the time the story is set) is the dragon. There are 2 halfpennies to the penny, 2 pennies to a halfgroat, 2 halfgroats to a groat, and 2 groats to a star.

 

 

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Reverse of gold dragon of Joffrey Baratheon

The lower denominations are very basic, but the silver and gold coins get more complicated. There are 7 bronze stars to 1 silver stag, and 7 stags to a moon. 30 moons make a gold dragon. (7 is the most significant number in the state religion of Westeros.)

 

 

While most of Westeros uses this system, the “ironborn” under the rule of House Greyjoy, generally do not use currency (though women are sometimes allowed to use coins), preferring instead to “pay the iron price” and take what they need in battle. Their house motto, unsurprisingly, is “We Do Not Sow.” This is somewhat similar to the non-Westerosi Dothraki, who do not use coins or currency of any kind, but instead have an economy based on raiding and gift-giving. (There is a replica Dothraki coin with the imprint of Khal Drogo, but this seems inaccurate with regards to the description of the Dothraki culture in the books.) Also, while the denominations remain consistent, some houses do strike their own versions of these coins, though the vast majority from the ruling House Baratheon in King’s Landing.

 

 

Coins of House Stark

Coins of House Stark

House Stark in the North produces their own currency, including a halfpenny and silver stag, with the imprint of Eddard Stark. It is not surprising that the line of the old King in the North would have a mint, though no information is given as to where the Stark mint might be. It is never mentioned in any of the scenes at Winterfell, and it seems that a mint would be a good place for any of House Stark’s enemies to attack first. An army cannot march far without money for food and supplies. (More interestingly, there are some replica coins with the imprint of Robb Stark, though it is unclear when he would have had time to have new coins minted while building and leading his army.) These coins look more crude in design than other Westerosi coins, though they are contemporaneous with the bronze star of Robert Baratheon; however, House Stark is known for valuing its long history, and it might be expected that they would not keep up with the minting technology in use in King’s Landing.

 

 

Game of Thrones Silver stag coin

Obverse of silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen

Many Westerosi coins are beautifully crafted, but the silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen, known as the Mad King, is simple and somewhat crude, especially compared with the coins of King Robert Baratheon, produced some 20 years later. Aerys II let Westeros fall into chaos, consumed with his own paranoia and greed.

 

 

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Reverse of silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen

It’s certainly possible that minting technology declined during his reign; given that the Targaryen dynasty had been considered to be in decline for several generations, it could be reflective of a gradual loss of technical skill, which is reinvigorated with the Targaryen’s defeat and the rise of House Baratheon.

 

 

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Reverse of mark of Meeren of Daenerys Targaryen

Perhaps most unusual of all are the replica coins for Daenerys Targaryen. Exiled beyond Westeros when the rest of her family was killed during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, Daenerys hatches dragon eggs and takes control of armies and entire cities as she prepares to retake the Iron Throne of Westeros. Her coins have some real-world counterparts, in that several of them appear to have been struck to commemorate a specific conquest or victory (see this coin of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.) However, the coins do seem a little unusual in that they each celebrate a different title, such as “Queen of Meereen” and “Breaker of Chains.”

 

 

Game of Thrones Daenerys coin

Obverse of mark of Meeren of Daenerys Targaryen

The most used image on her coins is, unsurprisingly, a dragon. The dragons have always been the symbol of House Targaryen, and Daenerys uses it both to establish herself as a ruler in the Targaryen line, and to remind all who see the coin that she controls the power of literal dragons. Coins have always been one of the most effective ways to make a political statement, especially in the days before reliable mail systems and phone lines. Coins can travel great distances in trade; a coin that commemorates a victory can spread the word of a triumphant ruler very quickly indeed.

 

 

Though the world of Game of Thrones is fictional, much of it was based on real world history, especially the Wars of the Roses and other long-standing feuds. It’s no surprise that the fictional currency of this world tells us so much about its history.

 

 

[All photos credit of Shire Post Mint, used under Fair Use.]

Coin and Currency Sites to Visit on Your Vacation

 

It’s summer, and many people are heading out on vacation. But there’s no reason not to celebrate your hobby on the road! Here’s a list of coin- and currency-related attractions and exhibits in all 50 states (and DC, of course!)
Alabama: The El Cazador Museum, which preserves the artifacts of the 1784 shipwreck, including its shipment of “pieces of eight.”

 

Alaska: The Alaska Mint, a private mint and also the northernmost mint in the US, as well as the starting point for the Iditarod race.

 

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The Good Enough Mine

Arizona: The Good Enough Mine, which provided some of the metal for the New Orleans Mint.

 

Arkansas: Due to a corruption-fighting measure in Arkansas legislation, you can go into the Treasury vault and examine the tax money. You can even take a selfie while holding the money!

 

California: The classic choice is Sutter’s Mill, where the Gold Rush began. If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, check out the Penny Bar in the McKittrick hotel, which is completely covered in pennies.

 

Colorado: Of course there is the Denver Mint, but don’t forget the American Numismatics Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs.

 

Connecticut: The Mitchelson Coin Collection at the Museum of Connecticut History has one of the premier collections of American coins in the world, including a 1907 ultra high relief Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle
District of Columbia: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is a must-see, with its exhibit of coins, currency, and medals.

 

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Coin Beach

Delaware: Find coins from old wrecks on Delaware’s Coin Beach!

 

Florida: No visit to Florida is complete without a visit to the king of shipwreck salvage, Mel Fisher’s Treasures.

 

Georgia: The Mint at Dahlonega hasn’t been in use since the 1860’s, but the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Mint (housed in the old county courthouse, since the original Mint building burned down) are definitely worth a visit.

 

Hawaii: The statue of King Kamehameha I depicted on the Hawaii State Quarter is striking, and something you’ll want to see for yourself.

 

Idaho: Collectors of all types will enjoy the Idaho Falls Collectors’ Corner Museum.

 

Illinois: The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is a solid choice for kids and adults alike. 

 

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Roman coins found in Indiana

Indiana: While digging for construction, workers found a collection of Roman coins that appeared to have once been kept in a leather bag. Some of the coins are on display in the Falls of the Ohio museum

 

Iowa: For currency aficionados, the Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes is definitely something to check out.

 

Kansas: The University of Kansas has an excellent collection of ancient coins.

 

Kentucky: Clay City, Kentucky, is home to one of the most unusual replica coin controversies. (You can also visit the Fort Knox visitor’s center while you’re in the state, but don’t expect to see much gold!)

 

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New Orleans Mint

Louisiana: The New Orleans Mint is a classic choice but don’t pass up Louisiana Treasures: they have an excellent display of World’s Fair tokens.

 

Maine: The Maine Penny is an unusual artifact at the Maine State Museum. It’s a legitimate Viking coin, but found too far south for the Vikings to have brought it. What’s its story?

 

Maryland: Learn more about metal conservation and early colonial coinage at St. Mary’s City museum.

 

Massachusetts: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has a legendary coin room. (Recommended by collector Kevin Cahalane.)

 

Michigan: The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has over 40,000 ancient coins.

 

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Wells Fargo Museum

Minnesota: Wells Fargo is synonymous with business and commerce over a distance, so it’s no surprise they have a Minneapolis museum featuring gold nuggets and coins.  

 

Mississippi: The University of Mississippi museum features an extensive collection of ancient coins.

 

Missouri: The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City also has a Money Museum, perfect for all ages.

 

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50,000 Silver Dollar Bar

Montana: If you’re looking for something a little more unusual, head off the beaten path in western Montana. The 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan hosts one of the largest silver dollar collections in the world, displayed on the bar top and walls of the establishment.

 

Nebraska: Don’t miss the Byron Reed collection at Durham Museum in Omaha; it’s an impressive assortment of ancient and colonial coins, as well as exonumia, currency, and historical documents.

 

Nevada: Of course the Carson City Mint is the top choice for Nevada!

 

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Saint-Gaudens Estate

New Hampshire: America’s smallest and least-visited national park is a hidden gem, especially for numismatists. The Saint-Gauden Estate hosts some of the sculptor’s best works.

 

New Jersey: Be sure to check out the Belskie Museum, which contains some of the work of Abram Belskie, sculptor and medalist.

 

New Mexico: If you can find the Santa Clara Museum of Natural History, you just might be able to talk them into telling you where the 7 Cities of Gold are…

 

New York: Much of our financial system was put into place by Alexander Hamilton (including the Mint!) You can see his old house, the Hamilton Grange, in New York City.

 

North Carolina: The old Mint in Charlotte has a museum with a complete set of all gold coins minted there.

 

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Lefor Bank Vault

North Dakota: Sometimes all that’s left is where the coins were. You can see abandoned bank vaults in Lefor and Silva.

 

Ohio: Check out the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Learning Center and Money Museum.

 

Oklahoma: The Midgley Museum of collectibles has something for everyone, coin collector or not!

 

Oregon: A single penny decided the name of Portland, Oregon, and the original Portland Penny is on display at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. (For the pop culture addict, you can also see a Goonies exhibit at the Oregon Film Museum. Sadly, pirate treasure is NOT included.)

 

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US Mint in Philadelphia

Pennsylvania: What would a list of coin sites be without a mention of Philadelphia, the first and current Mint. American coin central!

 

Rhode Island: Coins aren’t just for collecting: have a blast at Spring Lake Penny Arcade, the oldest Penny Arcade Business in America. Not only is it still operating, but it still has the original pricing!

 

South Carolina: Something unusual for a niche currency collector: the US Army Finance Corps Museum.

 

South Dakota: One of the best producing mine in America, the Homestake mine. Not only has it produced vast amounts of ore, but it’s also been important to science!

 

Tennessee: Oak Ridge used to give visitors mildly irradiated dimes to show the changes radiation could make to silver. The site is now the American Museum of Science and Energy, and they definitely don’t give out radioactive coins anymore.

 

Texas: The Money Museum and Rarities Room in Houston is by appointment only, but does host an impressive collection. You can also visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth.

 

 Utah: Copper mining made a big impact on this state; there’s a whole museum dedicated to it in the town of Magna.

 

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Site of Harmon’s Mint

Vermont: One of the earliest sites for post-colonial coin minting was East Rupert, where Reuben Harmon, Jr. minted coins for the new state.

 

Virginia: If colonial coins are your thing, visit the museum in Williamsburg. They have an excellent collection.

 

Washington: Blaine, Washington, right on the border with Canada, is home of the original wooden nickels.

 

West Virgina: Need a favor? The ghost that haunts this grave accepts coins in exchange for granting wishes.

 

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Largest penny in the world

Wisconsin: It may not be the most detailed penny in the world, but it’s (probably) the largest!

 

Wyoming: The Carissa gold mine and mill is an excellent historic site well worth a visit.

 

(All photos used under fair use.)

 

 

 

The Proof of the Coin is in the Weight

 

Metal detectorists come across many unusual items from bygone ways of life on their expeditions. Spindle whorls are common, as are shoe buckles. One of the most interesting items, though, are coin weights.

 

Coin weights were used for centuries to ensure the quality of precious metal coinage, almost always for the larger denominations of coins. They were one of the first technological developments to prevent coin clipping and counterfeiting. Generally made to match the lowest possible weight at which a certain coin could be considered legal tender, they were made of lower-quality metal like iron or bronze.

 

800px-Al-Walid_ibn_Abdul-Rahman_-_Inscribed_Pound_Weight_-_Walters_476_-_Three_Quarter_Left.jpgWeights are first found in the Ptolemaic and Byzantine Empires, as well as in ancient China. Islamic civilizations also used coin weights, eventually preferring glass weights, as they were thought to be unalterable. Islamic weights are the first to appear in Britain, having been introduced by the Vikings, who traded extensively with both civilizations. Many weights bear the names of rulers and other important individuals, making them valuable to historians and other researchers. By the time they were introduced to the Carolingian Empire, weights had begun to be stamped with the same dies as coins, to ensure that the weight could be clearly matched to the right coin.

 

 

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Post-medieval coin weight, probably German. Credit to Ciorstaidh Hayward Trevarthen, used under CC by SA 2.0

There are hundreds of different kinds of coin weights, from many countries and eras. In England, all coin weights were made for gold coins until Charles I in the 17th century. English-origin weights frequently have a design only on the obverse, until Henry VIII, when the shilling and pence values of the coin were added to the reverse in Roman numerals.

 

 

In the 1500s, sets of weights complete with scales were brought into production. An order to the warden of the Mint in 1587 dictates the creation of “true” weights with the symbol of a crown E (Elizabeth I being Queen at the time). The order states that no other weights may be used, and that every city, town, and borough must have a set of the balances and weights. The punishment for using any other weight was imprisonment. Another order the following year provided for the manufacture of special cases for the weights and balances. “The descriptions of five cases are given – the first of wood with 14 coin-weights, a balance, a suite of weights marked from 1 to 5 dwts (pennyweights) and a suite of up to 5 grain weights, the whole to cost 4s 6d. The cheapest set was to cost 3s 1d. […] The evidence is that the proclamation did not have the desired effect for in 1589 a Richard Martin complained to the Lord Treasurer that he had expended above £600 in providing scales and weights marked with an ‘E’ crowned, the far greater part of which still remained upon his hands.”

 

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Late medieval coin weight, found in Warwickshire. Credit to Helen Glenn, used under CC by SA 2.0

Square weights were specifically banned by Parliament in 1632: ‘many of them, which were in common use were too heavy , and others too light, so that men bought and received by one weight, and sold and delivered by another’. The round weights from after this edict are some of the most commonly found.

 

 

After 1775, all coin weights were required to undergo testing; those that were accurate were stamped with a mark certifying their accuracy. A ewer mark indicated testing at the Founders Company of London; an Imperial crown indicated the Royal Mint; a lion passant indicated London; and an anchor for Birmingham. In 1891, Parliament passed the Coinage Act: this gave a governmental guarantee for all new coins, bringing the need for coin weights to an end.

 

In addition to the official weights, homemade weights were occasionally used. “In some coinweight boxes from the late-17th century onwards are found a small nest of cup-weights similar to those used for other commodities since late-Medieval times. These however are intended for weighing silver coin and are marked VS (for the crown), 2S 6D, IS and ½S or 6D. These were probably used during transactions for weighing quantities of worn clipped coins or even scrap up to an actual coin value and are not strictly therefore coinweights.” Apothecary weights may also sometimes be mistaken for coin weights, as the systems are similar.

 

Coin weights have been used almost everywhere that coins have circulated, and have been one of the longest-lasting technologies used to counteract bad currency. Though there are now many modern technologies that help prevent widespread coin devaluing, weight is still one of the most reliable ways to check a coin. To this day, many collectors keep a precise scale on hand to weigh prospective purchases and ensure that they are getting the coin that’s been advertised.

 

(Featured image is a coin weight from the reign of Edward III of England, found by detectorist Scott Bevan. You can follow Scott on Twitter to see more of his discoveries.)

The Postcards of Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

 

Yes, that’s the actual name of this Massachusetts lake! Well, it’s one version of it.

 

s-l1600Officially, the lake is named Lake Chaubunagungamaug, which reflect the oldest Native American name for the small body of water. In Nipmuc, an Algonquian dialect, it means “lake divided by islands,” though a more generous translation could be “Fishing place at the boundaries–neutral meeting grounds.”

 

s-l1600 (2)According to Ives Goddard, Curator of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, the earliest name for the body of water was Chabunagungamaug Pond. Several variations in spelling were also extant. In 1831, the name appeared as Chargoggagoggmanchoggagogg Pond, which seems to have been a cartographer’s error, confusing the original lake with nearby Manchaug Pond.

 

s-l1600 (1)The excessively long variation of the lake’s name was actually the creation of a local newspaper editor, along with the fictitious translation of “You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle.” Despite the non-historical origins of the longer name, some locals prefer it, and even take pride in being able to spell and pronounce it in its entirety. It is cited as the longest place name in the United States.

 

Such an unusual name makes for excellent mementos, and many postcards of the lake have been produced.

Lemons, Loonies, and Lakhs: Money Slang From Around the World

Do you have a clunky silver echidna? Or maybe some spare watermelons? Most people are familiar with slang names for coins like “bob” or “loonie,” but some of the currency slang from around the world is extremely colorful and imaginative.

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In Australia, a “clunky silver echidna” refers to a five cent coin (which can also be “dusty shrapnel”), while a ten cent coin can be “Howie’s sticky dollar,” in reference to a politician known for introducing a goods and services tax. The two-dollar coin can be a “nugget,” a “twigger,” or–since it is approximately the same size as the five cent coin but thicker–a “fat echidna.”

 

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In Canada, the one-dollar coin is commonly called a “loonie,” for its well-known design of a loon on the reverse. The two-dollar coin, naturally, became the “toonie,” though some prefer to spell it as “twonie.”
1_rupee_bill_historical.jpgIndia has a denomination called the Lakh, which is equal to 100,000 rupees. The lakh is sometimes called the “peti,” which means “suitcase,” referring to the suitcase needed to carry a Lakh’s worth of notes. Wealthy businessmen may refer to two- and three-crore amounts as “2C” or “3C.”
s-l1600.jpgThe most common Russian slang words for money translate as “cabbage” and “dough.” 500 rubles are sometimes referred to as “pyatihatka,” which literally means “five huts,” perhaps a reference to the buying power of the currency. 1000 rubles can be “kosar” (mower) or “shtuka” (thing.) During the hyperinflation of the ruble during the Russian Civil War and 1980’s, some of the larger denominations acquired nicknames: 1 million rubles is “limon” (lemon) and a billion rubles were “arbuz” (watermelon.)

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Pre-decimalisation coins in the United Kingdom have many names. A “bob” was a shilling, while a farthing could be a “mag,” and a sixpence a “tanner.” The collective term “shrapnel” could refer to all loose change in a pocket, while a “wad” would be a large amount of paper money.

 

 

money-1428584_960_720.jpgRap and hip-hop music have given rise to new slang terms for money, as well. “Bands” refers to large amounts of paper currency, from the rubber bands often used to keep bills in bundles. “Guac,” short for “guacamole,” is also used, presumably due to the green color of both the condiment and American bills. “Cream” is based on the acronym “cash rules everything around me,” most notably used by the Wu-Tang Clan.

 

eight_varieties_of_pearsOne type of slang deserves special mention: the complex and lyrical phenomenon of “rhyming slang.” The best known example of this form is Cockney rhyming slang. In this system, the object is paired with a two-part phrase, the last part of which rhymes with the object. Sometimes the rhyme is left at this stage, but in many instances, the second part of the pairing is dropped, leaving an unrelated word to signify the object. For example, “stairs” could be paired with “apples and pears.” Then, “pears” would be dropped, leaving “apples.” (This is the system that lead to the phrase “blowing a raspberry;” the full rhyming phrase would be “raspberry tart.”) This manner of speaking can be extremely confusing to anyone not familiar with the system and its customs. In some instances, the original slang word is rhymed again, leading to even more distance from the original subject. This unique speech art began in the East End of London in the 1840s.

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In Australia, this can be seen in the slang terms for the twenty cent coin, which is referred to as a “splatty” or “fatty,” rhyming with the “platy” (platypus) on the coin. The 10 cent coin, which features a design of a bird, is sometimes called a “turd” for the same reason.

 

Whatever you call your currency, one thing is for certain: we’ll never run out of weird slang to use in describing money!

 

From Maps to Mail: Latvian Map Stamps

You’re in charge of the mail for a newly-independent country following a brutal war and an extended time of chaos. You need to create stamps as soon as possible, but most of the paper was used in the war. What do you do?

 

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This was exactly the problem that Latvia faced after World War I and the Russian Revolution. Originally under Russian control, and then occupied by German forces, Latvia had few resources left. In 1918, one week after the end of World War I, the country declared independence.

 

 

s-l1600 (6).jpgThere was a lot of work to be done to secure stability for the new country, and creating a good postage system was among the top priorities. Before the war, Latvia had been part of the Russian Empire, and used Russian stamps. During the war, when German forces occupied it, the country had used German stamps. Now, they needed their own postage. But stamps need paper, and there was an extreme paper shortage from the war. The Latvian government soon realized that there was one good source for durable stamp paper: the military maps of the occupying German Army.

 

 

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The map stamps came in sheets of 228 stamps, in 12 rows of 19. On the back of the existing stamps, sections of Latvia are still evident, with names and grid positions. The new Latvian government only printed 11,956 sheets; fewer than 5000 were perforated. Only 4750 actually made their way to the new government by 1919.

 

 

The Republic of Latvia was short-lived; in 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact awarded the country to the USSR. During World War II, both the USSR and German armies occupied the country at different times. Finally, in 1945, it became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. After many years as part of the USSR, the Republic of Latvia once again declared independence on August 21, 1991, after a failed Soviet coup attempt. It joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.
There are many photos of Latvia map stamps here. Some excellent in-depth information on the stamps can be found here.

 

The Bryan Dollar: When Silver Was a Major Election-Year Concern

 

 

Election years always stir up high emotions and strong opinions. Sometimes, the issues are perennial: the role of the press, how involved our country should be in international affairs, and other weighty matters. Other issues may be important during the year of the election, but fade from public view shortly afterward. An excellent example of the second type is the imbalance of value between silver and gold dollars; it’s not even a blip on the political landscape now, but it was a major plank in the Democratic party platform in 1896. This issue left its mark in a token known as the Bryan Dollar, named for Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan, who supported the “Free Silver” position.

 

 

The late 19th century saw an imbalance in its precious metal dollar coins: both silver and gold coins had face value of a single dollar, but the gold in the dollar coin was worth nearly twice as much as the silver in the silver coin. The Bryan Dollars were created to illustrate this issue.

 

 

s-l1600 (2).jpgThese items (not truly coins, but also not tokens) are much larger than a standard silver dollar of the time, and illustrated how large a silver dollar would need to be to equal the value of the gold in a gold dollar coin. Several varieties exist, but all serve the same purpose: to inform the public about the perceived lack of silver in America’s silver coinage.

 

 

The Bryan dollars were struck by silversmiths on the East Coast during the election years of 1896 and 1900. According to So-CalledDollars.com, “They were more dignified in tone than many contemporary pieces issued for the same purpose, as latter usually were struck in base metal and were most satirical of Bryan and his cause. These silver medals showed comparative size and ratio of a dollar struck at the then-current price of silver with what it would be like if free coinage were to rule. They are much more than mere political pieces as they bore direct reference to the silver controversy and, hence, to our national coinage.”

 

 

Some of these coins feature shapes on the reverse of the coin, like a small circle or a wagon wheel, to indicate the size of a standard government dollar coin in comparison to the size of a coin needed to equal the metal value of the gold dollar.

 

 

1896GOP.JPGOther coins were soon struck to mimic and satirize the Bryan dollars, as well as the Free Silver position. Ronald Fern writes, “With respect to Satirical Bryan Money, Farran Zerbe states: ‘The Satirical class comprises those pieces of numerous variety in size material with derisive or humorous inscription or design. Most all are casts; a few were struck. Type metal, or some composition of lead and aluminum were the most commonly generally used materials, with iron, copper, tin and cardboard contributing a few varieties’. Thousands of such oversized coins were issued to ridicule the so-called Free Silver doctrine. Democrat candidate William Jennings Bryan and his supporters advocated the free coinage of silver and a new, bi-metal monetary standard in which silver was valued at a ratio of 16:1 to gold.”

 

 

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Though the “Free Silver” system had many impassioned advocates, the country was already on a path to the credit system, and silver didn’t have enough time to challenge the existing single-metal gold standard. Bryan lost the election all three times he ran for the office of President.

Emergency! How Crises Resulted in Creative Porcelain Coins

 

Times of emergency such as war, recession, or other economic crises, often result in shortages of metal. Occasionally, this has led to the use of non-metal materials for coins and tokens, such as the wooden nickels of Depression-era Washington. One of the most interesting materials used in lieu of precious metal was porcelain. The two most famous instances of porcelain coins are the gambling tokens of 18th and 19th century Siam and the German notgeld of the early 1920’s.

 

Siamese Gambling Tokens

 

AN00031107_001_l.jpgSiamese gambling tokens were produced in the mid 18th century and in use until 1875. They were made in China (hence the use of Chinese characters on the coins) for use in private gambling establishments in Siam. However, the locals began to use the tokens as legal tender.

 

an1613091710_lAccording to a post on the Collectors Society website, “the gambling houses were ‘tax farms’ where every year, or some say every three years, the government accepted bids for the right to operate the gambling monopoly for the next period. There were between 500 and 1,000 different firms called ‘hongs’, that issued tokens. To reduce counterfeiting, issues were recalled frequently, and new pieces were issued to replace them. More than 10,000 different varieties are known. They were issued in denominations of from one Att to one Salung. It is believed that between 2,000 and 6,000 pieces of each design were minted.” The tokens were created in a stunning array of colors, shapes, and patterns.

 

an1613091590_lIn his monograph, Siamese Porcelain and Other Tokens (available in full online from the Cornell  library), H.A. Ramsden quotes Joseph Haas’ book Siamese Coinage: “These counters being issued under authority granted in the gambling licence or concession, they rapidly became a medium of exchange, and were found to fill a long felt want of small money so well, that the circulation went much beyond its legal sphere.”

 

an1613091955_lRamsden continues, “It is mentioned by Haas that the control of these tokens by the Siamese government became more and more difficult, and at last in 1871, it became necessary to prohibit and stop completely all circulation of these counters […] Schlegel is more explicit, giving August, 1876 as the date on which an order was issued by the government prohibiting the further issue of porcelain ‘coins’ (Porzellanmiinzen) after December of the same year. Weyl is not very clear on this matter, but mentions that coins made of porcelain were current until 1876 [… ]They are all agreed, however, that the circulation of these tokens continued long after their prohibition.” After the turn of the century, gambling was prohibited everywhere except in Bangkok, and after a decade, gambling was prohibited there as well, rendering the tokens useless.

 

(Note: all gambling token images are courtesy of the British Museum. Please check out their extensive photo gallery for more of these exquisite coins.

 

 

German Porcelain Notgeld
10_mark_rsNotgeld is a type of German emergency currency, issued when there was a problem using the standard currency. It took many forms, from base metal coins to colorful paper money, but one of the most unique is the porcelain notegeld. Porcelain notgeld was used between 1915 and 1923, during a coin shortage before the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. Most of these coins were made from red Böttgerstoneware by Meissen, though some were made from white porcelain; a few even had gilt detailing. Primarily issued in Saxony, these notgeld coins were also used in Thuringia, Silesia, and other parts of Germany.

 

Hochbahn_hamburg_40.jpgThe porcelain notgeld met the need for small coinage, but proved impractical to use, due to the fragile nature of the coins. The red porcelain was the preferred material, since it showed dirt and grime less than the white china coins. The first porcelain notgeld are noted for having rougher surfaces and less sharp lines, due to being struck from plaster molds. Later coins, made with steel molds, have much sharper details.

 

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The Meissen company continued to strike medals in stoneware and porcelain, even after the notgeld was no longer in use. Their mark, the cross-swards, can be seen on the notgeld and other items made by the company.

How to Get Kids Excited about Coin Collecting

 

One of the constant subjects of debate in the numismatic community is how to inspire the next generation of coin collectors. How do we spark an interest in kids? The best way to get a child interested in coin collecting is simply to help them get started and show them how rewarding coin collecting can be.

 

 

coin-1080535_960_720The first question, of course, is what kind of coins the child should collect. It’s best to start with coins that are easy to acquire, to avoid frustration or impatience. The child’s own interests should be a major consideration as well; no one wants to spend time and effort collecting coins that bore them. Some children may be interested in collecting coins from their birth year, while others may want to focus on a specific historic period. One of the best starter collections is the State Quarter series. They are easy to acquire, and have beautiful designs that even a very young child can appreciate. Other children may enjoy collecting Lincoln cents or Jefferson nickels. The challenge of filling a coin book or folder can add an aspect of play to collecting as well.

 

 

piggy-bank-1446874_960_720.jpgThe next consideration is what budget the child may have for collecting. Older children may have paper routes or babysitting jobs, and be able to make their own small purchases; others may be dependent on gifts. Either way, it’s usually best to get the budding numismatist started on coins that are cheaper to obtain. If they are reliant on gifts for their collection, let friends and family members know which coins would be welcomed. For some children, a handful of older coins that they have not seen before may be just the thing to spark an interest in coin collecting.

 

 

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Taking the interested child to coin shows and exhibits may also help spark an interest in collecting. Help them research the stories behind specific coins, or the people depicted on them. If he or she is interested in art, help them learn about Victor David Brenner, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and other legendary sculptors who created designs for coins. If the child is interested in a particular historical figure, even a fictional one, work together to find out what kind of coins this person would have held. (We have an ongoing series on the blog that does just that!)

 

 

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Some children may have existing collections that can dovetail with a coin collection. If she is a fan of animals, introduce her to coins with animal designs (Irish coins have some particularly lovely animals.) If he enjoys sports, show him the wide variety of Olympic coins that have been minted by various countries.

 

 

Check your local area for upcoming coin shows or clubs. The social aspect of collecting is one of the most rewarding, and most collectors are happy to help young ones get started. Many shows have event and presentations specifically for younger hobbyists.
baby-921807_960_720Finally, make sure the young collector has access to the resources that can help them become knowledgeable about their hobby. Most libraries either have, or can get, books about coins, as well as history books about whatever period the child is interested in. If they are old enough, consider getting them a subscription to a coin collecting magazine. Help them learn the basic terminology of coin collecting, how to identify where the coin was minted, and other basic skills. If there is a mint within reasonable travel distance, arrange a visit and tour.

 

 

Coin collecting has been one of the most popular hobbies around the world for centuries, and shows no sign of declining any time soon. With a little help and encouragement, the next generation of numismatists are ready to enter the world of collecting.

How Coins Betrayed Bonnie and Clyde

The Barrow Gang, led by the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, stormed across multiple states in a deadly crime spree lasting a year and a half. The gang killed both civilians and law officers when cornered or threatened, and escaped capture multiple times. Despite their formidable skill at evading (or simply mowing down) the law, the beginning of the end for the notorious Barrow Gang came from a stash of coins.

 

800px-Bonnieclyde_f.jpgClyde Barrow had his first arrest in 1926, at the age of 17, after failing to return a rental car on time; he was arrested again shortly afterward, with his brother Buck, for possession of stolen turkeys. Though he held legal jobs from 1927-29, Clyde also robbed stores, stole vehicles, and even cracked safes. After several incarcerations, he was sentenced to Eastham Prison Farm in the spring of 1930. He suffered terrible abuse in the prison (much of it from other inmates), and emerged as a hardened criminal with a grudge against law enforcement and the prison system. Ralph Fults, incarcerated at the prison farm with Clyde, reported that he changed “from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake” during the 2 years he was at the farm.

 

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Bonnie Parker married Roy Thornton at the age of 15, but soon grew estranged from her husband (though they never legally divorced.) She met Clyde Barrow at the house of a friend (according to the more credible reports), and the two fell in love at first sight. When Clyde rounded up friends and family to create his gang, Bonnie stayed by his side.

 

 

Bonnie_apuntant_de_broma_a_Clyde_amb_una_escopeta.jpgThe numbers and members of the Barrow gang fluctuated, though Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche were frequently part of the group. They robbed over a dozen banks, as well as small stores and rural gas stations; they killed 9 police officers and several civilians, as well as the occasional kidnapping. Despite a great deal of public popularity, the ruthlessness of the Barrow Gang soon turned public opinion against them. A set of photos from their hideout in Joplin, Missouri, (many taken by Bonnie, who had a lifelong interest in photography) which fell into police hands after a raid, portrayed the Barrow gang as laughing criminals, brandishing guns and smoking cigars. These photos were almost certainly taken in jest (as well as poor taste); the reality of the gang’s life on the road was far less picturesque.

 

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These photos, embellished by a press desperate for the next sensational crime story, ended up cementing Bonnie Parker’s image as a hardened gun moll and the power behind the throne; Bonnie Parker never killed anyone, though she did fire a Browning Automatic and was present for over 100 felonies. As the gang become more notorious, it became harder to find accommodation, forcing them to sleep in campground and bath in cold streams.

 

 

On June 10th, 1933, Clyde missed a warning sign at a Texas bridge and rolled the car into a ravine. Bonnie sustained a severe leg injury (sources agree it was a third-degree burn, but whether it was from a gasoline fire or battery acid has not been determined.) This made it harder than ever for the group to hide; Bonnie had to hop on her good leg or be carried, and was in constant need of medical supplies.
BlancheCapturedExfield1933.jpgThe beginning of the end came in July of 1933, at the Red Crown Tourist Court, in Platte City (now part of Kansas City), Missouri. The owner of the hotel was already suspicious when he saw the Barrow car being backed into the garage “gangster style,” for faster getaway. However, it was when Blanche Barrow paid for lodgings, five dinners, and five beers entirely in coins that he became certain he was dealing with robbers. He informed local law officials, which led to a shootout that mortally wounded Buck and resulted in Blanche Barrow’s arrest.

 

Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree came to an end a few months later in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, when they were caught in an ambush of questionable legality, gunned down by a hail of gunfire from law enforcement.

 

 

31121-021Though history does not record which coins Blanche Barrow paid with, we do know what coins would have been in wide circulation at the time. The Lincoln wheat cent (minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco) and Buffalo nickel (minted in Philadelphia and San Francisco) were common, as well as the Mercury dime (minted in Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco).

 

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The Standing Liberty quarter was minted primarily in Philadelphia until 1930, with a few quarters coming out of Denver and San Francisco; it was replaced by the Washington quarter in 1932 (minted at all three locations.) The Walking Liberty half-dollar would also have been in circulation.

 

 

NNC-US-1907-G$10-Indian_Head_(no_motto).jpgThe gang might also have used the $10 Indian head coin, and the famous $20 Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin, possibly acquired during their bank robberies. Morgan and Peace dollars might also have formed part of the haul, though not minted during those years; some Indian Head cents and Barber coins would also likely still have been in circulation and part of the stolen money.

 

CaptureAt least two coins were recovered from the legendary couple’s car. A 1921 Morgan dollar, one of two said to have been taken from Clyde Barrow’s jacket pocket, sold for $32,400 in 2012. The coin was taken from the couple’s car by Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton, who was one of the gunman during the ambush; Hinton’s son wrote a letter to accompany the Morgan, detailing the recovery of the coins. “Nothing has ever been mentioned, written, or published about Clyde’s jacket being in the car right after the melee that morning. Only Ted and the other five posse members were aware of the jacket … I was later made aware of the jacket.” Hinton sold the coins in 1946 to a Dallas buyer, who later traded the coin to settle a debt with the notorious Gambino mob family. According to Coin World, “This provenance is detailed in a letter from Michael Kozlin. Kozlin reportedly received the coin in 1986 from his grandfather, Armand Castellano, a convicted bank robbery get-away-car driver and a cousin to Paulie Castellano. Armand had reportedly received the coin in 1966. Within the last year, according to RR Auction President Bobby Livingston, Kozlin contacted Linton Hinton, ‘who confirmed the details of the origin of the coin from Barrow’s jacket pocket.’ “