Presita el Usona Esperantisto № 2024:1 - “Esperanto-USA salutas vin”

Esperanto in Numismatics

Lasta ĝisdatigo: 2024-03-07

Some helpful definitions –

numismatics: the study or collection of coins, paper currency, and medals.

philately: the collection and study of postage stamps.

obverse: the side of a coin or medal bearing the head or principal design.

caduceus: an ancient herald’s wand, typically one with two serpents twined around it.

Stamp worth one lita issued by Lithuania in 2005 to commemorate the 90th Universal Esperanto Congress held in its capital Vilnius

Despite its presence in numismatics, albeit modest so far, Esperanto’s imprint on the former has not been sufficiently studied. To date only three nations have minted official coins relating to the subject (Poland, Croatia and Cuba) whereas no official banknotes have been issued by any country in this respect. This contrasts with the abundant presence of Esperanto in philately.

A 100-złoty coin was issued by Poland in 1979 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Zamenhof’s birth in the Polish town of Białystok. Two different versions of said commemorative coin were produced in 0.625 fine silver weighing 16.5 grams (diameter: 32 mm). The reverse was common to both but the obverses were different depicting either a lateral or a frontal image of Zamenhof. Trial strikes in nickel were also prepared.

The two proposed obverses (the left one was finally accepted) and the common reverse of the 100-złoty coin

In 1990 Cuba minted 1-peso (copper-nickel) and 5-peso (silver) coins to commemorate the 75th Universal Esperanto Congress held in Havana that year. The pieces had identical designs and showed on the obverse the profile of Zamenhof slightly superimposed to a terrestrial globe. The inscriptions were engraved in Esperanto: “UNIVERSALA KONGRESO DE ESPERANTO, HAVANO 1990”. Although Havana also hosted in 2010 the 95th Universal Congress, no coins were minted on that occasion to commemorate this later event. The coins were designed by Alberto González Pereztol.

Croatia issued a 25-kuna coin on June 24, 1997 to commemorate the First National Congress of Esperantists held in its capital Zagreb. The bimetallic coin has a dodecagonal shape, a diameter of 32 mm and weighs 12.75 grams. The inner ring is made of a copper-aluminium-nickel alloy, while the outer ring consists of a copper-nickel alloy. The congress’ logo, an ellipse containing a circle with eight rhombuses, is displayed in the centre of the obverse. The position of the eight rhombuses forms a letter ‘E’, alluding to Esperanto. The coin was produced in Croatia on the basis of a design executed by the local artist Damir Matausic.

Obverse and reverse of a 5-peso Cuban coin struck in 1990

Although lacking an official status, several coins relating to this language have also been minted over the years. Many of them bear witness to the efforts of the Esperantists to create a universal currency.

Obverse and reverse of a 25-kuna Croatian coin struck in 1997

The first monetary project connected to Esperanto was conceived by the Swiss René de Saussure (1868-1943), who in 1907 proposed the use of an international monetary unit associated with the new language. The monetary unit would be the Speso without fractions but with multiples in values of ten, one hundred, one thousand and ten thousand spesoj (also called respectively spesdeko, spescento, spesmilo and spesdekmilo). The spesmilo was to weigh 0.733 grams of 22 carat gold, which was equivalent in value to half of the US dollar, one tenth of the British pound and one Russian rouble, among others. The coin was even accepted by some Swiss and British banks, but the project was abandoned with the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1912 the Swiss firm Holy Frères was commissioned to produce a series of coins for the Universal Esperanto Association to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the creation of the language. The coins were minted in nominal values of 1- and 2-spesmilo (i.e. one thousand and two thousand spesoj). They were struck in 0.917 fine silver weighing 12.6 and 25.2 grams, respectively. With identical designs, the coins display Zamenhof’s profile on the obverse and a five- pointed star within a shield on the reverse. The star has been present on the Esperanto flag since 1905 and symbolises the union of the five continents.

Respective obverse and reverse of the 1- and 2-spesmilo coins struck in 1912

Under the slogan “UNU MONDO, UNU LINGVO, UNU MONO”, the project to create its own currency was relaunched in 1946 during the First International Congress held in The Hague, Holland. This was sponsored by the Universal League of Esperantists created four years earlier in that city. The new Esperanto monetary unit was called Stelo, which as seen above constitutes one of the symbols of the Esperantists. The first coins were minted in 1959 by the Royal Dutch Mint in Utrecht in the denominations of one, five and ten steloj. Although the series was only finished in 1960, the coins were engraved with the year 1959 on their obverses. In 1965 a fourth type of coin was added to the former with a nominal value of 25 steloj. The coins were produced in bronze (1-stelo, diameter: 20 mm, weight: 3g), bronze-aluminium (5-stelo, diameter: 23 mm, weight: 5g) and copper-nickel (10-stelo: diameter: 28 mm, weight: 9g; 25-stelo: diameter: 37.8 mm, 19g). Silver and gold varieties of the 25-stelo coins were also produced. The obverse of all coins exhibits a five-pointed star with the denomination and the legend “UNIVERSALA LIGO”. To the right and left of the star respectively, the pieces bear the anagram of the Dutch mint (i.e. a caduceus with two curled snakes) and the identifying mark of the mint’s chief engraver, Jan Willem Arnold van Hengel (i.e. a fish). The reverse of the 10- and 25-stelo coins features Zamenhof’s profile using the same design as that employed for the 1912 spesmilo. The reverse of the 1-stelo shows the star in radiant form within a shield surrounded by the above-mentioned legend “UNU MONDO, UNU LINGVO, UNU MONO”. The reverse of the 5-stelo displays a composition consisting of the Earth globe surrounded by the legend “LA MONDO ESTAS UNU LANDO - LA HOMARO UNU POPOLO”.

Respective obverse and reverse of the 1-, 5- and 10-stelo coins (above) and of the corresponding gold, silver and copper-nickel varieties of the 25-stelo coin (below)

In 1965 the Universal League also printed unofficial banknotes or coupons worth one stelo, which functioned in practice as proof of payments previously made. The coupons were valid for five years.

In fact, the circulation of all these monetary signs was rather testimonial, being accepted almost exclusively in transactions made between members of the Universal League and in events organised by the latter. The coins were mostly hoarded for numismatic purposes.

Obverse and reverse of a 1-stelo coupon issued in 1965

The initial idea of its creators was to give the stelo a fixed value, which was set in 1977 to be equivalent to half of that of the official Dutch currency, the guilder. However, inflation and the ensuing price rises made this task impossible and the currency rapidly lost popularity. The Universal League was disbanded in 1993 and with it this second monetary project died. The legacy of the Universal League is today administered by the International Esperanto Institute based in the Dutch city of The Hague.

Respective obverse and reverse of the 50- and 100-stelo coins

Two new denominations have been recently added to those mentioned above. However, the new coins have been produced with a purely commercial interest. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the birth of René de Saussure in 2018, a coin of one hundred steloj was produced in 0.999 fine silver (diameter: 37 mm, weight: 31.1 grams) in November of the previous year. Another coin with a face value of fifty steloj was minted in 2020 to commemorate the centenary of the 12th Universal Congress of Esperantists held in The Hague. The coin, produced in 0.925 fine silver (diameter: 30 mm, weight: 30 grams), shows on the obverse the profile of Julia Isbrücker (1887-1971), who was the organiser of the event and, together with the Hungarian Andreo Cseh, the founder of the Universal League of Esperantists. Both coins were commissioned by the Austrian Esperantist Walter Klag and were engraved by the Chief Engraver of the Austrian Mint, Helmut Andexlinger, where they were minted. Andexlinger is also known as the designer of the 2-euro coin minted in 2012 by Austria.

In recent times a few tokens have also been issued by private companies with no connection to the Esperanto movement and with a purely commercial interest. For that reason these pieces are not studied in the present article. Finally, the various congresses and events organised by Esperanto societies at regional or worldwide level, as well as tributes to prominent figures of this movement, have also been reflected in a large number of medals over the years.

Obverse and reverse of the gold medal struck by the State of Israel to commemorate the 120 years of Esperanto and the 90th anniversary of Zamenhof’s death in 2007


Boon, Bert (2022): “Numismática: un tesoro cultural del esperanto que ya no está oculto”, Esperantic Studies Foundation.

Menchaca, Roberto (2023): “History of the Coin Circulation in Cuba”, Ed. Punto Rojo Libros, Sevilla, Spain.

Nuessel, Frank (1984): “L. L. Zamenhof, Poland’s commemorative coin celebrates the man and his work”, The Numismatist, December 1984, pp. 2509-2511.

Página web de Numista: Revista “La Bulteneto” (2018): “René de Saussure, der “Erfinder des universellen Geldes”, Nr. 5, pp. 16-17.