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Small European Countries Hold their Own
By Mark Benvenuto, World Coin News
May 02, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Throughout history, some nations have managed to have a huge footprint and impact on the world stage. Rome comes to mind as one of the earliest, but the British and French Empires of the last couple of centuries were even larger. One can argue that right now it is the United States that has the biggest presence. But while the lead player changes over the course of time, there are some very small nations that have been around for quite a while. Here are five that sit right in the midst of a changing Europe.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is the biggest of the small countries we are going to look at here, and it probably has the biggest issue of circulating coinage. Prior to the use of the euro, Luxembourg issued francs that were on par with the Belgian francs, and that had been for decades. Back when a single franc had some purchasing power, it was divided into 100 centimes, which means there are plenty of small change coins of Luxembourg that a person can collect today. Many of them don’t carry any real premium, especially if they are base metal coins.

The Grand Duchy has a political history that traces back to the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Actually, that’s why the “franc,” meaning the French franc, ended up being the unit of currency in a newly independent Luxembourg – it had been overrun by the forces of France. While it has always been small, the Grand Dukes have been keen to stay politically aligned with one neighbor or another, thus ensuring Luxembourg’s continued existence. Even today, Luxembourg is part of the greater Eurozone, and it is the portrait of Grand Duke Henri that graces the national side of the Luxembourg euros.

While this tiny nation may not have a great deal in terms of area, towns or people, it does have a very famous cemetery, filled with American servicemen killed in World War II. What makes it so famous is the one especially noteworthy soldier interred right up at the front. General George Patton is buried at the front of an enormous arc of gravestones, a military man forever reviewing his troops. It’s a somber place to visit and a reminder of how many gave everything they had to win a brutal war.

Sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein has a political existence in one form or another that goes back several centuries. And while it may have the longest name of any of the tiny nations we’re looking at, it probably has the shortest run of circulating coinage. The Liechtenstein frank has not been issued as a circulating piece in decades, but when they were, they were always of the same value as the Swiss frank. And yes, the Germanic spelling of this monetary unit is with a “k” at the tail end.

More recently, after the loss of gold and silver metal from circulating coinage, we can find issues of commemorative coinage and usually in silver or gold. It may seem odd that Liechtenstein doesn’t have an enormous commemorative coin program when so many other small nations do. There’s a reason, though: Liechtenstein has a rather voluminous commemorative stamp program. For years, the artwork of the princely family has featured on a series of stamps that apparently generate quite a bit of revenue. Since the entire country is essentially wedged into a valley, it’s easy to have souvenir sellers right where the tourist busses disgorge their people, oftentimes selling the famous stamps. But still, there are some Liechtenstein franks to be had for the patient collector.

San Marino
Farther south is another tiny country, again with some serious history, and again with a pretty established coinage program. The Most Serene Republic of San Marino claims Sept. 3, 301, as the date of its founding by Saint Marinus, and thus lays claim to the title of the oldest continuous republic anywhere.

The coins of San Marino, properly called Sammarinese lire, were issued as early as the 1860s, in the form of small, 5 centissimi coins. Over the course of years, larger denominations of the minor coins were issued, and 1 and 2 lire pieces were produced as the 20th century dawned. Like all the tiny nations we are looking at here, there is nothing like a date run you could assemble for the early coinage. It was simply made as needed, then not coined for years until some new need arose.

In the 1970s, San Marino made quite a few lire denominations that exactly matched the coins of Italy (just like the Vatican did). Now, with the advent of the euro, San Marino has taken full advantage of the opportunity to produce commemoratives for sale to collectors worldwide. Designs change annually, and some are quite attractive. If you want the basics of the Sammarinese euros, the euro information website at: gives you some good information. Beyond that, it probably doesn’t take too much searching among dealers of modern world coins to find some of the commems of this small nation. After all, they have really jumped into the pool when it comes to commemoratives for the broader collector market.

Even smaller than San Marino, the city state of Monaco – officially the Principality of Monaco – is surrounded by France on all sides except the south, where it is on the Mediterranean Sea. The ancient home of the Grimaldi family, Monaco is probably most famous for the Grand Prix car races it has, which always seem to invoke the glamor and glitz of a James Bond movie.

While Monaco uses euros now, its history saw the use of what is called the Monegasque franc, which circulated alongside the French franc. To be honest, in the past, a trip to the famous Monte Carlo casino and the use of the slot machines paid out in French franc coins (back when real coins did indeed come out of slot machines), and if a person was lucky, the occasional Monegasque franc. They did circulate, but there was never all that many of them.

Like the other small states that have become part of the Eurozone, Monaco has embraced a hefty commemorative coin program, with plenty of issues in gold and silver. The national side will have Prince Albert’s face on it in some portrayal or another. But to be fair, there was a rather large commemorative program in Monegasque francs as well. There is a lot in this tiny country to which a collector can gravitate, with some coins being much more expensive than others.

The last of the little guys we’ll take a peek at here is the mountain nation of Andorra, wedged between Spain and France. Properly called the Principality of the Valleys of Andorra, this small country has roots going back to 988. Its government is overseen by co-princes – that means both the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell. Curiously, the Diocese of Urgell extends into Spain, meaning that it is actually bigger than Andorra. The current man in the leader’s position is Archbishop Joan Enric Vives i Sicília, who has held the spot since 2003. The other ruler, Francois Hollande, took charge as President of France in 2012.

Prior to the use of euros, there is the occasional issue of Andorran diners, usually as commemorative coins made for collectors. While the name “diner” may seem odd since Spain used pesetas and France used francs, it actually has ancient roots. Spain was one of the earliest colonies of a growing Roman Empire, and the denarius is certainly a well-known coin denomination among collectors of ancients. The name remains, in both Spanish and Catalan, two of the languages spoken in Andorra. But equally strange is the fact that diners are not really all that official a coinage. Apparently, even though they are issued, banks in Andorra now use euros, and before only dealt in francs and pesetas.

Unlike the other small states we’ve looked at, Andorra has not been able to jump into the commem game, at least not in the form of Andorran euros marketed for a worldwide collector base. Negotiations for minting rights ended up taking quite a few years because of Andorra’s status as a nation that could be used as a tax haven. But official statements now indicate there will be Andorran euro commemoratives in either 2013 or 2014.

On the other hand, Andorra has found some interesting ways to put various diner coins on the market, however official or unofficial they might be. The Andorran Eagle is a strangely small gold coin – containing only 1 gram of gold, or 0.03215 troy ounces of the precious metal – that carries a 2 diner label.

For the moment, collectors will have to look to some of the past issues of this tiny state if they wish to put together any sort of Andorran collection at all.

We left Vatican City off this list on purpose, simply because we’ve taken a look at the regular and commemorative Vatican coinage in the last year, as well as the more scarce Sede Vacante coins that are only made between the reign of one pope and another. But the five political entities we have just gone over prove that there is a wealth of European coinage a person can collect, often quite inexpensively, without ever having to focus on the big European powers. Such a collection can be a challenge but can also be a lot of fun.

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