Austria's Sea Faring Ships Brought Many Settlers to the New World at the Turn of the 20th Century

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The Austro-Americana Line began its sailings in 1903. The following year they already had 19 ships in service and by 1914 the fleet had grown to 35. As the name suggests they ran the routes through the Mediterranean via North Africa to North and South America. They carried not only cargo from Trieste to New York and to Buenos Aires and back again, but hundreds of thousands of emigrants from Central Europe and Russia to the New World. Here they rivalled the British Cunard Line. The flagship of the fleet, “Kaiser Franz Joseph I”, entered service in 1912. After the war it was renamed the “President Wilson”.

The Austrian Mint today unveiled the fifth silver coin in its very popular series “Austria on the High Seas.” The series documents the development of the Austrian Navy in the 19th and early 20th centuries - a navy that was ranked as the seventh most powerful fleet in 1914.

Like so many other nations, however, Austria's presence on the world's oceans was to be found principally in the voyages of the merchant ships flying the red-white-red flag, and later under the combined flag of the double-monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

The obverse of the new 20 Euro silver coin depicts an Austro-Americana liner, the “Kaiser Franz Joseph I”, leaving the port of Trieste. In the background a ship of the Austrian Lloyd heads into port. The buildings on the waterfront can be seen in the distance. The words in “Oesterreicheische Handelsmarine” or Austrian Merchant Navy are located just inside the top edge of the coin. The country of issue “Republik Oesterreich”, Republic of Austria, as well as the face value are also located on this side.

The reverse side of the coin provides a bird's eye view of the harbour of Trieste in the late 19th century. Many ships are at anchor, several of them tied to the long wharves stretching out into the harbour. In the right foreground one sees the old city coat-of-arms for Trieste. The words “Hafen von Triest” or Harbor of Triest are located just inside the top edge of this side.

The harbour town of Trieste, which had come voluntarily to Austria as early as 1382, subsisted for centuries under the shadow of the Republic of Venice, which dominated not only the Adriatic but large areas of the eastern Mediterranean as well. Only after the Napoleonic Wars (1799 - 1815) was Trieste free to develop as a major port for central and northern Europe. There were, of course, many local shipping lines plying the coast of the Adriatic and the ports of the Mediterranean Sea, but the two lines that dominated passenger travel and international trade under the Austrian flag were Austrian Lloyd (today Lloyd Triestino) and the Austro-Americana Line (today the Cosulich Line).

The first ship of the Austrian Lloyd sailed in May 1837, from Trieste to Constantinople in 14 days. She carried 53 passengers and a full load of cargo. The Lloyd ships quickly multiplied and ran routes to Sicily, Naples and Rome, to Greece, Turkey, the Levant and Alexandria in Egypt. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought India and Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong and even Japan into the reach of the Austrian Lloyd ships. They carried not only the imperial Austrian mail, but even Great Britain sent the post overland to Trieste to be carried by Lloyd ships to the Empire of India. Their ships might not have had Austrian ports and bases overseas, but they had an excellent reputation for punctuality, cleanliness and good food. In 1914 the Lloyd fleet numbered 62 vessels.

The Austro-Americana Line began its sailings in 1903. The following year they already had 19 ships in service and by 1914 the fleet had grown to 35. As the name suggests they ran the routes through the Mediterranean via North Africa to North and South America. They carried not only cargo from Trieste to New York and to Buenos Aires and back again, but hundreds of thousands of emigrants from Central Europe and Russia to the New World. Here they rivalled the British Cunard Line. The flagship of the fleet, “Kaiser Franz Joseph I”, entered service in 1912. After the war it was renamed the “President Wilson”.

During the First World War the ships of the merchant navy were either anchored in safe waters or saw service as transport and hospital ships. At the end of the war Austria-Hungary lost its coastline and its naval history came to an end. The ships that resumed service had to sail under new and foreign flags.

Each silver coin has a face value of 20 euros, 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 Merchant Navy coin for $49.50 (US) or $55.00(CDN) each by calling Euro Collections International toll-free at 1-888-904-5544. The coin may also be ordered on-line at http://www.eurocollections.com

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Kirsten Petersen

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