Five wonderful wonders of the world (Series #1)
Every collector has their own preferences, themes to which they are partial, their favorite collectible items.
Each collector has their own Moby Dick – their relentlessly pursued white whale.
The pièce de résistance which will complete the masterpiece.
And numismatists are no exception to this rule.
Money is often no object. The value of the collection is in the eyes of the collector and not necessarily in the intrinsic value of the objects contained.
Personally, I have a penchant for emergency currency, for example. I find the items absolutely fascinating because of their rarity, their variety, and their historical dimension. The one that we see through the small end of the spyglass, a record of the daily life of an era, as close as possible to the human being. This very personal value that I find in them is not reflected in the price, however, which is often moderate.
In contrast, some collectible items may be (very) expensive and still remain popular among collectors. Be they banknotes, medals, coins from all ages and all continents, or even the oh-so recent euro, they therefore reach sometimes substantial prices and will likely make the next collector very happy.
This first article thus gives us the opportunity to showcase some of these pièces de résistance.
Here are five wonders of the world to discover without delay, to dream about and – who knows – perchance to add to your still incomplete collection in the near future.
Place your bets
(But don’t lose (the apple on) your head!)
100 Swiss francs “William Tell” (specimen)
- Category: Collectible banknotes
- Issuing country: Switzerland
Paper money can sometimes fetch unrivaled prices and make collectors turn green with envy. This is the case with this “William Tell” 100 Swiss francs specimen.
Put into circulation by the Swiss National Bank in 1918, it was removed from circulation again in 1925. Nowadays, it is very rare and there are but a few known examples of its specimen (shown here).
Printed in brown and blue, this banknote features a portrait of the Swiss national hero William Tell on the front and the Jungfrau massif (Swiss Alps) on the back. It was created by the graphic designer Balzer and printed by Orell Füssli, a Swiss printing and bookselling company founded in 1519. Furthermore, the banknote is perforated by six stars and the word SPECIMEN is printed in red capital letters on the front.
This rare example with the effigy of the talented Swiss crossbowman is sure to hit the bull’s-eye with enlightened collectors (Helvetic or otherwise) and has been valued at €7,000.
The empire strikes gold
Gold medal from the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg
- Category: Collectible medals
- Issuing country: Russia
This collectible item is a true curiosity.
The Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg was founded by Ivan Shuvalov and Alexander Kokorinov in 1757 and abolished in 1918.
Within the Academy, the competition for the Large Gold Medal rewarded the best graduates with a generous scholarship for three to six years (depending on the time period) which generally allowed them to complete their studies with trips abroad.
To be eligible, competitors had to complete a creative commission with a set theme. In total, there were ninety-two winners of the Large Gold Medal.
The simply divine gold medal shown here was engraved by the renowned Utkin and weighs around 45 grams.
This amazing, extremely rare, and splendid medal has been valued at €33,000.
Stater, Lydia (Croesus)
- Category: Ancient collectible coins
- Issuing country: Ancient Kingdom of Lydia
Here, we have a coin which is not only very rare but also very old. In fact, as we explained here, the Lydians were actually behind the first Ancient Greek coins.
The capital of Lydia was Sardis (αἱ Σάρδεις) and it stood on the famous river Pactolus. The kingdom was located in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and its last king was the incredibly rich and flamboyant Croesus.
Following a misunderstanding of the oracles’ prophecies, he launched a fierce attack against the Persians...which ended in crushing defeat by his opponent, Cyrus.
Croesus, who reigned from 561 to 546 BC, was also responsible for a number of important monetary reforms. For example, he replaced electrum with gold as the metal used for coins. He also astutely pegged his gold standard to that of the Greeks and silver standard to that of the Babylonians, thereby transforming Lydian money into a trading currency between the cities of the Aegean and those of Upper Asia.
In this case, this ancient and magnificent Lydian stater is therefore made of gold, was struck in the capital, and displays protomes (a front view of an animal) of a lion and a bull on the obverse. The reverse features the usual Lydian two incuse squares.
This very rare and ancient splendor has been valued at €25,000.
To err is human
German €1 from 2004 with mint-made error
- Category: Collectible euros
- Issuing country: Germany
You might think this modern coin somewhat out of place among these luxurious treasures... Let’s view this one as a pleasant and unexpected, sweet treat between the main courses (we wouldn’t dare refer to a German coin as a Norman hole*).
However, despite the very reasonable price of this common European currency – with the exception of special collectors’ editions – there are some that can rise quickly in price: the ones featuring “mint-made errors”.
Indeed, as an unknown Roman said “Errare humanum est…” (no, it wasn’t Seneca). One may not rejoice in the misfortune of others but still appreciate the acquisition of a rare and original piece.
Karlsruhe missed the mark in 2004, offering us a coin with no core but not without character.
This beautiful trinket of fate is extremely rare and valued at €1,200.
In 2002, another error occurred in Hamburg: the mint got the core of the coin right but didn’t stay between the lines when coloring in the edges.
*Translator’s note: le trou Normand is a small drink of liqueur taken between courses in a long meal to revive the appetite.
São Tomé escudo
- Category: Collectible coin
- Issuing country: Portugal
Let us bring this first chapter to a close with an extremely rare gold coin, bearing a heavy past, historically tainted by the slave trade that was happily practiced on the island of São Tomé (St. Thomas) at that time.
The island was uninhabited when Portuguese navigators João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar first set foot on the island in the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Africa in December 1471 (St. Thomas’ day).
Portugal, in full colonial expansion (this was the great era of the navigators and their figurehead – word chosen intentionally – Vasco da Gama), set about trying to develop the sugar cane culture there.
Due to the difficulty in finding colonists ready to settle on the island, Portugal introduced a less “harsh” policy as far as slaves were concerned. Many were freed as time passed. By the beginning of the 16th century, unions between white and black people were even encouraged. However, this did not prevent the island from remaining a hub of the slave trade and dispatching its shameful cargo to the Americas. Slavery was not abolished in the archipelago until 400 years later in 1876.
However, let’s go back a bit to our coin. This coin was minted in São Tomé in the 16th century when John III the Pious (João III o Piedoso) was King of Portugal.
His full title leaves no room for modesty:
King of Portugal and the Algarves, of each side of the sea in Africa, Duke of Guinea and of the conquest, navigation, and trade of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and India by the grace of God.
He was also responsible for instigating the Portuguese Inquisition, which was every bit as lethal as its Spanish counterpart as far as its extremism was concerned.
This gold escudo from São Tomé, weighing almost 10 grams (9.54 g to be precise) is a lingering witness to this troubled period of history.
Today, there are only 4 known examples of this extremely rare coin, which has been valued at €115,000
Thus concludes this first collection of numismatic wonders.
Perhaps it will have inspired you, and for sure, we hope, it will have taken you on a journey.
The indispensable and the ordinary
Herluison bookstore, 2 francs, Orléans
- Category: Collectible emergency banknotes
- Issuing country: France
Just before we go, here is a little personal bonus, seems as I mentioned emergency currency in the introduction of this article. Please allow me to share with you this French emergency banknote, issued in the city of Orléans, France, by the Herluison bookstore in the troubled year of 1870.
The bookstore was under the management of Henry Herluison, who had inherited it from his father in 1858. A specialist in antique books, he was also an editor and published “Les murailles d'Orléans pendant l'occupation prussienne 1870-1871” (The Walls of Orléans During the Prussian Occupation 1870-1871) in 1871.
It must be said that he surely saw them close up, the Prussians.
Extremely rare, this 2 franc note is number 19 in a series of just 100.
It has been valued at €750.
Acknowledgments: Nicolas Michel, expert at NumisCorner.com
Translation: Michael Wright
- “Storm-Tossed Frigate” by Thomas Chambers (19th century)
- “The Print Collector” by Honoré Daumier (between 1852 and 1868)
- “Willem Tell – No. 11 Nobles (extras at the dance)” by Hippolyte Lecomte (circa 1829)
- “Portrait of Nikolay Ivanovich Murashko” by Ilya Repin (1882)
- “The Lydian Plain near Sardis, Asia Minor (Turkey)” by Harald Jerichau (1878)
- “The Old Mint in Berlin” by Carl Daniel Freydanck (1840)
- “São Tomé das Letras” by Nicola Antonio Facchinetti (1876)
- “The Last Cartridges” by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville (1873)