Cats from around the world find a home on coins
- Published: Jun 17, 2016, 8 AM
Cats are like no other domesticated animal. A cat can be aloof one minute, watching you from her perch above the television; affectionate the next minute as she rubs her head along your feet and ankles; and then revert to her wild state, slashing your bare flesh with her extended claws (out comes the antiseptic and an adhesive bandage yet again). But despite their moodiness and their frequent reversion to assault cat, their owners would find it difficult to part with them.
No surprise, then, that cats feature prominently on coins from around the world. And no entity has issued more cat coins than the Isle of Man.
The first of its breed
According to archaeology.about.com/, “Genetic analysis suggests that all domestic cats derive from at least five founder cats from the Fertile Crescent region, from whence they (or rather their descendants) were transported around the world.” Some of the first evidence for domestic cats (Felis catus) are found on Cyprus dating to 7500 B.C., placing their emergence well after that of dogs. Archaeologists have found evidence of ritual burials of cats dating as early as 9,500 years ago. Many speculate that wild cats were first drawn near humans because of the small rodents that feasted on people’s agricultural stores.
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According to archaeology.about.com/, “The first illustration of a cat with a collar appears on an Egyptian tomb in Saqqara, dated to the 5th dynasty (Old Kingdom, ca 2500-2350 BC). By the 12th dynasty (Middle Kingdom, ca 1976-1793 BC), cats are definitely domesticated, and the animals appear frequently in Egyptian art paintings and mummies.”
While domestic cats have appeared in paintings, sculptures and other artwork for thousands of years, their appearance on coins is a recent development, most widely practice by the Isle of Man.
The Isle of Man is a self-governing Crown dependency located in the Irish Sea between Ireland and Great Britain. It is famous for the Isle of Man TT Race, a prestigious motorcycle race where riders propel themselves on a road-track that circles the island at ridiculous speeds (and subject of another coin series), and for the Manx cat, a breed of cat with a naturally occurring mutation resulting in very short tail or no tail at all.
In 1970, the island issued a circulating crown coin depicting a Manx cat on the reverse. The cat is shown in profile to the left, with its head pointing toward its left side and slightly to the rear. The cat’s lack of a tail is clearly evident in the presentation.
The island followed up with a second denomination of circulating coin in 1975, when it issued a 25-penny coin also featuring a Manx cat on the reverse. It, too, is shown in profile, though its body is angled away from the viewer more than on the older coin. This presentation also makes the cat’s distinctive lack of a tail clearly evident.
A series begins and continues
Thirteen years after the 25-penny coin was first released, the Isle of Man issued the initial coin in what has become one of the longest running series of coins in the world, all featuring different breeds of cats. The series began with a 1988 1-crown coin depicting, not surprisingly, a Manx cat. This first issue set the pattern for what has become an annual issue — a cat or cats featured in the center of the design, with the denomination appearing as 1 CROWN at the bottom and the Isle of Man arms at the top, with any additional inscriptions tied to the individual coin’s composition.
Over the years, annual issues in the series have depicted a wide range of cat breeds, ranging from the Havana brown cat on the 2016 coins to the Selkirk rex cat on the 2015 coins to the Siamese cat on the 1999 issues.
Some of the coins depict a single adult cat. Others depict an adult accompanied by a kitten of the same breed for added cuteness.
Since the introduction of the first coin in 1988, the Isle of Man has issued 29 different coins. The coins are often offered in gold, silver and copper-nickel versions bearing the same designs, with the only difference being an extra compositional content inscription on the precious metals examples. Several denominations have been issued, including 10-crown pieces issued during the programs 10th anniversary year in 1997.
The Isle of Man cat series must have some collector support or it otherwise would not have lasted so long. BJ Searls of Collectors Universe and Professional Coin Grading Service summed up the series in a May 21, 2012, blog about Isle of Man coinage:
“By far the most popular commemorative set of Isle of Man coins is the cat series. In fact, so much so, that the coins have been voted the ‘Most Popular Coin of the Year’ internationally. The silver proof set requires 24 coins and has been produced every year since 1988. Choose from the Alley Cat, to the Himalayan to the 2012 Manx; the variety and designs are wonderful. Spend a little more money and buy the same set in circulation strikes or proof gold.”
Starting a cat coin collection with the Isle of Man copper-nickel circulation strikes is a good choice. However, you might not want to limit your collection to the coins of that Irish Sea nation.
Cat coins of other countries
Like the Isle of Man, Niue Island is a prolific issuer of coins through distributors, and like its Northern Hemisphere counterpart in the British Commonwealth, it offers a series of cat coins.
A 2016 entry is a stunning 2-ounce silver $5 coin that shows a cat just awakening from a nap, its body curled into a tight ball and one eye, brightly colored yellow and black, looking at the human who just woke it. The depiction of the cat fills the reverse of the coin, which is sans any sort of inscription. All statutory information — including issuing nation, date, denomination — appears on the obverse, which depicts Queen Elizabeth II.
The coin features a hand-applied Antique Finish.
A Proof 2014 silver dollar in the Niue series of cat coins features on its reverse a colorful Bengal cat with two Swarovski crystals for its eyes. The cat is shown crouching, possibly readying to leap on some prey. A second cat image appears to the left of the reverse, with a ball of string resting between the two animals awaiting a playful bat or six.
Fiji began a series of Cats and Dogs coins in 2013, with the first year’s FLUFFY CAT installment showing a Somali cat, according to the inscription. The colorful tabby has fur that is a mix of tan, yellow and black in color, and it is looking upward with that intense stare all cat owners recognize. The series is an ambitious one, with 36 cat coins planned, all showing a different design.
Turkey’s 2010 ringed-bimetallic 1-turk-larasi coin features a cat portrait on one side, with the feline’s face filling the brass-colored core and its ears and chest projecting into the nickel-colored ring. The cat is shown looking to one side at something that has caught its attention.
Collectors looking for a little whimsey can branch out and include various fictional cats. A number of Hello Kitty pieces are available, all depicting the Japanese cartoon creature. A 2015 Bank of Latvia €5 coin features the Five Cats fairy tale of the Latvian author Albert Cronenberg, showing, as you might guess, five fanciful felines all sleeping beneath the blankets in the same bed on one side, while, on the other side, four of the cats, wearing suits, wait to be fed by the fifth one, who holds a bowl of yellowish food.
Of course, one can expand a collection manyfold by including the domestic cats’ wild brethren, maybe starting with those depicting various wildcats, the closest relatives of the domestic cats. Issuers include the Royal Canadian Mint.
For those fascinated by the big cats, lions and tigers and panthers are found on numerous coins. Even the United States has a “big cat” coin to select from — the 1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial commemorative half dollar. The reverse shows North America’s native large cat, a “catamount” or what is also called a panther, mountain lion or cougar. The last wild Eastern cougar to stalk the wilds of Vermont was killed in 1881, so the coin’s depiction of the animal is in tribute to the apex predator that once was common in the Northeast before humans killed virtually all of the big cats in the region.
Whatever your collecting preference, whether it be the domestic cats, cartoon cats, or the bigger felines, hundreds of different cat coins are available to you for your collection.
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