(The author of this blog entry is not an English native speaker. Do not hesitate making suggestions or proposing language corrections. A French version is available here.)
Belgium struck its first euro collection coin, with a face value of €10, in 2002. As a commemorative calendar issue, its theme is logical, but it is somewhat surprising both for the modesty of its illustration and for its memorial ambiguity. It will no doubt be possible to reach a full understanding of the coin only after an examination of the archives connected to it.
Indeed, the theme chosen is that of the fiftieth anniversary of “the North-South connection”, the railway link that connects Brussels main stations. Only 3.8 km long, according to its Wikipedia article, it is used by 1,200 trains a day, which makes it the busiest railway line in Belgium, and even “the busiest railway tunnel in the world”1. It is therefore very important for Brussels first, but also for all the commuters who come to work there during the day, as well as for international connections. It is also one of the moments of the destruction of the urban fabric of Brussels, a preliminary to the “bruxellisation” of the city center2. The following video excerpt (in French)3 illustrates its bad reputation among the inhabitants of Brussels.
Now we are going to talk about the North-South connection. For many inhabitants of Brussels, it means a gutted city, with endless public works, but this much decried development was also the opportunity for the architects4 to think about the city (…)5
It is worth quoting now the motivations for this collection coin according to the “Royal Decree on the issue of 10 EURO silver commemorative coins on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the North-South Connection in Brussels” (October 16, 2002).
Considering the theme of the issue and the commemorative date of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration by H.M. King Baudouin of the North-South Connection on October 4, 1952;
Considering the various events and the media coverage of this event among the public;
Considering that the Royal Belgian Mint wishes to seize this opportunity to develop its commercial activities, to promote such commemorative events and to illustrate the outstanding achievements of Belgium;6
Let’s note the emphasis on King Baudouin, even though his reign only began in July 1951 and it is difficult to see what role he could have played in the projects of the North-South Connection, and let’s also mention the will of the Royal Mint to reconcile commemorative patriotism and economic benefits, while at the same time being in competition with other media.
Let’s turn our attention back to the desire to “illustrate the outstanding achievements of Belgium” by examining the design of the coin. As the Royal Decree states, it bears “a representation of a train coming out of a tunnel and of some buildings.”7
Neither the tunnel nor the buildings above it seem to be notable; I’m not sure, but I have the impression that this is an artist’s imaginary rendering. One might wonder if the intention to “illustrate the outstanding achievements of Belgium” is well realized with this design, especially if it is compared with the spectacular sheet of three stamps issued by the Belgian post office in 2002 for the anniversary of the connection: with a condensed imaginary panorama of Brussels in the background, where one can recognize some of the most famous monuments of the Belgian capital, the stamps show three modern trains as if they were emerging from the three large stations of the connection seen in low angle. The contrast between the images offered by two of the great organizations responsible for the national image and creators of the Belgian national identity is striking, dynamic and monumental for the Post Office, modest, low-key one might say, for the Mint.
To summarize, the Mint started to mint euro collector coins in a curious way, and we would like to know what the commercial success of this first issue was.
- Wikipedia contributors. (2022, August 13). North–South connection. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:36, January 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=North%E2%80%93South_connection&oldid=1104210174
- See, for instance, S. Jaumain, dir., Bruxelles et la Jonction Nord-Midi : Histoire, architecture et mobilité urbaine. Bruxelles : Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles, 2004 (« Studia Bruxellae », 3). Pp. 224 (reviewed by C. Dupont: https://www.erudit.org/fr/revues/uhr/2005-v33-n2-uhr0640/1016387ar.pdf).
- “(Re)compose the City” : la jonction Nord-Midi revisitée par les archives, BX1 (June 11, 2018).
- The journalist here seems to be oblivious of the fact that “architek” is an insult in the Brussels dialect: see, for instance, I. Doucet, Making a city with words: Understanding Brussels through its urban heroes and villains, City, Culture and Society 3.2 (2012), p. 105-116.
- “On va parler maintenant de la jonction Nord-Midi. Pour beaucoup de Bruxellois, c’est le synonyme d’une ville éventrée, de travaux interminables, mais cet aménagement tant décrié a aussi été l’occasion pour les architectes de penser la ville (…)”.
- Considérant le thème de l’émission et la date commémorative du 50e anniversaire de l’inauguration par S.M. le Roi Baudouin de la Jonction Nord-Midi le 4 octobre 1952; ((Considérant les différentes manifestations et la couverture médiatique de cet événement auprès du public; Considérant que la Monnaie Royale de Belgique souhaite saisir cette opportunité pour développer ses activités commerciales, promouvoir ainsi de tels événements commémoratifs et illustrer les réalisations marquantes de la Belgique;
- “la reproduction d’un train sortant d’un tunnel et de quelques bâtiments.”