Coins depicting microscopes.

A small selection compiled by David Walker, UK.


Like some other microscopy enthusiasts, I enjoy collecting stamps and postal stationery depicting aspects of microscopy although wouldn't describe myself as a philatelist—it is just the designs that interest me. Collecting all stamps / covers on this theme would be very expensive and time consuming with the late William Heathwood reporting over 500 stamps either depicting a microscope or directly related theme in 1997 (1). For me, much smaller sub-themes are of interest including those showing microorganisms and photomicrographs. I've previously shared stamps depicting
diatoms, radiolaria and those showing the life and work of Hooke and Van Leeuwenhoek. Fritz Schulze has shared on Micscape in October 2011 an attractive gallery of stamps with good depictions of optical and electron microscopes (many stamps issued are either heavily stylised or are examples with small designs).

One of my favourites is the envelope below in the Great Britain 'Millennium Coin Cover Series' on the theme of Sir Alexander Fleming and his discovery of penicillin. This example ticks a lot of boxes for the thematic collector; the stamp shows a macrophotograph of a culture and Fleming using his microscope is shown on the cover (and postmark) with modern workers using stereo microscopes as an additional design feature. A further bonus is that the Isle of Man one crown coin depicts both a microscope and a photomicrograph. This made me wonder how many coins had been issued with a microscopy theme depicted. Microscopes themselves are of course extensively used in numismatics as shown by Robert Pavlis in his Micscape article in August 2008 Coins and Microscopes.

Above. An attractive GB / Isle of Man coin cover with multiple elements associated with microscopy, both philatelic and numismatic. Design credit: 'The Millennium Coin Cover Series.
Stamp showing a culture of the Penicillium mould in the GB Millennium 1999 series. Design credit on the stamp to M. Dempsey.
© Stamp Design Royal Mail Group Ltd (1999).

Above. Coin detail, diameter 39 mm, 1 crown Isle of Man dated 1995. The Isle of Man is an island off the west coast of Britain and is a crown dependency which is self governing.
The microscope design is somewhat stylised with an out of scale base and the substage looks out of alignment! This must be one of the few coins that also depict a photomicrograph in the design.

To see if there were more examples and with 'naive novice numismatist' hat on (I do like alliteration), I searched the online databases. My favourite source for themed stamps,, also has a coin section which revealed a couple using just the keyword 'microscope'. I then widened the search by looking for coins that may depict notable microscopists such as Carl Zeiss and Robert Koch, which produced further examples. A Wiki resource also had a page depicting microscopes on coins.

The small gallery below shows the additional five coins plus one medal that I have found to date. Four were single figure sums to buy so they are my examples but one was a limited issue selling for three figure sums and I'm obliged to the Wiki resource for the images. I'd be interested to learn of other coins / widely issued medals depicting a microscopy theme. There's quite a number of examples of paper currency on this theme and have been previously illustrated and discussed by Micscape authors, Fritz Schulze (Canada's new $100 bill) and Roland Mortimer.

I was delighted to find the 1989 GDR coin cover below celebrating 100 years of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. The cover depicts Carl Zeiss and it also featured an attractive selection of microscopy themed stamps—an accurately figured Zeiss 'Interferenzmikroskop JENAVAL interphako', Ernst Abbe and a 'Zwelkoordinaten meßgerät ZKM-01 250C' (the latter for metrology I think). The 10 mark coin shows Zeiss and accurately figured example of a 19th century Zeiss model. Other attractive coin covers with stamps depicting a microscope were also issued for this GDR coin.

Above. An attractive coin cover by Germany.

Above. Details of the coin. The 10F coin is ca. 32 mm in diameter.

The three remaining coins which I have examples of are shown below. My favourite of all the coins shown in this article is the one on the far right. The Hungarian coin celebrating the work of Richard Zsigmondy with a finely detailed design of an ultramicroscope which he invented and who received the Nobel Prize for its development and for his work on colloids. His work features in the history of the study of Brownian motion, a topic of interest to me, in particular ways of demonstrating the motion and the widespread misinformation that is associated with it.

Left: Egyptian 5 piastres of a girl using a microscope (details courtesy of the seller as cannot read the inscription). Diameter 25 mm and ca. 2.5 mm thick at the edge.
Middle: Not a coin but described by sellers as a Robert Koch medal, 40 mm diameter. I'm not clear about the details of issue, when and by whom, comments welcomed. A somewhat stylised microscope design as shows no mirror and has a strange base.
Right: Hungarian 2000 forint coin, size 30 x 25 mm. It has an attractive very fine matt finish dated 2015.

Above. The reverse on all three coins

Above: A close-up of the Hungarian coin to show its the fine detailing including milled edges on some parts.
An ultramicroscope is well shown and the optical axis hasn't suffered unduly, except perhaps the mirror—as often happens with stamp designs! A close-up of the coin is shown as the details include fine milling on some parts.

The obverse side of the sixth coin below, a GDR 20 mark issued in 1988 was sourced from a Wiki Commons page illustrating 'Microscopes and Coins' (the other coin shown was the Carl Zeiss above). They may be much scarcer than the 10 mark coin shown in the FDC as they fetch three figure sums online (over £200 is typical) and way beyond what I'm prepared to pay.

Reverse side of coin shown. Description below as supplied by the creator Jobel:
"Commemorative 20-mark-coin of East Germany on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Carl Zeiss". Issued in 1988.
Used with thanks under the Creative Commons licence.

Comments to the author are welcomed.

Image acknowledgements. The copyright of the coins, stamps and envelope designs remains with the originators and have been credited where known. They are presented here under the policy of 'Fair Use' at a limited size solely as an educational resource for discussion on this not-for-profit website.

1) William Heathwood kindly sent me his updated list of microscopes depicted on stamps up to June 1997 listing 525 examples after publishing his paper below.
W Heathwood, Microscopes on Stamps: A Checklist to 1996, Quekett Journal of Microscopy, 1997, 38(1), pp. 37-47. This invaluable list provides the SG catalogue number, the face value, year of issue and a brief description of the stamp. Useful guidelines on starting a collection are also provided in the accompanying article.


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