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parrallels to the COVID-19 pandemic and World Wars

The World on Pause

By Jeremy Bostwick, Senior Numismatist and Cataloger

Author: Jeremy Bostwick / Thursday, March 26, 2020 / Categories: World Coin of the Week

​By now, the disruption and chaos created by COVID-19 is inescapable. While more and more states here in America continue to issue shelter at home orders in hope of stemming the tide, many people have seen their professions, livelihood, and overall daily habits placed on an indefinite pause. Amidst the uncertainty, it is important to remember that, as a planet, we are all in this together and that we have faced worldwide turmoil before. The global conflict that would come to be known as World War I was a defining moment in world history, marking a decided increase in the destruction and devastation that man could both wreak and endure. Not to be forgotten, the infamous 1918 influenza pandemic made its appearance during the final year of the war, and ravaged the globe for two additional years before finally subsiding at the end of 1920.

In numismatics, we have reminders not just of the events themselves, but also (and more importantly) of the times that would eventually follow: the war finally ended and the pandemic came to a close. Plaques, for example, were issued in France honoring those who were severely injured or even killed in action. Not to be forgotten were those fighting side-by-side on the front lines—the doctors and nurses who also played a vital role in the war effort, just as their brethren do today in our current health crisis. Why were these touchstones of history important? They reinforce where humanity has been at critical times in the past and that we collectively can recover and grow. And, given the current environment of social distancing, numismatics stands as a pastime that is perfect for quiet days spent indoors, when social activities are discouraged.

Our upcoming Collectors Choice Online auction in April offers a special collection of medals focused upon Wiener architectural pieces, the vast work of famed medalist Karl Goetz, and a poignant array of plaques and medals on the topic of World War I. It presents an excellent diversion as well as food for thought during these unusual times. The World War I section, through plaques such as those mentioned previously, allows realization that, though seeming unprecedented, the current situation has historical parallels, and those events had conclusions.

In addition, some medals in the Goetz section touch upon aspects highly topical to today's news, such as the Olympics and the Oberammergau Passion Play. Goetz's 1936 work on the games of the XI Olympiad celebrated the host city, Berlin, with the games being noted for their politically charged nature. This was another time of great uncertainty in the world—the rise of Nazi Germany and the collision course toward the world's second global conflict. It has just been announced that the COVID 19 pandemic will delay this summer's 2020 Olympics in Japan, with officials stating that they will be held by the summer of 2021.

Similarly, another of Goetz's works, this time from 1930, celebrates the longstanding performance of the Passion of Jesus Christ by the townsfolk of the Bavarian village of Oberammergau. This tradition dates to the second quarter of the 17th century, with villagers vowing to perform this play every ten years in perpetuity if they were spared the ravages of the bubonic plague. As their death rate dropped dramatically, this vow was upheld, and the performances have been carried out during every year ending in '0.' Only a few times has this tradition been postponed—in 1920, following the extreme political and economic turmoil raging in post-WWI Germany and in 1940, due to WWII. It has been announced just recently that this year's Passion Play has been postponed until 2022, due to the obvious risk. These medallic works give us the opportunity to see events which have brought great uncertainty in the past and how society as a whole, bounced back. It may take time, anger, sadness and a great deal of patience, but we will get through this period, and numismatics may help provide much needed quiet reflection, as well as something to productively occupy our time.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions (until May 4th) for our upcoming CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction in June 2020. Following that, our next larger format sales will be our Official Auction of the ANA World's Fair of Money and our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show, both in August 2020. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.