Author Topic: Lava Coin Italy Vesuvius Volcano Eruption 1944 encased coin of 1919  (Read 213 times)

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Offline WillieBoyd2

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One doesn't see this every day, an Italian coin embedded in a piece of volcanic lava.

These items have been manufactured by Italian entrepreneurs since the early 1900's for sale to tourists.

Most of them come from the Mt. Vesuvius volcano region near Naples which last erupted in 1944.

The lava coin pictured here may have been brought to America by a returning serviceman.

Italian coin pressed into a piece of lava

The coin is a Italy Bronze 5 centesimi 1919, about 19 mm in diameter

The lava size is 2-1/2 x 2 x 1-1/2 inches (6.0 x 5.0 x 4.0 cm) and weighs 3 oz. (87 gm).

An American friend gave me this interesting rock and asked me to identify it.

It had to be made near an active volcano in a tourist area, and the most likely ones are Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna in Italy.

The volcano Mt. Vesuvius and the neighboring Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum are a famous attraction and are visited by thousands every year. The area has a large tourist industry including the manufacture and sale of souvenirs.

Mt. Etna in Sicily has erupted many times and is also a tourist attraction. A man from Italy wrote me that there are lots souvenir shops near Mt. Etna selling lava pieces, but he did not see any with coins in them. A World War II soldier reported that a man was selling such items near the summit of Mt. Etna.

Baedeker's Southern Italy and Sicily Handbook for Travellers by Karl Baedekerm, published by Karl Baedeker, Publisher of Leipzig, Germany in 1912 has a statement about the volcano Mt. Vesuvius:

"Of the Minerals ejected by the volcano, most of which are found in the older lava of Mte. Somma as well as in that ejected during later eruptions, about 50 species are at present known. A small box of specimens may be purchased for 1/2-1 fr., a piece of lava with a copper coin embedded in it for 1/4-1/2 fr." (A French franc was worth US 20 cents in 1912)

At least two British museums have similar objects, the Cliffe Castle Museum and York Museum.

A man from England wrote me that his World War II veteran grandfather brought a lava coin dated 1942 back from Italy, thus they were still being manufactured in or after 1942.

I have seen only copper coins used in this way and always the coin side with the date is visible.

More about the coin:

The coin is a Italy Bronze 5 centesimi dated 1919 with a diameter of 19 mm. It is about the size of a United States cent.

A similar coin with the same date:

Italy 5 centesimi 1919
Bronze, 19 mm, 3.27 gm

The other side of the rock:

Lava piece back side

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Offline chrisild

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Re: Lava Coin Italy Vesuvius Volcano Eruption 1944 encased coin of 1919
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2021, 08:57:43 PM »
Definitely a cool piece! Well, the Etna is quite active these days, but I am not sure whether anybody uses the opportunity to make such coin souvenirs. ;) Have not seen one so far, but now that you mentioned it and showed one, I may try and get something like that ...


Offline Henk

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I have another lava piece, not a coin ebedded in lava but a medal made of lava. The description is as follows:

Lava, ca 60 mm and 63 grams
O: Portrait of Pope to right
R: PIO / IX / 1871

There are quite a few different medals made of lava that were made as souvenirs for tourists. Many of these medals are in the collection of the Vesuvius museum. A catalog of these medals has been published: Tullia Uzzo, Mauro A. Di Vito, Giovanni P. Ricciardi e Sandro de Vita, La valorizzazione delle collezioni storiche di interesse scientifico: l’esempio delle medaglie di lava dell’Osservatorio Vesuviano. Quaderni di Geofisica (2013) 115

It is available on-line here:

This catalog also includes some of coins embedded in lava. My medal is not listed in this catalog.

Offline bagerap

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I had a lava encrusted coin from a visit to Vesuvius in 1963. Our guide carried what looked like a very small soup ladle with an improbably long handle. with this he scooped up a lump of what looked like tar, pressed a small a small coin into it and repeated this for those in the party that wanted them. Everyone of them was knocked  onto the ground with  a practised flick, and we continued our tour. 20 or so minutes later we returned to the spot where the guide doused the rocks with a bottle of water and they gave off a surprising amount of steam. These were then wrapped in newspaper and exchanged for a small pourboire. I may have swapped mine in later years for a Dinky car, but still remember how warm it was.

Offline Prosit

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Magma is molten rock. Lava is magma that reaches the surface. It can be very runny or very thick and widely varies in composition.
Once it cools it is no longer lave but is a volcanic rock. We all still call it lava though.

Usually dark colored lava is high in Iron and is mostly made of basalt. If magma is thrown from the mountain it is called volcanic ejecta and has several names types.
The little bumps on the surface of this example are called clinkers. If the magma has a lot of gas and the gas escapes it leaves holes or pockets called vesicles. If later percolating water
fills the vesicles it often deposits silica (but other minerals are possible) and can be chalcedony or opal or most any silica mineral.

If the magma is ejected underwater it often forms "pillow lava". Depending on the rock composition and age and weathering, it can of course be easy to very hard to form a coin sized pocket in it.

If magma never reaches the surface, is mostly made of basalt, and large amounts cool slowly it may create a polygonal joint pattern, as it did at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Lava is a fairly uninteresting until you start to learn about it.