By Antoinette Rahn
The spirit of innovation is one of the things I enjoy most about coins.
Since the beginning, coins have reflected people, events, and societal characteristics of the world. I think there is a measure of ‘pushing’ the envelope, thinking outside the box, and challenging the norm when it comes to coin design. I really dig that about coins and the people behind the designs and engraving. It’s a bit of a rebel spirit. Timid rebellion perhaps, but still.
Innovation within modern commemorative coinage is tremendously exciting. There are techniques and elements incorporated into coins today that make your head spin. Furthermore, the way a coin may ‘tell a story’ creates a wonderful platform for sharing this interest with others, and using coins as a means of education within various disciplines, including literature. That’s what came to mind as I began looking for the five coins featured in this list. The words frightening and fun are subjective, but I think you’ll get the idea.
This £2 coin caught my attention for a number of reasons, including that it honors the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s literary science fiction classic “Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.” The design on its reverse is the single word ‘Frankenstein’ displayed in a font reminiscent of a pulse on a heart monitor. In addition, the edge lettering is the iconic phrase ‘A Spark of Being,’ which is pulled directly from the novel.
I can think of a few people (including two librarians) who would love this coin, which was issued by The Royal Mint in October 2018, as a holiday gift.
Composition: .925 sterling silver (inner) and .925 silver plated with fine gold (outer)
Designer (Reverse): Thomas Docherty
Designer (Obverse): Jody Clark
This fantastic coin is the latest in the Royal Canadian Mint’s ‘Nocturnal by Nature’ series. Like previous issues in this series, this coin boasts layers of black rhodium plating to create a stunning midnight sky, which further serves as a backdrop to the sleek design of a stealthy cougar climbing down a limb.
The silver proof finish creates an eerie moon, and when you tilt the coin slightly the rhodium plating appears to shift to more of a grey coloring. I’m a fan of the Nocturnal by Nature series and this coin is a superb addition to the series.
Composition: 99% pure silver
Designer (Reverse): Tony Bianco
Designer (Obverse): Susanna Blunt
The Perth Mint developed an intriguing theme when it came up with its Famous Ships that Never Sailed series. The idea behind the seven coins was to celebrate some of the best-known fictional ships lauded in literature and song.
The Flying Dutchman coin is a perfect fit for this list of frightening and fun issues, given that the Dutchman legend is about a ghost ship. Plus, the story is steeped in versions of folklore. Some say the story is that of Dutch ship captain Bernard Fokke, who was said to be at the helm of a ship that was lost at sea during a storm. This may or may not have been due to his penchant for sailing at a high rate of speed, which may have been acquired through a pact with the devil.
As if that version isn’t fascinating enough, many others prescribe to the idea that the Flying Dutchman ghost ship is actually that of a ship captained by Hendrick van der Decken that sunk off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope in 1641. The trip was a mission to acquire goods including spices and silks. It was on the voyage home to Amsterdam that the ship ran into turbulent waters. Instead of turning around, van der Decken pressed on, to the dismay of his crew. According to lore, there was mutiny aboard the ship, resulting in van der Decken killing the leader of the mutinying crew and tossing his body into the sea. Then he proceeded to have a heated debate with a ‘voice’ that condemned the ghost captain and his crew to an eternity of sailing turbulent waters.
During the centuries, nautical logs have included recorded sightings of the Flying Dutchman phantom ship, including a report from 1881 filed by the man who would become King George V.
Composition: 99.9% pure silver
Also making the list is a coin issued by the National Bank of Kazakhstan in 2013. It is a 50 Tenge proof coin depicting the frightening mythical monster Shurala . It’s said the shape-shifting horned creature stalks the woods looking for potential victims. Once the bony-fingered monster captures someone the torture is being tickled to death. Wow, how’s that for incorporating several aspects of childhood fear into one tale? I’m guessing there have been more than a few parents who have used the threat of the ‘tickle monster’ Shurala to get children to do chores, go to bed, and simply behave.
In reviewing the reverse side of the coin that depicts a man holding a club facing off against the beast, I have to wonder if the Shurala made it out of that interaction unscathed.
Composition: Nickel silver
A popular practice with some mints is representation of zodiac animals on coins. This is presented as the Year of (enter the name of the animal). For example, according to the Chinese calendar, 2018 is the Year of the Dog and 2019 will be the Year of the Pig.
The Year of the Snake (2013) coin issued by the National Bank of Ukraine is not particularly spooky. However, for someone like me who counts snakes among my least favorite creatures on earth, frightening may be a bit extreme – but I’m going with it.
That’s not to say the image of the snake on the reverse of this 5 Hryvnia — flanked by floral designs, boasting a green gem-like stone for an eye, and positioned above images of its fellow Zodiac animals — isn’t enchanting. However, the first thing that caught my eye was the snake’s tongue. I can almost imagine it darting out and touching my skin. Eeeck! That’s why this cool coin from Ukraine made this list.
Composition: .925 silver
Issued by National Bank of Ukraine
Designers: Volodymyr Taran, Oleksandr Kharuk, Serhii Kharuk
There are a lot of commonalities among these coins and other such ‘spooky’ coins, but one factor that seemed most prevalent to me is the fairy tale theme. Each of the coins in this list carries a message of folklore, which often is accompanied by a lesson in character. This realization is serving to inspire me in my coin collecting goals by focusing my efforts on acquiring coins with literary/folklore themes from mints around the world.
It’s exciting when a few of our interests intersect, isn’t it?