World Coins

Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Dracula, has coin legacy

Editor’s note: In the October monthly Coin World cover feature, several staff writers embraced the spirit of Halloween and highlighted the spookier items in numismatics. This is one of a series of articles from the Collecting the Macabre feature that will appear online at 

Read more from the series:

When creating a collection devoted to the creepy and the spooky, don't forget world coins. One of the most significant pieces honors a historic figure turned legend.

In the canon of horror movie villains, Count Dracula might just be the granddaddy of them all. The star of many movies since Bela Lugosi’s 1931 Dracula (and the inspiration for the conventional vampire Nosferatu) can be traced to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, also titled Dracula.

But there was a real-life inspiration for the classic chomper, and related coinage is within reach for many collectors.

The vampire in Stoker’s story is based on the real-life Vlad III Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, who was given the latter name posthumously in reference to the bloody tactics he employed against his opponents. 

He was a son of Vlad Dracul (the dragon), who took the name from the Ordo Draconis, or Order of the Dragon, a group formed by the Holy Roman Emperor to protect Christianity, fighting against Ottoman Turks. Dracula merely means “son of the dragon.” 

Tepes was a prince of Wallachia and was born into a line of voivodes, or warlords, in Wallachia, an area adjacent to Transylvania and in what is now in Romania. He became a folk hero for his efforts to repel the Turks. 

When Mircea the Elder died in 1418, control of Wallachia fell to Mircea’s nephew, Mihail I, a member of the Danesti branch of the Basarab family. Vlad Dracul, the illegimate son of Mircea, was appointed governor of Translyvania, but he claimed the Wallachian post in 1436 after murdering the Danesti ruler. 

Over the next decade Vlad Dracul lost his post but regained it, before being murdered himself in 1447. His son, Vlad Tepes, fought the Ottomans in the name of Transylvania and in alliance with the king of Hungary, in several noted periods of warfare.

Coins of Vlad Dracul were authorized in the form of ducats and bani, according to a Classical Numismatic Group catalog for a Jan. 9, 2006, auction including a silver ban coin. The catalog provided a healthy dose of the background information cited here.

The circa 1445 to 1446 coin shows an eagle on the obverse and a dragon on the reverse, with no legends present. In Very Fine condition, according to CNG, it realized $4,140, including buyer’s fee. 

“These extremely rare coins are the closest numismatic reference to the reign of the famous Vlad III the Impaler available to collectors,” the CNG catalog said.

But they certainly aren’t the only pieces sold to collectors for their connection to the famous ruler.

According to dealer Allen Berman, the crude little ducats of Mircea the Elder, Vlad the Impaler’s grandfather, were likely the primary coin in use during the reign of Vlad the Impaler, who struck no coins himself.

These coins often show an eagle on the obverse and a shield or crest on the reverse, or the ruler on the obverse and the eagle and crest on the reverse. As is typical for the period, sometimes legends are not fully visible or are double-struck due to the vicissitudes of striking. 

Berman sells Fine to Very Fine examples of the ducats of Mircea the Elder for $165, which is consistent with the range of prices realized at auction for nearly two dozen examples (all Very Fine or nearly so) sold during the past six years. 

About two-thirds of the coins sold for much higher sums, and most of the balance realized about what Berman charges, with a few outliers selling for about half that amount. 

Collectors wanting a modern coin connected to Mircea the Elder could also consider two coins from 2011.

The National Bank of Romania in 2011 issued a circulating commemorative 50-ban coin marking the 625th anniversary of the beginning of Mircea’s reign. A Proof half-ounce .999 fine gold 200-ban coin was also offered. 

The circulation coin is available for under $5 at online auction sites, shipped, but the gold version will require some sleuthing to obtain and be more costly.

All of these examples would be an interesting way to collect coins related to the famous namesake of the modern vampire. 

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