Ralf Böpple published an interesting article in the December 2011 issue of Chopmark News
about the Sydney Emden Medal, fashioned from Mexican dollar coins. See the link below or email
for more information about the
Chopmark Collectors Club.
This is a commemorative medal issued in 1918 by the Australian Navy Board in remembrance of the naval battle of the HMAS Sydney with the German light cruiser SMS Emden.
The battle took place on November 9, 1914, off the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, about 1,350 miles to the northwest of the Australian continent. Not only did the Australians come out victorious in the encounter, it was also the first single ship action
German soldiers were paid in Mexican dollars in Tsing-tao, and also for its travels between Chinese and East Asian ports, the Emden carried this type of specie as means of payment in its cash box. It is reported that the Captain of a Norwegian ship was paid 100 Mexican dol-lars for the transport of the crew of an English ship which was intercepted and scuttled a few days before to a safe haven. On the Emden, a safe filled with Mexican dollars was reportedly still on the ship three months after the battle.
According to sources, 6,429 pieces were taken from the Emden, of which 1,000 were mounted as medals. This was carried out in 1918 by the Sydney jeweller W. Kerr, whose stamp is found on the reverse. These medals were presented by Captain John Glossop of the HMAS Sydney to the members of the ship who were on board during the engagement. Others were given to naval dignitaries, the staff on Cocos Islands, and museums. The remainder was sold to the public. Of the unmounted coins, 653 were distributed by the Department of Navy, 343 were sold to the public, and the remainder was melted for the relief fund of the Royal Australian Navy.
On the medals given to the crew, the name and the rank of the seamen were engraved on the back of the mount. Most medals I have seen are not named, however, considering the rarity of the medal, I am not sure that all 1,000 were indeed distributed. Additionally, it is very difficult to locate the unmounted Mexican dollars today. Apparently, they have not been specially marked, so they can only be identified by the accompanying letter from the Department of Navy with which they were sold.
Since many museums have gone online with their holdings, it is quite easy to find pictures on the internet by searching for ―Sydney Emden Mexican Dollar. All the pieces of eight used in the Sydney Emden medals that I have seen show a certain number of chopmarks, which is to be expected from coins that circulated for years or decades in East Asia. Actually, the item in my collection is one of the least chopped, with the coin being a good extremely fine. Other coins show heavier wear or have even been cleaned.
It is a highly intriguing numismatic item, a fascinating piece of Mexican-German-Australian history, a living example of the important role of Mexican silver in world trade and commerce, and, last but not least, most likely one of a very few chopmarked condecorations!
For more information on the Chopmark Collectors Club, see:
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