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Fish on coins

Started by Galapagos, September 03, 2009, 11:27:23 PM

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As a collector of wildlife designs, once I have my coin, the next step is to identify the species of the beast portrayed. Before the Internet entered my life, this wasn't always easy, but eventually I would find one or two sources.

In the case of the 50c coin of Singapore (1967 to 1979), I managed to find a numismatic book that told me that the fish depicted was a lionfish. Good. Not many years later, I found another coin book that said it was a firefish. Drat! Which was right? I no longer had access to the first book, so I decided to go with firefish.

Some years later I bought my first Papua New Guinea circulation set. The two toea coin depicted a fish that looked exactly like the fish on the Singapore 50c coin. Yet the documentation claimed that it was a "butterfly cod." I was confused.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and I started reading World Coin News (USA). Wildlife expert Dr Dennis G Rainey writes a column called "Coin Critters". In it he explained the difference between common and scientific names. An identified species will have just one scientific name, but possibly several common names, with different ones being used in different countries. According to Dr Rainey, the scientific name of the fish on the Papua New Guinea and Singapore coins in question is Pterois volitans. It has several common names, in addition to the ones I've mentioned, including dragon fish, turkey fish and scorpion fish. As the latter name suggests, despite looking so beautiful, the fish has a poisonous sting.


You may find interesting. It has a powerful search engine with the possibility to search on either common or scientific name or both. Records usually contain many common names (mostly English) and all scientific names, where more scientific names exist. Your Pterois volitans has three alternative scientific names.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

UK Decimal +

The Eire 10p showed a salmon.

Ilford, Essex, near London, England.

People look for problems and complain.   Engineers find solutions but people still complain.


Slovenia 1 tolar-.jpg

So did a coin from Slovenia. They even added baby salmons!



My own area of interest is post-Mughal India, and have noted that an unknown number of mints in the Doab and Mathura areas struck copper coins with fish on them.  Some of them have not yet been attributed, but must, we think, belong to known and unknown mints in that general area.  Fish also appear as mint marks and differentiating marks of other kinds on many 18th and 19th century Indian coins.

Some of this may be due to the high order known as the 'Maritab' - or order of the fish, awarded by Mughal emperors to some for whose assistance they were greatly indebted.   Some thematic collectors may be doing themselves a disservice if they are ignoring India, where many kinds of symbol were addded to a host of coins in all metals.  I would especially like to hear from thematic collectors who have come across four-petalled flowers on Indian coins, please.  Good Hunting.

Ultimately, our coins are only comprehensible against the background of their historical context.


Excellent point, Salvete. There's fish here used as decoration, to fill up space nicely, but there are also fish with a meaning. I can think of several lines of symbols here. First, of course, there is the fish as food, honoured for its importance to humans. Your Maritab and probably your mint marks come under this heading.

Next, there is the fish as provider of work, therefore human dignity. To show that angle, communist Poland produced a stark coin with a fisherman, hauling in a net. I was born in a fisherman's place and I fully subscribe to this line of thinking. Yet, isn't this the same point? Fish as food or fish as part of the economy? Isn't the economy about such points as distributing food?

Then, there is the Dutch mintmaster Dr. Van Hengel. His name means angling rod and his mintmaster sign is a fish. This use as the fish is in turn close to the heraldic herring. You will find it on the coat of arms, therefore on the coins of Lorraine. Lorraine is far from the see, but herring is special. In the 14th century, gibbing made dried herring part of the solution of one of the most pressing military problems in the early middle ages: how to feed an army. While in the 100 years war, the English troops still ate rotting whole herring, in the war of the roses they were fed healthy dried herring. No wonder it became a heraldic symbol.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


  Most of us, from both necessity and choice, restrict our collecting to specific time periods and places, Peter, because to do justice to the whole range of coins would be impossible in one liftime.  So it is great to read of the enthusiasms of collectors of coins of other times and places, for series of coins quite alien (in more ways than one!) to our own - sometimes too prochial -  areas of concern.  In that respect, your insights into fish symbols on coins of diverse sorts are a refreshing reminder that other collectors have other interests, and that we can only benefit from listening to and reading material produced by folk whose output we might ordinarily ignore.  Many thanks for your time taken to show us points about which we would otherwise be entirely ignorant.  I had not known that a mintmaster used a fish as his 'daroga's mark' for instance.

  Further to that point, it strikes me that a fish was used as a symbol or emblem by the early Christians ('fishers of men' and all that...) and perhaps some of those people struck coins with fish on them?  I have no idea if they did or not, but I bet someone on this forum knows.......

  I have been collecting coins for just 13 years, and the more I learn, the more I realise that I know next to nothing!

Ultimately, our coins are only comprehensible against the background of their historical context.


Quote from: Salvete on June 18, 2010, 11:23:03 AM
I had not known that a mintmaster used a fish as his 'daroga's mark' for instance.

Same thing in France by the way. The Monnaie de Paris puts the symbol or initials of the chief engraver ("chef de service de l'atelier de gravure") on its coins, and currently that is Hubert Larivière. His first name is that of the patron of hunting, hence the horn. His last name translates to "the river", so you see waves and, with a lot of goodwill ;) , a fish. See for some info in English. The upper sign is the mintmark of the Monnaie (despite the name, the coins are produced in Pessac near Bordeaux), and the lower one is Larivière's sign.



This is a half gros of duke Antoine of Lorraine. On the left are the three eagles on a diagonal bar of Lorraine, on the right two herrings on a field of re-crossed crosses of the dukes of Bar (now Bar-le-duc in France). The arms illustrated are those of the dukes of Bar.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


The Comoros issued in  1992 a 5 francs coin to commemorate the World Fisheries Conference. The coin shows one of the oldest fish species still existing: the Coelacanth.


10 sentimos from the Philippines with a dwarf pygmy goby or Pandaka Pygmaea


This Indian coin shows a small fish. (Yup, you can see the same coin in the thread 'Mountains on Coins' ;D)


It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. -J. K. Rowling.


Peoples Republic of China 5 yuan 1999. Sturgeon



5 fils (large and small) coins of the UAE.  Spangled emperor bream (Lethrinus nebulosus).


Poland 2z 1995.jpg

Poland, 1995, 2 zloty.  Wels catfish.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.