History of Artwork On Coins & New Spanish Artist Commemorative Coins Released

Posted by admin on Friday, August 12th, 2011

Many people claim to have no interest in art, and yet all unwittingly carry artwork in their pockets without realising it in the form of coins. And that artwork can tell a lot about the coin, its history and place of minting. But how did the artwork on coins evolve, and what is its relevance to today’s collectors?

Before money came into being, the concept of the value of one item in terms of another had already been long established. Long before coins and notes were invented, people used to barter for goods and services: a bag of oats for a leg of lamb. However, this created problems in itself: often an exchange could not be agreed, and parties were left dissatisfied and without the goods that they needed.

So, along came the idea of commodity value, sometimes termed commodity money. If the value of items could be expressed as being equivalent to a certain amount of a standard commodity, then the problem of non-agreement on exchange of goods would be eliminated. In centuries gone by, commodities such as tea, tobacco, salt, and seed, have been used to calculate the going rate of another item.

But again, whilst an improvement on a bartering method, exchange of goods for standard amounts of a known commodity had its own problems. Apart from the obvious issue of carrying bags of, say, salt or seeds, there was also the problem of storing the commodity used as ‘money’. It could be difficult to store securely, and most commodities were perishable items. In effect, a holder of the commodity would have to spend it before it lost its usefulness, and therefore its value.

So along came the concept of money. Something that had a standard value, and could be used in exchange for goods and then onward exchanged for others goods, or services, again and again. In ancient China, before coinage was introduced, shells were used for this purpose.

Eventually the concept of a standard amount of one standard item in exchange for standard amounts of many other items led to gold and silver being widely used in trade. The price of a bag of wheat, in terms of silver, would be known widely. There would be no arguing, and exchange became guaranteed.

These pieces of silver, or gold, evolved into the coins that we know today. The concept of money proved so universally popular, that, by around 550BC, most of the important trading places of the world were striking their own coinage. And the basic design hasn’t changed for hundreds of years: small, round (or thereabouts), and easy to carry.
What has changed, and continues to do so, is the artwork on coins.

The ancient Greeks stamped their coins with images of the Gods, and the Romans imprinted images of their Emperors. Islamic coins – until the 20th century – had only inscriptions, as the Islamic religion prohibits graven images.

Because the value of the coin was measured by the weight of the silver they could be used equally well for purchasing goods in Athens as well as Persia. Money, or should we say the weight and value of silver, was the real start of the global economy. However local mints stamped their coins with images of local importance, as a sort of show of pride in their city.

Over time, artists were commissioned to make images of importance at the time of striking. Victory in battles, the coronation of Kings and Queens, the launching of new ships, the overthrow of government; all have been depicted on coins. Coins, therefore, are not only collectable from an aesthetic point of view, but also can provide real physical evidence to support a timeline in the development of a country, and, indeed, the world.

Modern coins are minted not only for their exchange value (to be used as money), but also for commemorative or decorative purposes. The artistry on coins takes great skill, and the commissioning of artists to produce the work is not taken lightly.

New Series of Commemorative Coins Celebrates Spain’s Most Famous Artists

It is fitting, therefore, that four of Spain’s greatest artists have been depicted on the latest five commemorative coins from the Royal Spanish Mint. The coins are a homage to Domenicos Theotocopoulos, or “El Greco” (1541-1614), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), José de Ribera, or “Lo Espagnoletto” (1591-1652) and Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664).

The most famous of these, The El Greco merits a gold, 27 gram coin with a diameter of 38mm, which has a denomination of €400. It depicts his famous painting “Aged Nobleman” on the obverse, and detail from “The Martyrdom of St. Maurice” on the reverse. There is to be only 3,000 minted. The silver El Greco is minted in a limited edition of 5,000 and features depictions from his painting “Buriel of the Conde de Orgaz”. It has a weight of 168.7 grams, and is 73mm in diameter.

The other three coins in the series are all struck in .925 sterling silver, with a weight of 27 grams and a diameter of 40mm. All are denominated as €10, and all feature famous paintings by the artists. Each of these will have a mintage of 10,000 coins.

This issue is the fourth in its series dedicated to Spanish painters, and they can be purchased as individual coins or as sets from the Spanish Mint website.

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