Sunday, October 27, 2013


I hope that this will be a place where we can discuss Vatican/Papal States coins and medals, related books, and new issues that come out regularly from Vatican City.

If you would like to make a full entry, please send it to me.

William Van Ornum, Ph.D.
Vatican Numismatic Society

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book, Roma Resurgens: Papal Medals from the Age of the Baroque

In 1983 Nathan Whitman and John Varriano (from the University of Michigan Museum of Art) produced a carefully researched and beautiful book on Papal Medals.  They noted: "We found it necessary to immerse ourselves in papal history without losing sight of its relationship to the broad currents, political, economic, and intellectual, of western civilization."

"Each papal medal constitutes a rich field of study and are unique in that they were disseminated on a regular basis by a major social entity. Historically, they reveal the image that the papacy sought to present to the world at various phases of its existence. Sometimes that image corresponded to reality while at others it diverged sharply."

There is also an extensive bibliography in this book--many of the sources are Italian.

The authors provide this commentary on the medal "Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers"

"In conjunction with the inscription, "I am Joseph your brother," the recognition of the reverse as the Old Testament story of Joseph revealing himself to and at the same time forgiving the brothers who in the past had treated him so basely, presents no difficulty. Furthermore the identification of Joseph with Clement himself can not only be inferred from the placement of the scene on a reverse of that Pope, but is made explicit by the Medici arms adorning Joseph's throne."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Some technical questions

Here are some technical questions. I am seeking the input of experts..

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Visit to ANS Library in NYC

I visited the American Numismatic Society Library at 75 Varick St., just off Canal St., in Lower Manhattan.

They have different volumes of the series by Cusumano and Modesti.  Particular attention was given to Pio XII, Nellas Medagli, 1939-1958. This was published in 1989 and includes posthumous medals. An interesting Appendix lists medals by artist.

I explored the Giovanni XXIII Nella Medaglia 1958-1963, by Modesti, published in 2010. One interesting feature of all these medals is the variety of hats worn by the Pope. Many show him in the Papal Tiara--he was the last Pope to wear this. He is also shown wearing what I would call a walking hat with wide brim, and also a soft cloth-leather cap.  I'm sure there is a name for this!

This volume shows 623 different medals on Good Pope John, from the Vatican as well as other sources.

I am planning more visits to ANA in the future.

Yes, NGC still grades Vatican, Papal States

Thank you, Peter Jencius, for your response about grading.

I wrote to NGC and received the following replay:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Certifying/Slabbing Vatican Coins

Vatican coins sold in Europe are auctioned based on the quality and reputation of the auction house. A grade from the Italian system is given.  Now the online auctions such as eBay and Teletrade are requiring graded and slabbed coins, how can this be accomplished?

For a number of years NGC graded and slabbed Vatican coins and medals. About a year or so they stopped doing this and I've been unable to find a reason. Although many people prefer PCGS grading, one advantage to NGC slabbing was the wide range in sizes of the holders. NGC has the capability to slab large medals. In addition, several coins can be slabbed together in one large NGC holder. (For example, the 5E and 10E coins for a given year or the 20E and 50E coins).

PGGS (and also ANACS) now continue to slab Vatican coins. In the past coins had to be submitted to PCGS via a dealer but now one can join for a nominal membership and receive a submission kit. However, there is a limit to the size of PCGS slad holders and bigger medals can't be fit into these smaller holders. (I don't know if ANACS will handle them).

PCGS also lists set registries. I found one collector who shows a prime collection of Vatican 100L coins from 1929-1938.

It will be interesting to see how slabbing affects commercial trading of Vatican coins, particularly regarding the larger auction houses.
1740 Benedict XIV 1/2 ScR

During this post-Reformation century the Christians of Europe continued (in the eyes of the Church) to need reminders about the primacy of St. Peter, the "rock upon which I will build my Church."
Hence many coins have images of St. Peter on the obverse, as does this coin. On the reverse there is a set of keys. "What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you loose on Earth will be loose in heaven." There has only been one other Pope named Benedict between 1740 and 2005.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Coins of the Popes" by Joseph Coffin

I have been perusing "Coins of the Popes, by Joseph Coffin, published in 1946 by Coward-McCann publishers in NYC. The dist-jacket reads:

"In 'Coins of the Popes' the author of 'Coin Collecting' has concentrated on all of the significant features of the  Papal coinage, which has endured, with a few short breaks, since the time of Pope Adrian I (772-795) to Pius XII (1939-). Papal mints are enumerated, as well the the principal Papal engravers, including those who produced works of art in coinage, such as the great Benvenuto Cellini, the Hamerani, Pasinati and Pistrucci.

The book is illustrated with photographs showing inscriptions on Papal coins in Latin, and for the first time, in English from the eighth century, with scriptural references and historical significance of inscriptions and legends. One particularly interesting section deals with Christian symbols, their significance both in a general way and particulary as they relate to their inclusion on most of the papal coins. The book is an invaluable aid to collectors of ancient, medieval and modern coins, and should further appeal to lovers of history and the arts."

More to be said on this book.....


On October 12, 2012 the Vatican released its yearly 50 Euro coin, "The Restoration of the Pauline Chapel." The release brochure contains the following information:

The Pauline Chapel is a place of worship reserved for the use of the Pope and the papal household. It has been redesigned frequently throughout the centuries. The chapel includes two frescoes by Michelangelo that are across from each other, "The Conversion of St. Paul" and "The Martyrdom of St. Peter."

In "Conversion," on the 50E coin, there is a flash of light where St. Paul has just been thrown to the ground.

This is a fitting theme for the Year of Evangelization. Paul becomes Apostle to the Gentiles where he goes out to preach:  "filled with the holy Spirit...began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God."

Monday, October 29, 2012

NOMISMA, the auction house in San Marino, has just completed its 46th auction. Bids closed over the weekend in the dual email/in person auction. Hammer bids as well as unsold lots can be viewed at There was a good showing of Papal States and Vatican coins/medals.

MAKING THE GRADE and Vatican Coins

I've been looking through the 2012 edition of "Making the Grade" published by Coin World. This takes 50 of the most popular U.S. collectible coins and posts pictures of the coins at various grading levels. There are color overlays to show various point of the coins that wear first.

It would be interesting if someone would consider such a guide for Vatican coins, or for that matter, world coins. The Italian coin appraisers continue to use a system with more general descriptors. (Perhaps this is a better way? Has so-called "objective grading" via services like PGS and NCS improved upon the trained eye of an expert assessor...some may argue...)

Anyway, congrats to Beth Deischer and the folks at Coin World for this great guider--maybe it will inspire numismatists who study foreign coins.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pope Leo XIII and Social Justice

Pope Leo XII's spanned much of the second part of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century.

Across the world, the Industrial Revolution was taking hold, and as a result wealth, factories, and land ("capital") began to be concentrated on those persons who were competitive and adept at making profits reinvesting them into the business, and usually keeping a large profit for themselves.

Like many, Leo XII recognized some of the inequities of the capitalistic system, and in his writings he suggested that the ideal form of government might involved both capitalism and some ideals from a socialistic philosophy.

This medal, issued during his Papacy, has an uncommon presentation of the Cross.
There are rays that project out in all directions--suggesting the worldwide reach of Leo's papacy, and perhaps even their transmission into the future. One might also suggest the power of the Holy Spirit in this graphic but symbolic representation

Julius II, Saints Peter and Andrew Fishing from Boat

This coin (Double Fiorini de Camera), comes from the papacy of Julius II between 1503 and 1513.

Historians continue to debate the legacy of this Pope. While he added to the buildings of the Vatican and encouraged Bramante to begin building the new Saint Peter's, and encouraged Rafael and Michelangelo as well, much of the money for these efforts was raised through the controversial sale of indulgences, a practice that would lead to Martin Luther's departure from the Church several decades later. At the time the coin was minted--the turn of the 16th century--the world was abuzz with news from Christopher Columbus and other Spanish explorers who were bringing new and treasures from the New World. Again, in the years after this coin was produced, gold and riches from the New World were used to build St. Peter's, a matter of continued discussion.

This coin stands out among other representations of St. Peter. As we noted previously, then 5 Lire coin of St. Peter fishing in the storm, minted in the 1930s, showed St. Peter himself praying to God to save him in the midst of the gale and rain. This coin from the era of Julius II shows a calm sea and the two men cooperating in sailing the small boat.

We might imagine questions that aren't revealed in the Gospels. What brought Peter and Andrew in the boat together? What were they talking about? And where were James and John, the two other Apostles who were known as fisherman. The coin encourages us to give this some thought.

Images courtesy of Q. David Bowers and Stacks, October 2009

Saint Peter, as well as 20th Century, in the storm

Perhaps the most turbulent decade of the 20th century occurred when Pius XI was Pope. A scholar and athlete (he had climbed both Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn), he became increasingly more and more involved with politics between World War I and World War II.

The scene of St. Peter in the Storm, the reverse side with St. Peter perishing in the rowboat, was minted on many coins in the decade before World War II.

This imprint shows St. Peter sitting alone in the small boat. The waves are choppy. The boat is capsizing. Although St. Peter has one oar in the water, he has placed the other one down in the boat, for the situation seems hopeless, and he raises his right hand beseechingly to heaven as the forceful gale pushes he garments in every direction. It will take the Lord's actions to save him.

Metaphorically, this was the state of the world between 1929 and 1945. People of faith believe God's actions also were instrumental in ending the war.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Vatican Academy of Sciences

In 1936 Pope Pius XI sought to include the best scientific minds of the time in the work of the Holy See and he established the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Members of this group include some of the best scientific minds in the world who provide consultation to the Church. Stephen hawking is one of the current members. Here is a list of members who have won the Nobel Prize and who have offered their expertise to the Church:

Nobel Prize Members

During its various decades of activity, the Academy has had a number of Nobel Prize winners amongst its members, many of whom were appointed Academicians before they received this prestigious international award. These include:
Other eminent Academicians include Padre Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959), founder of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and President of the Academy after its re-foundation until 1959, and Mons. Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), one of the fathers of contemporary cosmology who held the office of President from 1960 to 1966, and Brazilian neuroscientist Carlos Chagas Filho.
(from Wikipedia)

In memory of what the Church has done.....


This describes the reverse on the Pius 1945 Papal Medal: the land is empty, there are two figures on each side, walking or praying, and in the center a scene reminiscent of the Pieta shows an older bearded man about to give a wounded or starving man a drink. Part of the scene is a farm, and a horse looks out. One is reminded of the Sermon on the Mount--tend to the sick, bury the dead but the presence of the small farm suggests a mustard seed of reconstruction and even a peaceful future.

This and six stamps in a Prisoners of War Series show at least ten prisoners--men, women, and children--facing a luminous portrait of Christ who is in front of them, presumably in the sky. The blood red and the sepia stamps are especially unsettling.

There has been an ongoing controversy about Pius XII: did he stand up enough to the Nazis? Did he do enough when he found out about the extermination of Jewish prisoners? These historical debates cannot be answered here. But the stamps are tangible proofs of concern shown by the Church. I suspect these stamps and their meaning will become more important in the future, as those born in 1980 and beyond will lack the direct awareness of World War II that came from relatives, community members, and movies and newsreels. All of these made a deep imprint on the children and grandchildren of what Tom Browkaw has called “the Greatest Generation.”

To Remind us of War and to Work for Peace is a Papal Medal coming to us from 450 years ago. Pope Pius IV worked for a peaceful alliance between King Phillip and Spain. He is probably best remembered for his decision to reconvene the Council of Trent, which brought together, systematized, and declared the theology and rubrics of the Church. These would be looked at again when Pope John XXIII called together the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Standing in the center of the obverse of the medal is Lady Liberty, aiming her torch at the weapons of war as she destroys them. She is surrounded by a pile of helmets, swords, battle axes, and shields, and they are soon to be consumed by the conflagration.
Ironically, the next Pope would form an alliance with Venice and Spain and lead a crusade against the Turks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pope John Paul II Metal

under construction

Peace and Vatican II

Here is a stamp of the beloved Pope John XXIII

67 L aluminum coin
Obverse is crowned shield
Reverse is radiant dove immersed in rays


     This humble coin was meant to herald the second Vatican Council. However, in retrospect another vision is clear. In 1962 the United States and Russia came to the brink of nuclear war. Each country by then had large arsenals of hydrogen fusion bombs, more powerful by a factor of thousands than the atomic fission bombs that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truly, the world might have been destroyed.

     Thirty thousand of these coins were minted, with many available to collectors today,
and I suppose few who own them link them with the Nuclear Crisis of 1962.

     Isaac Walton wrote, “miseries avoided are mercies granted.” Certainly, even with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the world has been shown great mercy since 1962 and this coin is a continuing reminder of God’s saving power in our world.

Pope John XIII Olympic Medal

Image Courtesy of Jencius Coins

The 1960 Summer Olympics were held in Rome, Italy, and Pope John XXIII issued an extraordinary medal in honor of the Olympics. Pope John has always been known as the Pope of Peace and he underscored the importance of the Olympics in bringing countries together. Tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were very high, and technologies capable of delivering high megaton nuclear fusion bombs from one side of the world were effectively operational.

Pope John's humble wide-brimmed hat, one that could be worn outside on walks or in the sun, contrasts the Papal tiaras of Pius XII and previous Popes.

The latin phrase on the reverse means "Obedience and Peace." In Pope John's autobiography "Journey of a Soul," these themes occur across every decade of his life. The fill meaning of "obedience" to Pope John meant peaceful acceptance of God's will in his life. We continue to remember him and admire him for the serenity he brought to an on-the-brink-of-war world in 1960.

Monday, October 1, 2012

2008 Pope Benedict Medal

under construction

1997 St. Paul 50,000 Lire


5 Euro Coin
.925 Silver
2005 Sede Vacante
     In the United States, should the President become incapacitated or die, there is a constitutionally defined line of succession: first then Vice-President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then the Secretary of State, and so on down the line through the Cabinet and I suspect after that there is even a list of more officials who would take over. The point is: the country is never left without an active leader. The Office of the President is always occupied, after the next person in line is sworn into office

      When the Pope dies, there is a different process. One of the Cardinals will have already been designated as the “Camerlengo”: this Cardinal prepares the Pope’s funeral and handles other housekeeping details that must be done in running the Vatican. He is not able, as far as I know, to sign treaties with other nations, issue encyclicals or other important documents, or in general wield the major powers of the papacy.

     Going back many centuries, there are Sede Vacante coins and even more recently Sede Vacante stamps. These are tangible reminders to the world that business is continuing. Although a Pope has just died, there will soon be an election and another Pope will preside over the Church. The Apostolic Succession, starting with St. Peter, will continue. The Italians have another way of saying this: “When the Pope dies, they make a new one.”

     On one side of this coins is the Coat of Arms of the Cardinal Camerlengo, and in the 2005 Conclave this was Cardinal Ratzinger. The back of the coin is a dove, reminding me that the Church continues to be under the protection and wise guidance of the Holy Spirit. The obverse side of the coin indicates the human being who is the temporary guardian of the Papal throne; the reverse reminds us not to forget Divine Providence which we may not see or hear but is tremendously powerful.