The History of Lucky Coins in Numismatics

The History of Lucky Coins in Numismatics

Jan 11 , 2024

The English word ‘luck’ is believed to have first been used towards the end of the Middle Ages, primarily as a term relating to gambling. Before that, the idea of something having good fortune was represented by the word ‘speed’, and rather than it being linked to chance it was associated with divine intervention; hence the phrase ‘Godspeed’ (God spede), to wish someone luck.

Luck has long had an association with coins too. The lucky penny, as a gift to a new-born baby. The lucky silver sixpence, stirred into a Christmas pudding to bring luck to whoever finds it in their bowl on Christmas Day (hopefully without the bad luck of a broken tooth!). “Find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck.

This is true around the world too; the US Silver Dollar is often referred to as the ‘lucky’ silver dollar, while the Japanese five-yen coin is often placed inside a new wallet when given as a gift to wish the receiver good luck. Indeed the Japanese words for ‘five yen’ are go en, a phrase also used between friends to wish each other luck.

But this long-held belief that coins can be ‘lucky’ is perhaps a story best told by the French ‘Angel’ coin.

In 1792, Augustine Dupre was commissioned by King Louis XVI to design a new French coinage, and responded with a design featuring an angel on a pedestal. While the design proved popular, Dupre soon fell under suspicion of harbouring revolutionary ideas and was sentenced to execution. But he somehow managed to escape the cold touch of the guillotine, allegedly by bribing his guards with one of his Angel Coins.

The story took hold, and the Angel Coin quickly became known as a ‘lucky’ coin, a reputation which remained for decades. 19th Century French Naval Captains wouldn’t leave port without an Angel Coin in their purses. Pilots from various air forces around the world would fly with an Angel Coin in their cockpits, a practice that continued deep into the 20th century including wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

Napoleon himself was not beyond belief in the lucky Angel Coin. He was said to have carried one in his pocket throughout his reign, only to have fatefully lost it the day before his final defeat at Waterloo.

A saving grace, a symbol of luck, a mis-placed charm; the ‘lucky’ Angel coin has played many roles in its long history. Now, it is reimagined for the 21st Century with the new 2024 Angel Coin.

Explore all our Lucky Angel coins here.