Animals on Coins
Collecting stamps with animal images on them is nothing new and I know an Indian entomologist, who claims to possess 80% of all insect-featuring stamps of the world and a Finnish enthusiast, whose aim it is to have all of the world’s stamps with butterflies on them. I, however, collect coins and paper money with animal motifs. Coins have a longer history than stamps (you find a honey bee on an ancient Greek coin) and because of their association with rulers (and their coats of arms) often feature eagles in all their varieties: plump and skinny, roosting or soaring, single or double headed. In 2nd position of popularity you’d find royal lions and stately horses. Animal coins are not boring.
Did you, for example, know that the earliest coin to show an elephant which I am aware of is not from Africa or India, but the Spanish silver shekel of 230-220 BCE? Nowadays there are, of course, several African countries that have elephant coins or even bank notes (like the South African 20 Rand) featuring this proboscidean. The only place in Europe where you’d find monkeys these days is Gibraltar and so it is fitting to find monkeys adorning the 25 pence coin of this last remaining British colony in Europe. Most Australians are familiar with their unique egg-laying mammal, i.e., the duckbill also known as platypus, but few would have seen it elsewhere other than on the beautiful 20 cent coin. The European brown bear has long disappeared from the Swiss Alps, but at least in 1494 it still occurred on the Silver Taler of Bern. India on one of its 50 paisa coins showed fishermen hauling in a meagre catch of snapper, yet devout Hindus for religious reason would not consume any fish or meat. The ancient coelacanth, a fish considered a missing link between aquatic and terrestrial vertebrates, can be found on the large 5 francs coin of the Comoros Islands. A cute little pre-Euro coin used to be the tiny Slovenian 10 cent, showing the endemic blind cave newt Proteus anguinus.
Marine creatures also feature on coins of many other countries like, for example, crab, lobster, tuna, swordfish and flying fish on the coinage of Malta, San Marino, Croatia, Singapore and Barbados, respectively. Generally speaking aquatic animals are more popular than insects and yet, the latter are also beautifully depicted on coins from San Marino, which also has one with a spider. Papua New Guinea, unsurprisingly, has a brown 1 toea coin with a birdwing butterfly on it and Botswana has the edible caterpillar of the mopane moth on its 5 pula coin. Huge ants form the backdrop of the Swiss 1000 Franken paper money and butterflies are found on the reverse sides of some bank notes from Sri Lanka and, together with locusts, on the 1,000 escudos of the Cape Verde Islands as well. Coins with birds are quite common and the endemic kiwi, a bird-of-paradise, and the emblematic kagu represent New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and New Caledonia very nicely. One of the most beautiful coins, I think, used to be the no longer available 25 cent Jamaican “doctor bird” in flight.
Although as a zoology-minded person you can learn something from animal coins about the animals’ occurrence and distribution, you need to be critical when it comes to the anatomy (some Roman coins and many others thereafter featured horses with wings, the unicorn is alive and well on some 16th century Scottish coins and dragons had –and even have- also their place on coins) and with regard to places (North Korea had coins with giraffes, chimps and a hippopotamus, but actually to celebrate the opening of Pyongyang‘s zoological garden). The modern Icelandic 10 aurar piece shows the zoological oddity of an eight-armed squid. Squids being cephalopods like the octopus are, however, characterized by two long tentacles (correctly indicated on the Icelandic coin) plus an additional eight arms. Only the octopus has a total of just eight arms, all squids have 10! I wonder if the Icelandic coin-makers had a mutilated squid as a model or whether they thought that the percentage of zoologists in the population would not likely to be higher than 0.001% and that scientific accuracy, therefore did not matter.
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2018.
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