World Coins

Danish medal recalls British attack on Copenhagen

An 1801 silver medal issued for Denmark’s unsuccessful defense of Copenhagen highlights Emporium Hamburg’s April 16 to 18 auction.

Images courtesy of Emporium Hamburg.

Few British Naval leaders are as revered as Adm. Lord Horatio Nelson.

Before the leader met his death during the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson earned a reputation as a daring, if obstinate, naval officer.

One of the most famous incidents of his career came at the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen, an event captured in silver on a medal on offer in Emporium Hamburg’s auction No. 80 April 16 to 18. 

Thanks to the daring of then Vice Adm. Lord Horatio Nelson, the battle spelled the end of Denmark’s membership in an alliance meant to assist Napoleon.

The League of Neutral Nations, also known as the Northern Confederacy, was created in retaliation for the British impoundment of Danish and Swedish ships from 1798 to 1900. 

Russia’s Czar Paul I, in concert with Napoleon, pushed for the League, which was composed of Denmark, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.

The League’s rallying cry of “free ships, free goods,” stood in stark contrast to the British method of domination by blockade and embargo of neutral ships trading with France. 

Defining symbols and figures on paper moneyWendell Wolka concludes his series of columns on allegorical figures depicted on obsolete notes with tips on identifying several figures by their accessories. Also in this issue, we take a look at a few of the dozens of abbreviations in numismatics.

The British saw the alliance’s naval component as an affront.

“There was, therefore, no real option but to smash the Confederacy as soon as possible, before it could coalesce into an effective force, and it is quite clear that preparations for an expedition to the Baltic were put in hand the moment that Paul announced the embargo on British merchant shipping,” wrote Michael Bruff, for the Nelson Society (at 

Nelson was second in command, behind Adm. Sir Hyde Parker, who was to advance from the north while Nelson commanded ships into the channel by the Copenhagen harbor.

But several ships foundered, causing British and Danish ships in the channel to engage in heavy bombardment. Seeing this, Parker ordered Nelson to disengage from the skirmish.

The signal officer queried whether to send Parker’s signal to the rest of the squadron, leading to the most famous conversation of the battle. 

According to, “Turning to his flag captain, Nelson said ‘You know, Foley, I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes.’ Nelson then raised his telescope to his blind eye and said ‘I really do not see the signal.’ ”

The British were successful and Nelson began diplomacy before setting off toward Russia, where the czar would be assassinated by a member of his inside rank.

The silver medal was designed by German artist Daniel Friedrich Loos and is rich in symbolism. 

The obverse depicts Justice, seated, scales in left hand, handing a sword to a warrior in antique costume. The legend in Danish, GUD OG DEN RETFAERDIGE SAG, translates to “God and the just cause.”

The reverse shows the same warrior, a Danish shield on left arms, fighting with a five-headed dragon rising out of the deep. The legend FIENDENS OVERMAGT TILBAGEDREVEN translates to “The enemy’s superior force repulsed,” ironic given the Danish failure to repel the British attack. 

The medal weighs 18.9 grams and measures 39 millimeters in diameter.

The auction house grades the medal as About Uncirculated, and estimates it at €60 ($74 U.S.), but lesser examples, grade-wise, have realized more than double that. 

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