Old World, New Ideas
Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.
Certain national mints have a history of innovation. The Mint of Finland (Suomen Rahapaja) is today among the most progressive in the world, with its propitious output of Euro commemoratives scoring highly in novelty and attractiveness. It turns out that Finland has an exemplary record in coin design.
A quick glance at Finnish commemoratives from the 1960s through 1980s (when, let’s face it, drabness was in vogue) showcases a design strategy situated between the resigned predictability from days of yore and the profane postmodernism of the present. Indeed, what Finland produced during these years is nothing short of remarkable.
Finnish non-circulating commemoratives from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s are divided into three denominations; 10 Markkaa (1967-1977), 25 Markkaa (1978), and 50 Markkaa (1978-1985). There is no uniformity in size, silver content, or actual silver weight, and diameters range between 30mm-37mm. However, it’s the design of these coins, not their metrics, which makes them memorable. In addition, they remain highly affordable. Two in particular stand out:
In 1970, Finland released a 10 Markkaa coin (.500 Ag, 22.75g, 35mm) honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of President J.K. Paasikivi, the architect of Finland’s delicate Cold War balance between the United States and neighboring Soviet Union. Rather than utilizing a traditional busted portrait, Heikki Häiväoja’s engraving features Paasikivi’s bespectacled, wrinkled face staring straight ahead, almost sleepily. The borderless design accentuates the president’s gloomy face. The typically aggrandized European portrait coin—always compensating for physical and political blemishes—takes on a patina of authenticity in this Finnish issue. The coin’s textured reverse adds to its realness factor, with the year, denomination, and country name etched into an unevenly mortared brick wall. You can see the coin here: http://www.ngccoin.com/price-guide/world/finland-10-markkaa-km-51-1970-cuid-19350-duid-61150
In 1978, the World Skiing Championships were held in Lahti, a popular sports destination about 60 miles northeast of Helsinki. To commemorate the event, the mint issued a 25 Markkaa silver coin (.500 Ag, 26.3g, 37mm); and once again, the progressive design of the coin is a striking example of Finnish numismatic ingenuity. The coin’s obverse features a cross-country skier trekking her/his way through the snow. On the reverse (this is the more inventive side) we see the tracks left by the skier in the powdery snow atop gently rolling hills. The gradual decline in the size and visibility of the path from the 6’oclock to the 12’oclock position creates a sense of distance while the fractured path of the skier—broken by the inclines and declines of the hills—establishes a stationary perspective based on our optometric limitations. The result is a stunning 3D-like image with an almost palpable crackling of the snow below and whipping of the winds above. You can see the coin here: http://www.ngccoin.com/price-guide/world/finland-25-markkaa-km-56-1978-cuid-19370-duid-61203
History has something to do with this. Wedged between its two more conformist neighbors (Sweden and Russia), and lacking a homegrown monarchical tradition (again, Sweden and Russia provided these), Finland has more ably thrown off the shackles of its less-weighty top-down customs (once more, compared to Sweden and Russia). Folkish ideas and an unfettered social democratization have taken root in Finland. These wonderful coins demonstrate this phenomenon. The rest of the world is still trying to catch up.