Icelandic Mythology on 1930 Commemorative Series

The Icelandic “Althing” (parliament) was established in 930AD, making it one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world. The Althing parliament has been in continuous operation since, except for a 45 year period (1800 to 1845).

In 1930 a parliamentary committee of the Althing commissioned the Saxony State Mint at Muldenhutten in Germany to mint coins of three denominations. These coins were minted to commemorate the 1000th Anniversary of the Althing. The three coins minted were a brass 2 Kronur, a silver 5 Kronur and a silver 10 Kronur. The 10 Kronur coin is 45 millimeters in diameter, larger than most crown-sized coins. Mintages were 20,000 of the 2 Kronur, 10,000 each of the 5 and 10 Kronur coins.

The coins were originally presented in velvet lined boxes with an emblem of Iceland on the underside of the boxcover. Some came in a single box with three coins and others came with separate boxes for each coin. The three coins are cataloged as KM-M1, KM-M2 and KM-M3 in Krause’s “Unusual World Coins”, 2007 edition. The three coins depict the mythology and history of Iceland and the Althing.

The obverse of the 10 Kronur coin shows the King of Thule, a mythological / legendary figure of Iceland, seated and blessing two children.

The reverse of the 10 Kronur coin depicts the Coat of Arms of Iceland (Skjaldarmerki Íslands). The arms show a cross of silver on a sky-blue shield, with a fire-red cross inside the silver cross (similar to the Icelandic flag). The shield bearers are the four mythical protectors (landvættir – “land wights”) of Iceland standing on a lava block. The bull (Griðungur) is the protector of southwestern Iceland (Breiðafjörður). The eagle or griffin (Gammur) protects northwestern Iceland (Eyjafjörður). The dragon (Dreki) protects the northeast (Vopnafjörður). The Rock-Giant (Bergrisi) is the protector of the southeast (Vikarskeiði). The four protectors are depicted around the shield clockwise in the same relationship they have geographically, ie bull to lower left, eagle to upper left, dragon to upper right and giant to lower right.

The Landnámabók (meaning “The Book of Settlement”, often shortened to Landnáma) is a medieval Icelandic manuscript describing in considerable detail the mythological settlement (“landnám”) of Iceland. The book tells of a time when King Haraldr Gormsson, King of the Danes, intended to invade Iceland. He orders a wizard to travel to Iceland and tell him of what he sees there. The wizard goes in the form of a whale and attempts to go on land in each of the four corners of Iceland.

When he comes to the northeast at Vopnafjörður he tries to walk on land. However, he is thwarted by a great dragon, who is followed by many worms, bugs and lizards, who breathe poison on the wizard. Then the wizard tries to go to the northwest, to Eyjafjörður. There he is met by a bird with wings so long that they touch the mountains to either side of the fjord, along with many other birds. The Wizard continues to the southwest to Breiðafjörður and heads to land. There he meets a giant Bull who wades into the sea and bellows at him mightily, followed by many landvættir. The wizard goes to the southeast around Reykjanes and tries to swim ashore on Vikarskeiði. There he met with a stone giant armed with a staff of iron, taller than the mountains and with many jötnar (giants) following him. Next the wizard tries to go to the east. There he sees nothing but sands and wasteland with tall waves crashing on its shores, where longships cannot land.

Great respect was given to these mythological protectors of Iceland, so much so that there was a law during the time of the Vikings that no ship should bear grimacing symbols (such as dragonheads on the bow of the ship) when approaching Iceland. This was so the protector landvættir would not be provoked unnecessarily. (Ref – Wikipedia)

The obverse of the 5 Kronur depicts Ulfliot, the “Lawgiver”. Iceland had been settled in the late 800’s by malcontents, fleeing the suppressive taxation of King Harald I of Norway. Ulfliot, at the age of 60, undertook a journey back to Norway to study jurisprudence. He returned to Iceland in 927 and spread what he had learned. Ulfliot proposed a set of laws and they were adopted unanimously by a general assembly of Iceland. Thus was the founding of the Althing. . (Ref – Iceland: or The Journal of a Residence in That Island…, by Ebenezer Henderson, 1818; Member of the Scandinavian Literary Society of Copenhagen).

The reverse of the 5 Kronur shows Dreki, the dragon, entangled with Gammur, the eagle or griffin.

The reverse of the brass 2 Kronur coin shows all four protector landvættir in their respective geographical quadrants, bounded by a cross.

The coins are commonly considered medals instead of coins, as they were minted privately by the Saxon Mint. In the USA many coins were minted privately in the 19th century and were never categorized as medals. They were commonly accepted as coins at the time and still are among collectors, including the Red Book and other numismatic publications. These coins of Iceland do show denominations stated on the edges. (Note to NGC – Don’t take this as a credit for the ugly prongs on NGC holders that cover part of the coin.) To me, if there is a denomination indicated, it must be a coin.

The coin depicted here is the 10 Kronur. Note the lack of distracting text on the coin. This is one factor that makes the coin so attractive. I wish the coin shown here was mine, but it is not. It was not for sale.

Note – I previously wrote and posted this article at the NGC Registry, 13 Sept 2009.

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