‘Grand Shipwrecks in a History’ series returns with one of the biggest nautical cock-ups of all time – Vasa

Naval history is always a solid subject for a coin, going hand in hand with numismatics long association with the rulers of empires and nations, and the large fleets many had under their control. It also has its fair share of tragedies and glories, all rich fodder for the modern coin world in particular. Mint XXI’s ‘Grand Shiprecks in History’ is definitely a showcase for the tragedies, as the title will no doubt make clear.

The third coin was released a while ago and will be shipping next month, so I’m indulging myself with a look at this latest addition to a series I really like, and a subject with an extraordinary history. The first coin was the Whydah Gally, a pirate ship, and the second was the Titanic, a vessel that needs no introduction, but we’re in national navy territory here with Vasa.

How bad was the Vasa sinking? Imagine the US Navy’s latest supercarrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, had just launched from Newport News shipyard in Virginia, sailed out a mile and then sank in full view of a large crowd, including enemy observers, some of which the US was at war with. A hugely expensive and hugely embarrassing tragedy. That actually happened with Vasa.

The coin is really nice, with a gorgeous reproduction of a painting of Vasa under sail in a large window, surrounded by high-relief details of the ships many terrific decorative carvings. A neat touch, and one that has adorned every release in this series, are some period coins. It all hangs together superbly, enhanced by the antique finish. This is a two-ounce silver coin and comes boxed with a Certificate of Authenticity. Available to order now.


Built between 1626 and 1628 on the orders of the King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus, Vasa was an attempt by the Swedes to bolster a navy filled with lighter and less well-armed vessels. She was to be the first of six such vessels, but never had the chance to sail alongside her sisters. With Sweden at war with the Polish-Lithuanians, her loss was sharply felt.

On her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628, actually just 1.3km into that voyage, she took a gust of wind that almost any other ship would have brushed off. Tilting dangerously, which pushed her open gunports under water, she flooded and promptly sank just 120 metres from shore. This happened under the watchful gaze of a large crowd, including ambassadors from enemy states.

Vasa was an imposing vessel, and one of the most powerful afloat at the time. Displacing 2,100 tonnes and 69 metres in length, she had a crew of 145, around 30 of whom lost their lives in the sinking, and could carry 300 soldiers. She carried 64 guns for a massive broadside that matched the USS Constitution – a ship built 170 years later and weighing 700 tonnes more. Unfortunately, Vasa was also burdened with a centre of gravity far too high, and she was unable to right herself quickly in strong winds. Many knew of the ships problems, but were afraid to tell the king.

The wreck of the Vasa was rediscovered in Stockholm Harbour and salvaged in 1961, largely intact. After an extensive attempt at preservation, she was moved to the Vasa Museum in the Royal National City Park, where those preservation programs continue, having turned out to be far more difficult than imagined. Nevertheless, the prognosis is good and this beautiful ship, replete with decoration and carvings, remains one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions. A tragic story, but one that’s allowed us a fascinating glimpse into naval history.

COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 62.2 grams
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, Colour
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes