The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 15, April 10, 2005, Article 3


Regarding my question about transitional papal coinage,
Martin Purdy writes: I would recommend you have a look
through catalogues with detailed listings of Papal coinage,
e.g. SCWC, Craig, Reinfeld & Hobson ("Catalogue of the
World's Most Popular Coins" - the 1960s catalogue that
I did most of my learning from) - it would appear that at least
one coin issue is made for each interregnum ("Sede Vacante"
or "Vacant See"), most recently in 1978. My copy of R&H
lists Sede Vacante coins from 1605, and there were doubtless
earlier issues.

I would assume that they had their origin in the need to
maintain coinage in the absence of a reigning authority and
subsequently became commemorative or medallic issues.
The two Sede Vacante issues of 1978 would have filled no
need in terms of circulating coinage but maintain a continuity
with historic issues, and the 2005 Sede Vacante coin or
coins (my bet is on a whole set rather than a single coin type,
given the modern market, but let's wait and see) will be the

The term "Sede Vacante" is a key to finding information

Wikipedia (the free online encyclopedia) has an entry on
Sede Vacante, but no information on the coins.
Sede Vacante

This paragraph appears on a page about medieval papal
states coins:

"As far back as 1370 there were coins struck during the
vacancies of the Holy See, by authority of the cardinal
camerlengo, who, after the fifteenth century at least, caused
his name and his coat of arms to be stamped on the reverse
of the coin, the obverse bearing the words "SEDE VACANTE"
and the date, surrounding the crossed keys surmounted by
the pavilion."
Sede Vacante

Some Sede Vacante coins and medals of 1958, 1963, and
1978 were being offered for sale on eBay this week.

John Kleeberg writes: "You might try this website -
Sede Vacante

It's maintained by a Professor of Classics at CalState
Northridge, who has put together a large collection of
medals of the popes, including Sede Vacante coins
(issued in between popes)."

[The page is nicely illustrated. -Editor]

Hal Dunn writes: "For transitional coinage (and stamps) of
Vatican City, the “The International Encyclopedic Dictionary
of Numismatics” by R. Scott Carlton provides some information.
The Standard Catalog of World Coins lists pieces from the
old Papal States and from Vatican City, and provides the
dates of each sede vacante. Vatican City memorializes this
period with non-portrait coins and stamps bearing the coat of
arms of the Camerlengo. His name is Eduardo Cardinal
Martinez Somalo."

Stefano Quagliere of Rome writes: "The Vatican city must
be regarded as an independent country, with its boundaries,
laws, internal and foreign politics (although all these characteristics
are sometimes hidden behind the religious aspects). In a
country as such, when a pope (who is also Chief of State) is
dead, all this affairs must be carried out by a cardinal (named
"Camerlengo") that will handle all the aspects in the meantime
until a new pope is elected. Referring to coinage the "Sede
vacante coins" will show the usual euro value on one side and
the Camerlengo's coat of arms on the other side."

[One numismatic sideline is the study of official seals, and
this interesting description from the Wikipedia discusses the
role of the Camerlengo and the fate of the Pope's seal:

"Chief among the present responsibilities of the
is the formal determination of the death of the reigning Pope;
the traditional procedure for this was to strike gently the
Pope's head three times with a silver hammer and to call his
name. After the Pope is declared to be dead, the Camerlengo
removes the Ring of the Fisherman from his finger and cuts it
with shears in the presence of the Cardinals, and also destroys
the face of the Pope's seal with the silver hammer. These acts
symbolize the end of the late Pope's authority."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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