Austria on the High Seas - S.M.S. Novara

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Austria was once a global sea faring nation. Key ports located on the Adriatic Sea such as Venice and Trieste meant Imperial ships from Austria could circumnavigate the globe. The 7th largest Navy according to "Jane's Fighting Ships" was maintained here, as well as many ships left for the New World from here.

Few people think of Austria as a sea-faring nation. Even in the heyday of the Habsburg Empire she was primarily a land based military power. However, Austria did have a navy, sailed around the world, led scientific voyages and even was a port for many who left Europe for the New World. In 1914 "Jane's Fighting Ships" ranked the Austro-Hungarian Navy as the seventh most powerful in the world. To celebrate Austria’s strength on the sea, the Austrian Mint is issuing a series of six silver coins titled "Austria on the High Seas". The first coin, dedicated to the sailing frigate S.M.S. Novara, will be issued today.

The obverse of the new silver 20 Euro coin shows the Novara under full sail in Chinese waters. The coast can be seen in the background as well as a Chinese junk. This side also bears the face value and the country of issue "Republik Oesterreich", Republic of Austria.

On the reverse of the coin is a double portrait of Archduke Ferdinand Max and Commodore Wüllerstorf. Before them on a table is a ship's globe and navigation instruments, as well as a microscope denoting the scientific nature of the mission.

Austria's connection with the sea dates back to 1382 when the port of Trieste on the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea voluntarily placed itself under the protection of the then Duke of Austria. It was, however, not until after the Napoleonic Wars, when Austria acquired Venice and the Dalmatian coast (now largely Croatia), that a serious attempt to construct a fighting navy was undertaken. The frigate S.M.S. Novara was launched in Venice in 1850. It was on board the Novara that the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (brother to the Emperor Franz Joseph and who later became the ill-starred Emperor of Mexico) performed his first active service as a naval officer.

It was also the Novara that Archduke Ferdinand Max selected for a scientific mission (1857 - 1859) involving the first circumnavigation of the globe by an Austrian ship. It was also the last ship of the line to circumnavigate the world solely under sail. The commander was Commodore (later Vice Admiral) Bernhard von Wüllerstorf-Urbair and he returned after a journey of 51,686 nautical miles with over 30,000 objects for scholars to study.

The Novara was the ship that in 1864 carried the new Emperor of Mexico across the Atlantic to his ill-fated throne, and it was again the Novara that brought his body back to Trieste in 1868. In between she had taken part in the Battle of Lissa under Admiral Tegetthoff against the numerically superior Italian fleet in 1866. But the days of wooden ships (even when converted to steam like the Novara) were numbered, and she was soon to be declassified to an artillery school ship. In 1895 she was finally broken up.

Each silver coin is struck in proof quality only and has a limited mintage of 50,000 pieces. The coins are struck in 900 fine silver and contain 18 grams of pure silver. Each coin has a diameter of 34 mm, is encapsulated and comes in box with an individually numbered certificate of authenticity.

A wooden case for the whole collection, decorated with the anchor and crown in brass, is available separately for purchase.

Collectors in the United States and Canada may purchase the “S.M.S Novara” coin for 46.00 (US) or 69.00(CDN) each by calling Euro Collections International toll-free at 1-888-904-5544. The coin may also be ordered on-line at

Journalists for more information please contact Kirsten Petersen at 1 250 658 1702

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Kirsten Petersen