Maps make mark on modern coins

Maps on coins today reflect national borders, a nation's place in the world
By , Coin World
Published : 02/20/16
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Editor's note: This is the second part of a series about maps on coins and coins shaped like maps. The story originally appears in the March issue of Coin World Monthly

From ancient times to the present day, maps are a fixture on coinage.

Where coins with maps once offered information vital for defense or staking out control, today maps more likely represent a subtle reflection of a nation’s borders. 

With euro coinage, the common reverse designs showcase various maps of Europe, some highlighting the eurozone (the area using the Euro), and its respective place in the world.

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When euro coin production began in 1999, three common designs were created for all eight denominations.

The 1-, 2-, and 5-cent coins show Europe in relation to the rest of the world.

The design used from 1999 to 2007 on the 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins showed the outline of each of the 15 EU member states. Each state was shown as separate from the others, thus giving Europe the appearance of an archipelago. EU member states outside the eurozone (the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark) were also depicted. Non-EU states were not depicted.

The design for the 1999 to 2007 €1 and €2 coins shows a more cohesive landmass, though with borders still visible.

In 2007, the national sides of the euro coins were changed to reflect the expansion of the European Union.

The new map designs were optional for 2007 for all countries except for Slovenia, which was required to use the new design. The new maps were mandatory for all countries beginning in 2008.

The design for the three smallest denominations remained unchanged, but the map of the 15 states on the 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins was replaced by one showing the whole of Europe as a continent, without borders, to stress unity. The other common design used for euro coins, appearing on the €1 and €2 coins, shows a map of Europe standing out from the rest of the globe, in a design very similar to the 2007 map design on the 10-, 20- and 50-cent coins.

For the designs that debuted in 2007, however, production demands required some modification or distortion of the maps.

For Cyprus to fit on the coin-sized map, it’s depicted several hundred miles out of its true position. On the €1 and €2 coins, the island is shown directly east of mainland Greece; on the 10-, 20-, and 50-cent coins, it appears directly below Crete. In reality, Cyprus is more than 400 miles east of Crete.

Euro coins aren’t the only coins from Europe to offer a different cartographic view of the world.

Italy’s 1997 ringed-bimetallic 1,000-lira coin is famous for celebrating the original 12 members of the European Union, although the design bungles the map on the reverse. A somewhat corrected version for the 1,000-lira coin was later released. 

The reverse of the coin carries a map of the European Union. The bungled design shows Germany as still divided between East and West Germany, even though unification was achieved in 1990.

Coins depicting maps can sometimes become fodder in an ongoing battle over land, symbols of a larger issue. 

Ownership of the Falkland Islands is a subject of long-standing dispute, dating back to the 1820s. Tensions notably escalated in 1982 when Britain and Argentina fought a short war over the claim. Though Britain defeated Argentina, the South American nation continues to dispute British claims to the region.

In 2012, to mark the 30th anniversary of the war, Argentina issued a circulating commemorative 2-peso coin.

The coin’s obverse features a map of Argentina with its territories, including the Malvinas (the Spanish name for the islands), while the reverse shows the islands with partial rings superimposed over them, surrounded by a legend referencing the war. 

There are other options, of course, but these are notable recent examples that might be a starting point for a new collection. 

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