The History of Vatican Coins


For Americans who collect primarily American coins, it can be hard to know where to start with coins from around the world. There are so many beautiful and history rich coins that have been produced over the millennia. Collecting Vatican coins would be a rewarding place to begin. The Vatican has a long and storied history of politics and art. Its mint produces new Vatican City money every year, and those coins tend to increase in popularity and value. 

The Catholic Church dates back to the death of Jesus Christ and the evangelism of his disciples, in particular Peter. In Catholic history, St. Peter is one of the earliest martyrs and saints. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down in Rome in Nero’s amphitheater in 67 A.D. This is the site on which the Vatican stands today. 

Vatican City Is Established with Its Own Modern Currency

In 1929 the Lateran Treaty created the State of the Vatican City. It is located within the boundaries of the City of Rome but is its own sovereign state, the smallest one in the world. According to the terms of the Lateran Treaty, the Vatican began producing its own distinct coinage. Coins were minted in Rome and were legal tender in the Vatican as well as in Italy and San Marino. 

These coins were denominated in centesimi and lire, similar to the Italian lira. The 1929 coins were: 5 and 10 centesimi made of copper, 20 and 50 centesimi made of nickel, and 5 and 10 lire made of silver. In 1939 the copper coins were replaced with aluminum bronze ones and in 1940 the nickel ones were replaced with stainless steel. During the war years of 1941-1943 very few Vatican coins were produced. 

After the war the Vatican revamped its coinage and introduced 1, 2, 5, and 10 lire coins made of aluminum. Over the years the denomination of the coins and the metals they were made of changed considerably. When the countries of Europe switched their standard currencies to the euro, Vatican City discontinued lire coins and also minted Vatican euros. 

How Vatican Coins Are Issued

The Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican, or UFN, issues coins every year to its own exclusive set of clients. It does not sell through its website but only through a curated list of larger coin dealers. At the beginning of every year the UFN publishes their schedule of coins and stamps that it will release that year. This includes a mint set of uncirculated coins with obverses depicting the current pope. The reverses of these coins feature a common euro design of a map of the European Union along with the coin’s denomination. 

In addition, the Vatican issues proof sets of the same coins with each coin in its own capsule inside a case that also contains a large silver medal. Both the mint and the proof sets are issued in the spring, but the UFN releases about 5 times as many mint sets as proof sets. 

The UFN also produces 2-euro commemorative sets in the fall of every year. The obverse of these coins depicts an event that reflects the theme for that year. The Vatican also offers for sale small numbers of silver and gold commemorative coins every year. These are themed coins, and demand tends to vary based on the theme or design.

The majority of coins that the Vatican produces are issued in mint or proof sets, but it has also released some Vatican coins into general circulation. 

Prices for Vatican coins vary. American collectors must pay a premium for Vatican coins because it’s difficult to become a client coin dealer for the Vatican. Nevertheless, the coins, because of their low mintage, historical and religious significance, and attractiveness, remain popular. There tends to be significant demand for first year issues like the 2002 euro Vatican sets. The proof set that year is worth around $1500 today. Coins with John Paul II are also very well received. 

People collect Vatican coins for any number of reasons. Many Catholics enjoy collecting the coins the Vatican mint produces because they feature images of Catholic notables or Catholic events. Coin collectors enjoy collecting Vatican City coins because they are beautiful, have low mintages, and retain or increase their value over time, independent of what bullion prices do. Whether you’re a Catholic, a coin enthusiast, or a history buff, Vatican Coins offer something for everyone. 

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