It must be funny in a rich man’s world. It makes the world go around. It’s all about the money, money, money.
The Whanganui Regional Museum has a coin collection dating back hundreds of years, covering the reigns of great rulers and those who were only in power for a short time. Each of these small metal discs has an interesting story behind it.
A small silver coin dating 54-68 AD comes from the reign of Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. Nero was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius and inherited his title upon his death. He spent much of his reign focusing on diplomacy and trade but also invested in culture, promoting the theatre and athletic games. Despite all of this apparent good work, Nero was a notorious character. He was known for ordering many executions, including his own mother, and was believed to have poisoned his stepbrother. He was suspected of starting the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, which wiped out much of the city, to clear the space required for a new palace, and was rumoured to have dressed up and played music while Rome was burning. He was infamous for his extreme extravagance, tyranny, and persecution of Christians. In 68AD a rebellion over taxes drove Nero from the throne and he became the first Roman emperor to commit suicide. His death was reputedly celebrated by the people of Rome.
A small bronze coin comes from the reign of Roman Emperor Maxentius who ruled 306-312 AD. Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius Augustus was the son of Emperor Maximian and it was assumed he would take the throne one day. When his father abdicated in 305 AD Maxentius was passed over and power was given to Constantius. In 306 Constantius died and his son, Constantine, took his place. When new taxes were introduced riots broke out in Rome and some of Rome’s garrison pleaded with Maxentius to accept imperial rule. He was proclaimed emperor on 28 October 306 AD but his reign was not easy. He was joined by his father in 307 and together they faced many battles for power and land, culminating in a war against Constantine on 28 October 312. Maxentius’ army lost the battle and the emperor himself drowned in a river fleeing his enemy.
A set of silver coins date from the reign of James, known as James II King of England and Ireland and James VII King of Scotland. He ruled from 6 February 1685 until 11 December 1688. The coins are a penny dated 1687, two pence dated 1688, and three pence dated 1686. This James was the second son of King Charles I and ascended the throne after the death of his brother, Charles II. His short reign was fraught with difficulty and suspicion as he was believed to be both pro-French and pro-Catholic. Catholicism was absolutely unwelcome in Protestant England. The birth of his Catholic heir saw Catholic-Protestant tensions reach their peak and his Presbyterian nephew, William III of Orange, was called on to invade England. He did, and James fled England, taken to be his abdication. James made one attempt to regain his crown in 1689-1690 but his Jacobite forces were defeated and he returned to France to spend the rest of his life at the French court.
After James II and VII was driven out of England, the English Parliament offered the throne to James’ daughter Mary and her conquering husband William of Orange. They became co-regents, known as King William III and II and Queen Mary II of England, Ireland and Scotland. Queen Mary died in 1694. King William ruled alone until he died in 1702. His reign saw the end of an ongoing conflict between the Crown and Parliament.
A solid silver coin struck in 1847 celebrates a decade of Queen Victoria’s reign. The crown, worth five shillings, is known as the “Gothic Crown” due to the nature of the elaborate lettering. Alexandrina Victoria ascended the English throne on 20 June 1837 at the age of 18 and remained there for 63 years and seven months, the longest British reign and the longest of any female monarch to date. She was known as “the Grandmother of Europe” due to her nine children’s strategic marriages to noble families across the continent, effectively tying the nations together. Her reign saw the rapid growth of British industry and culture, huge changes in politics and science and the vast expansion of the British Empire. Queen Victoria is famed for her long period of mourning after the death of her husband in 1861 and for wearing black until her death on 22 January 1901.