Art acting as resistance during World War II: On the Block

Carved Dutch pieces honor queen in exile
Published : 05/24/13
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Art can be many things to many people, but rarely does it serve in the role of resistance.

Several numismatic relics of World War II that appeared at auction in late April are examples of Dutch resistance against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Queen Wilhelmina and the royal family fled to safety aboard a British destroyer to the United Kingdom after German forces swept across the border on May 10, 1940.

Nazis tried to remove the image of Wilhelmina from public life and, according to the Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore College, as a small act of defiance, Dutch residents turned coins depicting the exiled ruler into jewelry.

Methods of defiance apparently also extended to creation of numismatic folk art: silver circulation coins from the era feature carvings from an unknown artist or artists. The pieces may be looked upon “as an act of resistance, silver being scarce [those] days and expensive,” according to auction firm Karel de Geus, which sold three examples of such pieces on April 22.

Numismatic rebellion

During the war, the queen rallied the nation from afar, returning to find that the people had a new affection for her.

While she was away, silver coins depicting her were turned into canvases for rebellion. These objets d’art usually were carved to show the queen wearing a Dutch army helmet, with the normal legend on the coin also modified. Instead of WILHELMINA KONINGIN DER NEDERLANDEN (or Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands) — they usually read WILHELMINA IN LONDEN, or sometimes LONDON, a reference to the English welcoming the Dutch royal family.

The exact purpose and origin of these carved coins has never been proven, according to Albert A.J. Scheffers, former curator and director of the Dutch Mint Museum.

The resistance pieces were usually created from the 1-guilden coin, which measures 28 millimeters in diameter, or slightly smaller than a U.S. Kennedy half dollar (which is 30.61 millimeters). Reverses of the coins are generally, but not always, unaltered.

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