Featured Icelandic Coin: The Cow and the Maiden

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by Cachecoins, Mar 22, 2020.

  1. Cachecoins

    Cachecoins Historia Moneta

    (KM 20)
    Date: A.D. 1974


    Obverse: Maiden walking with cow and the dates 874 in front and 1974 behind

    Reverse: The four traditional protector spirits (Landvættir) of Iceland - 500 FIMM HUNDRUÐ KRÓNUR - ISLAND

    Engraver: Throstur Magnusson

    This is a stunning silver 500 krónur coin minted in 1974 commemorating the 1100th year after the first settlement of Iceland in 874. The coin was designed by the Icelandic artist Thröstur Magnusson and was struck by the Royal Mint of Great Britain. When a major reform of the coinage in the early 1980s resulted in a complete re-design of the circulating coins of Iceland, the new obverses were all taken from Magnusson's highly distinctive treatment. A variety of aquatic life was portrayed on the reverses, including dolphins, cod and northern shrimp. Magnusson has also designed about 180 stamps, and his stamp designs have won "The Most Beautiful Icelandic Stamp of the Year" every year from 1986 to 1992.

    The obverse of the coin depicts a cow and a woman with the dates 874 and 1974, these are the dates of the first settlement in Iceland and the current date at the time of the issue of the coin. The Icelandic Age of Settlement is traditionally considered to have begun in 874, continuing until 930 when most of the island had been claimed and Althingi, the Icelandic Commonwealth, was established at Thingvellir. While Ingólfur Arnarson and his family are considered to be the first of the Norse settlers and are credited with the founding of Reykjavik, there is some evidence that Gaelic monks from a Hiberno-Scottish mission were already on the island before the arrival of the Norse settlers.

    The reverse of the coin has the text 500 FIMM HUNDRUÐ KRÓNUR, or 500 Hundred Kroner, around the top and ISLAND below. In the center are the Landvættir or the four protective spirits of Iceland. These spirits are depicted on the coat of arms of Iceland and are identified as Griðungur (the bull), Gammur (the eagle), Dreki (the dragon), and Bergrisi (the rock giant).

    The cow plays a prominent role in Norse creationist mythology as it does in many other ancient cultures. The cow and the nurturing properties of the milk that she gives is often the representation of a Great Mother Goddess attached to creation and sustenance. There is also Icelandic folklore that revolves around witches summoning Tilberi or Snakkur, creatures that can only be created by women for the purpose of stealing milk.


    In Norse mythology there was Muspell, the place of light and heat and there was Niflheim, the place of freezing darkness. In between there was the void of Ginnungagap where the heat and cold from these primordial worlds meet. Where the heat and cold met there was thawing drops from which grew the frost giant Ymir. From Ymir's arm grew a man and a woman and from his legs grew a son. The thawing frost then became the cow Auðumbla and four rivers of milk flowed from her teats and she nourished Ymir with that milk. She also licked the salty ice blocks in which imprisoned Buri thus freeing the father of the gods and grandfather of Odin.


    Iceland is protected by four great guardians who are known as the four landvættir who protect the land and promote prosperity. The story of the landvættir is from the Saga of King Olaf Tryggvason in the Heimskringla, written in Old Norse in Iceland by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson around 1230 A.D. It states that King Harald Bluetooth Gormsson of Denmark, wishing to invade Iceland, had a wizard send his spirit out in the form of a whale to look for points of vulnerability. As he explored the island he saw that all the hillsides and hollows were full of landvættir, both large and small, in all directions. As he circled the island he saw "nothing but sands and wasteland and high waves crashing on the shore." and abandoned his plans to invade. The four landvættir are considered the guardians of the four quarters of the island: Dreki the dragon in the east, Gammur the eagle in the north, Griðungur the bull in the west, and Bergrisi the giant in the south.


    Top: The four landvættir (Bull, Eagle, Dragon and Rock Giant) as they are depicted on the national coat of arm of Iceland. Bottom: A familiar depiction of the landvættir as they are depicted on the logo of the Central Bank of Iceland.

    Beautiful depictions of the four landvættir by Icelandic painter, illustrator and concept artist Asgeir Jon Asgeirsson of Reykjavik. https://asgeir.artstation.com/

    Coin images are mine, others are linked.
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  3. Paul M.

    Paul M. Well-Known Member

    Great coin with a great history. But, don't forget, it comes in a 3 coin set!

    Also, there's a 2 coin set (US $1, and Iceland 1000 Kronur) minted in 2000. Due to US law, this is one of the few occasions in which a foreign coin has been struck by the US Mint.
    Pellinore, Deacon Ray and Cachecoins like this.
  4. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Smiles, everyone! Supporter

    Wow! That’s a great presentation, @Cachecoins ! The coin is beautiful, the history is fascinating, and those illustrations are terrifying. Thanks for posting and welcome to the Forum!

    Paul M. and Cachecoins like this.
  5. Maxfli

    Maxfli Well-Known Member

    I'm with Paul M. and Deacon Ray — terrific presentation of a fascinating coin. Thank you!

    Just another example of why the Dark Side rules.
    Deacon Ray and Cachecoins like this.
  6. vintagemintage

    vintagemintage Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
    Paul M. likes this.
  7. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Did these beautiful coins of 500 and 1000 kronur circulate, or were they solely made for collectors?
    Cachecoins likes this.
  8. Cachecoins

    Cachecoins Historia Moneta

    They were not in circulation but the landvættir on the reverse were each used on circulating coins.with sea creatures on the reverse.
    Pellinore likes this.
  9. ewomack

    ewomack Senior Member Supporter

    I think I have the coins from the 2-coin set - Iceland has some amazingly designed coins with interesting background stories, as the original post shows.

    Seba79, Paul M. and Cachecoins like this.
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