By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
Modern numismatic history in the statelet of San Marino started back in 1862. Only one year after Italy’s reunification into a single political entity in 1861, the Italian government signed a treaty with San Marino. With this agreement, the Italian monarchy officially authorized San Marino to produce currency. It was decided that San Marino would also continue to use the Lira, to be pegged at a rate of 1-to-1 to the Italian Lira.
In 1864, three years after this monetary agreement was signed, the first copper coins were struck. In 1898, the first silver coinage was issued, and in 1925, San Marino began striking gold coins. Due to the country’s small economic size, San Marino did not operate its own mint; it just did not make sense financially to invest in such a facility. As a result, the nation’s coinage was struck at the Mint of Rome.
Since San Marino remained neutral during World War II and all their coins were struck by the Rome Mint, all coinage production was halted in 1939 and would not be resumed until 1972. At this time, San Marino ordered the production of coins in the 1 Lira, 2 Lire, 5 Lire, 10 Lire, 20 Lire, 50 Lire, 100 Lire, and 500 Lire denominations. Due to the currency being equivalent to the Italian Lira, all new coins were produced to the same specifications as their Italian counterparts.
Even though this new coinage was intended for circulation, the designs changed every year. The 500 Lire denomination, the subject of this article, is quite interesting. Between 1972 and 1979, 10 different designs were released. Until the bi-metallic version was introduced in 1982, the denomination was struck in a .835 silver alloy, measured 29 mm, and weighed 11 grams.
While every obverse design of the 500 Lire series was to some degree different, they all revolved in some way around the main elements of San Marino’s national coat of arms. They all display three towers, which represent the three medieval citadels of San Marino built between the 11th and 14th centuries: La Guaita, La Cesta, and La Montale, all of which are located on Mount Titano.
In contrast, the reverse designs present either a national success, some aspect of universal human achievement, or a depiction of the natural world.
Additionally, all of the types had the same edge lettering–Relinquo vos Liberos–which translates as “I Leave You Free”. While many different artists spearheaded these designs, as Chief Engraver of the Rome Mint, Guerrino Monassi contributed to all of the designs.
This first piece depicts a stylized version of the three towers on the obverse, ringed by the country’s name with the date below. The Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu was responsible for designing both faces. His design celebrates motherhood by showing a mother with flowing hair holding a newborn infant aloft. After melting 22,374 pieces, the Rome Mint would release an issuance of 268,323 pieces.
With the three towers set within a crowned heraldic shield, this obverse design most closely reflects the official seal of San Marino. Designed by the Italian artist Emilio Greco, who is famous for his sculptures, engravings, medals, and poetry, the 1973 reverse celebrates world peace. This was particularly apropos since the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Viet Nam War were signed in January of that year. The design depicts a female youth holding a peace dove. Even though the mintage of 291,000 pieces was slightly larger than the previous year, the Mint of Rome melted only 6,544 coins, which resulted in an issuance of 284,153 coins.
The third iteration of the obverse design was created by the sculptor and medalist Luciano Minguzzi. Minguzzi placed the three towers with ostrich feathers on top of Mount Titano inside a circular border with little to no extra adornment. This basic format would be used, albeit with some variation, on most of the remaining types. REPUBLICA DI SAN MARINO and date encircle the design, with the ostrich feathers breaking into the legend between the “DI” and the “SAN”. Also responsible for the reverse design, Minguzzi depicted two stylized pigeons, perched in their nest. Before the Rome Mint melted 6,295 pieces, this type had a mintage of 276,000 pieces.
In 1975, San Marino released two different designs for the first time.
The first or Stone Cutter type obverse is pretty standard for the series, with the stylized castles above the denomination and date, all ringed by the country name. Both sides of this type were designed by Minguzzi. The reverse, which depicts Saint Marino working on a Corinthian-style column capital underneath a dove, was intended to commemorate the founding of the national Ufficio Filatelico e Numistatico.
The obverse design of the second, or Three Seagull type, has some key differences, including the country’s motto LIBERTAS and two ants. Unlike the Stone Cutter type, both sides of this design were created by the sculptor and medalist Bino Bini. The reverse shows three seagulls with wings outstretched, soaring over barbed wire.
Both types had large percentages of the initial production run melted down. Nearly 25%, or 47,495 pieces of the 200,000 Stone Cutter mintage and 41%, or 119,743 pieces of the 291,000 Three Seagull mintage were melted, leaving a total issuance of 323,762 coins for 1975.
In 1976, the Rome Mint also struck two types, both of which are meant to commemorate the 20th year of San Marino’s social security system.
The first type, called The Sowing, was designed by the award-winning Italian sculptor Venanzo Crocetti. Besides adding a dove in the lower left of the obverse, Crocetti remained faithful to the three-tower design. On the reverse, Crocetti depicted a man actively sowing seed with an angel on the left holding its arm aloft in a protective gesture.
The second type of 1976, simply called The Social Security, was designed by the Italian artist Mario Molteni. For the reverse design, Molteni created a representative tableau of a tree surrounded on three sides by a large stone wall. The angel of the first type, and the stone wall of this design, both represent the idea of Social Security and the protection of the state.
After striking 390,000 coins, evenly split between both types, the Rome Mint melted 106,604 pieces of the Type 1 mintage and 49,509 pieces of the Type 2 mintage. This left a total issuance of 233,887, a roughly 28% decrease from 1975. As a result, The Sower has the smallest single mintage of the 500 Lire denomination in the 1970s.
By the late 1970s, there was a growing understanding of man’s impact on the environment, a sentiment that was expertly captured on the 1977 500 lire reverse by sculpture Jorio Vivarelli. While the obverse retained the stylized three-tower design, the reverse depicted an upside-down dead bird falling from a star-studded night sky. This striking image is encircled by the legend L’Elisir Di Morte Nei Cieli, which translates as “The Elixir of Death in the Skies”. As was common practice by this point, the Rome Mint melted down 45,483 of the original run of 180,000 coins.
In 1978, the 500 Lire commemorated the global labor movement. Despite adhearing to the standard obverse elements, the reverse of this coin is almost medallic. Portraying a highly detailed May Day parade, the design covers the entirety of the reverse and leaves no blank space. The legend, 1 Maggio Festa Dei Lavoratori, was even worked into the design. The Mint would melt 16,297 and release 113,703 pieces.
Libertas type is a dramatic departure from previous iconography.
Designed by Pietro Giampaoli, the obverse depicts a half-length figure of Sant Marino receiving Mount Titano and the three towers from God. This is reminiscent of how in medieval artwork, a saint linked to a cathedral could be depicted holding that building in their hand.
The reverse of this type, also designed by Giampaoli, depicts a triga (three-horsed chariot) pulling the goddess Victory who is holding a flaming torch. Since the Mint melted 33,278 pieces of the original 125,000 mintage, this type has the second smallest issuance of the 1970s.
Despite the Mint’s practice of melting coins, none of the 500 Lire coins of the 1970s should be considered rare. In fact, circulated examples of all types can be acquired for $10 or less. Some types, like the 1979 Libertas, are worth upwards of $30 – $35 in Mint State.
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).