Every now and then an unusual object pops up in the stores. My science colleague, Stuart Ogilvy, recently showed me the below which is a coin set into lava. The coin has been pushed into the lava while it was still semi-molten but not hot enough to melt it. Further details about lava and coin are below (Science is written by Stuart and numismatics by me).
Dos centimos coin in lava
The lava is likely to come from Mount Vesuvius which is probably the most famous volcano in Europe. It lies 9 kilometres to the East of Naples. It is a stratovolcano 4,203 feet high and one of a string of volcanoes which form the Camanian volcanic arc. Due to its sub-crustal geology it has different volcanic rocks to several of the others. It is famous for having caused the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79A.D.
Vesuvius from Portici by Joseph Wright of Derby
Garden of the Fugitives, Pompeii
The volcano is a famous tourist destination and is visited by thousands every year. As a major part of the tourist industry in the area, many souvenirs are sold relating to the volcano. Everything from postcards to rocks and minerals. In the past when the volcano has erupted a curious type of souvenir was sold. Before the lava had cooled completely and was still relatively plastic a coin would be pressed into it. The resultant “lava coin” was then sold as a memento.
Dos Centimos coin
We have two examples of these in the collections. This example has a coin in it that can be identified as a Dos Centimos coin from Spain. Around the edge it is possible to read ‘QUINIENTAS PIEZAS EN KILOG’ and ‘DOS CENTIMOS’. This gives the denomination (two cents) and also notes that there should be 500 coins to one kilogram. The central image is a lion standing with its paw resting upon a shield.
The coin was struck in 1870 for the Spanish Provisional Government of 1868-73. This coinage immediately preceded Spain becoming a republic in 1873 and it is significant that the coin does not feature a king’s head, instead using an animal image. The coins were issued for only a short time and, as political circumstances changed, were soon replaced by other designs.
These coins were struck in very large numbers; over 115 million were issued in a very short time. They were made of bronze, were of light weight and low value; representing the everyday currency of the majority of those in Spain. They were of such low value that it is unlikely that they circulated beyond Spain itself. To find one at Vesuvius in southern Italy is quite unusual.
We will never know who pushed the coin but it seems possible that it may have been a souvenir for a Spanish visitor in the late-nineteenth century. As far as holiday mementos go, it is certainly the most exciting I’ve ever seen!