POLAND, 1974 100 Zlotych of Maria Sklodowska Curie. The obverse shows the Polish Eagle above the denomination, with date split on each side of the eagle’s legs. The reverse pictures Dr. Curie facing left with a linear, stylized background and Ra, the symbol for Radium, to her right. Its weight consists of 16.50 grams of .6250 silver, and its approximate diameter is 32mm.
Marie Sklodowska Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland in November of 1867. Her parents, Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowski, were both highly educated school teachers who taught mathematics and science. They were the basis of Marie’s later interest in the sciences. Marie was the last of five children. Early in her life, she tragically saw her eldest sibling, Zofia, died of typhus and two years later, her mother perished of tuberculosis. Her father was a Polish nationalist during these years of Russian dominance, which brought about great financial hardships for the family. A brilliant student, Marie graduated first in her class at a Russian “liceum,” or secondary school. Because of the political problems at the time, with which Marie eventually got involved, she was not allowed to enter a university. Marie took a menial job as governess at eighteen, sending money to her older sister, Bronislawa, who was in Paris, on her way to getting a degree in medicine.
By 1891, she joined Bronislawa in Paris, and Marie soon enrolled at the Sorbonne. She graduated at the top of her class in 1893, and the following year received a master’s degree in mathematics. In 1894, Marie furthered her studies in physics under the guidance of Dr. Pierre Curie. A romance developed, and they were married the following year. Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radium in 1896 led Pierre and Marie to further understand its properties. She began to write a thesis on radium, pitchblende and the other newly discovered radioactive materials. For her work in physics, she became the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize, in 1903, sharing it with Becquerel.
Tragedy again stuck Curie in 1906, when Pierre was struck and killed by a horse driven wagon. It caused her to work harder than ever. She wrote a treatise on the isolation of pure radium in 1910, and the following year, became the first person to be awarded a second Nobel Prize, this one in chemistry. Both her older sister Bronislawa, and daughter Irene, received doctorates, and eventually went on to have extraordinary careers of their own. In World War I, Marie pioneered X-Ray use in vehicles to assist the wounded on battlefields, as well as hospitals. She received many awards in Europe and the United States for her tireless work in medicine. A $50,000 check for her clinic in Poland was presented to her by President Herbert Hoover in 1929. Unfortunately, years of exposure to radiation brought on aplastic pernicious anemia, a form of leukemia that ended her life on July 4th, 1934 at the age of sixty-seven.
ISRAEL, 1995 10 New Sheqalim of Golda Meir. The obverse has Hebraic writing (the date corresponds to 1955) with the denomination in Arabic numerals. The reverse shows a portrait of Golda Meir, nearly full-faced, toward the right of center. It is struck in “ring composition”, the center consisting of aureate bonded bronze, with the outer rim of nickel bonded steel. Its diameter is approximately 23mm.
Golda Meir was born Goldie Mabovich in Kiev, Russia in May of 1898. Her father, Moshe, was a poor carpenter who sailed to the United States, finally settling in Milwaukee with the rest of his family in 1906. She attended Normal School for teachers, which later became the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and taught in public schools after graduating. She met a quiet, studious man, Morris Meyerson, and they were married in 1917. However, Golda had a different temperament, and her aggressive personality pushed both of them into the growing socialist movement, with an emphasis on Zionism. They moved to Palestine in 1921, and joined a kibbutz, or collective farm.
She enjoyed the rough life-style far more than her husband did and had two children. She joined a Women’s Working Council and returned to the U.S. in 1932, leaving once more for Palestine in 1934. In 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt called a conference (the Evian Conference) to discuss the problem of the many Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazis. Golda Meir was selected to attend the conference as an observer. There, she witnessed others countries simply voicing concern over the refugee problem, while doing nothing to help the worsening situation. After the war, she became the top negotiator for Jewish concerns in Palestine, as the British Mandate weakened. With the creation of Israel in 1948, (she was one of the twenty-four signatories when Israel declared independence) Golda stayed politically involved while Morris stayed out of the picture. They had long since separated, but never divorced. Her first major position after independence was an ambassadorship to the Soviet Union. This lasted about a year. From 1949 to 1956, she became the Minister of Labor. Golda then served as Foreign Minister under David Ben Gurion, where she changed her last name from Meyerson to Meir.
Meir retired in 1966 due to a health condition, but soon returned, doing less strenuous work. She was a big supporter of the Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, and soon after his death in 1969, was elected by Eshkol’s party as his successor. Though having great success in the following years when dealing with the world’s leaders, Israel was caught off-guard at the outset of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. While winning the war, public opinion of Israel’s lack of readiness proved costly to Meir, even though she was cleared by government inquiry of being directly responsible for the hardships incurred. She retired in 1974. Meir’s health problems continued, and she died of cancer at eighty years of age, in 1978. She is buried in Jerusalem. INDIA, 1985 100 Rupees of Indira Gandhi. Though struck in 1985, the coin is dateless. The obverse has three joined lions facing left, right and center (the Ashoka Pillar) with the denomination. On the reverse, a portrait of Indira Gandhi faces right; underneath are the birth/death dates of the subject. The coin weighs 34 grams, struck of .500 fine silver. It is approximately 43mm in diameter.
Indira Priyadarshin Gandhi was born in Allahabad, India on November of 1917. Her father was Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became the first Prime Minister of India, after that country achieved independence from England. There were no other children in the family. Indira graduated from a university in Bengal before continuing her studies at Oxford University, where she graduated in 1941. Along with her father, she became active in the move towards India’s independence. A year later, she married Feroze Gandhi, who shared the Nehru’s passions. Both were arrested for subversive activities by the British and spent over a year in prison.
India finally won its quest for freedom in 1947, Nehru taking office. Gandhi was heavily involved in politics, assisting her father while helping to set policy, especially with the border war with China in 1962. Two years later, Jawaharlal died. The government was now in the hands of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who made good use of Indira’s skills at communication, by naming her as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Shastri died in January of 1966, and Gandhi was named Prime Minister. One of the most difficult times of her ministerial duties occurred late in 1971. A third war with Pakistan over the Kashmir region resulted in the displacement of about ten million people from Bangladesh, putting a strain on India’s resources. She ordered the refugees to return to their country. This decision met with great approval, and increased her popularity amongst her countrymen. Unfortunately, the nearly total power Gandhi held led to acts which many thought of as tyrant-like, and by 1975 her leadership was teetering. Efforts were made to remove her from office, and she received a vote of no-confidence in Parliament. She imprisoned some of her opponents and declared a State of Emergency. The Emergency was lifted just prior to the elections of 1979 and Gandhi was once again in control.
Still, her troubles continued. Her son, Sanjay, was killed in an accident in 1980. At about that time, the Punjab region was threatened with secession by Sihk extremists. The threats increased during the next few years, and bloodshed became unavoidable despite Indira’s best efforts. On October 31st of 1984, while preparing for a documentary with Peter Ustinov, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sihk security guards.
AUSTRALIA issued two Ten Dollar coins in 1996 to commemorate the Melbourne Olympics of 1956. The obverses are standard, showing Queen Elizabeth II and the date. Both reverses read Australia’s Greatest Olympics 1956 with the denomination at the bottom. The coins weigh 20.77 grams each, and contain .999 silver. Each measures approximately 34mm across. The first features Betty Cuthbert.
Elizabeth (Betty) Cuthbert was born in 1938 and still resides in Western Australia. A good, but not outstanding athlete, she did not expect to make the track team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. During practice events, she suddenly came from nowhere, winning a spot on her team. Cuthbert went on to win gold medals in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4X100 meter relay events, running as anchor in the last event. For the next four years, she continued to win medals in all other contests. While competing in the 1960 Rome Olympics, an injury in the 100 meter sprint caused her to retire prematurely. She came back in 1962, running in the Perth Commonwealth Games before entering in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. There, she won her fourth Olympic Gold medal, this in the 400 meter race. After retiring for good, Cuthbert contracted multiple sclerosis in 1979. In a wheelchair, she carried the Olympic Torch at the2000 Sydney opening ceremonies.
Shirley Strickland was born in 1925 and died in 2004. Like Betty Cuthbert, Strickland was a sprinter. She won two bronze medals and a silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics. Coming back in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, she won her first gold medal for the 80 meter hurdles, in addition to a bronze medal. Though over thirty years old, she entered the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and won her second career gold medal in the 80 meter hurdles. In addition, she won a third gold medal, this in the 4X100 meter relay which was anchored by Elizabeth Cuthbert. Her total of seven Olympic medals is still an Australian record.
The 1995 Australian Five Dollar coin features a reverse of Elizabeth Macarthur, with sheep in the distant background. The obverse shows Queen Elizabeth II and the date. It weighs 35.79 grams and contains .9250 silver. Its diameter is approximately 40mm.
Elizabeth Macarthur was born in Devon, England in 1766. Her father, Richard Veale, was a farmer, though her mother, Grace was a financially secure educated woman. Elizabeth’s education included literature and writing. She married John Macarthur in 1788, and the two sailed to Australia in the following year, where he took a position in the New South Wales Corps. Along the way, she documented her journey, which included the transportation of convicts. She was the first well-educated woman in the colony, and involved herself in both politics and business. Macarthur’s letters to her family back in England later served as a record of note to the trials and difficulties of affairs on the newly settled continent. Though losing several children through childhood illnesses, she did have two surviving sons who eventually took over their father’s wool business. John Macarthur was frequently away on business during many of their years, and he developed severe depression, as a result. Almost single-handedly, Elizabeth took over much of the business during this time, and spent many years in Sydney and Parramatta, prospering in the wool trade. Outliving her husband by sixteen years, Elizabeth died in 1850.
Nellie Melba is pictured on the reverse of a 1996 Australian Five Dollar coin, dressed in an opera costume, peering out from the stage curtains. The obverse is the typical style featuring Queen Elizabeth II and the date. The coin weighs 35.79 grams and contains .9250 silver. Its diameter is approximately 40mm.
Dame Nellie Melba was Australia’s most famous soprano, and was said to have a range of three perfect octaves. She was born in Richmond, Melbourne in1861 into a musical family. Named Helen Porter Mitchell, she was married in 1882 to Charles Armstrong, whose father was a baronet. The marriage was not successful however, and Melba left to launch a singing career. In 1886, Arthur Sullivan offered her a role in the Mikado, in which she performed well, but not greatly. A voice coach helped her during the next year, and with a new name, Nellie Melba sang the role of Gilda in Rigoletto with great success. Later roles in Lucia Di Lammermoor and La Traviata solidified her success. Melba sung to great acclaim in Covent Garden, La Scala and in New York. She sung before kings and queens, and was photographed and mobbed everywhere she went. Keeping her weight under control, she was known to eat very thin slices of crisp toast, known today as “Melba Toast”. Even in her fifties, her voice held up, and she raised considerable money for the war effort in 1915. She was appointed Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1918. Her last performance was in 1928, but by then, her voice was essentially gone. She died in Sidney, Australia February 23, 1931.
GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC (GDR) 1982 20 Mark of Clara Zetkin. The obverse has the date, denomination, country and insignia. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germany, as the GDR was called, was merged into present-day Germany in 1990. The reverse has a near full-faced bust of Clara Zetkin, her date of birth and death to the left. The coin weighs 20.920 grams and is of .500 fine silver. It is approximately 34mm in diameter.
Clara Zetkin was born Clara Eissner in July of 1857, to Jewish parents, in Saxony. She studied at Leipzig’s Teachers College for Women, and afterward joined socialist-leaning societies. In 1874, she joined women’s right movements and labor organizations, which furthered her interest in liberal causes. By 1878, Clara joined the Socialist Worker’s Party (SAP) which in 1890 was to become the Social Democratic Party of Germany, or SPD. Because of political pressure, Clara left Germany for Zurich in 1882, and then went on to Paris. She soon met a Russian, Ossip Zetkin, and eventually bore him two sons. Unfortunately, Ossip died of tuberculosis in 1889. Though still a young mother with two children, Clara found the time to befriend Rosa Luxembourg, Karl Liebknecht and other prominent members of the SDP. Equal rights for all people, and women’s rights in particular, were her main objectives, along with an anti-imperialist and anti-war agenda. At the outbreak of World War I, many left-wing organizations took an anti-war stance against Germany, which later proved fatal to these groups. Her friend, Rosa Luxemborg, was imprisoned in 1915 while Zetkin herself was arrested several times. 1916 saw the rise of the Spartacist League and Independent Social Democratic Party Of Germany (USPD) which splintered from the growing militarism of the SDP. After Germany’s defeat in the war, the Communist Party Of Germany (KDP) was organized, Clara being its representative in the Reichstag from 1920 to 1933. A growing threat from Hitler’s National Socialist German Worker’s Party, NSDAP, caused Clara (by now Chairwoman of the Reichstag) to warn the audience about the growing threat from this party. Soon after Hitler took over as Chancellor of the Reichstag in 1933, Clara again went into exile, this time in Russia. A month before her seventy-sixth birthday in June of 1933, she died just outside Moscow. She was buried with honors, near the Kremlin.
BULGARIA, 1982 5 Leva of Lyudmila Zhivkova . The obverse has Bulgarian symbol of lion within wreath, date and denomination. On the reverse is a portrait of Lyudmila Zhivkova in profile, facing left. The coin is struck in copper-nickel and measures approximately 34mm in diameter.
Lyudmila Todora Zhivkova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in June of 1942 and died in June of 1981, just five days before her 39th birthday. She is famous throughout her country for preserving Bulgarian history, and giving it a home in that country’s Palace of Culture. She was the daughter of Tudor Zhikov, Bulgaria’s leader during that era of communism. Zhivkova attended Moscow State Universary in 1970, where she studied art, then attended St. Anthony’s College in Oxford for further education in the arts. She became the assistant president of the Committee for Art and Culture in Bulgaria, before becoming its president in 1975. Having a worldly view of arts and humanities, she also traveled abroad to obtain paintings and statues from other countries. This resulted in the opening of the National Gallery Of World Art. Zhivkova also encouraged students to travel abroad, and encouraged freedom of thought and expression. She made many friends in western society, but some Bulgarian politburo members felt that she had abandoned Marxist-Communist ideals. According to official government records, she died of natural causes at home, while taking a bath. FINLAND, 1996 100 Markaa of Helene Schjerfbeck. The obverse is artistically rendered with date, denomination, and country. The reverse has the artist in a nearly full-faced pose. The coin weighs 24 grams and contains .9250 silver. Its diameter is approximately 35mm.
Helene Schjerfbeck was born in Helsinki Finland in 1862 and died in 1946. She painted 36 known self-portraits, in addition to other portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes. Her parents, Svante and Olga, were barely making a living. Making matters worse, their daughter fell down a stair case and broke her hip when just four years old. The injury did not heal correctly, and Helene grew up with a severe limp, unable to walk properly and unable to attend school. Kept home most of the time, she began to concentrate on drawing, which seemed to come naturally. Schjerfbeck came to the attention of painter Adolf von Becker, and was given cost-free lessons at the Finish Art Society in 1873 when only eleven years of age. Later, private classes by Becker at the University of Helsinki brought her increasing notice in the art world, Impressionism being her forte.
In 1879, Schjerfbeck left Finland and began her travels to Paris, Prague and England. There, her oil paintings and book illustrations proved to be financially adequate for nearly a decade. Her painting “The Convalescent”, won a bronze medal in the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. But her popularity was beginning to fade, so she returned to Finland in 1890. She soon began to teach in the Art Society, but by1901, poor health again took its toll and Schjerfbeck left her position in 1902. As the years went by, all seemed lost until she was rediscovered in 1913 by art dealer Gosta Stenman, who gave Schjerfbeck her first private exhibition. By then, the beautiful and colorful impressionistic paintings which she had been know for had changed into a more rugged and melancholic appearance. Lines which once flowed now became stilted and raw, giving greater emotional depth to her work. By the late 1930s, she continued to work in this style, but age and illness finally stopped her output. She moved from nursing home to sanatorium, where she passed away near Stockholm, Sweden, in 1946.
FRANCE, 1995 100 Francs of Audrey Hepburn. The obverse features an antique movie camera, the date, and denomination. On the reverse, a portrait of Audrey Hepburn faces somewhat to the left. The coin weighs 22.20 grams and is struck of .900 silver. It measures approximately 38mm in diameter.
Audrey Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels, Belgium in May of 1929. Her father, Joseph, was a financially successful Englishman who frequently traveled between Brussels, the Netherlands and England, working in the insurance business. His marriage to former Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra was the second for both, and Audrey was the only child of that couple. She also had two half brothers from her father’s first marriage. Her parents divorced in 1935, the year that Audrey began boarding school in Kent, England. In 1939, a year after finishing boarding school, her mother moved Audrey and her half brothers back to the Netherlands. Audrey entered the Arnhem Conservatory that year, ballet being her specialty. She finished in 1945. These years were difficult for the family, as Germany had invaded the Netherlands in 1940. After D-Day, the Germans confiscated all of the food and materials that were on hand, and many Dutch citizens starved or froze to death. Hepburn watched helplessly as some of her relatives were shot dead for being part of the Resistance. While all this was going on, Arnhem was being bombarded by the Allied Forces. When the war finally ended, Hepburn was sick with anemia, which she acquired through malnutrition. She eventually grew stronger, mainly due to her strenuous and constant ballet exercises and dancing.
In 1948, Audrey moved to London, where she took dance lessons with Marie Rambert, a famous teacher at that time. She also had a bit part as a stewardess in an educational film called Dutch In Seven Lessons, which helped bring in some much-needed money to support her and her mother. But her first performance in an actual motion picture was that of a hotel receptionist in One Wild Oat, filmed in early 1951. That led to some minor roles in mostly insignificant movies, though one movie, The Lavender Hill Mob, also starred Alec Guinness.
Her big break came later in 1951, when filming Monte Carlo Baby. She was picked to play the leading role in the Broadway production of Gigi. This led to her first American movie, Roman Holiday, where she played opposite Gregory Peck. Hepburn’s screen test was so extraordinary, she easily beat out Elizabeth Taylor for the lead role. Peck predicted that Hepburn would win an Academy Award for her part – which she did. This film was followed by a number of brilliant roles in films such as Sabrina (1954), Funny Face (1957), The Nun’s Story (1959), Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961), Charade (1963), My Fair Lady (1964) and Wait Until Dark (1967). A charitable woman who cared deeply about people, Audrey Hepburn worked as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (Danny Kaye was its first). In 1992, President George Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award for her UNICEF work. She was married twice (to Mel Ferrer, 1954-1968 and Andrea Dotti 1969-1982) and had two children. On January 20th, 1993, Audrey Hepburn died of stomach cancer in Switzerland, where she was buried, at the age of sixty-three.
Women on Coins
Consultant to Spink Smythe