Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

A Trip to Kalmar, Sweden

[photo: Obverse and reverse of the Kalmar medal.]

Obverse and reverse of the Kalmar medal

One of our best family vacation trips in recent years was our visit to Sweden. My wife, who is even more Swedish than I am, our three daughters and my youngest brother Donald, flew to Stockholm. We were met at the airport by a large group of very friendly relatives that we were meeting for the first time. Over several days, they took us around Sweden, including the small city of Kalmar, not far from the little village in the Småland region where my ancestors lived. A major sight in Kalmar is the castle, which we enjoyed exploring.

Recently, when I was looking at some European coins and medals in a dealer's case, I spotted this spectacular and very large silver medal (63 mm in diameter). The reverse shows a castle under attack by soldiers. Spotting the word CALMAR on the reverse, I asked my dealer friend if it referred to Kalmar. Yes – I was correct, it is a Danish Siege medal struck in 1611.

Like many collectors, I am partial to medals as well as coins and currency featuring historic buildings or places that I've visited. The items remind me of the visit and the history of the place. Because I'd been to the Kalmar Castle as a tourist, I was attracted to the Kalmar piece. However, being unfamiliar with the medal and its rarity, I decided I'd get a bit more information before I made up my mind whether or not to buy it. My source told me that originally it was gilded in gold and then chased with the fields slightly smoothed by a jeweler's tool. The gold gilt surface, once there, has now been removed. The reason this 400-year-old medal survives is likely that it was gilt and mounted in a frame for jewelry. The medal shows some minor bruising from the mounting. I find that none of this prior handling over the centuries detracts from the desirability of the medal, but in fact, adds to the appeal. In the end, it is quite rare while still affordable.

The obverse features Danish King Christian IV in half armor, with his helmet resting on a nearby table. The reverse features a view of the castle of Kalmar with a burning and collapsing corner tower, with attacking Danish soldiers in front of the trenches, and with a group of Danish riders including King Christian IV. In the field is the inscription CEDE - MAIORI / CALMAR ("Bow down before the more powerful, Kalmar").

[photo: With my brother Don (left) at the Kalmar Castle in Kalmar, Sweden]

With my brother Don (left) at the Kalmar Castle in Kalmar, Sweden

The reverse story: the Kalmar War was principally about money, and supremacy in the Baltic region. The joint kingdom of Denmark and Norway controlled the narrow strait between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Sweden wanted to bypass that route to avoid the Sound Dues – or Õresundstullen in Swedish. This tax amounted to two thirds of Denmark's income, so the Swedish move to bypass the straits was a serious economic threat. Denmark did not want to see other trade routes develop. So when King Charles IX of Sweden ignored the protests of King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway, the Kalmar War was the result. Denmark invaded Sweden, and the Danish king, Christian IV, began the siege of Kalmar on May 3, 1611.

Three and a half weeks later on May 27, 1611, the Danish troops succeeded in entering the city, and the Swedish soldiers promptly barricaded themselves in the nearby castle. On June 11, 1611, the King of Sweden, Charles IX, reached the city of Kalmar with his army, but despite very fierce fighting, did not succeed in freeing the city. After the Danes received further reinforcements at the end of July in 1611, Swedish King Charles IX decided to retreat. Interestingly, Scottish mercenary soldiers made up the bulk of the 6,000 men who besieged Kalmar, and I wonder if any of them were seeking revenge for the invasion of Scotland by the Vikings centuries earlier?

On August 3, 1611, the Swedish commander of the castle negotiated a surrender. When Charles IX died, his son Gustav II Adolf (1611-1632) continued the Kalmar War. In the end, Denmark won, and captured both Castle Kalmar and the fortress Ãlvsborg (today a district of Gothenburg). Finally through the mediation of England and the Netherlands, a peace treaty was concluded on January 26, 1613. Although Sweden got back Kalmar and the castle, it had to pay a million Reichstaler as compensation to Denmark. The Danes kept the fortress Ãlvsborg as a deposit until the final payment was made in 1619.

I've often read that history is written by the victors. Interestingly, the storming of the castle shown on this medal, in reality never took place. The medal is an example of numismatic propaganda. Whether it celebrates a real victory or not, I felt like a victor by finding the medal, and adding it and this interesting story to my collection.