A few years ago one of the large coin magazines had an article on expanding your collecting interests and mentioned Wildman coins. I found the article interesting but kind of forgot about it until I ran across one on ebay. It had duel importance to me because if was also formerly part of the Eric Newman collection, a numismatist that I greatly admire. Side note: the new Eric Newman biography "Truth Seeker" is well worth reading.
I grew up helping my grandfather with his collection. All of my early numismatic education came from him. His favorite coins were the "V" nickels. He talked frequently about the rare 1913 issue and told me stories about the "No Cents" issue. We would spend hours sorting coins and building Lincoln Cent sets that he gave to family members. He never purchased a coin even though it meant never finding his No Cents Liberty nickel. I filled the whole with a nice uncirculated piece but it looks out of place. All of his coins came out of circulation. His liberty head collection was filled with coins most collectors would consider fillers but they are priceless to me. His collecting habits influenced me greatly. Yes, I purchase coins, but proof and high grade mint state coins don't do it for me. I appreciate them but I don't get the same rush as holding a nice 200 year old XF coin in my hand. Think of the tales it could tell.
I was fortunate to inherit his collection when he passed and continued to work on building his sets and only rarely upgraded his coins. In addition I purchased a small collection belonging to my aunt.
At some point I decided that it would be a good idea to start a large cent date set. My grandfather didn't have any in his collection. I am still working on this set but as the holes became increasingly expensive and I was making additions less frequently I got bored.
Due to my love of large cents I started searching out large diameter copper and bronze world coins which makes up the bulk of my recent new additions. I tend to gravitate towards crude pieces and generally don't mind coins with minor problems.
I still enjoy my US coins, primarily Large Cents, but I am realistic in my expectations for future additions. Recently I have been reading a lot about the 1776 Continental dollars. It is not realistic for me to obtain one but there a number of world coins available from the same year for a very reasonable price. I happen to have a 1776 Wildman coin. My dream coin is a 1793 chain cent but I have the same problem with this coin.
1) Around AD250 the Greeks referred to anybody that wasn't Greek as being wildmen or uncivilized.
2) Early Middle Ages - one story is about Merlin. After the woman he loved he went in to the forest and lived as a Wildman. He would occasionally return to the forest and have no recollection of his civilized life.
3) Later Middle Ages - the medieval Wildman represented a physical type that was definitely human with racial characteristics similar to those of Europeans. Hair covered everything except there face, hands, feet, elbows and knees. Described as everything from dwarfish to giant in size but always with super human strength. They were frequently pictured with an uprooted tree or club.
As European's migrated to the new world they brought the Wildman myths with them (think Bigfoot).
The mythical Wildman was blamed for unexplained calamities and quirks of nature including missing persons and crop failures. Wildman stories were used to frighten children into obedience. Wildmen were considered to be protectors of the forests and to be feared due to their wild unpredictable nature.
It was believed that if you carried a likeness of the Wildman it would protect you from him. This is a major reason why these coins are typically well worn and often founded mounted in jewelry.
Issuers of wildman coins and medals include various German states, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Denmark, Finland, Greece including Crete, and Switzerland
So why do most of these coins come from Brunswick?
I have searched and can find no definitive answers but did find two books I brought have what I hope are clues.
1) "Wildmen in the Looking Glass - The Mythic Origins of European Otherness" - very dry and an excellent cure for insomnia. Dissects why people felt the need to create the Wildman myths.
2) "The Wildman - Medieval Myth and Symbolism" - Free to download from The Metropolitan Museum of Art or you can purchase a hard copy from other sources for $200+
Neither of these titles are numismatic references although the 2nd title does feature 2 coins on page 162 minted during the reign of Heinrich IX the Younger in Brunswich-Wolfenbuttel. He was considered to be unrestrained, aggressive and destructive. He was rumored to have burned a set fire to and burned an entire town to the ground. His own population referred to as a Wildman. Heinrich had coins minted with his likeness on the obverse and a Wildman on the reverse. Some of these showed the Wildman holding a flame as a not so veiled threat of what he was capable of.
So, did this simply start the trend and they just stayed with it, or was it more of a mascot or was it due to extreme superstition.
Wildman coins have become a hot item with a lot more collectors actively seeking them out. You can typically find a couple of dozen examples listed on ebay. I don't consider any individual issue common and actual mintage data is typically unknown. These were minted from the 1500's to the early 1800's although I have never seen any from the 1500's for sale. Mint state examples are not found often. One sold this week in a Heritage auction at the NY show in MS64. Judging by the pictures I wasn't impressed. Judging by the price realized the other bidders weren't very impressed either. These issue are often poorly struck due to the technology of the time.
All of my graded Wildman coins can be seen in my custom set at: https://coins.www.collectors-society.com/WCM/CoinCustomSetView.aspx?s=20282