Saturday, 14 March 2009

Unusual coins from Austria

Issued by the Munze Osterreich (Austrian Mint), this pair of bimetallic coins feature metals not normally associated with currency. The left hand coin is a pre-Euro 100 Schilling denomination, struck in 2000 to mark the Millennium. The right hand coin was struck in 2008 with a face value of 25 Euro and is entitled “Faszination Licht” (fascination of light). Both coins are 40mm in diameter and are comprised of an outer ring of 90% fine silver. The inner “plug” of the left hand coin is titanium; that of the right hand coin is niobium.

Titanium was discovered by the Cornish mineralogist William Gregor in 1791 and later named by the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth for the Titans of Greek mythology. It is often referred to as “high tech”, “space age” etc on account of its combination of low density, high tensile strength and resistance to corrosion, which makes it ideal for a very wide range of applications in the aeorospace and other industries. Accordingly it seemed an appropriate choice of metal for use in the 100 Schilling coin which was struck as Austria’s contribution to a world-wide series of Millennium coins which all had at least one unusual feature (others featured unusual shapes, denominations, etc.).

The coin’s reverse features a computer chip ringed by the words “Republik Osterreich 100 Schilling”. The obverse features a world map with the words “Millennium 2000” ringed by electrical pylons, atoms, planets and other symbols of a high-tech age.

(The 21st Century of course did not actually begin until 1 January 2001.)

Niobium is a transitional metal named for Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus. The metal is always found in association with the metal Tantalum, with which it shares many properties. Tantalum was named for Tantalus because when placed in acid it did not “take up” the acid, i.e. react with it. (In Greek mythology Tantalus was punished by the gods by being placed in a pool of water, which always receded when he tried to drink from it.) Niobium is used to alloy steel and in superconductors and has recently become popular in tinted forms in jewellery. Although fairly expensive, Niobium is not considered to be a precious metal.

The Austrian Mint began issuing silver/niobium 25 Euro coins in 2003. Each year the niobium “plug” has been tinted a different colour. The 2008 coin is a celebration of light and commemorates the Austrian inventor Carl Auer von Welsbach, whose inventions included the “flints” used in lighters, the mantles used in 19th Century gas-lighting, and the metal-filament light bulb which was an improvement on Edison’s carbon-filament.

The coin’s obverse features a lamp-lighter in front of the Vienna City Hall.
The reverse has a partial portrait of Welsbach. The green niobium pill portrays the shining sun and several methods of illumination from the gas light through electric light bulbs, neon lights, LEDs etc are featured on the silver ring.

In common with other commemorative coins issued within the Eurozone, the coin is not legal tender outside its country of issue, i.e. Austria.

© Christopher Seddon 2009

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