Fascinating Finds: a road trip through the pockets of the Eurozone
Who else has started drawing up a destination wish-list and going holiday window shopping in preparation for this year’s adventures?
I know I certainly can’t wait for the holiday season and for me, one of the best things about going abroad is the discovery and experience of new cultures, and that includes foreign currency. As a Change Checker, I’m sure you’ll love looking at the different designs as much as I do, and since each currency is unique to its country, you’ll find there is always a story to tell from the change you find abroad.
In fact, we’ve come across some truly fascinating coins from Europe, so if you’re like me and are already planning your next getaway, make sure you keep an eye out for some of these gems when you jet off…
An ever popular tourist destination for us Brits is Spain, and I’m sure that the Spanish euro is one that many Change Checkers would recognise. All euros issued before 2015 feature the portrait of King Juan Carlos I who reigned as the King of Spain from 1975 until his abdication in 2014 when his son Felipe VI took over the royal duties. King Juan Carlos I was an interesting Head of State because he was not born in the country he eventually came to rule, his family having been exiled to Italy due to the abolition of the Spanish Monarchy in 1931. However, following a coup d’état in 1936 the dictator Generalísimo Francisco Franco took control of the Spanish government, and 11 years later reaffirmed Spain’s status as a Monarchy. This 2009 2 euro coin designed by Luiz José Diaz depicts King Juan Carlos I encircled by the lettering “ESPAÑA” and the twelve stars of Europe.
Portuguese euros are in a league of their own as, unusually, they follow a theme (with the exception of commemorative euros) and the designs do not vary from year to year. Throughout Portuguese coinage you will find various royal seals of the past: the cross of Knight Templar from 1134, the Rota with cross from 1142 and the Compass rose from 1144, each featuring at the centre of the copper covered steel coins (1, 2 and 5 cents), Nordic gold coins (10, 20, 50 cents) and bi-metallic coins (1 and 2 euros) respectively. What is also distinct about Portuguese euros is that they feature a second circle of emblems below the 12-star requirement. This second ring is made up of 7 castle towers and 5 shields, to symbolise dialogue, the exchanging of values and the dynamics of building Europe. This additional design feature was deliberately added as a point of difference in comparison with other Eurozone coinage.
With 19 out of the 28 EU member countries using the euro, and each country minting its own unique designs, you’re bound to come across some weird and wonderful looking coins, many of which have been chosen or designed by the public. The French 1 and 2 euro coins are stunning examples of this. 1,200 applicants submitted their designs for the obverse and the successful entry was chosen by a jury. The winning entry by Joaquim Jimenez features a stylised tree in a hexagon, framed by the motto of the French revolution: ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’.
Similar to their French neighbours, the public had a hand in choosing the designs for the Italian euros, with each denomination featuring a different image. Designs featuring works by famous Italian artists were scrutinised by a technical and artistic committee before being presented to the public to vote. However, in a twist of events during the selection process, the 1 euro coin designs were withdrawn and the former economy minister Carlo Azeglia Ciampi took it upon himself to make an executive decision. He decided Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man was the best option, reasoning that the design represents the ‘coin to service of Man’ as opposed to ‘Man to the service of money’.
Some of the most iconic pieces of art featured in winning designs include Botticelli’s Birth of Venus on the 10 cent coin, the Equestrian Statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on the 50 cent coin and the 2 euro coin features a portrait of Dante Alighieri from Raphaël’s La disputa del sacramento (Disputation of the Sacrament) which you can find in the Pope Julius II Wing of the Vatican City Palace.
If you’re considering popping to the Vatican Palace to see the Raphaël masterpiece, you might want to try and track down some of the most coveted euros – Vatican euros. Euros issued by the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State are easily some of the rarest euros you may come across, especially the 1 and 2 euro coins issued in 2011, as only 6,000 coins were minted! Vatican euros are minted with collectors in mind rather than for commercial use, and with the number of coins minted being so small, the collector value is incredibly high. You’re very lucky if you find one of these in your pocket!
Dutch euros are unique in the sense that they only bear one motif, that of the reigning monarch. The first generation euros, issued until 2013, feature the effigy of Queen Beatrix. It is customary in the Netherlands to change the direction the portrait of the monarch is facing whenever a new monarch ascends the throne, so Queen Beatrix can be seen looking to the left whilst the image of King Willem-Alexander featured on second generation euros from 2014 onwards faces right.
A special ‘first’ to feature in this list is the 2003 1 euro coin from the Netherlands, which although currently in circulation is considered to be part of the first generation euro introduced in 1999. What’s interesting about this coin’s design is that at the time they were struck the design satisfied the basic euro coin requirements of having 12 stars arranged anywhere on the obverse, but this changed shortly after the coins entered circulation when new, more definitive design requirements were enforced. All second generation designs required the 12 stars to be spaced evenly apart and in a circular shape in the outer ring, mimicking the shape of the European flag. On the Dutch 2003 1 Euro you’ll notice the stars are compressed onto the left-side of the coin in a semicircle, curving around the profile of Queen Beatrix, rather than forming a full circle to meet the new design specifications.
Likewise, all other Dutch coins issued at the same time are considered to be first generation due to their designs which clearly flout the requirements. Most notably, on the 50 cent coin you can see 12 small stars circling the effigy of Queen Beatrix at the centre of the coin, and an inscription reading ‘Koning der Nederlanden’ (Kingdom of the Netherlands) with the name of the Queen and the year of issue engraved where the 12 stars should be (according to the standard guidelines).
We’ll finish our trip through the pockets of the Eurozone in Germany, where there are several coins of note, including the 1 and 2 euro. These euros feature The Federal Eagle, which holds high symbolic value in Germany. The Federal Eagle is the oldest existing state symbol in Europe and one of the oldest insignia in the world, dating back to Germanic tribes and the Romans who saw the eagle as an incarnation of the god Odin, the supreme deity of vitality and the sun. The symbol was adopted by many states and noble houses in their coat of arms, resulting in a long tradition in Germany. Unlike euros issued in other countries, German euros carry the mintmark of the region where they are minted: ‘A’ for Berlin, ‘D’ for Munich, ‘F’ for Stuttgart, ‘G’ for Karlsruhe and ‘J’ for Hamburg.
Another main symbol of Germany is The Brandenburg Gate. Located to the west in Berlin it symbolises both the division and subsequent unification of the country, because when built the Berlin Wall cut off access to the gate for both West and East Germany. This image can be found on the German Nordic gold coins – the 10, 20 and 50 cents. The perspective of the design emphasises the opening of the gate, truly highlighting the unity and peace between Germany and Europe.
Our final destination holds by far some of the most unusual euros to be circulated, including the 2016 German 5 euro. This euro made numismatic history when it was issued, as it is not only the first commemorative 5 euro to be issued by Germany, but it is also the first coin in history to feature a brand new material in the minting process – a translucent polymer.
The coin features a millimetre-fine blue translucent ring made from polymer on its bi-metal surface, and this innovative technology makes it the first coin to keep up with banknotes in terms of counterfeit prevention. Remarkably the colour of the blue Polymer ring is different for each of the 5 regional mints, varying from light blue to a very dark blue. 10 years of research went in to producing this coin, and has since paved the way for a collectable series of German 5 euro coins based on the ‘climate zones of Earth’ to be issued over 5 years using the same minting techniques to produce a different coloured ring for each coin.
Error coins and rarities
In Italy in 2002, 7,000 1-cent Mole Antonelliana error coins were struck on 2-cent blanks. These rare error coins have been known to sell for thousands of euros, with one bidding war reaching the dizzying heights of €6,600 back in 2013!
2002 was also the year that France minted just 9,000 2-cent coins featuring a young feminine Marianne, known as ‘the national emblem of France’ and a ‘personification of Liberty and Reason’. These rare coins are easily overlooked, but with so few of them in circulation they are certainly worth keeping your eyes peeled for.
Other coins with very low mintage figures include the 2011 Greek 2 euro, the 2008 German 5-cent, the 2013 Cyprus 1 euro and the 2002 Belgium 10-cent.
An interesting series of 5 euro coins to look out for comes from Germany and was created to reflect Earth’s climatic zones with the use of coloured plastic polymer rings to represent each zone. The first coin was issued in 2017 and the series will continue releasing one coin per year until 2021.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little road trip through Europe and some of the fascinating finds you could discover in your change on your next trip abroad, but don’t worry Change Checkers, as you don’t have to wait until your next holiday to snap up some of these fascinating euros…
Secure 10 fascinating finds from the Change Checker Euro Collection
This set of 10 commemorative coins from all over Europe includes:
- Italian 2 Euro – featuring poet Dante Alighieri
- Spanish 2 Euro – featuring the King of Spain Juan Carlos
- Dutch 1 Euro – featuring a half side portrait of Queen Beatrix
- German 1 Euro – featuring an Eagle, the symbol of German sovereignty
- Italian 1 Euro – featuring the famous drawing by Leonard da Vinci
- French 1 Euro – featuring the Liberte Egalite Fraternité (Tree of life)
- Dutch 50 cent – featuring Queen Beatrix
- German 50-Cent – featuring Brandenburg Gate
- Portuguese 50-Cent – featuring the Coat of Arms and castles
- Italian 50-Cent – featuring the Italian Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Great article – What I enjoy about my trips to the eurozone is the incredible mix of coins it’s possible to get. I take a holiday in the Canary Islands each winter and last December I had a Finland 1 Euro in change in a supermarket, it’s a really atmospheric design of two whooper swans flying over a Finnish lakeland landscape and just think of the journey that coin has made, right from the cold far northernmost country in the Euro, to the mid-winter heat not far off Africa! That coin has gone straight into my collection as a treasured souvenir of that holiday.
Thanks Jim. Wow, that really is an incredibly journey! It’s amazing that you can come across so many different coins across the Eurozone and well worth checking your change as you never know what you’re going to find. Thanks for sharing.
My wife and I were visiting Europe last year from Australia. I do collect Euro coins and always look at what I get in change. We were having a meal at an outside restaurant in Verona in northern Italy one evening. I paid the bill with a 10 & 20 euro note. The waiter gave me some coins in change. To my amazement I scored a 2011 Monaco 2 euro coin in almost uncirculated condition. Made my evening but my wife thought I was nuts haha. I think the waiter thought I was nuts too lol.
That’s fantastic! What an amazing find to come across and a great story behind it. Thanks for sharing Mike 🙂
Nice article. I’m off to Cyprus very soon, so should add to my collection of 16 different €1 coins, including their own which I still need. When travelling in the EU, I do like how staff in shops and bars seem very happy to look through their tills for me to help add to my collection! I have just started collecting €2 coins, so I will certainly increase my total of 5. However, we all know that Ashley Giles is the true King of Spain.
Have a lovely time in Cyprus Tony! And best of luck completing your Euro collection.
If you visit the Vatican City in Rome, and pay to go inside the Vatican Museums, there is a coin and stamp museum (very interesting) inside the complex. It’s quite easy to miss as most visitors head straight on to the main galleries and the Sistine Chapel, and if you go to the Sistine Chapel first there is no way back to the coin and stamp museum! Just by the coin and stamp museum is a kiosk selling postcards, stamps and souvenirs. If you buy something there, you can ask for a Vatican 50-cent coin in your change!
The 50c is the only Vatican coin minted in sufficient numbers to get into circulation, but is still quite scarce. I was delighted last year when I got one in change from a French motorway toll machine!
Thanks for sharing Robert, what a great tip for anyone visiting Rome!