(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.)
All Belgian euro coins show the king. Why is there only one design?
It is sometimes alleged that Belgium has “a constitutional obligation to feature a portrait of the king on its coins.”1 Let’s look at the evidence.
Here is Article 112 of the Belgian Constitution:
The law mentioned in this article actually did not exist. Belgium in 1831 was a country newly created with territories that used their own coins. It was necessary to be flexible and to accept these preexisting coins. The first Belgian monetary law was published on June 5, 1832, and it had a few sentences about the design of the future Belgian coins.
15. Gold and silver coins will show a portrait of the king, with his name and a legend: Roi des Belges; the reverse will indicate the value of the coin and its year, in the center of an oak crown.3
16. On the golden coins, the head will look to the right; on the silver coins, it will look to the left.4
17. Copper coins will be reeded5 and indicate on one side their value, and they will show the Belgian lion and the table of the Constitution; on the other side, the monogram of the king under a royal crown and above the mention of the year.6Bulletin officiel des lois et arrêtés royaux de la Belgique, Volume 3 (1832), no. 442.
The so-called pasinomie (1834)7 provides with some information about the design of the coins. Some members of the Parliament had proposed in vain to have a design contest for the coins. The reason given for showing two different designs according to the metal content of the coins was that it was easy to make the appearance of base metal coins similar to that of golden or silver coins. A system of different designs was conceived as a tool against forgery.
From the evidence presented here, it is clear that the Belgian Constitution has no bearing for the design of Belgian euro coins and that the design of Belgian coins has not been limited to kings’ portraits. Here are two more examples. Just before the introduction of euro coins, it was possible to use 50 cents coins with the head of a miner, and a 1 franc coin with the head of the goddess Ceres was used from 1950 to 1988.
The choice of the design of the national side of Belgian euro coins was not constrained by the Constitution or by tradition but was the result of a conscious choice. I do not know who was responsible for the choice, non its motivation. As an hypothesis, I propose that the complexity of Belgian identity was a factor. It might be difficult to find national symbols fit for today’s fragmented Belgium, divided as it is into regional and linguistic identities. Choosing the king’s head allowed to avoid long and protracted discussions.
- S. Fabbrini, Architecting the Euro, Architectural Histories 9(1) (2021), p.4. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/ah.473. This explanation is also found on collectors’ websites: for instance, Les pièces de la monnaie belge, eurocol (September 8, 2021; consulted on September 6, 2022
- Official translation copied from https://www.dekamer.be/kvvcr/pdf_sections/publications/constitution/GrondwetUK.pdf. French original text: Art. 112. Le Roi a le droit de battre monnaie, en exécution de la loi; copied from https://www.senate.be/doc/const_fr.html. In the original 1831 version: “Article 74. Il [=Le Roi (The King)] a le droit de battre monnaie, en exécution de la loi.” The article has never been modified. C.-H. Born, M.Verdussen, Le soft law intraconstitutionnel, Les sources du droit revisitées. Volume 1 ed. by F. Ost et al. (2013), pp. 513-536, p. 535, see in this article an example of archaic constitutional norm, made obsolete after the signing of an international treaty.
- Les pièces de monnaie d’or et d’argent porteront l’effigie du monarque avec son nom et l’inscription : Roi des Belges ; sur le revers, l’indication de la valeur de la pièce et le millésime entouré d’une couronne de chêne (…).
- Sur les pièces d’or, la tête regardera la droite ; sur celles d’argent, elle regardera la gauche.
- I am not completely sure about the translation for the technical term “cordonnées”.
- Les pièces de cuivre seront cordonnées et porteront d’un côté l’indication de la valeur, et le lion belge appuyé sur la table de la Constitution ; de l’autre le chiffre du Roi surmonté d’une couronne royale, et au-dessous le millésime.
- Pasinomie: collection complète des lois, arrêtés et règlements généraux qui peuvent être invoqués en Belgique (1834), p. 351.