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|Firearms in Numismatics
Charles Calkins, WINS#47
Over the last couple of years I have developed an interest in firearms, and since I have been collecting coins
for decades, I've recently married the two and have been curious as to how firearms are depicted in currency, tokens and medals. Representations can be found at least back into the 1800s in both currency and medals awarded for shooting proficiency, and still can be found to this day, although representations of firearms are now also seen on privately-issued tokens and bullion in addition to currency, medals and awards. This article will describe some of the pieces in the author's collection that depict firearms in various forms. For the full collection, please visit the author's site.
Over the last couple of years I have developed an interest in firearms, and since I have been collecting coins for decades, I've recently married the two and have been curious as to how firearms are depicted in currency, tokens and medals. Representations can be found at least back into the 1800s in both currency and medals awarded for shooting proficiency, and still can be found to this day, although representations of firearms are now also seen on privately-issued tokens and bullion in addition to currency, medals and awards. This article will describe some of the pieces in the author's collection that depict firearms in various forms. For the full collection, please visit the author's site.
While firearms do not often appear on circulating US coinage, a militiaman holding a musket is shown on the 1925 Lexington and Concord commemorative half, and muskets are shown even as recently as on the 2017 George Rogers Clark National Historical Park quarter which depicts soldiers in the Revolutionary War battle known as the siege of Fort Sackville.
Firearms also appear on the currency of other nations. Shortly after World War I, many German municipalities issued notgeld (emergency money) that depicted political messages or scenes from local towns. The town of Suhl issued four 25 pfennig notes depicting arms produced in the town. Two of those notes are presented here, the first showing a revolver and a pistol, and the second depicting a rifle with a scope. The reverse of each is common, giving the denomination and a statement of validity. The town of Sommerda issued a six note series commemorating the development of the Dreyse needle gun, with one of the one Mark notes shown here. The creator, Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse, was born in Sommerda.
In 1944, Yugoslavia issued a series of notes each with the same image - a partisan holding a bolt action rifle over his shoulder. Eight different denominations were issued, each in a different color (1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 Dinara), with the 10 Dinara shown here. It is unclear what type of rifle is represented as the Yugoslav Partisans used whatever weapons that they could find that they captured from various armies during the war. It appears to experts, however, that this may actually be just an artist's conception of a rifle, rather than representing an actual model, due to odd design features.
This 1986 50 Meticais note from Mozambique is interesting as not only does it depict soldiers holding rifles with bayonets mounted, the emblem of Mozambique itself, shown in the center of the note, has an AK-47 as a design element. Coincidentally, the serial number prefix also begins with AK.
Firearm manufacturers have released medals commemorating business anniversaries and other milestones. This Colt 125th anniversary medal might have been included with a replica 1873 Single Action Army revolver also produced in 1961 to commemorate the event. The Sig Sauer medal from 2013 commemorates Sig's Custom Shop which provides custom gunsmithing services.
Russia has issued a number of striking medals that are related to firearms, two of which are shown here. The first commemorates the 50th anniversary in 1992 of the operation of the arms plant in Izhevsk that has been producing arms since WW II. The obverse shows the plant and an open shotgun, while the reverse shows another view of the plant and two crossed rifles over a shield. At the top of the reverse also appears to be an Order of Lenin (with his name in Cyrillic, his bust, and a hammer and sickle below) awarded for meritorious service to the Soviet state.
The second was issued by IZMASH (now the Kalashnikov Concern), a defense manufacturing concern located in Izhevsk that is responsible for the arms plant located there, commemorating in 1995 the 50th anniversary of victory in WW II. The reverse legend, "from plant to front," illustrates the manufacture of weapons for use in warfare at the front, and shows a Mosin-Nagant being handed from one person to another. The last photo is of the receiver of the author's Mosin-Nagant 91/30 that was built in 1942, similar to the one depicted on the medal.
Medals have been issued that honor various firearm designers. The first shown here is a silver medal, nearly 3 inches in diameter, issued for the centennial of the Gatling gun. The obverse shows a bust of Gatling, and the reverse one variant of his gun. This medal was also issued in bronze.
The second medal commmemorates the 75th birthday of Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, creator of the AK-47 rifle (Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947). The reverse shows a number of rifles, with the AK-47 with its curved magazine in the center.
Several gun shows have issued tokens. The first, also issued in copper, is from the Third Annual National Gun Report Show held in 1961 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and features crossed rifles below a skyline. The fourth annual show also issued a token with Lincoln on the obverse, as it was held in Springfield, Illinois. The second token is for gun shows in 1968 sponsored by the Saskatchewan, Canada Gun Collectors Association. It has the message "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE / PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE" in its legend, a truism often forgotten in today's world.
A number of tokens, medals, and silver and copper bullion issues exist that commemorate various firearms themselves. The National Rifle Association has released several series, one series of which includes this token illustrating the M1 Garand rifle used in WW II and Korea. Daisy, a manufacturer of air rifles, has issued a number of tokens as well. One token series is the Daisy Dollar series, where six tokens display rifles — the Sharps rifle is shown here — and six depict handguns. The reverse, showing two revolvers, is identical on all of the tokens. Other countries also issued gun commemoratives. For example, the third image is a 50mm silver medal showing the MG 42 German machine gun used during World War II.
Second Amendment Commemoratives
A number of tokens and bullion issues — here, wood, copper and silver — that feature firearms are Second Amendment-themed by quoting the Second Amendment directly, or presenting related thoughts and quotations. A common concept is the phrase MOΛΩN ΛABΕ, "come and take [them]," a phrase from ancient Greece. King Xerxes I of Persia demanded that the Spartans surrender their weapons, and this was the response by King Leonidas I. It has become popular in current times as a statement of defiance against gun control.
Medals related to military service can also be firearm-themed. The first commemorates service in WW I with the message "TRUST IN THE LORD AND KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY," an anecdote attributed to Oliver Cromwell.
The second is in the style (large with enameled surfaces) of military challenge coins used to identify members of a service organization, although this one is a more generic commemoration of snipers. It has an obverse legend of "FROM A PLACE YOU WILL NOT SEE / COMES A SOUND YOU WILL NOT HEAR" and a reverse inscription of "YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU WILL ONLY DIE TIRED" which likely originates from the first Gulf War.
And Lots More...
There are countless other items that feature firearms, two of which are shown here. The first is a modern hobo nickel with a representation of a gangster holding a Thompson submachine gun. The second is a 1970 Helldorado Days commemorative token from Tombstone, Arizona featuring a gunfight in progress. There are many types which do not easily fall into the categories outlined above.
It is surprising how much numismedia exists with representations of firearms, and is thus a rich collecting area.
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