“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” — from the
Just as many coins that feature people show a focus from the neck
up only, head shots work well for animals as well. Facial details make
the designs memorable and sometimes cute, frightening or thought-provoking.
In the last decade, the trend is away from heads and toward faces,
including the extreme close-up. For example, the owl’s face on the
2011 Mongolian 1-ounce silver 500-tugrik coin completely fills the
reverse. It sells in the $600 to $800 range in the secondary market
after being released at about $100. And Mongolia’s similar 2013 argali
(ram) close-up is a mint sellout with current prices approaching $400,
more than double the $175 it sold for initially.
More than seven decades earlier, Australia also issued a coin with
the head of a ram, specifically a merino sheep. The shilling ram head
has so many rolls of wool around his face and such curly horns, people
new to this series must often study the design to figure out what it
is. From 1938 until decimalization in 1963, the beloved design never changed.
Somalia’s 1950 elephant coinage is another vintage must-have
animal head series. The series, all copper and made in Italy, was
issued in 1-, 5- and 10-centesimo denominations. The elephant is shown
in profile, including trunk. Even though the three coins were made for
only one year, Uncirculated examples are easily found.
Since 1969, the head of a roaring lion has appeared on Ethiopian
coins as one means of readily identifying them. Before that, it was a
full-bodied lion. The head is seen in profile, mouth open and mane
flowing. Interestingly, this symbol is primarily numismatic, as the
lion is not part of the national crest or flag.
In 1972, the group of 115 islands east of Africa called the
Seychelles issued an aluminum 1-cent coin as part of the United
Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s “Grow More Food”
initiative with an unlikely design: the head of a cow. The archipelago
has long exported cinnamon and coconuts, but not cattle, lacking the
space required for herds. In spite of this, many animal coin
collectors confess to a fondness for the odd little Seychelles cent
with its cow head.
Hungary went in closer in 1985 with a 100-forint animal coin
series. The viewer literally goes face-to-face with the subjects.
Animal coin enthusiasts took notice right away. The close-ups made the
European otter and the wildcat instantly recognizable and seemed to
imbue them with a little bit of personality.
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Armenia and Turkey have all issued
silver or gold close-up owl face coins in recent years. The designs
are dramatic, but much of the credit for their success must go to the
owls. Their large eyes and round faces are well suited to coin design.
Poland issued the mother of all owl face coins back in 1986, but
in proba or pattern form. The 200-zloty piece features a highly
detailed feathered face with a surrounding legend that translates as
“Environmental Protection.” The smooth rim almost gives the coin a
ringed-bimetallic look at first glance and the relief in the feathers
makes the owl look as though he is popping out of a hole in a tree.
In 1998, North Korea issued a “double-tiger” 1-won coin, with the
full body of a tiger on one side and the head alone on the other. The
tigers are in attack mode with teeth bared, and the legend in English
warns of their fearlessness: Intrepid Symbol: Tiger. Aside from the
intimidating nature of the design, the face of what is naturally a
stunning animal appears stunted, more like a house cat. It is an
Sierra Leone got it right in 2003 with a small 20-leone coin (with
a 22-millimeter diameter) featuring the face of a chimpanzee. Even
though the middle of the face is all we see, this design captures the
mood of this primate. She looks calm, almost serene. The portrait is a
realistic representation that makes it a joy to behold for the collector.
From head shots to close-ups — what’s next?
The Congo has one answer, with a new series called Nature’s Eyes.
The 2013 colored 2-ounce silver 2,000-franc coin released in September
depicts an extreme close-up of part of the face of a rare leopard,
showing one dome-shaped 3-D eye that is added to the surface of the