Coins With Animals
Throughout history, people have been fascinated by animals, whether they appeared on Roman military challenge coins, currency, or sacred emblems. These animal symbols held great importance, allowing individuals to express themselves.
Animals have appeared on coins for as long as coins have existed. There are too many different animals to list, and some coins even feature multiple animals. For example, Hadrian’s rare old coins display an eagle, an owl, and a peacock. Collecting both old and new coins with animal imagery can be intriguing.
Most ancient coins feature horses and eagles, while elephants, lions, and turtles are rarer finds. Conversely, modern coins showcase a wide variety of animals.
Let’s explore some old and new coins featuring animals, including lions, horses, dogs, wolves, eagles, and owls, all of which can be found on military challenge coins.
Lions on Ancient Coins
The Lydian Third Stater or Lydian Lion Trite (1/3 of a Stater), which some people call “The Coin,” was probably the first coin ever made (c. 610-600 BC). It also seems to be the first coin ever made with a lion on it (or at least part of a lion).
This Lydian Lion coin is the most common one. It is made of electrum, which is a mixture of gold and silver that occurs naturally. Some people don’t agree with this and say that the Lydians already knew how to refine pure gold and silver. They say that the Lydians made these challenge coins by mixing copper and silver with the electrum.
The Lydian Lion Trite has a lion’s head on one side and a punch mark on the other. The mark on the coin was made by an incuse punch, which was used to make coins in the very beginning, when they were first being made.
People think that the lion is the undisputed King of the Jungle. It is a symbol of kingly power and strength. This must be why King Alyattes, who ruled Lydia from 619 to 560 BC and started the Lydian Empire, which is now Western Turkey, wanted a lion’s head on the coins he made.
This was followed by the creation of the “Kings of Lydia” Stater, which was probably the first pure gold coin ever made. It was made by order of Croesus, the king of Lydia (561-546 BC). On the front, there is a lion facing to the right and a bull facing to the left.
The impressive Greek Silver Stater of Sicyon, which was made between about 400 BC and 232 BC, is another old coin worth talking about. The lion-like chimera lioness, which comes from Greek mythology, is shown on the front of this rare coin.
Modern coins show lions.
The term “modern” here refers to coins that aren’t very old. Unlike ancient coins, more recent ones often feature lions.
A recent example is the 2017 Lions Club Commemorative Dollar, which appears to be the first US coin to depict a lion.
The 1781 Libertas Americana Medal had an influence on the Liberty Cap coins of the young United States. This famous medal features a British Lion, a symbol of the British armies defeated at Saratoga and Yorktown. This historical connection may explain why lions are not commonly found on US coins, except for the 2017 Lions Club Commemorative Dollar and a few private issues.
Additionally, the 1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial Commemorative Half Dollar commemorates the Battle of Bennington and includes an image of a mountain lion, cougar, panther, or catamount on the reverse. This elegant creature doesn’t roar like a lion but rather purrs like a domestic cat. You can explore these coins in the challenge coin gallery to learn more.
Horses on Ancient Coins
Around 600–550 BCE, the first horse coins were made and given out. They were rare electrum pieces. The front of a horse is shown on these pieces. It was made in Ionia, which is on the coast of the Aegean Sea (present-day central coastal Anatolia in Turkey).
There are too many other rare ancient coins with horses to list here, but one is the Gold Stater of Egyptian pharaoh Nektanebo II (360-342 BCE). This very rare horse coin shows an impressive image of a horse “prancing.”
The most common animal on ancient Roman coins is the horse, followed by the eagle and then the wolf (in particular the she-wolf that cared for Romulus and Remus).
The horses on modern coins
Modern coins with horses on them have been made and are still being made by mints all over the world. There are enough to satisfy almost every collector of modern horse coins.
One could only collect US coins that have horses on them, like US bullion coins. Here’s a list of the most important ones:
• 2016 America the Beautiful – Theodore Roosevelt National Park – 5 oz. Silver Bullion Coin: Theodore Roosevelt riding a horse (reverse)
• The 2015 US Marshals Half Dollar has a picture of US Marshals and a horse on it (obverse).
• The Native Americans and horses on the 2012 Sacagawea Dollar (reverse).
• The 2011 Julia Grant $10 First Spouse Gold Bullion Coin shows Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Dent courting on horseback (reverse).
• Andrew Jackson on horseback on the 2008 Jackson’s Liberty $10 First Spouse Gold Bullion Coin (reverse).
• 2008 Van Buren’s Liberty $10 First Spouse Gold Bullion Coin – in the background, a man on a horse (reverse).
• Bucking horse and rider on the 2007 Wyoming State Quarter (reverse).
• 2006 Nevada State Quarter – mustangs (reverse).
• 2001 Kentucky State Quarter, a thoroughbred racehorse behind a fence (reverse).
• Caesar Rodney on horseback on the Delaware State Quarter from 1999 (reverse).
• The Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are riding horses on the 1925 Stone Mountain Commemorative Silver Half Dollar (obverse).
• 1915-S US Gold $2.50 Commemorative Panama Pacific Exposition – Columbia on a hippocampus (obverse).
• The equestrian statue of Lafayette on the 1900 Lafayette Dollar (reverse).
Ancient coins with dogs
It is not unusual to see a dog or dogs on old coins. The ancients loved the dog and treated it like a member of the family. It was a protector, a hunter, and a reliable friend.
In short, it’s true that the dog deserves to be called “man’s best friend.”
Some (not ugly) examples of ancient dog coins are: A rare ancient coin with an unknown value (AE13) was used in Thrace, Madytos, and other places (circa 350 BC). It has a dog sitting on the right and an ear of grain on the back (obverse). A sleeping dog is shown on an AES grave Semis of the Roman Republic (around 235 BC), which is a very rare type (obverse).
Many people who collect old coins with dogs on them seem to like the beautiful coins from Segesta, Sicily, which was one of the best places where the ancient Elysian people lived. In ancient times, Segesta was a very successful place to do business. This was before an East Germanic tribe called the Vandals destroyed it.
The dog is one of Segesta’s most recognizable symbols. This had a big effect on their coins, for sure. For example, a very rare Silver Didrachm (461-415 BC) shows a dog on the scent (obverse). A bronze Triantes of Segesta made between 410 and 400 BC is another example.
Modern coins show dogs.
There are a lot of different world coins with dogs on them for people who collect modern coins with dogs on them. Strangely, it looks like there is no official United States coin with a dog on it.
Ancient coins showed wolves.
One of the most well-known old wolf coins is probably the commemorative Bi Nummus (AD 330–340), which was made during the reign of Constantine the Great, also known as Constantine I.
This Roman bronze coin shows the mythical founders of Rome, Romulus, and Remus, nursing from a she-wolf (reverse). It was made to celebrate the beginning of Rome and the founding of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul in Turkey). Byzantium was the name of Constantinople before (until AD 330).
The Silver Hemidrachm, which was made in the city of Argos in Argolis between 468 and 421 BC, is another old wolf coin that is worth mentioning. The front of a wolf facing left is on the obverse. On later coins, the wolf looks to the right.
Wolves are on some new coins.
Wolf coin collectors can choose from a wide range of wolves on modern coins. But it looks like the only US coin with a wolf on it is the 2013 Sacagawea Dollar, which has a turkey, a wolf, and a turtle on it (reverse).
Ancient coins with birds (Eagles and Owls)
In ancient cultures, birds were important, though some more than others. Eagles and owls will be the main focus here, especially since the eagle is probably the bird that appears on ancient coins the most. Ancient Greek coins showed the owl less often, but it was still a very important symbol.
Eagles were interesting to some people in the past, including those in Ancient Rome. The Romans used the eagle, or Aquila, a lot as a symbol on their military banners and coins.
Today, we have access to many old coins with eagles on them, including a good number of Tetradrachms with eagles that were made in the ancient Greco-Roman city of Antioch, which is known as “the cradle of Christianity.”
On these Tetradrachms, the eagle is almost always shown in a bold way. There are also a lot of interesting rulers shown, which makes this “series” very appealing to collectors.
As a sign of wisdom, the owl was seen as the helper of Athena, the Greek virgin goddess who represented the city of Athens. It wasn’t strange that this city, which was the center of Ancient Greece, started to make coins with the Athene noctua or little owl on them (440-404 BC).
People in the past called these coins “Owls.” Athens became known for the “little owls” on her coins, which led to more trade and competition, which are signs of a strong economy.
Coins with owls were also made in other ancient cities and places. But no good collection of old owl coins is complete without the “Owls” of Athens, such as the impressive Athens Silver Tetradrachm (440-404 BC) of the Owl and Athena. On the back of this impressive coin is an owl, olive branch, moon, and the goddess Athena (obverse).
Modern coins show birds (Eagles and Owls)
Bird coin collectors have a wide array of options, especially in modern coins where you can find eagles and occasionally owls. This holds true for both ancient and modern coins.
In the context of US currency, eagles are a common sight, reminiscent of the coins from the Roman Empire. Eagles grace numerous US coins, including various bullion coins. For instance, the American Silver Eagle features a heraldic eagle design on the reverse, the American Gold Eagle shows an eagle soaring above its nest, and the American Platinum Eagle showcases different eagle designs on its reverse side. Challenge Coin Maker offers similar options for those who seek bird-themed designs.
Many other eagles on American coins stand out, but here are just a few:
• 1934 Texas Centennial of Independence Commemorative The Texas Lone Star is in front of an eagle on the silver half dollar (obverse).
• Connecticut’s 300th anniversary in 1935 Half Dollar: An eagle sitting on a rocky hill (reverse).
• 1935 Arkansas Centennial Commemorative (in English) Half Dollar: Big eagle against a rising sun (obverse).
• 2008 W Bald Eagle $5 Gold Commemorative Proof – young eagles on a branch near their nest (obverse).
• The 1 oz. Ultra High Relief Gold Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle from 2009 costs $20. It shows a young eagle flying against the sun (reverse).
The 1915-S $50 gold commemoratives for the Panama-Pacific Exposition seem to be the only US coins with an owl on them (reverse). These gold coins were made for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. They are now worth thousands of dollars. Even though it’s not a US coin, the 2015 Gilt Niue S$2 Panama-Pacific Commemorative is a cheaper alternative.
This beautiful 2 oz..999 fine silver coin was made to honor the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, which was held in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal.