Around the World in 80 Coins

from 26 April 2022


We were used to being able to reach any place in the world easily within 24 hours. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and travelling became something special again. As little as a century ago, however, travelling often took months and was frequently dangerous.

This exhibition portrays sixteen people from the course of history, or rather: it shows the contents of their wallets. Cleopatra and Marco Polo, El Greco, Ida Pfeiffer and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry tell us about their travels and discoveries and reveal coins that were in use in other parts of the world during their times.

Coins have always been an indispensable but often invisible travel companion. Like time travellers, they have often survived centuries, sometimes even millennia, without damage and are now considered historical documents that bear witness to past cultures.

Olympias

In the Shadow of Kings

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Molossians, Bronze Coin, c.360–325 BCE, Epirus

GR 35252

The Molossians were a people and kingdom in a region that straddles modern-day Albania and Greece. They sought to keep the mighty Macedonians on their side by, for example, arranging marriages between members of the two dynasties.
The citizens of Athens would probably have considered them Barbarians rather than Greeks, just like the Macedonians.

Olympias is best known to us as the mother of Alexander the Great. Her real name is assumed to have been Polyxena, daughter of the Molossian royal family from Epirus (now Albania/Greece). She did not adopt the name Olympias until her marriage to the king of the Macedonians, Philip II (r.359–336 BCE). She was, incidentally, the king’s fifth wife – and not his last.

Olmypias’s son Alexander the Great (r.336–323 BCE) advanced as far the boundaries of the known world of his time. Having seized about 180,000 talents of silver (over 4,700 tons) in Persia, he had coins following the same pattern struck in over thirty mints from Greece to Babylon, thereby creating the first global currency.

Depictions on coins were reserved for deities only. Alexander’s silver coins accordingly show Heracles wearing the lion skin over his head (fig. 5). Those who knew Olympias and Alexander personally may well have recognized Alexander in the image; it is assumed today that Heracles bears Alexander’s features in this depiction. 

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Molossians, Alexander Neoptolemus (r.342–326 BCE), Stater (silver), c.342–326 BCE, Epirus

GR 12009

Alexander Neoptolemus was the brother of Olympias and reigned in the kingdom of Molossia. Like his relative Pyrrhus (r.306–276 BCE) later on, he had his sights trained on Italia and Sicily.
The obverse of this coin features a very naturalistic depiction, albeit showing not a human but a god. It depicts the Dodonian Zeus with an oak wreath, who was worshipped at the famous Oracle in Dodona.

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Macedonia, Philip II (r.359–336 BCE), Stater (silver), 356–355 BCE, Amphipolis (Macedonia)

GR 10191

Again, we see the highest deity Zeus on the obverse. During the last years before he was murdered, Philip was busy planning a campaign against the Persians, which was subsequently realized by his son Alexander.
His marriage to Olympias was sheer political calculation. He had several wives; in fact, polygamy was quite usual in Macedonia.

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Alexander the Great (r.336–323 BCE), Double Stater (gold), 334–323 BCE, Aegae (Macedonia)

GR 10424

That Alexander set out in 334 BCE to initially conquer Persia was presumably owing to Macedonia. Time and again, cities were ransacked on the way in order to collect funds for the campaign. In Persia’s treasure chambers, Alexander found fabulous amounts of precious metals. Only a fraction of it had yet been struck into coins by the time of his death.

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Alexander the Great (r.336–323 BCE), Tetradrachm (silver), 325–323 BCE, Babylonia

GR 10370

This coin was struck in Babylonia and it only marginally differs from those that had been produced in Macedonia or other places. The obverse shows the demigod Heracles wearing the skin of the Nemeian lion over his head. His features are strongly reminiscent of the later portraits of Alexander.

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Cleopatra VII with Mark Antony, Tetradrachm, 36 BCE, Antioch, Syria

GR 33499

Together with her new political ally Mark Antony, Cleopatra also struck coins in Syria. In the Roman civil war, Mark Antony opposed Caesar‘s legitimate heir Octavian, the future emperor Augustus.

Cleopatra‘s personal fate – as that of Egypt – was irrevocably joined to that of Mark Antony by their alliance.

Cleopatra

The last Pharaoh

Cleopatra VII was the last pharaoh of Egypt and probably the most powerful woman of her time. Egypt was still a major power in the Mediterranean sphere, but it was about to lose its independence to Rome, which was in the throes of civil war.

96–30 BCE

Cleopatra, it can be said, entered alliances in order to instrumentalize her allies. First, Caesar intervened in her favour in the domestic Egyptian battle for the throne; their joint son Caesarion was nominally installed as the co-regent of Egypt. After Ceasar had been murdered, Cleopatra allied herself to Mark Antony; together they had three children.

Mark Antony’s opponent Octavian, the future emperor Augustus (r.27 BCE–14 CE), eventually triumphed in the battle of Actium in 31 BCE. This was the final blow for Egypt, which fell to Rome. When Cleopatra committed suicide by the bite of a snake, the Hellenistic period came to an end.

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Ptolemy XII, Tetradrachm (silver), year 27 (54 BCE), Alexandria

GR 23692

Drachma was the Egyptian currency, with quadruple drachmae known as tetradrachms. These usually showed the founder of the dynasty, Ptolemy I. Research opinions vary on whether there are any coins at all of Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra‘s brother. The items considered thus may instead be attributable to her father.

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Cleopatra VII, Bronze Coin, c.52–30 BCE, Alexandria

GR 23676

In contrast to the silver coins, bronze coins from Egypt depict a portrait of Cleopatra. From the very onset of her reign, she was embroiled in domestic battles for the throne, which were eventually decided by Caesar‘s intervention.
Like Peter the Great (showcase 14) she was entitled to strike her own coins.

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Moneyer Marcus Mettius, Denarius, 44 BCE, Rome

RÖ 2421

Caesar was the first living person whose portrait was struck onto coins during the Roman Republic.
Caesar was in Egypt in 48 BCE, as Pompey, his opponent in the civil war, had fled and been murdered there. In 46 BCE, Cleopatra made an official visit to Rome.

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Octavian (r. as Emperor Augustus 27 BCE–14 CE), Denarius, 28 BCE, Rome

RÖ 4426

The conquest of Egypt (AEGYPTO CAPTA with a crocodile) was presented on coins that were legal tender throughout the entire empire.
It was a political as well as an economic success: the country was a breadbasket and was to play an important role in supplying the Roman plebs with their sustenance in the centuries to come.
After Cleopatra’s suicide, Octavian ordered the execution of her son Caesarion.

Domínikos Theotokópoulos

called El Greco

Funding a Life of Luxury

The Greek painter, sculptor and art theorist El Greco is one the best known artist personalities of his time. He is considered the main master of Mannerism in Spain. His art was focussed on religious painting. 

We encounter recurrent workshop pieces as well as individual, exceptional paintings from which stemmed his renown. He began his work as an artist on Crete, where he was trained as a painter of icons. Shaped by his education, he never denied his Byzantine roots throughout his life. He arrived in Venice in the spring of 1567 and settled in Rome in 1570.

In 1577, he reached Spain, where he settled in Toledo. He was unable to realize his desire to become a court painter to King Philip II, as the king disliked a painting he had completed in 1582. Instead, his works were commissioned by numerous Spanish monasteries and wealthy private persons. Both also placed large orders.

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Republic of Venice
Doge Girolamo Priuli (r.1559–1567)
Zecchino, 1559/67, Venice

MK 20488aα

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Republic of Venice
Girolamo Priuli
Sesino (2 Quattrini), 1559/67, Venice

MK 172640

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Philip II (r.1556–1598)
2 Escudos, 1591, Toledo

MK 21259aα 

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Pope Gregory XIII (r.1572–1585)
Testone, no date, Rome

MK 17048aα

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Philip II
8 Reales, 1590, Segovia

MK 7537bα

A document from El Greco’s time on Crete states that the Venetian government of Crete gave the artist permission to sell an icon for seventy, surely Venetian, ducats 1. This is an astonishingly high figure, as a comparison with the money that was normally in use at the time illustrates: small Venetian copper coinage 2. The general population rarely saw a gold coin.

In Venice, El Greco encountered the money he already knew from Greece. In Rome, he was faced with the coins of the Papal States 3. Payments for his paintings were, however, most probably still made in Venetian ducats, the dominant currency. As had been usual for popular trade coins since antiquity, their imagery was not changed for centuries 1.

El Greco frequently had financial difficulties, hence he demanded high, sometimes exaggerated, prices. For the Cathedral in Toledo, for example, he created the painting The Disrobing of Christ. His representative suggested a price of 900 ducats, while the cathedral representatives were only willing to pay 227 ducats. A price of 535 Venetian ducats was eventually negotiated for painting and frame in 1587 1.

Spain was ruled by King Philip II at the time. El Greco will certainly often have held his coins in his hands 4 5, some of which were even minted in Toledo. The craftsmen entrusted with cutting the dies were skilled in the realization of coats of arms. This indicates that the production was often commissioned from seal engravers.

The Beatles

Over 130 Concerts in One Year

In 1964, the British rock band The Beatles stormed the international charts. They held the top five positions on the singles charts in the USA, in Australia even the first six. That very same year, they travelled the world and staged over 130 concerts.

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Hong Kong, Elizabeth II (r.1952–1997), Hong Kong Dollar, 1960, King’s Norton (Birmingham)

MK 211260

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the most common coins in Hong Kong had been Spanish and Mexican 8 reales, the standard upon which the American dollar was also based. Great Britain‘s attempts to introduce the pound sterling in the crown colony failed in light of the dollar system, which was already fully established. The Royal Mint in London therefore began striking Hong Kong dollar coins in the 1860s. Until 1971, the Hong Kong dollar was pegged to the pound sterling with a fixed exchange rate of sixteen to one.

A ticket for the concert in Hong Kong cost 20.60 Hong Kong dollars, corresponding to about 1¼ pounds sterling. 

1964

Even in the most distant countries they visited, the band from Liverpool encountered a familiar face: a portrait of the queen. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Hong Kong were all part of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1964. The members of the commonwealth had their own currencies, but their money shared a common feature: the image of Elizabeth II in profile.

As the head of the commonwealth, she was depicted on the coins of each member state. One year after they had toured the world, the Beatles met the Queen herself when they were invited to Buckingham Palace, where Elizabeth presented them with their MBE insignia in the form of silver crosses.

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Great Britain, Elizabeth II (r. since 1952), 2 Shillings, 1953

MK 208408

The first Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night premiered in Liverpool on 10 July. The price of the tickets was given in guineas (gns), a gold coin that was no longer in existence at the time. The guinea was demonetized in 1816, but the nominal designation survived as a synonym for the pound sterling (= 20 shillings). The ticket therefore cost three pounds or 60 shillings.

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Australia, Elizabeth II (r. since 1952), Florin, 1962, Melbourne

NZ 2413

The British florin was first minted in the mid-nineteenth century and was worth two shillings. As Australia did not switch from pound to dollar currency until 1966, florins were still in circulation when the Beatles visited the country in 1964. The reverse of the florin shows the crowned coat of arms of Australia with the emblems of the six states, flanked by a kangaroo and an emu in front of acacia branches, Australia’s national floral emblem.

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New Zealand, Elizabeth II (r. since 1952), Crown, 1953, London

MK 211248

The crown is a historic coin that is only minted for commemorative purposes under Elizabeth II. This coin was struck on the occasion of her coronation in 1953 and shows a variety of iconographic elements on the reverse. Above Elizabeth’s monogram is the Tudor crown, underneath it an ornament of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. The composition is completed with the constellation of the Southern Cross, which is also depicted on the flag of New Zealand. 

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Canada, Elizabeth II (r. since 1952), Dollar, 1958, Ottawa 

MK 210939

The flourishing trade with the USA forced British North America (modern-day Canada) to switch its currency from pound sterling to dollar in the 1850s. Several attempts were made over the course of a century to peg the Canadian dollar to the British pound and the US dollar, each to no avail. 
The voyageur dollar was in circulation in 1964. Commemorative issues were also struck, such as in 1958 for the centenary of the foundation of British Columbia.

A ticket for the Vancouver concert cost 3.25 Canadian dollars, which was about one pound sterling in 1964.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s Finances

Mozart’s parents paved the way for his musical career. He was only six years old when his ambitious father’s efforts took him as far as England via Germany, Belgium, and France. 

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Archdiocese Salzburg, Hieronymus von Colloredo
(r.1772–1803, d.1812)
Ducat, 1779, Salzburg

MK 143139

Mozart was initially unpaid as concert master of Salzburger Hofmusik, and received a salary for the position from 1772 onwards. Looking in vain for another placement, he travelled to Italy, Vienna, and Munich. He returned to Salzburg court service as an organist under Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Hieronymus Graf Colloredo in 1779, but soon fell out with the archbishop.

In Vienna, he tried his luck as a freelance artist, composer of operas, and teacher. Wolfgang Amadeus was only 35 years old when he died in Vienna. The Mozart family regularly had to deal with a range of currencies. Their letters give ample evidence of the difficulties and loss of value incurred through frequent currency exchanges.

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Archdiocese Salzburg, Hieronymus von Colloredo
Thaler, 1779, Salzburg

IMK 4820bα

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Kaiser Joseph II
(r.1765/80–1790)
Ducat, 1787, Vienna

MK 144999

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Emperor Joseph II
Kreutzer, 1788, Vienna

MK 209795

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France, Louis XVI (r.1774–1792)
Louis d’or, 1786, Strasbourg

MK 21816aα

In Salzburg, Mozart fell out with Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Graf Colloredo. The ruler struck a multitude of coins and was portrayed in busts and countless oil paintings: there was no getting away from his image for Mozart. It is possible that one reason for Mozart’s rejection was the Baroque ruler’s need for representation. Before the Baroque era, coins from Salzburg had not featured portraits of the rulers who commissioned the minting. Instead, they showed images that were inspired by Christianity. 12

There are plenty of sources to document the Mozart family’s financial situation. Tellingly, Mozart was able to expect a net income of over 500 gold coins when he gave a concert in Vienna. This sum exceeded the annual income for a member of the upper middle class. 
In 1787, Mozart was taken into imperial service by Emperor Joseph II as Kammermusikus, receiving a salary of 800 gold coins per year. Compare this amount to the copper kreutzer that was in circulation for everyday use for an idea of how much it is. 34

In 1783, Mozart offered six quartets to the Parisian publisher Sieber for fifty Louis d’or, in particular because he was unhappy with the engravers available in Vienna. Sieber did not reply to the offer and Mozart eventually sold the rights for this series of quartets to the Viennese publisher Artaria for 100 ducats. This interlude shows how familiar Mozart was with the value of foreign denominations. 5

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Iceni, Stater (electrum), c.60–50 BCE, East Anglia

GR 44007

Like most tribes in Britannia, the Iceni also struck their own coins. There were golden Staters and small silver coins.
This money was probably accepted by neighbours, but it was not compatible with Roman coins. Coin finds show that the Icenian coins did not spread far beyond their area.

Boudicca

A Woman Goes to War

Boudica was the wife of Prasutagus, king of the Celtic Iceni tribe in what is now the East Anglian region of England.

As Prasutagus was already under Roman rule, his will was made out to Emperor Nero (r.54–68) as well as his two daughters as heirs. However, the Romans annexed his kingdom in 60 CE and raped his daughters. Boudica visited neighbouring tribes together with her daughters in order to incite rebellion against Rome. She is said to have been tall and fierce. However, women as leaders were not unusual in Britannia.

The uprising spread throughout almost the entire island, and 70,000 Romans are said to have died. The superpower Rome even had to order troops from Germania in order to gain control of the situation. That in turn is said to have cost 80,000 Britons their lives. From the Renaissance period onwards, when the ancient texts were rediscovered, Boudica has been considered a hero of national freedom in Great Britain.

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Iceni, Small Silver Coin, c.20–50 CE, East Anglia

GR 44008

The coins bear a stylized head on the obverse, while the reverse shows either a horse, as here, or a wolf (no. 1) with bristling hair on the back.
ANT(E)D may be a royal name; it is in any case very difficult to date these coins with precision.

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Catuvellauni: Cunobeline, Stater (gold), c.10–40 CE

GR 43334

One of the Iceni’s neighbouring tribes were the Catuvellauni. They had the same coinage system – golden Staters and Small Silver Coins –, but of course these bore their own images. A particular feature was the occasional mention of a king by name, as in this case Cunobeline.

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Nero (r.54–68), Aureus, 64–66 CE, Rome

RÖ 5517

This coin shows the Temple of Janus in Rome, or rather the closed doors of that temple. Janus was a deity with two faces, and the doors to his temple had a particular significance. When they were open, a war was being fought in the empire. Their ceremonial closing, as shown on this coin, signalized the return of peace.

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Nero (r.54–68), Sestertius (brass), 64–68 CE, Rome

RÖ 5562

Emperor Nero is shown addressing soldiers. However, the emperor would not usually go to war himself, and it is presumed that the depicted soldiers are the Praetorian Guard. Nevertheless, this image only occurs in the context of wars.

Iulia Domna

The First Lady

Iulia Domna was from Emesa (present-day Homs, Syria). In the late 180s, she married the ambitious politician Septimius Severus, who came from Leptis Magna (in Libya) and served in Carnuntum in 193.

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Septimius Severus for Iulia Domna, Sestertius (brass), c.198–211 CE, Rome

RÖ 14918

Iulia Domna came from a family of priests of the sun god Elagbalus in Emesa (now Homs in Syria). She held the title of empress (Augusta) and was essentially the Roman empire’s first lady; her hairstyle even inspired a fashion throughout the empire. 

When Emperor Pertinax was murdered in Rome, his troops declared Septimius Severus emperor and helped him assert his claim to the throne. The family frequently travelled long distances, probably in the greatest possible comfort imaginable at the time.  The rivalry between Iulia’s sons escalated after the death

of Septimius Severus. Antoninus III, better known as Caracalla, had his brother Geta murdered as he lay in his mother’s arms. Although she herself was also injured, she did not let this affect her relationship to Caracalla, whom she accompanied on a journey through the East. When he was murdered in 217, Iulia committed suicide.

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Septimius Severus for Iulia Domna as well as Antoninus III (Caracalla) and Geta, Aureus, 202 CE, Rome

RÖ 14706

This coin, known as a family coin, shows the portraits of Iulia Domna and her two sons Antoninus III (left) and Geta (right). After the Nerva-Antonine dynasty during which future emperors were adopted into the line, an emperor with his own children ascended in 193. The family was displayed with pride and the sons presented at the same time as successors.

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Septimius Severus for Iulia Domna, Cistophorus (silver), 193–202 CE, Asia

GR 39301

This large silver coin was only used in the eastern empire. The byname or title mater castrorum (meaning something like ‘mother of the camp’) was first conferred to Faustina (d.176), the wife of Marcus Aurelius. References to this emperor were meant to cast a positive light on the family of Septimius Severus.

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Antoninus III (Caracalla), Tetradrachm (silver), 211–217 CE, Antioch

GR 21238

The emperor known to us as Caracalla was really called Bassianus. He was given the epithet Antoninus in reference to Marcus Aurelius, whose full name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. The epithet Caracalla comes from a Gallic item of clothing, a type of coat, which Caracalla introduced to Rome. His contemporaries largely describe him as deeply malicious; he was eventually murdered in 217.

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Geta, Large Bronze Coin, c.209–211 CE, Ephesus

GR 17241

Geta was not even a whole year younger than Antoninus and there appears to have always been a competitive edge to their relationship. After Geta was murdered, his brother had the damnatio memoriae imposed upon him, meaning that Geta’s name was erased out of inscriptions and sometimes even his portrait was obliterated from coins.

c.160–217 CE

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China, Tang dynasty, Gāozǔ (r.618–628), Cash (Kai Yuan), from 621

OR 8419

At the time of Xuanzang, the means of payment used in China were round coins with a central square hole known as cash. Other than the silver and gold coins minted in Europe, these were usually cast from bronze. The characters show the given reign.

Xuanzang

Journey to the West

Xuanzang was a Buddhist pilgrim monk in the era of the early Tang dynasty (617–907), who travelled in India between 630 and 643. He took the Silk Road from China to modern-day Afghanistan, from where he reached his destination.

Xuanzang wanted to study Buddhism in authentic form in its country of origin. Hence he spent eight years in Northern India, where he visited monasteries and major pilgrim destinations. Within this time, he collected Buddhist writings and maintained good relations to the respective rulers. Back in China, Xuanzang wrote a travel report for the emperor,

providing a factual insight into the social, economic and political life in the ‘Western lands’. The many sacred texts he translated from Sanskrit had a major influence on local Buddhism. As a monk, adventurer and diplomat, Xuanzang certainly shaped the cultural exchange between India and China.

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Sogdia, Samarkand, Māstich Ūnash (r. c.697–706), Cash, c.700

OR 11686

Travelling along the silk road, Xuanzang reached Samarkand, an old major trade city. The monk reports seeing caravans with precious stones, spices, and cotton from Northern India meeting goods from East Asia here. Following the Chinese model, the kings of Samarkand issued cash coins, but their inscriptions were in Sogdian, an Eastern Middle Iranian language. 

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Sasanids, Ardashir III (r.628–630), Drachm, 629/30, BYŠ mint

GR 45393

The valley of Bamiyan in Central Afghanistan with the larger of the two Buddha statues in the background (55 m tall). Both were destroyed in 2001 © W. Szaivert
After Xuanzang had crossed the Hindu Kush, he arrived at the oasis town of Bamiyan, once part of the Sasanian empire. In the seventh century, this was a flourishing centre of Buddhism with several dozens of monasteries and thousands of monks. Sasanian drachms from 629/30, which were among the currencies influencing the local circulation of money, show the young King Ardashir III wearing a winged and cranellated crown. 

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Shri Shahi (Western Turks), Drachm (billon), c.600–650, mint in Zabulistan

GR 45622

During the seventh century, the Western Turk Shahis expanded throughout southeastern Afghanistan. Xuanzang witnessed this when he travelled through the region. He noted that ‘the Turks lived in the mountain region between Zabulistan and Kapisi’. The coins of the Shri Shahi show a royal bust with a crescent crown. The Bactrian inscription reads ‘His Excellency, the King’. 

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Byzantium, Heraclius (r.610–641), Solidus, 610–613, Constantinople

MK 204472

From the south and the western coast of India, Xuanzang writes about a far-reaching network of trade routes and maritime harbours that gave access to early mediaeval global trade. Finds of Byzantine gold coins in those regions bear witness to the lively overseas trade. Money imported in this manner could be used as a means of payment or as jewellery.

Benjamin of Tudela

On the Road for 13 Years

Benjamin of Tudela is considered the most important Jewish traveller of the Middle Ages. He left his home on the Iberian peninsula in 1160, setting out on an expedition that was to last for thirteen years. 

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Almohad, Abd al-Mu’min (r.1130–1163), Dinar, after 1146, Seville

OR 621

When Benjamin left his home, the reconquista had been waged on the Iberian peninsula for over two centuries. Its course saw the Christian kingdoms of Spain fight an embittered battle against the Muslim caliphates of al-Andalus. This did not, however, prevent the two parties from engaging in lively trade, for which gold dinars were among the currencies used. 

He travelled via Southern France and Italy as far as Constantinople, from where he continued on to Syria, Palestine, and modern-day Iraq. While there is little known about the person Benjamin, his travel reports are all the more detailed. They include descriptions of the cities and sights he visited as well as providing information on distances and trade routes. Among others, his notes focused on the situation

and structures of the Jewish communities he visited. We do not know for certain why Benjamin set out on his journey. It is possible that he was looking for safe harbours for Spanish Jews in light of the pogroms that were beginning to take place in the twelfth century. His Book of the Travels was first printed in 1543 and still presents a rich source on life in the twelfth century.

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Byzantium, Manuel I Komnenos (r.1143–1180), Hyperpyron, c.1160–1164, Constantinople

MK 207985

Between 1161 and 1162, Benjamin sojourned in Constantinople. His descriptions of the city deliver an impressive image of the mediaeval global metropolis, a meeting point for traders from all corners of the world. One of the major trade coins were the Byzantine gold coins known as hyperpyra, which can be described as the dollar of the Middle Ages.

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Kingdom of Jerusalem, Baldwin III (r.1143–1163), Denar, c.1140–1160, Jerusalem

MK 25693aα

Benjamin spent four years in the Holy Land, where he visited the sacred sites that are of equal importance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He described the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Crusader coins will also have been used as payment by Benjamin. They show the Tower of David, which is also included on contemporary maps of the city like a sight to see. 

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Zengid, Sayf al-Din Ghazi II ibn Mawdud (r.1170–1180), AE Dirham, 1172, Mosul

OR 474

Around 1170, Benjamin travelled through modern-day Iraq, where he stayed in Mosul and Baghdad. He is likely to have gathered his information on Central Asia and the Far East here. Mosul was a ruling centre of the Zengid dynasty, who struck copper dirhams. Their motifs were taken from astronomy and the ancient world, making them markedly different from other Islamic coinage, which features no images.

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Ayyubids, Saladin (r.1171–1193), Dinar, 1177, Alexandria

OR 6363

In 1171, Benjamin sailed homewards from Alexandria, where he had still been able to admire the lighthouse on the island of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. His sojourn in Egypt coincided with the era of fighting between Abbasids and Fatimids, which was ended by Saladin (r.1171–1193) in that year. Gold coins minted shortly thereafter name Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, as the new king of Egypt.

c.1130–1173

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Patriarchy of Aquileia, Wolfger (r.1204–1218), Denaro, from 1204, Aquileia

MK 182862

As the newly elected patriarch of Aquileia, Wolfger had coins struck with his own name from 1204 onwards. The slightly indented denari show the enthroned patriarch in frontal view with a cross-staff and mitre on the obverse. The edge bears Wolfger’s name including his official titel: + VOLF - KER . P . (Volfker Patriarcha).

Wolfger von Erla

also known as Wolfger von Passau 

Travelling in the Middle Ages

It was certainly dangerous to travel during the Middle Ages. Journeys were not undertaken for recreation, as today, but usually for a purpose. Wolfger von Erla, bishop of Passau (r.1191–1204) also had good reasons to set off for Rome in 1204. As an applicant for the office of the Patriarch of Aquileia, he endeavoured to obtain approval from the pope – and was eventually successful in that undertaking.

We are well informed about Wolfger’s journey thanks to the extant invoices from his travels. They provide an insight into mediaeval habits as well as the travel funds Wolfger had taken with him and the payments he made from those funds. On his way to Rome, he had to pay for subsistence, new mounts, as well as

medical treatment. As Wolfger travelled through various currency areas, he had to exchange his money into local currencies. His notes accordingly also document the exchanges he completed as well as various prices for goods and services.

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Duchy of Austria, Leopold V (r.1177–1194), Pfennig, c.1190, Krems or Vienna

MK 3710aα

Wolfger’s notes take an important place in the history of literature as they are the only contemporary witness account for the life of Walther von der Vogelweide.
The bishop encountered the mediaeval poet in Zeiselmauer, between Tulln and Vienna, where he gave five shillings (150 pfennigs) to ‘Walthero cantori de Vogelweide’ for a fur coat on 12 November 1203.

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City Republic of Siena, Denaro, c.1200, Siena

MK 28353aα

Wolfger also had with him unminted precious metal in the shape of silver ingots. This facilitated the exchange of currency. It is apparent from his notes that he exchanged such a ingot corresponding to the weight of a Cologne mark in silver (approx. 233.86 g) into the local currency in Siena and received 1.462 Sienese denari for it. Thirty Sienese denari would have sufficed to buy a good pair of shoes. 
 

2

2

Archdiocese Salzburg, Eberhard II (r.1200–1246), Pfennig, early 13th century, Friesach

MK 175835

Having arrived in Leoben, Wolfger met a cellerarius (cellar master of an estate or a monastery) and paid ‘xvj den. frisac.’ – sixteen Friesach pfennigs – for ‘bono vino’. The addition ‘bono’ confirms that the wine was particularly good. Apparently Wolfger was partial to a tasty drop. The pfennigs mentioned here were minted by the archbishop of Salzburg in Friesach in Carinthia, as is written on the obverse (+FRISACh).

4

4

Senate of Rome, Denaro provisino, c.1184–1250, Rome

MK 28285aα

When Wolfger eventually had successfully lodged his wishes with Pope Innocent III in Rome in May 1204, he had fulfilled the purpose of his journey. Certain of his success, Wolfger commissioned a bishop’s ring with a polished topaz there. He paid the invoice of 27 shillings or 324 denari with denari provisini, the main Roman currency (with an exchange rate of 1:2 to the Siena denaro). 

Silver Ingot (212.51 g) from the find at Gschieß (Carinthia, hidden c.1230)

N 231

Marco Polo

Between Yurts and Palaces

Marco Polo was a merchant, adventurer, and probably the greatest explorer of his time.

5

5

China, Yuan dynasty, Wǔzōng (Külüg Khan) (r.1307–1311), 10 Cash, 1310–1311

OR 4943

Marco described Quinsai (Hangzhou) as a splendid city that delivered a large income of taxes to the Great Khan every year. The rulers of the Yuan dynasty were accordingly always invested with optimizing the tax and money system. From 1310 onwards, new large copper coins with a face value of 10 cash were therefore issued. Only a year later, however, these coins were abolished again in another reform.

Marco left Venice at the age of seventeen in order to accompany his father and his uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, on their business journeys to China in 1271. They reached China in 1275 via Western Asia and the Silk Road. Once there, Marco encountered the mighty Kublai Khan, Great Khan of the Mongols, grandson of the legendary Genghis Khan and founder of the Yuan dynasty. The young Marco Polo quickly rose in the Great Khan’s estimation, travelling through the various regions of his empire in his service.

The Polos remained at the Khan’s court for sixteen years before they embarked homewards in 1291. Marco left a detailed travel report to posterity. Its authenticity is hardly doubted any more today, even though he may have somewhat exaggerated in places. Marco’s notes provided the groundwork for many expeditions during the early modern era and continue to be a source of fascination and interest.

1254–1324

1

1

City Republic of Venice, Lorenzo Tiepolo (r.1268–1275), Grosso, c.1268–1275, Venice

MK 20158aα

Marco Polo embarked on his adventure in 1271. The silver coins struck in Venice at that time bore the name of the reigning doge, Lorenzo Tiepolo, and show him with St Mark on his right side. The Venetian grosso, also known as matapan, was accepted far beyond Northern Italy, so it is likely that Marco will have had this type of coin on him at the beginning of his journey.

2

2

Great Mongols, Baiju Noyan (r.1241–1247) under Töregene Khatun (r.1242–1246), Dirham, 1245, Tabriz

OR 7984

Passing through what is now Iran, the Polos travelled to various trade cities and oases, including Tabriz, Yazd, and Kerman. Marco described the impressive, colourful bazaars filled with exotic goods. Dirhams from Tabriz were minted during the era of Töregene Khatun (r.1242–1246), a Mongolian ruler and Genghis Khan’s daughter-in-law. The obverse depicts a horseman with bow.

3

3

China, Yuan dynasty, Shìzǔ (Kublai Khan) (r.1260–1294), 3 Cash, c.1285–1294

OR 10635

Four years into their journey, the Polos arrived at the great Kublai Khan’s summer residence in Shangdu. This ruler’s empire stretched from China to modern-day Iraq. In addition to the Chinese characters that were usually found on coins, Kublai introduced the Mongolian Square script (’Phags-pa). The inscription ‘Je Üen tung baw’ signifies that the coin is currency from the Yuan dynasty.

4

4

China, Yuan dynasty, Wǔzōng (Külüg Khan) (r.1307–1311), Cash, 1310–1311

OR 4937

Paper money was invented in China as early as around the year 1000. Kublai Khan also had paper money issued in addition to the usual cash coins, which were the smallest denomination. The eight denominations of the paper money ranged from 10 wén (= 10 cash) to 2 guàn (1 guàn = a string of a thousand cash coins). Marco Polo describes the use of this paper money in Khanbaliq (now Beijing). It was made from the bark of the mulberry tree. 

1

1

Kingdom of Portugal, John III (r.1521–1557), Português, (1521/57), Lisbon

MK 7697bα

The circumscription on this exceptional gold coin demonstrates the size of the empire that John III reigned over. It comprises many Latin abbreviations and reads: IOANES R PORTVGALIE AL C VL IN A D G C N C / ETI AR-A PSIE 

John, King of Portugal, the Algarve on this and the other side of the sea, India and Africa, Master of Guinea, the conquered land, maritime travel and trade / from Ethiopia, Arabia and Persia. 

Soliman

From Ceylon to Vienna

Exotic animals were a coveted gift among the aristocracy during the sixteenth century. They were brought to Europe from their distant homelands and passed on as diplomatic presents. 

This fate also befell an Indian elephant that was to be given to the future emperor Maximilian II (r. 1564–1576) by Portuguese royalty. Originally from the colony Kotte in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the elephant was transported to Lisbon via Goa (India) and from there to the Spanish court in Valladolid. Thence, Maximilian took the animal to Vienna via Italy, Tyrol and Bavaria.

They were on the road from August 1551 until March 1552, passing through numerous cities and royal courts, where the exotic animal was received as a great attraction. Maximilian’s elephant, nowadays known by the names Soliman, Beppo, and Pepi, perished only a few years after its arrival in Vienna due to having been kept in inappropriate conditions.

2

2

Kingdom of Aragon, Joanna and Charles I/V (r.1516–1555), Double Ducat, 1521, Barcelona

MK 21221aα 

Emperor Charles V ruled an empire that extended not only across many parts of Europe, but even reached as far as the New World. He claimed the crowns of Castile, Aragon, and Granada together with his mother Joanna, hence many Spanish coins bear both names. This coin shows the busts, between them a sceptre and above a fire-iron with the sheepskin signifying the Order of the Golden Fleece, which became the Habsburg symbol for universal monarchy. 

3

3

Duchy of Mantua, Guglielmo Gonzaga (r.1550–1587), Testone, 1551, Mantua

MK 19669aα

The coin shows the portrait of a young Guglielmo Gonzaga, who became the Duke of Mantua at the age of twelve years. When Maximilian visited Mantua in December 1551, he could not yet have known that Guiglielmo would become his brother-in-law ten years later. He married Eleanor of Austria, one of the nine daughters of the future Emperor Ferdinand I (r.1556–1564) in 1561.

4

4

House of Austria, Ferdinand I (r.1521/1556–1564), Guldiner, 1546/1555, Hall in Tyrol

MK 137037

In the mid-sixteenth century, coin minting flourished in Hall in Tyrol. Remarkable amounts of silver had to be struck into coins. Hence the ruler Ferdinand I, father of Maximilian, issued the order that only large coins were to be struck and small coin production was to be halted for several years. When Maximilian stopped in Innsbruck, he also visited the nearby town of Hall. 

5

5

Duchy of Bavaria, Albert V (r.1550–1579), Ducat, no year (1550/1579), Munich

MK 7447aα

One of the last stages of his journey took Maximilian to the Duchy of Bavaria. He took the elephant by ship from Innsbruck to Wasserburg am Inn in order to meet his brother-in-law Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, and his sister Anna. Maximilian remained there for longer than planned as he fell very seriously ill. He suspected that he had been poisoned in Trent.

Theophrastus von Hohenheim

called Paracelsus 

A Physician’s Fee

Theophrastus von Hohenheim, called Paracelsus, is one of the most intriguing personalities in the history of medicine and humanities in the German-speaking realm. Having graduated in medicine, he considered himself not only a doctor, but also an astrologer, religious thinker, and social ethicist. His contemporaries largely knew him as an interpreter of the stars and writer of predictive texts. 

1

1

City and canton of Fribourg
Shilling, no year (1505/1515), Fribourg

MK 16259aα

Paracelsus was born in Switzerland, but moved to Villach with his father at a young age. The Swiss monetary system was structured in many local currencies. Hence, as finds show, small coins from neighbouring regions travelled easily into anyone’s wallets or were given to children as a reward or even as toys. Paracelsus will have experienced this during his childhood, too.

1493/94–1541

He endeavoured to liberate medicine from the dominant teachings that had been passed down since ancient times and to imbue it with new, practical ideas. Always passionate in the defence of his convictions, he had many enemies, not least because his astonishing reputation and sensational medical successes also fostered jealousy.

From 1524/25, he completed writings in theology, medicine, and astronomy. His life was marked by a restlessness that led him to many parts of Europe. Inconceivably in our times of a common currency, he had to familiarize himself with a plethora of different monetary systems on these journeys.

2

2

King Ferdinand I
Pfennig, 1537, Graz

NZ 3854

3

3

King Ferdinand I
Off metal strike of a Guldiner with a weight of eight Ducats, 1532, Klagenfurt

MK 119bα

Paracelsus even became a figure featured in legends. The best known is the ‘Küssdenpfennig’ tale. It is set in an inn in central Vienna. The story centres around the conversion of a worthless penny (no. 2) into a heavy gold coin that is not described in greater detail (as in no. 3). The event would have occurred around 1537, when Paracelsus sojourned in Vienna, where he is said to have even been received by Ferdinand I.

4

4

City of Basel
Time of Emperor Maximilian I
Guilder, 1516, Basel

MK 16130aα

In 1528, a canon in Basel, Cornelius von Lichtenfels, suffered agonizing stomach aches. He promised Paracelsus a hundred guilders for a treatment (no. 4). However, as it did not take long to cure him successfully with just a few pills, the patient felt duped. Prices are always exaggerated in such sources. Even though the amount is certainly fictitious, it does show the value attached to successful cures.

5

5

Archdiocese of Salzburg
Ernest of Bavaria
Ducat, 1541, Salzburg

MK 173219

Towards the end of his life, Paracelsus came to Salzburg. This is where he wrote his will on 21 September 1541. He bestowed six gold coins to Hanns Rappl in Salzburg, ten gold coins to ‘close relatives’ after settling in Switzerland. The mints of the archdiocese were in circulation in Salzburg (no. 5); we do not know, however, which currency was used to settle the inheritance.

 

1

1

Kingdom of England
William III and Mary II (r.1688–1694)
5 Guineas, 1692, London

MK 8225bα

During his diplomatic mission, Peter I visited the royal mint at the Tower of London, where he encountered the Western coinage system. In London, he was confronted with the money that was in circulation there. In accordance with his high position, he will mostly have handled coins struck in gold. This is how he first became aware of the potential of this medium for propaganda and political purposes, most certainly a reason for his own coinage reform.

Peter I, Pyotr Alekseyevich

Innovations in Coin Technology

In 1697/98, Peter I became the first Russian ruler to visit Western Europe on his diplomatic mission, the Grand Embassy. This journey would shape the future of Russia. Influenced by early enlightenment in Europe, Peter I sought to regulate all areas of life. He aimed to turn Russia into an empire on equal footing with the great powers of the West. 

As the Russian population largely consisted of peasants who engaged in barter trade or paid using squirrel furs, there was no need to reform the monetary system for a long time. As late as Peter I’s reign, the coins still bore mediaeval traits.

It was not until he returned from the Grand Embassy that he struck modern coins that were valued at a fixed rate to foreign currencies. Moreover, they permitted a realistic evaluation of the relationship between goods and money for the first time.

2

2

Kingdom of France
Louis XV (r.1715–1774)
Écu Vertugadin, 1716, Aix-en-Provence

MK 7829bα

Peter I continued to be interested in the technological aspect of minting. In 1717, he visited the Paris mint in order to study French coinage. It was during the reign of Louis XV. This silver coin shows the king at the age of six. The poor strike quality reflects the challenges that mints faced when striking large coins.

3

3

Peter I
Kopek, from 1682, Moscow

MK 24378aα

4

4

Peter I
2 Roubles, 1721, Moscow, Red Mint

MK 24428aα

5

5

Peter I
Rouble, 1725, St Petersburg

MK 8705bα

In 1700, the first mint with mechanically driven striking devices was established in the area of the Moscow Kreml. The following year saw the establishment of another mint, the Admiralty 4. In 1724, a mint was founded in the new capital St Petersburg. It was initially housed in the mining office. The year after, it was located in the Peter and Paul Fortress 5.

Ida Pfeiffer

My Second Journey Round the World

1

1

Great Britain and Ireland, Victoria (r.1837–1901), Shilling, 1846, London

MK 168251

‘Life in Cape Town is rather dear; … a chicken costs one shilling, a pound of butter two shillings. … The only inexpensive article of food is fish.’ The British colony in South Africa used British coinage as its local currency (1 pound sterling = 20 shilling). This one-shilling-coin contains approximately 5.2 grams of fine silver, that is the silver value of about 3 euros today. 

When Ida Pfeiffer embarked on her second tour of the world in 1851, she was already a popular travel writer. Her subjective accounts of distant countries and strange peoples were known beyond expert circles and fascinated a wide readership. To a modern audience, her racist travel reports paint a vivid picture of the colonialist era. Her description of ‘foreign parts’ documents a view of the world that is shaped by Western culture‘s claim to superiority. 

For her second tour of the world, Ida Pfeiffer travelled from Vienna to London, from there by ship to Cape Town and then to California via South East Asia. Her trip subsequently took her from San Francisco to Ecuador, Peru, Panama, New Orleans, Chicago,

New York, Boston and back to London. Her publication My Second Journey Round the World comprised several volumes. In it, she reports about countries and people as well as the coins in circulation and the prices of goods and services.

2

2

Dutch India, William I (r.1813/15–1840), Guilder, 1840, Utrecht

MK 182118 

‘The governor general of the Dutch Indian possessions has an annual income of 150,000 rupees … In his position, he enjoys far more power and regard than a constitutional king in Europe.’  The Dutch currency (1 guilder = 20 stuiver) was in circulation in Dutch India. However, dedicated coins were struck for the colony and transported overseas from the Netherlands per ship. There, the Dutch guilder was also called a rupee.

3

3

Kellogg & Co., 20 Dollars, 1854, San Francisco

MK 183876

‘The surplus of gold in San Francisco is so great and the prices are so high that there is no copper coin in circulation.’ This gold twenty-dollar-coin is a symbol of the California gold rush. It was struck by the company Kellogg & Co because the establishment of a state mint was delayed in San Francisco. While the image on the coin is similar to that on state coins, the company name Kellogg & Co. replaces the word ‘Liberty’ on Liberty’s tiara.

4

4

Kingdom of Spain, Charles IV (r.1788–1808), Peso (8 Reales), 1789, Mexico

MK 209621

‘There was a small, fenced space next to the bazaar [in Muara Sipongi] where cock fights took place. Many people thronged about; there were many fights and bets, and the people did not bet copper coins, but Spanish thalers.’ Millions of Spanish thalers (peso) had been produced since the sixteenth century in Spain and South America. It was such a popular coin in global trade that older issues often continued to circulate for centuries throughout the world.

5

5

Republic of Ecuador, Cuarto (1/2 Medio), 1852, Quito

MK 175340

‘Life in Quito is very cheap; yet, like in Peru, Chili [sic!], New Granada etc., there are no copper coins. The medio can be considered the smallest coin. There are quartillos (two per medio), but these are so rare that one hardly gets to see one. Instead of that divisional coin, people tend to give bread and eggs, which vendors accept in place of money.’ 

1797–1858

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

A Life Between Fame and Danger

1

1

French Protectorate of Morocco, 1 Franc, Paris, 1925

MK 180619

In 1927, Saint-Exupéry took on the long-distance flights between Toulouse and Casablanca and eventually became director of the desert air field at Cape Juby, an area in the South of Morocco under Spanish control. This is where he wrote his first novel Southern Mail. While pesetas were the currency in Spanish Morocco at the time, the French part of Morocco used the franc as legal tender.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was fascinated by flight from childhood. Having trained as an airplane mechanic and pilot in the French military, he embarked on a commercial career in air mail and air freight. Saint-Exupéry took off for his final flight, from which he was never to return, as a military reconnaissance pilot during the Second World War. His plane was probably shot down by a German fighter pilot.  

Today, we know Antoine de Saint-Exupéry more for his literary creations than his career as a professional pilot. Although he was renowned as an author and journalist during his lifetime, he was always passionate about flight. He experienced many adventures in the course of his numerous long-distance flights

and military air operations, often skirting danger to his life. He worked these impressions as well as his feelings of existential loneliness into his partly autobiographical novels and tales that are now well known around the world.

2

2

Republic of Argentina, 20 Centavos, Buenos Aires, 1925

MK 198409

When Saint-Exupéry organized nocturnal flights for Aéropostale Argentina, they were still a highly dangerous undertaking. His prize-winning novel Night Flight is about one such tragic flight from Rio to Buenos Aires. The value of the Argentinian peso was pegged to the American dollar at the time. Coins were struck in the denominations of five, ten, twenty and fifty centavos. Like the dollar, they showed the head of the goddess of liberty, Liberty.

3

3

Republic of Guatemala, 5 Quetzals, Philadelphia, 1926

MK 214550

In 1938, Saint-Exupéry suffered a plane crash and spent some time recovering in Antigua, the colonial city in the highlands of Guatemala. It was probably the volcanic landscape of his surroundings there that inspired his tale of The Little Prince. The quetzal is a bird with long, colourful tail feathers. It is not only Guatemala’s heraldic animal, but also patron to the national currency and as such depicted on the coins that bear its name.

4

4

Chamber of Commerce Oran (Algeria), 10 Centimes, Oran, 1921

NZ 7367

After the onset of war, Saint-Exupéry was involved flying reconnaissance missions in Northern France. These gave him input for his novel Flight to Arras. When German troops occupied France, his squadron was moved to the French colony Algiers. The state supply of coins had failed in Algiers since the interwar period. This is why local chambers of commerce issued emergency money.

5

5

United States of America, Dollar, Philadelphia, 1935

MK 208613

The ‘peace dollar’ got its name from the inscription on the rock underneath the eagle. It symbolizes peace after the First World War. These coins were only issued between 1921 and 1935, but were still legal tender during Saint-Exupéry’s time living in exile in New York between December 1940 and May 1943. This is where he wrote his major work The Little Prince. 

To all Lords Mobile strategists and coin lovers

The Kunsthistorisches Museum, together with the game developer I Got Games (IGG) is giving away entry tickets to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and coin artifacts that can be redeemed in the game Lords Mobile

How it works: From July 11th to July 31st, a quiz question about the Lords Mobile Game or the exhibition "Around the World in 80 Coins" will be asked daily on the Lords Mobile channel on Discord.  
Whoever has the most correct answers during the competition wins!

A tip: All answers to the quiz questions about the purses of Cleopatra, Marco Polo and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can be found on this website and on our online collection.