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Triumph of the Human Spirit: Commemorative Coins Honor Mettle of the World’s People

by Coin World Staff (06/16/13).

In 1959, the young state of Israel issued a remarkable coin bears a Hebrew inscription from the prophet Jeremiah—“The children shall come again to their own border”—within an open circle of 11 dancers—one for each year of Israel’s existence—represent immigrants.

The 1959 5-lirot silver coin is just one of scores of tributes—metallic and medallic—to the triumph of the human spirit.

By Gerald Tebben

Some coins are tributes—metallic and medallic—to the triumph of the human spirit. Born of adversity, they rise above their mundane mercantile brethren to remind us in these uncertain and troubled times that good will win out.

In 1959, the young state of Israel issued a remarkable coin of joyful simplicity, a 5-lirot piece celebrating the ingathering of the exiles. Barely a decade before the coin was issued, British occupation forces blocked Jewish immigration to Palestine, famously turning back the Exodus and the ship’s desperate human cargo.

In 1948, 4,500 displaced persons aboard the ship, many bearing tattoo numbers from Nazi concentration camps on their forearms, were returned to Germany.

The coin bears a Hebrew inscription from the prophet Jeremiah—“The children shall come again to their own border”—within an open circle of 11 dancers. The dancers—one for each year of Israel’s existence—represent immigrants. The circle is left open in a forward-looking gesture to welcome new arrivals to the growing country.

In 1994, Vatican City issued a 1,000-lire silver coin honoring the Good Samaritan.

The coin shows a Samaritan helping a beating victim onto a horse, a relief representation of Luke 10:30-37.

The Vatican celebrates an eternal symbol of selfless sacrifice on a 1994 1,000-lira coin depicting the Good Samaritan. The coin shows a Samaritan helping a beating victim onto a horse, a relief representation of Luke 10:30-37:

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”

For 2,000 years, the parable has reminded Christians of their responsibility to their fellow man, despite social status or cost.

The Vatican design echoes a famous mid-19th century fabrication—the Good Samaritan shilling. Until the early 1960s, collectors believed that piece, which also shows a man helping a stranger, was a variant of the Massachusetts shillings of 1652. Then it was discovered that the coin was a phony based on the seal of an English philanthropic organization.

This 100,000 Zlotych was one of two commemorative coins issued by Poland in 1990 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Solidarity national trade union, an engine of the communist regime’s destruction. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

This Mint State 65 example sold for $74 in an Aug. 2, 2011, auction. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

In 1990, Poland had barely liberated itself from the yoke of Soviet tyranny when it issued two remarkable coins celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Solidarity movement, an engine of the communist regime’s destruction. The 10,000- and 100,000-zloty coins show the word “solidarnosc” superimposed on a scene of parading workers.

Through a decade of struggle, persecution and imprisonment, the national trade union’s leaders, notably Lech Walesa, rose to attain such moral stature that Poland’s government was forced to negotiate the transfer of power. In the free election of 1989, Walesa won a landslide victory over transitional Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki, becoming the first publicly elected Polish leader since the Second World War.

The 1965 Soviet commemorative 1-ruble coin shows a proud Russian soldier holding a long sword in one hand while trampling a smashed swastika.

The 1-ruble coin marked the 20th anniversary of the end of World War II. This lot of six brought $14.50 in 2011 in an online auction.

Few nations suffered as much as Mother Russia under the German onslaught of World War II. The Soviet Union, a nation rarely given to commemorative coins before discovering the international collector market in the late 1970s, struck a stunning 1-ruble piece in 1965 that in one image captures the majesty of the struggle and the victory. In the West, we concentrate on D-Day, the North African campaign and the liberation of Italy. The Eastern Front, though, stretched from the Caucasus to Leningrad and brought with it the terrible deprivations of war.

The 1965 commemorative 1-ruble coin, marking the 20th anniversary of the end of World War II, shows a proud Russian soldier holding a long sword in one hand while trampling a smashed swastika, the symbol of Nazi Germany. Thirty-five years later, the coin still strikes a chord with the soul.


Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.

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