A bronze coin from ancient Rome, a shilling from Victorian England
and an Indian Head cent all have deep connections to Christmas. Taken
together, they make a surprisingly inexpensive holiday collection.
Caesar Augustus, who ruled Rome from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14, is
perhaps the most famous ruler of all time. He was emperor when Jesus
Christ was born.
Gospel writer Luke mentions Augustus at the start of the nativity
story. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a
decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. … And
all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.”
Augustus ruled for decades, at a time of relative peace and
prosperity. He issued vast quantities of copper, silver and gold
coins. Most show his portrait and many are inexpensive.
Impressive bronze asses, larger than a quarter dollar and boldly
bearing a portrait of Augustus on the obverse, were issued for
decades. Well-worn examples can frequently be found for $50 to $100.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer
Scrooge, clerk Bob Cratchit and, of course, Tiny Tim, is perhaps the
most beloved Christmas story of all time.
Money is mentioned frequently. Scrooge scornfully notes that
Cratchit made just 15 shillings a week and still wasted time “talking
about a merry Christmas.”
The shilling was a silver coin about the size of a quarter dollar.
Because the story was first printed in 1843, Cratchit’s shillings
would likely have been Victorian pieces showing the queen on the
obverse and the denomination on the reverse. An 1843 shilling retails
for about $20 in Fine condition.
O. Henry’s famous short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” opens with
a reference to money.
“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents
of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by
bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until
one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such
close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and
eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.”
The story about Della and Jim’s gifts of self-sacrifice and love
was first published just before Christmas 1905 in the New York Sunday
Della’s 60 pennies would likely have been Indian head cents,
possibly dated 1905. The 1905 Indian Head cent is a common coin, with
a Coin World Coin Values value of $1.50 in Good condition and
$30 in Mint State 60 brown.
Three coins, three Christmas stories, about $100. That’s a lot of
numismatic holiday cheer for very little money.
Gerald Tebben is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel.