Jump to content

Symbolism on coins


Recommended Posts

  • Benefactor

Here's a taler, dated 1589, of Julius, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The obverse has the horse of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel to the left and a very hairy wildman to the right.  The reverse has the arms of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.  This type was struck from 1586 to 1589.

What makes this coin special, to me, is the symbolism on the obverse.  The wildman is holding a candle.  Below that is a skull and below that an hourglass. All three of these symbolize mortality: the lit candle whose flame will eventually die, the skull for the mortality of all humans and the hourglass for the passage of time.  Indeed 1589 was the year Julius died, on May 3rd.  

Brunswick-Wolfenbuttle, thaler, Goslar, Brillentaler. 

Davenport 9067

29 grams




What other symbolism is out there, ancient or modern?


  • Like 15
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This penny features stars as symbols of good fortune - inherited from his father, William the Conqueror. William I added stars to his coins when a bright comet appeared in 1075, echoing Halley's Comet, which had crossed the sky in 1066 (at the time of his invasion of England). William II added his stars after the 1093 annular solar eclipse.

William II Rufus Voided Cross Penny, 1092-1095

London. Silver, 1.38g. Crowned bust facing, star either side; + þillelm rei. Voided short cross potent over cross pommée; + þvlfþord on lv (moneyer Wulfword (Wulfweard) on London) (S 1260).

  • Like 13
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Symbolism is one of the reasons I find Greek coins so interesting.

There is the type of symbolism referred to in the 2 coins above which is intended to pass on some kind of message such as good fortune. On this Alexander II Zabinas bronze we have cornucopiae or horns of plenty which symbolises an abundance of things under his rule.


Seleucid Kingdom, Alexander II Zabinas.

 Antioch on the Orontes, 128-123 BC.

Radiate and diademed head right / Double cornucopia; A-Π flanking, star to lower left.

SC 2237.1f.

7,78g, 20mm.


But the Greeks also used symbols in a very different way, as a badge of the hundreds of independent city-states who struck coinage for commerce and prestige and wanted to identify the coins as their own. These were the "λαλοῦν σύμβολον" or talking symbols of the city. As many of you will know city badges could be associated with the founding mythology of the city, a local deity, economic activity such as wine making or could be a pun on the city's name such as the coin from Rhodes below; Rhodes sounding similar to rose in Greek as it does in English.


Rhodes, Magistrate Thrasymenes.

 Plinthophoric Hemidrachm, circa 170-150 BC.

Radiate head of Helios facing slightly right / ΘPAΣYMEN, Rose with bud; sun in lower left field, T in lower right field, P-O across upper fields.

Jenkins 1989, 38; SNG Keckman 643-4; HGC 6, 1462.

1.41g, 13mm.


  • Like 7
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor

Here's an 8 reales of the Central American Republic (1823-1841).  The republic was comprised of  Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  Starting in 1824 the mint at Nueva Guatemala (NG) produced an attractive series of sun and mountains coins from 1/2 real to 8 reales (no 4 reales), and a slightly different sun and mountains gold escudos coins from 1/2 escudo to 8 escudos.  Costa Rica also produced a very limited number of reales and escudos coins.

The symbolism for this coin is on the obverse.  The five mountains next to the sun represent the five states of the short lived Central American Republic - Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. 

This coin, while crude and worn, has a well struck Ceiba tree on the reverse with nearly full detail, something to look for if you are in the market for one of these coins.

(Note: The parallel scratches on the obverse are adjustment marks made at the mint, the result of a weight adjustment to the flan.)


As a side note, the Mayans hold the Ceiba tree to be sacred. It is believed that the souls of the dead ascend to the top of the trees to go to heaven. It was also a connection between all three worlds, the underworld, earth and heaven. Today you can find Ceiba trees planted near cemeteries and at the center of religious ceremonies.

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...