The Bavarian State Mint does not have the global reputation of sovereign or private mints, such as the United States Mint, Royal Canadian Mint, or Perth Mint, but it does boast a history that is deeper than those previous three facilities combined. It is also responsible for the production of one of the most popular bullion and proof coin programs in the world right now, the Silver Somalian Elephant coin.
Founded in 1158 in the capital of Germany’s Bavarian region, Munich, the Bavarian State Mint is the oldest operating company in the city, and one of the oldest operating mint facilities in Germany and the whole of Europe. Today, the Bavarian State Mint is a state-owned entity of the government in the Free State of Bavaria, and operates as one of the five German government mints. Its history is one that is rich with coinage controversies, both past and present.
The Bavarian State Mint was initially constructed at the Schrannenplaz, which is now known as the Marienplaz. From the first year it was opened, it was authorized to strike coins for use in local economies. Within a century of its founding though, the Bavarian Mint had come under fire for controversy surrounding the production of its coins. By the decade of 1290, coins from the Bavarian State Mint were criticized and devalued for their low silver content.
At this point in time, the citizens of Bavaria rose up against the mint facility, not only destroying the coin forges at the Munich minting facility, but also killing the individual responsible for coin production at the time, known as the Munzmeister. The mint went through countless upheaval during the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century. From the dual-coining of Austrian and Bavarian coins during Austrian occupation (1705-1714) following the War of Spanish Succession to its establishment as a national mint during the formation of the German Empire (or Second Reich) in 1871, the Bavarian State Mint has undergone a great deal of turmoil.
In the modern era, the Bavarian State Mint is one of the five national facilities controlled by the German government. Once authorized to print and strike German Deutschemark coins, it is now one of a handful of facilities in the Eurozone authorized to produce the common currency used by members of the economic bloc, the Euro (€). Even in the modern era though, the Bavarian State Mint is no stranger to currency controversies.
Before learning a little more about the Somalian Elephant, it’s important to tackle its status in the global community. The coin was originally introduced by the Bavarian State Mint in 1999 as an African Wildlife Series coin for the nation of Zambia. From 1999 to 2003, the Bavarian State Mint produced the coin for that African nation, before switching the nation of issue to Somalia. The coin remains today as a bullion coin associated with the nation of Somalia, but that association has come into question by some.
While the Bavarian State Mint claims to have a letter of authorization on file from an individual within the government of Somalia, the head of the nation’s central bank insists that no authorization was given to the Bavarian State Mint to produce these coins for the nation of Somalia. The current political climate in Somalia, with a fractured and ineffective central government ruling the capital and outlawed criminal groups controlling the countryside, makes it particularly difficult to establish the legal tender status of the Somalian Elephant.
Despite the questionable legal tender status of these coins, their popularity is unquestioned around the globe. The Somalian Elephant coin was originally introduced in 2004 as a silver bullion coin series with limited mintages. The original coins in the series featured .999 fine silver, a face value listed in Somali Shillings at 1,000 Shillings, and included all-new designs on the obverse face each year.
Today, the silver program has grown to include both a bullion and proof version, with occasional gilded coins struck. Each year since 2004, the Bavarian State Mint has used a new design of the African elephant on the obverse side of the coin. The images always invoke the same imagery, that of an individual elephant or a family herd, as well as familiar features of the African landscape, such as tall trees, the grasses of the savannas, and even Mount Kilimanjaro.
For example, the 2006 1 oz Silver Somalian Elephant coin featured a lone adult elephant with its trunk raised. In the distant background, the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro were visible. The 2016 Gold Somalian Elephant again features a lone adult elephant, but this time it is at the water’s edge, facing the viewer with its trunk raised, and the shoreline shrinks off into the distance as the sun rises into the sky.
The latest Somalian Elephant coins are available in silver in bullion, proof, and gilded versions, as well as in gold bullion and proof. All Silver Somalian Elephant and Gold Somalian Elephant coins feature .999 purity in the metal content, with a face value of 1 oz Silver coins set at 100 Shillings, while the face value on 1 oz Gold coins is set at 1,000 Shillings.
All coins features similar engravings on the obverse side of the coin. Surrounding the African elephant motif, which is the same in each design year on both gold and silver coins, is the engraving “African Wildlife,” accompanied by the word “Elephant”, and the weight, metal content, and purity.
On the reverse is a common design set that is used on all coins, gold and silver, every year. This image has not changed since 2004, and features the coat of arms for Somalia. In the image a pair of leopards hold up a shield, which bears a single star against a backdrop of horizontal lines. The phrase “Somali Republic” is engraved above, with the year of issue split on either side of the shield, and the face value along the bottom.
On occasion, the Bavarian State Mint produces silver gilded coins that feature a given year’s design, with a gold layer over the elephant design on the reverse only. There are also occasional strikings of 1 Kilogram coins and high-relief proofs, though they are not produced with the regularity or volume of the gold and silver bullion versions of the coin.
With a history as rich and complex as that of the Bavarian State Mint, it’s impossible to image its modern reputation hinging on one coin. In addition to its currency production role in the Eurozone, the Bavarian State Mint currently produces Andorran Eagle bullion coins and has historically struck bullion coins for nations including, but not limited to, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Japan, and the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen. In addition to coins, it produces medals and official seal plates such as the Olympic medals used at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich.
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