5 coins with amazing stories

justCollecting

justCollecting

2016-10-19 15:25:36

Thought coins were boring?

Well we’re about to prove you wrong. 

From leper colony currency, to those celebrating the death of a Roman emperor, here are 5 coins with some truly incredible stories behind them.

5. The United States of America's first coin

When the US established itself as a republic in 1776, one of the first things the newly formed government did was mint its own coins.

The 1776 dollar was struck to mark US independence - Image: Heritage Auctions

The 1776 dollar was struck to mark US independence - Image: Heritage Auctions

Coins indicate sovereignty, making the 1776 continental dollar an important outward sign of America’s emancipation.

Founding father Benjamin Franklin is believed to have come up with the design. It features an image of a sundial and is engraved, bizarrely: “Time flies, so mind your business.”

It's a fascinating and hugely important piece of early US history. 

Silver specimens of this coin are very sought after and have sold for up to $1.4m in the past. 

4. Coin from a besieged city

The Jewish-Roman war (AD 66-73) started after the Jews rose up against Roman rule. This shekel was minted in Jerusalem whilst the city was under siege.

 This shekel was minted during the siege of Jerusalem - Image: Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers

This shekel was minted during the siege of Jerusalem - Image: Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers

It was crucial to maintain the flow of shekels as the Book of Exodus mandated that all occupants of the city over the age of 20 had to pay a half shekel tax to the temple.

Interestingly, some of these coins have been found in the ruins of Masada, a former Roman garrison perched on a mountaintop. This was where the Zealots, a deadly sect of Jewish assassins, had their last stand in 73-74 AD.

There aren't many of these left and they regularly sell for in excess of $200,000. 

3. Leper coins

Before the advent of modern medicine, leprosy was thought to be passed between people by touch. People with leprosy were confined to “colonies”, often on islands, where they could live out their days without infecting others.

Lazareto is Spanish for lepa - Image: eBay

Lazareto is Spanish for leprosarium - Image: eBay

In Colombia, between 1900 and 1930, the government actually minted coins specifically for use in these communities.

They feature a cross with the word lazareto (Spanish for leprosarium) in the centre, allowing people from outside the colony to easily identify and disinfect it.

The idea spread around the world; with countries including Japan and the US following suit.

You can actually pick these coins up for as little as $11 on eBay. 

2. World's most confusing coin

The Class II 1804 silver dollar is not from 1804.

It’s supposed to look like a coin minted in the 1830s, but it was actually made in the 1850s. Confused? That's not surprising.

The Class II 1804 silver dollar should not exist - Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Class II 1804 silver dollar should not exist - Image: Wikimedia Commons

While there was a silver dollar produced in 1804, it bears an 1803 date as the mint hadn’t updated the plates.  

In 1834 President Andrew Jackson decided to send foreign dignitaries currency from every year since the US Mint opened as a gift. A small number of coins bearing the 1804 date were struck by accident. These are known as the Class I issue. 

Collectors were desperate to get their hands on one. Enter Theodore Eckfeldt, a Mint employee, who decided to overprint other coins with this 1804 date and sell them on.

Between 1858 and 1860 (when he was caught) he managed to produce several of these coins – known today as the Class II issue.

All were destroyed, except one. It’s now one of the centrepieces of the Smithsonian’s coin collection.

1. Julius Caesar assassination coin

Minted in 42 BC, the Eid Mar denarius is one of history’s most fascinating coins.

Shakespeare is believed to have come up with the Et tu, Brute line - Image: Heritage

Shakespeare is believed to have come up with the "Et tu, Brute" line - Image: Heritage

It’s named for the inscription “EID MAR” or Ides of March that appears on the reverse. It was created to celebrate the assassination of Julius Caesar.

On the front there is a profile of Brutus, Caesar’s former friend, who the emperor is supposed to have turned to and delivered his final (and probably allegorical) words – “Et tu, Brute?”

On the back are a pair of daggers and a pileus - a cap given to freed slaves. It’s supposed to represent the freeing of the Roman people from the yoke of Caesar’s tyranny. 

Fine examples of this very rare coin can make more than $500,000 at auction. 

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