A new medal from the Vatican featuring an engraving mistake has
become a modern-day rarity.
The medal, released Oct. 8, incorrectly lists the name of Jesus
Christ as lesus in the legend surrounding the reverse design. The
inscription is in Latin so the proper spelling would be with an I, not
an L (or a J as would appear in English).
An unknown but likely extremely small number of the medals were
sold during limited periods of availability, although some buyers were
reportedly able to buy the medals after they were officially taken off sale.
Allen Berman, a dealer who specializes in Vatican numismatics,
among other areas, said, “It looks like the L punch was mistaken for
the I punch in preparing the dies.”
The medal celebrates the first year of the pontificate for Pope
Francis. It shows the new leader on the obverse, while the reverse
shows an image of the calling of Matthew, an account that influenced a
17-year-old Jorge Bergoglio to accept a call to the ministry.
The error appears in the reverse legend’s text from a Latin homily
about Christ calling Matthew, vidit ergo lesus publicanum et quia
miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi sequere me. The intended text
would translate to “Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since
he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, follow me.”
Pope Francis chose his motto, miserando atque eligendo, said to
mean “lowly but chosen,” from the quoted homily.
The episode from the life of Jesus is told three times in the
Gospels, in Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-28.
Artist Mariangela Crisciotti designed the medal, which was struck
at the Instituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, the Italian State Mint.
The medals are numbered and three different versions were issued:
bronze, .986 fine silver and an unspecified fineness in gold. Coin
World could not determine the finish and weight of the three medals,
but each measures 44 millimeters in diameter, according to the Vatican
Vatican Information Service reported the mintage of the medals
totaled 400 three-medal sets, 200 individual gold medals and 3,000
each of the silver and bronze. Italian coin and antiques dealer Enrico
Cavaglia’, of Antiques Italy, showed Coin World a certificate with the
silver medal suggesting a mintage of 4,000 pieces. An employee of one
of three shops Cavaglia’ visited told him that the number of medals
released to sales outlets was less than the stated mintages.
“How can I say that it’s true or it’s false?” Cavaglia’ remarked.
The error medals were pulled off sale from the Libreria Eitrice
Vaticana, or Vatican Publishing House, a bookstore in Piazza Pio XII,
in front of St. Peter’s Square. The Administration of the Patrimony of
the Apostolic See is the issuer of the medals, Cavaglia’ said.
Cavaglia’ said that he and fellow collectors were told the medals
were sold out when calling by telephone or visiting in person official
retail shops selling the medals.
Cavaglia’ said he witnessed transactions for the medals in some of
these shops a week after the medal sales were initially halted, after
people expressed a desire to obtain the medals.
Cavaglia’ later secured additional medals, but acknowledged that
his purchase was possible because of a friend who works in the Vatican.
According to translations of Italian media reports,
representatives of the Instituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato blame
Vatican City officials, and Vatican City officials are crediting the
Italian State Mint with the engraving mistake.
“There are so many steps in the process to check [the accuracy of
the engraving],” Cavaglia’ told Coin World in an email interview.
Representatives for the Instituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato
declined to comment, and Coin World could not reach Administration of
the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.
The official issue prices were �60 (about $82 U.S.) for the bronze
medal, �100 (about $137 U.S.) for the silver medal and �2,800 (about
$3,827 U.S.) for the gold medal, Cavaglia’ said, with a three-medal
set costing �3,300 (about $4,509 U.S.) in a case.
The Vaticanum.com website, a sort of Amazon.com for items sold by
several Vatican institutions, sold the bronze medals for �95 (about
$130 U.S.) and the silver medals for �158 (about $216 U.S.).
In an Oct. 22 eBay auction, a seller under the user name
“duosiciliano,” based in Aquino, Italy, sold a bronze example of the
error medal for $710.
Whatever the initial cost, the error has spurred interest in
Vatican medals, an area that has not seen this level of excitement for
years, according to Cavaglia’.
“[The Vatican has] an incredible marketing operation behind this
... they make people want their item. They [have] create[d] a desire
in people to acquire something that in normal life is useless. ...
They’re not even coins,” he said. ■