19 December 2013
Calendar Coins were the must have accessory for any Renaissance man or woman on the go. In our latest online coin collecting article we take a look at the intriguing history of these unique, unusual and useful coins. ...
Calendar coins offered more than just practical help in calculating the new dates, they were reassuringly solid and believable objects.
What’s in a name?
Portable calendars and calendar-inspired talismans had been in existence long before the advent of the Gregorian calendar.
Examples containing astrological information have been found, carved on bone and shells, in ancient burial mounds.
Calendar Coins as we know them started to appear in significant numbers around the 1600s, presumably when enough countries had adopted the new system for trade and commerce between nations to become problematic.
Invention in England
Little is known about early European Calendar Coins but, in England, their invention is credited to the Berkshire polymath Samuel Moorland (1625-1695) in around 1650. Although these coin-shaped tokens were never intended to be used as currency, it’s from Moorland that the term ‘Calendar Coin’ originated.
Silke Ackermann, of the British Museum’s Department of Pre-History and Europe, was one of Curators responsible for the 2003 Memory of the Mind Exhibition.
It featured an intriguing example of a calendar coin and, as he explained, Moorland’s choice of terminology was quite deliberate:
‘You will also find the term calendar medal used in the literature. However, Samuel Moorland is quite explicit about the connection with money and conceived the device with coins rather than medals in mind.’ At a later date tradesmen would begin to use simplified versions of Moorland’s calendar which carried advertisements on the reverse; making the term ‘token’ more appropriate. But Moorland’s original intention was that his calendars would be carried in the pocket – as portable as the coins they mimicked.
Calendars and codes
There’s no such thing as a ‘standard’ calendar coin.
Size-wise, they vary from 37 to 44 mm in diameter and can be made from brass, copper and (in later 19th Century examples) white metal. Modern examples may even be in silver and gold.
The simplest merely told you the day of the week on which Sunday fell, plus the number of days in the month. However, at their most elaborate, they contained a wealth of information.
‘Subsequent coins,’ Silke explained, ‘can include far more detail, such as tables of anniversaries, memorable dates and feast dates... this can be accompanied by data relating to the position of the Moon and the tides. Each coin or type of coin has an individual character and was made very much in response to particular demand, rather similar to different types of diaries and calendars today, where each person would choose the one most suitable for his or her needs.’
There and back again
By the 1900s, with radio and TV making it much easier to keep track of dates and times, portable calendars eventually fell out of favour. Yet, the calendar coin has by no means ‘died out’ completely. Examples continue to be produced and are actively collected, world-wide. Admittedly, they are less likely to be used as calendars these days, and are simply another type of novelty and gift items but, as collector Dale Hallmark would agree, they still hold appeal.
Dale collects Austrian tokens and medals and has a particular affection for calendar coins. ‘I like mythology’, he commented ‘and most have a mythological theme.’ Diversity is also a big attraction for Dale who cites the fact that there’s a huge variety for collectors to enjoy – from 16th-century calendar coins to spiel markes, from advertising tokens to modern perpetual calendars. In fact, Samuel Moorland’s calendar coins have survived the test of time and continue to ring in the changes.
Many thanks to Dale Hallmark (www.austriancoins.com) and to Christopher Eimer (www.christophereimer.co.uk) for the images.