Even as the world has increasingly turned to paper and plastic, it is coins that represent real wealth. That is why they often play pivotal roles in movies. Here are just a few examples of cases in which coins played an important part in major films ranging from classic black and white films to recent Netflix releases.
Another Dawn (1937)
Starring Errol Flynn (Capt. Denny Roark) and Kay Francis (Julia Ashton), the movie surrounds a complicated love story at a British desert colony in the Middle East. Ashton falls in love with Roark while she is married to Ian Hunter (Col. John Wister), Roark’s friend. Wister is aware that they’re in love, but still holds both dear. At one point, Col. Wister receives an order to bomb a damn that has been constructed by insurgents. The mission is suicidal, as the man who flies it is almost certain to be shot down. Roark volunteers, but Wister suggests that they flip a coin to determine who will fly the mission. They flip a 1915 British silver florin of King George V. Roark calls heads, which it is. When he goes to say goodbye to Ashton, the two see a plane taking off. Wister has taken on the mission. While it is successful, his plane is shot down, and he never returns.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Arguably the most idealistic movie ever made begins with the death of Sen. Sam Foley. Gov. Hubert Hopper (Guy Kibbee), who gets to pick his replacement. He comes under overwhelming pressure from political boss Jim Taylor and popular committees, who have different men in mind for the position. While having dinner with his family, the Governor comes under heavy pressure from his own children to select a third option, the largely unknown Jeff smith (James Stewart). The Governor dismisses the suggestion of his children and wrestles with the other two options. Finally, he decides to toss a coin to decide between Horace Miller, the political boss’s choice, and Henry Hill, the choice of the committees. The coin lands on its side on a newspaper, which has a headline about Smith. He takes that as a sign and selects Smith, who then goes to Washington. He faces down the entire political establishment… and wins.
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
The Devil and Daniel Webster is one of the most haunting movies ever made. Jabez Stone (James Craig) makes a Faustian bargain with the Devil, who takes the form of Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston). Frustrated by his financial problems, Stone says that he’d sell his soul to the Devil for two cents. Mr. Scratch appears with those two cents, a New Brunswick cent from 1861-1864 and a Canadian cent from 1876-1901. He proposes a deal that involves Stone becoming wealthy and the Devil getting his soul at the end of the period. Upon seeing the death of another man who made a similar bargain, Stone solicits the help of famed lawyer Daniel Webster to get him out of the deal. Webster is ultimately successful, but the film ends with Mr. Scratch looking for his next victim – and finding him in the viewer.
Silver Eagles are no exception to this practice. Proof Silver Eagles have been minted since the beginning of the program in 1986 in addition to the uncirculated strike coins minted as bullion. Their mintage has generally not exceeded one-tenth that of their bullion counterparts, but one issue – the 1995-W Silver Eagle – is an exception even to proof coins.
Moby Dick (1956)
In 1956, Warner Bros. made the famous Herman Melville novel Moby Dick into a movie. Perhaps no book or movie has ever captured the notion of destructive obsession quite like this tale, in which Captain Ahab makes it his life mission to get revenge on the whale that took his leg. Early in the movie, Ahab (Gregory Peck) nails a doubloon to his ship’s mast, declaring “Whosoever of ye finds me that white whale, ye shall have this Spanish gold ounce, my boys.” The line is a bit misleading, as the coin is a doubloon of the Ecuador Republic. The coin, which was struck from 1838-1843, weighs about 4/5 of an ounce.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
In 1971, Warner Bros. brought another famous book to life, this time Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by famed children’s author Roald Dahl. In the film, eccentric chocolatier, Willy Wonka offers a contest where the finders of five golden tickets will be given the chance to tour his famous chocolate factory. The tickets are hidden in select bars of chocolate, causing a buying frenzy as millions around the world seek to be one of the lucky five. The main character Charlie Bucket, part of a poor, but loving family, unfortunately does not have enough money to buy even one of the chocolate bars-seemingly dashing his hopes. By chance, Charlie sees something shining in the gutter one day, which turns out to be a Maria Theresa Thaler, a large size Austrian Dollar coin. With this find, Charlie can purchase a Wonka chocolate bar that so happens to have a golden ticket inside, leading to his admittance to the chocolate factory and all the mystery is has in store.
One of the most famous, and successful, romantic movies of all times, this James Cameron directed film won Oscars, dominated the box office, and solidified Leonardo DiCaprio’s status as a global movie star. The film is a time period piece that dramatizes the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic and features real historic figures alongside the film’s main, fictional characters and their budding romance across classes, Jack and Rose. Coins appear in the film numerous times, in iconic scenes. A stack of British coinage appears on the table as Jack and his friend Fabrizio gamble their way to tickets for the doomed ship, including Victoria and Edward VII pennies. After disembarking and starting his ill-fated romance with Rose, Jack explains that he was an artist who painted portraits for dimes. This leads Rose to ask Jack for a portrait, handing him a Barber Dime– a classic piece of U.S coinage.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Just over a decade ago, The Dark Knight set several box-office records. The second film in the Dark Knight Trilogy, it features Joker, the old villain, on a killing spree. During that spree, he uses a two-headed coin to determine people’s fates. The two faces are the obverse of the Peace Dollar, the iconic coin that was struck to celebrate the end of the First World War.
The King’s Speech (2010)
The Oscar winning film, the King’s Speech was released in 2010 and tells the story of Prince Albert of England who would go on to become King George VI and Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped him overcome his stammer. In the movie, Lionel ends up betting Albert a shilling, a King George V shilling, if he could read a passage correctly. This prompts Albert’s iconic line, “Royal’s don’t carry money,” and Lionel fronting the money for the bet. This bet of one shilling eventually comes to symbolize the budding friendship and commitment to overcoming the stammer.
Coin Heist (2017)
In 2017, Netflix released the movie Coin Heist that follows an unlikely group of high schoolers as they seek to save their Philadelphia based prep school after their Principal is arrested for embezzling millions form the school threatening school activities and scholarships alike. After a field trip to the Philadelphia branch Mint and learning how valuable “error” coins can be, they hatch a plan to break into the Mint, produce a large amount of error coins, and sneak them out of the Mint, so the errors can be sold to collectors, and the money can be put towards their floundering school. While the film was made without cooperation from the United States Mint and features no actual footage of their minting process, this recent Netflix release is a fun fantasy romp for anyone with an interest in coins.
Bonus Mention- Coins in Television
The hit television show Blacklist, which debuted on NBC in 2013, has recently piqued interest in coin collecting. The crime thriller follows the enigmatic Raymond “Red” Reddington played expertly by James Spader, a former Navy officer who would become a criminal mastermind, after he voluntary surrenders to the FBI after previously eluding capture for years. Choosing to only work with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen, played by Megan Boon, the two work to foil criminals and terrorists using his insider knowledge.
You see, Red is a bit of a coin aficionado, and the 100th episode of the series features a rare 1943 cent that he owns that was mistakenly struck in bronze instead of copper. Fun Fact, in 1943, the cent would have actually been struck in steel instead of copper due to wartime efforts. The bulk of the episode centers on Red, trying to track down the remaining three 1943 cents, only four of which were struck in bronze at the Denver Mint. When the four coins are put together, a map is formed, leading to a secret stash of Federal Reserve notes.
While some of the backstory is not entirely accurate, the episode does provide a fun example of rare coins and some of the extremely low mintages that exist out there.