View from Europe: Germany’s search for a numismatic icon

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15 May 2019
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Numismatics and precious metals writer Sebastian Wieschowski reflects on Germany’s tentative search for a numismatic icon.

When it comes to gender equality, monetary authorities all over Europe seem to be progressive for more than a century: While the female national personification of Switzerland, the ‘Helvetia’, and her French counterpart ‘Marianne’ have been gracing coins for more than 100 years, ‘Britannia’ is the powerful numismatic ambassador of the United Kingdom. There is a long tradition of female allegories on European coins, but one famous counterpart seemed to be successful in avoiding the coin club of strong ladies: Germania.

The personification of the German nation has been causing ongoing stir among collectors and investors in Germany because the figure appeared on bullion round, produced by a private mint from Poland. But the move from Germany’s neighbour was not met with too much of requited love for the young beauty; some numismatists complained about the portrayal of Germania as an attractive amazon with flowing hair, armed with sword, shield and curves. And aside from the artistic examination, German collectors all over the country used ‘Germania’ to embark on a journey of self-discovery; who are we as a nation? What are our symbols? And are we allowed to show national pride with a symbol like Germania?

German allegory

It is apparent that those questions were not part of the business plan of the Poland-based inventor of the silver round which depicted the German allegory. And the instant sell-out of the new product made clear that the market was indeed ready for a German bullion product. Educated collectors and investors pointed out that in fact, Germania has been used by various German rulers across the past centuries and dates back to Roman times. And especially young collectors praised the modern depiction of Germania.

But the collective liability for two lost world wars weighs heavily on some German collectors’ shoulders. And in the end, most collectors came to the conclusion that something like the ‘Germania’ bullion medal should have just not happened.

While observing the discussion within the German numismatic community and reading between the lines, you could get the impression that German numismatics are stuck in a state of despair, and that a lot of folks in Germany envy the creative freedom of other mints such as The Royal Mint, because ‘Britannia’ is a true numismatic ambassador and very much appreciated in Germany. Most German bullion investors, for example, tend to prefer products from fellow countries on the European continent, that’s why the Austrian Mint and The Royal Mint are among the most popular coin producers in Germany.

Admiring Britannia

Bullion coins such as the ‘Vienna Philharmonic’ and the ‘Britannia’ are also admired because they are considered a perfect entry-level purchase for new collectors and investors, who are looking for an easy and danger-free first step into the world of coins. Bullion has been the gateway to numismatics for most of the young offspring that gathers in numismatic Facebook groups or online forums. But while Austria and the UK have succeeded in revamping the image of their well-established institutions and also manage to appeal to younger audiences, the German Ministry of Finance is desperately looking for that one big spark which could light the fire in new collectors.

It is an irony that Germany receives some free coaching in the field of numismatic inventions from Poland, a country that has suffered from suppression from the homeland of beautiful ‘Germania’ for centuries. It is strongly advised that the ones responsible in Berlin do take the lesson that is offered by Poland, the UK and others, if not, numismatics in Germany will follow the trend of other traditional collection areas and lose momentum.

 

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