World Coins

How world coins depict Americans

Shawnee war chief Tecumseh was born in what would become the United States of America, but during the War of 1812 he assisted British colonialists in what is now Canada, so they issued a 25-cent coin in his honor in 2012.

Images courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint.

Editor's note: this is the first part of a story by Jeff Starck about Americans on world coins. The story first appeared in the November monthly issue of Coin World.

More than mere money, coins serve as  memorials to the flora, fauna and famous people and places that make a nation unique.

That’s why you’ll find great American leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on coins of the United States of America, or Simon Bolivar on coins from the nations in South America to which he helped bring freedom.

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But sometimes the pairing of a person with a coin is head-scratchingly puzzling. From the sublime to silly, hundreds of world coins depict famous Americans. Here is just a sampling. 

Some obvious connections

In rare instances, world coins depicting Americans makes total sense.

There could be no more suitably “American” subject for a Canadian coin than the Native American Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, who is honored on a pair of circulating 25-cent coins issued in 2012.

The coins are part of a series related to the War of 1812 anniversary.

In the United States, the stalemate War of 1812 is generally regarded as an afterthought, relevant only for the “Star Spangled Banner” that resulted from the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

However, in Canada, the war is celebrated as a victory for the nascent British Colonialists and for the region that would become the nation of Canada. 

Tecumseh’s determination and military knowledge made him a crucial British ally during the war. He collaborated with Maj. Gen. Sir Isaac Brock, leading hundreds of First Nation warriors alongside British troops to secure an American surrender during the historic Battle of Fort Detroit. 

Tecumseh is generally believed to have been born in March of 1768, in Ohio. While popular legend holds that he was born in what is today Xenia Township, Greene County, the actual location of his birth remains uncertain. He gained his name, which means “Shooting Star” or “Panther Across The Sky,” from a large meteorite that reportedly flashed across the Ohio sky at the time of his birth. 

Tecumseh dedicated his life to acquiring an independent homeland for his people. He is remembered for attempting to unify multiple native tribes in their joint opposition to the loss of their traditional lands to the Americans. 

He fought in a number of battles against the Americans, including facing William Henry Harrison, the future American president, at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in northwest Ohio in 1794, in which Indian forces were defeated. 

Tecumseh ultimately died at the Battle of the Thames at Chatham, Ontario, Oct. 5, 1813, without realizing his dream. 

Two versions of the coin were issued, one without color and another with red accents. 

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