National coinages: design structure from the 20th century onwards

Started by <k>, August 19, 2021, 02:16:19 AM

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<k>



Switzerland, 20 centimes, 1850.  Obverse: sprays.  Reverse: Wreath.




In the 19th century, Western and imperial coin design was mostly dominated by portraits of monarchs and other national symbols, such as crowns or coats of arms, and allegorical symbols, such as Britannia in the UK.

The reverse designs of the coins mostly (but not always) showed elaborate floral wreaths and sprays encircling the denomination, or often just a very plain design, with the denomination and little else.


See: Wreaths and Sprays on Coins
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<k>

Often the same design was shared across a coin family, where coins of the same metal and with the same shape but with different sizes were grouped together.

These Italian coins of the 1890s illustrate this. Images are from Numista.
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<k>



Ceylon, ½ stuiver, 1815.

However, even in the 1800s, there were other impulses at work. A few countries began to use designs of animals, realistic or not, or other pictorial subjects that were not strictly heraldic, allegorical or symbolic.






Danish West Indies, 20 cents, 1878.  A ship design, looking very modern. The same ship design was also used on the 5 cents.


See: The Origins of Thematics.
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<k>

In the early 20th century, more countries began to move away from plain or old-fashioned themes of wreaths and heraldry and use more varied pictorial designs.

Italy was one of the first to do so, possibly because unified Italy was still a relatively new country and with fewer settled traditions than the UK, for instance.


These Italian designs still look old-fashioned nowadays in their chosen theme of ancient Rome, but they were still much more modern and varied than the designs shown above in an earlier post.

The tendency still existed to share a design across a coin family, rather than having a different design for each reverse.
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<k>

After World War I, empires collapsed. Things could not stay the same. History speeded up and old styles were ditched, but not all at once.

More countries began to use more - and more varied - designs in their coinage. Again, Italy is a good example.

The 1 centesimo and 2 centesimi coins dropped out of the coinage, presumably as a result of inflation, and by 1919 each of the coins had a different reverse design.
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<k>

Was Italy the first country to have all different pictorial reverse designs on its coinage: in 1919? Do you know of any others who achieved this at an earlier date?


In the UK before 1937, the same design of Britannia still appeared on the reverse of the farthing, half penny and penny.

In South Africa on the 1920s and beyond, a ship appeared on both the halfpenny and the penny.

Some countries, such as the newly independent country of Estonia, used mostly very plain and non-pictorial designs. The Viking ship on the 1 kroon coin of 1934 was the sole exception.

To this day, Switzerland has mainly retained its designs from the late 1800s.
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<k>



Perhaps surprisingly, the obverse and reverse designs of the Albanian coinage of the 1920s were all different.

However, its coinage was designed by Italy, which itself had already moved to a coinage with varied reverse designs.
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<k>



In 1928, the ground-breaking design series of the Irish Free State was also distinctly modern in that all its reverse designs were different.
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<k>








I notice that Austria also had different obverse and reverse designs through the 1920s.

In 1931, however, a 5 groschen coin was added to the set that copied the design style of the 2 groschen coin.
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<k>






Until this point, Brazil had had rather staid and old-fashioned coins that would not have looked out of place in the 1800s. In 1932, however, it produced a totally new and modern thematic design series, in which all the obverse and reverse designs were different.

The series was also an innovation in that it was issued only in 1932, because it was a circulating commemorative set that celebrated the 400th anniversary of the colonisation of Brazil. Was it the first one-year circulation commemorative set in the world? And when did the next one occur? Or was that the Canadian centennial set of 1967?

Brazil produced another such series, in which all the obverse and reverse designs were different, from 1936 to 1938, but these were standard circulation designs and not intended as commemoratives. Thereafter Brazil reverted to more traditional and less adventurous design series for the next few decades.
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Figleaf

A huge, complicated subject, but well worth the effort. I am hoping for more, so here is an attempt to inspire.

Perhaps the two most important factors that decided coin design in the beginning of your period are Pisanello and pantograph, with, as you note, wreaths and sprigs thrown in whenever a design was felt to be not busy enough.

What you show so far is that the pantograph approach was replaced by different designs, whether or not related. I think it is also fair to say that Farouk's law (The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left - the King of England, the King of Spades, The King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds.) produced more republics, so it was off (the coins) with their heads and arms, heraldic elements and other national symbols profited.

Coin design went from highly prescribed to highly free. Only the limited space remained. Your question is what was done with that freedom. I see a number of motivations.

Politics. As an example, at independence, the Baltics were trading mostly with Germany and the Scans. However, big brother Russia was not to be offended. Their designs are clearly marked by German coins, with all German regalia taken off or replaced by national symbols. This explains why many of them look plain.
The taste of individuals with a strong say over coin design. As an example, Italian (and, as you note, by extension Albanian) coins were deeply influenced by king Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, a passionate coin collector. He found the renaissance partnership of portrait & titles/arms or denomination on coins his predecessors used boring and promoted designs common on Roman coins as an alternative. With some notable exceptions, where he is in military uniform, his own portrait is in the style of Roman emperors also (bare head, because he didn't claim any victories). I would also like to mention that when Edward VIII did not agree with the committee that decided on coin design, the latter was reformed to give the committee a more modern taste.
Developments in art. Art evolves. Coins are part of the image of a country, so countries that want to look modern, change style when art style changes. As an example, Danish art nouveau coins of the period 1913- ca1945 fit in fine with anything Metcalfe designed. Even the absence of an art style is a message. No Bauhaus coins in interbellum Germany. Heraldic designs required in the UK until today (the pre-decimal exceptions were eliminated with decimalisation.) No change of style in the Netherlands until Beatrix.
Developments in technology. Computers allow anyone to make a coin design with as little as a photo to go on. They also allow QR scanning and you can put that on a coin. Precision printers allow hyper-detailed graphics, from a map of Manhattan to micro lettering.

There must be more mega-trends in 20th century coin developments, but I'll leave it to others, including yourself, to come up with them.

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

<k>

Thank you, Figleaf. Much food for thought there. I welcome the opinions and thoughts of any of our other members.
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<k>

Figleaf mentions art deco. Art deco was minimalist yet expressionistic and often very stylish. It is seen in some of the numismatic art of Percy Metcalfe. His hen and chicks on the Irish penny are distinctly art deco. The design's lack of realism, compared to the other designs in the set, makes the birds look like clockwork toys. For that reason, the design has always stood out for me.

I sometimes wonder whether the Irish committee would have chosen Metcalfe's designs if he had done them ALL in the art deco style. Probably not. A little modernity was a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing and must take care not to shock the population with too much novelty.
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<k>

Danzig produced a couple of delightful art deco circulation designs in 1932. They were presumably careful not to give the whole coinage over to art deco, though.
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<k>



Bolivia, 10 and 50 centavos, 1937.  Art deco on Latin American circulation coins.
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