John Paul II: 21st Century Saint

On April 27, Pope John Paul II will officially enter the sainthood. He will become just the second pope to be canonized since 1712.

This pack of four coins from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was issued to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Africa.

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The Crusades Collection

Because they began as a quest by “pious” Christians to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim “infidels,” the Crusades are often imagined as a series of conflicts between two clear and well-defined antagonists—Christianity vs. Islam. In actuality, the battle lines were more complex. The Franks who came from Western Europe at the behest of the Pope were often at odds with the Byzantines. That the two camps were Christian—one Latin, one Orthodox—did not stop the Western Crusaders from sacking Constantinople in 1204. Similarly, the rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims in the East was exploited by the Franks during the First Crusade, enabling them to re-take and hold Jerusalem. Through two centuries of fighting, Christians allied with Muslims, and Muslims with Christians, when the need arose.

The silver coins in this collection represent six of the disparate peoples who joined the fray during the 200 years of warfare we know as the Crusades:

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Love & Death on February 14: The St. Valentine’s Day Coin

Many are the tales of St. Valentine, the third-century priest martyred on February 14—what we now know as Valentine’s Day.

Records from that period of Roman history, the so-called Age of Chaos, are spotty, but this is what has been handed down to us: Continue reading

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Nigeria Turns 100

This month marks the centennial of the founding of the modern country of Nigeria. Here is a 5 naira note made of polymer, the currency material of the future:

For wholesale information on this remarkable note, click here.

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The (Pagan) Father of Christmas

Contrary to popular belief, the Father of Christmas was a pagan. This ancient bronze coin commemorates Aurelian, the man who determined the date of Christmas:

While it would avoid a lot of confusion if Jesus had been born in the year 1 AD, the truth is, no one knows when the First Noel actually happened. The consensus among historians is 3 BCE, which means that Christ was actually born three years Before Christ.

If we don’t know the year, we certainly don’t know the day. If the Gospels are to be believed, Jesus was probably a spring baby, as shepherds don’t keep watch over their flocks in the winter. And yet Christmas has been celebrated on December 25 for almost 18 centuries. How was that date decided on? Continue reading

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