What is iconic to you? The word “icon” can refer to religious
images, an ideal version of something, computer pictograms or
representative symbols like those found on coins.
A few coin icons frequently seen in several nations include:
➤ The national crest or flag.
➤ The nation’s founder.
➤ Natural wonder or phenomenon.
➤ Man-made wonder.
➤ Native fauna or flora.
➤ A cityscape, seascape or landscape.
➤ A famous battle or monument.
➤ A beloved hero, revolutionary or reformer.
World governments put icons on coins to educate the populace,
encourage tourism and protect endangered animals, among other things.
For inspiring feelings of nationalism and patriotism it’s tough to
beat coins featuring the national flag or crest. One example comes
from Zaire, known as the Congo today. Zaire’s crest often appeared on
its coins, such as the 1997 silver 1,000-nouveaux-zaire coin.
Rich with symbolism, the crest was dominated by the head of a
leopard, an animal as closely identified with that nation as the bald
eagle is with the United States. Also part of the crest was an ivory
point, and a crossed arrow and spear indicating readiness for defense.
A palm branch in the crest represents peace, and the nation’s motto in
French reads “Peace, Justice and Work.” The crest has been modified
several times since 1997.
The iconic national founder is the person that a nation can rally around.
Mexico’s “Founding Father” was a father three different ways. In
addition to that national honorary title, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
was also a Catholic priest and the biological father of five children.
He was executed in 1811 for his work fighting oppression but his
courage set the stage for independence in 1821. Just as the United
States has more than one George Washington coin series, Mexico has
several Hidalgo series, including a 5-peso coin minted from 1951 to 1954.
Many nations feature natural wonders and phenomena on coins to
encourage tourism. But for that rare phenomenon called a solar
eclipse, no country ever beat the drum like tiny Alderney Island,
population 2,000, situated between France and England.
Alderney issued several versions of solar eclipse copper-nickel,
silver and gold £2 and £5 coins in 1999. Alderney was advertising the
fact that scientists had declared Alderney’s clear northern skies the
best vantage point for viewing the upcoming August eclipse. By the
time it occurred, the population had quadrupled, with 6,000 tourists
looking skyward. Perhaps the coins helped.
Man-made wonders like bridges, skyscrapers, railways, dams and
stadiums on coins will attract tourists, too.
In 2002, Germany honored its 100-year-old Berlin subway or U-Bahn
with a silver �10 commemorative coin. The giant railway is 80 percent
underground and moves almost 500 million people annually. It was
bisected when the Berlin Wall was built and reconnected when the wall
fell. Such is its long history, the U-Bahn has its own public museum.
A small nation with little budget for man-made wonders can still
be a tourist magnet by advertising its unique native flora and fauna.
Belize, a Central American nation just south of Mexico, has
recorded an amazing 590 different species of birds. In 1974, Belize
issued a Matte Finish commemorative dollar showcasing its famous
scarlet macaw, a bird that has made its way into some American homes
as a pet.
Macau, Germany, Singapore, Mexico, the Philippines and many others
have issued coins with beautiful land, sea and cityscapes, but a 1984
Canadian dollar is special for offering a combination of two vistas.
The coin shows a First Nations canoeist paddling through Toronto
Harbour on the north shore of Lake Ontario while the landscape
captures the skyline of Canada’s largest city. The design celebrated
Toronto’s 150th birthday.
Many European coins feature iconic monuments and battles. These
are history lessons on coins and a way to honor the fallen in those battles.
The Russian 1992 Battle of Chudskoye Lake 3-ruble coin tells the
fascinating story of a critical battle from 1242. The Teutonic Knights
were defeated by the Novgorodians; the defeat stopped the Catholic
Crusaders and permanently established the boundary for Russian Orthodoxy.
Our final icon is that of the beloved reformer who works
tirelessly to improve conditions for the disenfranchised, in this
case, the fight for universal suffrage.
In 1994, Australia celebrated the 100th anniversary of suffrage by
issuing a $5 ringed-bimetallic commemorative coin with the face of
suffragist Mary Lee on the reverse. Some Americans could not help but
notice that she wears a stern expression on her face, not unlike that
of counterpart suffragist Susan B. Anthony on her U.S. dollar