Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ernest Hemingway and Numismatics

It has been 55 years since the death of Ernest Hemingway, one of the great writers of the twentieth century. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway, suffering from serious physical and mental problems, committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.
I have been studying Hemingway in connection with other research.  In the process, I have come across several coins and medals that honor him and well as some other numismatist connections. Cuba, where the author lived for twenty years and had ties for much longer, has issued four Hemingway coins. 

Hemingway loved Cuba and the Cuban people, and he was treated as a celebrity.  He had a grim view of Castro’s predecessor, Fulgenico Batista, and was hopeful that Fidel Castro would improve the lot of the Cubans.  Castro later seized Hemingway’s house, nine miles outside of Havana, and today it is a shrine owned by the government.

Three of the Cuban coins were issued in 1982:  a silver five-peso with Hemingway’s image on the obverse along with his life dates; a five-peso which paid tribute to his Nobel Prize and The Old Man and the Sea novel (there is an image of a fisherman, presumably “Santiago,” in the small boat on the reverse); and another five-peso coin with Hemingway’s fishing boat, Pilar, on the reverse.

The fourth, and perhaps the most interesting, coin is a 2010 Cuban five-peso copper with Hemingway and Castro on the reverse.  It commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the only meeting between the two men.  Castro participated in Hemingway’s marlin fishing tournament, and won. 

Elsewhere in the region, Jamaica issue a seven-coin proof set in 1994, and one of the coins was a five-dollar Hemingway coin with the image of the author and the fisherman on a boat in the water.

There also is a spare, not very attractive Hemingway piece that was issued as an unofficial coin in Croatia.  A website says it was “being used as a ‘voucher’ for consumption.”  The 47-mm medal has a crude image of Hemingway on the obverse and an “H” on the reverse.  And a gold-plated commemorative (non-denominated) Cook Islands coin featuring Hemingway in his iconic bulky turtleneck sweater was issued in 2005.

In the United States, the Franklin Mint issued a medal of Hemingway as part of its Longines Symphonette Society “Great American Triumphs” series.  It was one of a set of sixty 39-mm silver medals released in the early 1970s.  Apparently, there also is a bronze variant.

But for me the most noteworthy numismatic item of Hemingway is an 81-mm bronze medal produced by the French-Spanish medalist Andre Belo.  It has an obverse portrait of Hemingway and an impressionistic account of Santiago, the old fisherman, struggling to reel in a marlin on the reverse.  The legend in lower-case letters:  “le vieil homme et la mer” [the old man and the sea].

A copy of this medal sits in my office, sometimes offering inspiration for writing.  Although certainly not rare, it is one of my favorite medals. It was issued in 1976 by the Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint).
Among other works by Belo, who was born in 1908, are medals of composer Henri Sauguet, literary critic Charles Sainte-Beuve, musician Erik Satie and writer George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin)--all French--as well as “The Afternoon of a Faun.”

There are some other interesting items related to Hemingway and numismatics.  He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and donated his gold medal to a provincial Cuban Catholic church.  The medal was stolen in the 1980s, but was recovered and is now closely held by the Catholic Church.  When the Nobel Prize of Dr. James Watson, a distinguished scientist but not as famous as Hemingway, came up for auction in 2015, it was sold for $4.1 million.

There is no evidence that I know of that Hemingway’s interest in money extended beyond spending it freely.  However, there are two items of note.  As reported by Ron Abler in The E-Sylum in 2012, a 1934 Lincoln Head cent is preserved at the author’s home in Key West, a testament to his hectoring his second wife about her free spending:

And in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the University of Texas at Austin Henry R. Ransom Center there are coins as well as European currency, presumably money Hem or family members simply accumulated.

There is at least one coin allusion in Hemingway’s writing.  In A Moveable Feast he described a girl as only he could:  “She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin.”

Finally, on Hemingway’s grave in Idaho, tourists leave coins, mostly pennies.  While this is probably a simple spur-of-the-moment thing, leaving coins on graves actually goes back to ancient Greek mythology; the money would be used to help pay for ferry service on the River Styx in the afterlife.  Hemingway probably would have liked that idea.

[This article first appeared in the September 20, 2016 issue of Numismatic News.]


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