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Nichtsburg and Zilchstadt

The original Nichtsburg and Zilchstadt coin designs

     This is a simple page designed to broadcast the numismatic objets d’art from Nichtsburg & Zilchstadt. I am extremely glad you found it on the Internet and I hope it is of intense interest to you!

     Some of the most captivating coins in my collection come from self-declared micronations, non-territorial states, pseudo-états, nonexistent countries, and secessionist movements. Philatelists may be at an advantage, for they use the term “cinderella” stamps to categorize issuers of fantasy, apocryphal, spurious, and pretender items. For us, however, these entities are hard to define; but many of them can be found in Colin R. Bruce II's exceptional Unusual World Coins catalog. I encourage you to read my introductory essay about this specific genre of coinage.

     I am referring to sources from which I have acquired at least one coin: Adventure Club, Aerican Empire, Afro Coin Mint/“United States of Africa”, American Open Currency Standard (includes Free Lakota Bank, Free State Project, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Soto Nations of the Anishinabe Nations), Andor Orand, Empire of Antoninia, Kingdom of Araucania-Patagonia, Independent Republic of Arequipa, Aspen Silver Dollar, Atlantis, Atlantis (ATCOPS), Kingdom of Atlantis, Empire of Atlantium, Australia Fair, Grand Duchy of Avram, Axarquía, Azad Hind, Sovereign State of Barbe Island, Benelux, Kingdom of Bermania, Kingdom of Biffeche, Boys’ Republic of Civitavecchia/Boys’ Town of Rome, Isle of Brechou, Dominion of British West Florida, Buck Island, Kingdom of Calsahara, Republic of Camala/Republic of Malaca/Republic of Amalia, Campione d'Italia, Castorland, Cat Cay, Catalanist Union (Unió Catalanista), Sovereign Barony of Caux, Celestia (the Nation of Celestial Space), Cherokee Nation, United Cherokee Nation, Free City of Christiania, Community Dollar, Conch Republic, Confederate States of America, Confederation of Antarctica, Federation of Damanhur, State of Deseret, Dixie Dollar, Republic of the Earth, Kingdom of Elleore, Euskal Herria (Basque Country), Evrugo Mental State, Ferdinandea (Graham Island), Flanders, Free State of Flaschenhals, Foundation for Cosmonoetic Investigations, Frederikssund (Møntklubben), Principality of Freedonia, Friesland, Friuli Homeland, Gallery Mint, George Junior Republic, Global Country of World Peace, Gold Standard Corporation, Graceland, Greenpeace, Grand Duchy of Greifenberg, HADEF (Hunger Aid and Development Foundation), Hutt River Province, International Foundation for Independence, Islamic Mint, James W. Curtis, State of Jefferson, Kaliningrad, Kingdom of Kamberra, United Federation of Koronis, Kumalongoola, Lasqueti Mint (Lasqueti Island, Gabriola Island, Cascadia), League of Nations, Regency of Lomar, “Luna”/“der Mond”, Lundy, Mattole Free State, City of Microna (Republic of Veshault/Kingdom of TorHavn), Republic of Minerva, Republic of Mirage Islands, Republic of Molossia, Republic of Monte Cristo, Free Commune of Moresnet (Neutral Moresnet), Na-Griamel Federation, Commonwealth of New Island, Principality of New Utopia, NORFED (Liberty Dollar), Northern Forest Archipelago, Nova Roma, State of Numisma, Sultanate of Occussi-Ambeno, Principality of Outer Baldonia, Federal Republic of Padania/Lega Nord (Unione del Nord)/Repubblica del Nord, Principality of Paradise, Republic of La Parva Domus Magna Quies, Phoenix Dollar, Piedmontese Federalist Movement, Sovereign Nation of Poarch Creek Indians, Purple Shaftieuland, Québec, RCC (rec.collecting.coins), Holy Empire of Réunion, Kingdom of Riboalte, Rio-Grandensse Republic, Riviera Principality, Kingdom of Robland, Kingdom of Romkerhall, Royal Hawaiian Mint, Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies, Royal House of Savoy, State of Sabotage, Salt Spring Island, San Blas Islands, Republic of San Serriffe, Principality of Sealand, Principality of Seborga, Sovereign Nation of the Shawnee Tribe, Shenandoah Valley Free Money, Sherman Dollar, Shire Post Mint, Historic Silver Valley, Society for Creative Anachronism, Sovereign Carbon Community Bank/Sustainable Community Commons Bank, Ultimate State of Tædivm, Tarim (Arabia), Tender Island, Republic of Texas, Texas Mint, Kingdom of Torgu, Empire of Trebizond, Tyrolean Hour, Union of North America, United Future World Currency, United Maxxico America, United Nations, United Transnational Republics, Universala Ligo, “Utopia” (Mundus Unum), Victor Vincente of America, Principality of Vikesland, Vinland/Midhgardhr, Kingdom of Wallachia, Grand Duchy of Westarctica (Antarctic Territory), Principality of Wikingland, Wirtland, Xenostrov, Nation of YAN.
     This list would be far from complete without also including the pieces produced by Mr. Fred R. Zinkann (Adélie Land, Amsterdam and St. Paul Islands, Bouvet Island, Crozet Islands, Enderbyland, Kerguelen Islands, McMurdo [Station], Vostok [Station]) and Mr. William Turner (Abemana, Änän Munän-Ylhä/Änän Täntaimon/Änän Ylhätuoli, Ile Crescent, The Most Serene Republic of Excelsior, Gaferut, Klef Raraha, Mägi Päiväine, Nuikviss Aoi, Pampapana, Viinamarisaar).
     There have also been many coins/tokens related to fictional places encountered in literature, films/television, and games (Ankh-Morpork, Armorica, Bank Bedrock, Diagon Alley [Gringotts Bank], Duckburg, Ferengi Alliance [Ferenginar], Galactic Republic/Empire, Gilligan’s Island, Great Underground Empire [Kingdom of Quendor], Helion Prime, Island Nations Federation [Razril], Lunar [the Silver Star], Republic of Mars, Ork, La Planète des Singes, Sanctuary [Rankan Empire], Smurf Village, Sosaria [Kingdom of Britannia], Talon Kingdom, Twelve Colonies of Kobol, Kingdom of Zamunda). Furthermore, numerous pieces have been produced by Live Action Role-Playing groups (NERO [New England Roleplaying Organization], Legends Roleplaying, the Isles, KaNaR [Knights and Nobles and Rogues], LAIRE [Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Explorers], Mythic Realms, Amtgard, Dagorhir, the Realms, Darkon).

     I must also respectfully honor the unprecedented labor of Richard D. Kenney, whose posthumous compilation appeared in the ANA's The Numismatist between 1962-64. Even in the early 1950s, Mr. Kenney realized the beauty and collectibility of these unique coins. Mine are merely a couple of the latest examples, and I humbly imagine maybe receiving a nod of approval from the ground-breaking scholar. After all, my coins are also an intentional homage to the places and “places” listed above.

2003 Nichtsburg et Zilchstadt 1 Miden coin

     The inaugural Nichtsburg et Zilchstadt 1 Miden, dated 2003: As a writer of poetry, I am intrigued by language. Years ago, I toyed around with a character named Zero MacNaught (Mac meaning “son of”; hence, “son of Naught”, in an Irish/Scottish Gaelic vein) and his hometown, Zilchstadt (I liked the Germanic suffix -stadt, meaning a small/medium-sized “city”, because it was reminiscent of the municipal notgeld coins which fascinate me). It took time for all the other elements to slowly come together and to form a well-rounded theme, but ultimately, the idea for an attractive coin emerged, tying together my best-loved avocation (verse) and this most favored diversion of mine (numismatics). Once I actually put pencil to paper, in the summer and fall of two-double-aught-two, the preliminary sketches gradually took an inventive course of their own. I then allowed those drawings to take me on a slow journey, fraught with variations and revisions, until they led me to a gratifying final version. Nichts is the German word for “nothing(ness)/naught/none/nil”, and Nichtsburg (I also liked the -burg suffix; this placename signifies a “castle”, “walled town”, “stronghold”, “fortress on the high”, “fortified place on a hill”) became Zero's birthplace as well as the sister-city to Zilchstadt. Miden (I’ve also seen it spelled as midén, mèden) is the modern Greek word for “zero”, and this is the fictitious monetary unit. The reverse of the coin features a stylized rendition of our contemplative protagonist. Above him, forming an arc between his two outstretched hands (as if he were literally juggling the very theory), appears the epigrammatic Latin adage Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit: “out of nothing, nothing is made”, “from nothing, nothing is created”, “nothing arises out of nothing”, “from nothing comes nothing”, “nothing begets nothing”. Also emphasized is the dictum Ouden, Ad Infinitum: in ancient Greek, ouden signified “nothing”.

     The language is meant to be playful, in a metaphysical sort of way. Perhaps Zero MacNaught is a nihilist, a non-entity, a cipher. Or perhaps the very “existence” of His Royal Bupkisness is a negation of those notions. Furthermore, the coin is dedicated to the void from which all creativity emerges: the blank sheet of paper, the untouched canvas, the pristine silence. In order to create something that pleases the senses, artists must wrest meaning and form out of nothingness.

     This coin is 30mm in diameter, and 3mm thick. It was minted by the Northwest Territorial Mint, in a run of 65 copper and 10 silver. I am sold out of all 2003 pieces.

2005 Nichtsburg y Zilchstadt 11 Midenika coin

     The Nichtsburg y Zilchstadt 11 Midenika, dated 2005: Midenika is the plural of Miden. In essence, the spirit of this coin is harmoniously faithful to the original premise. The obverse is crowned, in Devanagari script, by the Sanskrit word sūnya/shūnya/shunya/shuunya/śūnya/śūnyá (void, empty, emptiness, vacuum, hollow, blank space, nullity, nothingness, non-being, non-existence, zero-ness, insignificance/absence, unreality). Incidentally, there's a doctrine of vacuity/emptiness/voidness called Shūnyatāvāda/Śūnyavāda, closely associated with the Mādhyamaka school (also referred to as the Madhyamika sect) of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Sūnya is the term from which our revolutionary “zero” evolved. Yet due to its enormous antiquity, there is insufficient consensus among scholars as to when this innovation genuinely arose. I have found a source which states that Hindu texts began using the word to refer to the concept of void/zero in the 4th century B.C.; another source relates that the Indian discovery of “a fully positional notation with a representation for the number zero” dates from 200 B.C. at the latest. Other sources point to the Bakhshālī Manuscript as the earliest recorded use of a symbol for zero in the number system employed in India. According to “The History of Mathematical Symbols”, by Douglas Weaver (Mathematics Coordinator, Taperoo High School, South Australia): “It is possible that the earliest Hindu symbol for zero was the heavy dot that appears in the Bakhshali manuscript, whose contents may date back to the third or fourth century A.D., although some historians place it as late as the twelfth. Any association of the more common small circle of the Hindus with the symbol used by the Greeks would be only a matter of conjecture. […] There is no probability that the origin will ever be known, and there is no particular reason why it should be. We simply know that the world felt the need of a better number system, and that the zero appeared in India as early as the 9th century, and probably some time before that, and was very likely a Hindu invention. In the various forms of numerals used in India, and in later European and Oriental forms, the zero is represented by a small circle or by a dot. […] Since the earliest form of the Hindu symbol was commonly used in inscriptions and manuscripts in order to mark a blank, it was called sunya, meaning ‘void’ or ‘empty.’” Another source also affirms that the “earliest undoubted indication of zero in India is 876 A.D.” (it should be noted that the Babylonians also devised a special symbol for zero, but they used it only as a place holder; they did not conceive the concept of zero as an actual value; there is evidence that the Mayan civilization employed a symbol for zero in their place-value system).

     The reverse of the coin centrally highlights kyomu. This is the Ch'an/Zen Buddhist designation, written in Japanese Kanji ideograms/logograms, for “nihility” or “empty/vacuous nothingness”. It is also a key tenet of the Kyoto School of philosophy (Nishida Kitaro, Tanabe Hajime, Nishitani Keiji). Symmetrically flanking it are two terse aphoristic phrases culled from Kabbalistic ontology: ayin me’yesh (emptiness from fullness) and its converse, yesh me’ayin (somethingness out of nothingness).

     This coin is 38mm in diameter, and 2.3mm thick. It was minted by Pressed Metal Products, in a run of 51 copper-nickel and 5 silver (plus 3 pre-production samples: one commercial bronze, one cartridge brass, one 24k gold-plated brass). I am sold out of all 2005 pieces.

2007 Nichtsburg und Zilchstadt 1 Miden coin

     The Nichtsburg und Zilchstadt 1 Miden, dated 2007: The trilogy concludes with this coin. Stylistically, whilst it is entirely in keeping with the pre-established motif of its two predecessors, it is more of a “sequel” to the 2003 piece than was the 2005 piece. It is also its antithetical counterpart, insofar as it accentuates a statement, Omnia Fint ex Nihilo, which seemingly contradicts the one on the first coin. This motto means “everything is created from nothing”, “out of nothing, all things are made”. Also on the reverse, one of Zero MacNaught’s forebears is given prominence: Bisabuelo Zeuero is our protagonist’s great-grandfather. Zeuero, along with zevero/ceuero/zevro/zefro/zeiro, is one of the older Italian equivalents of “zero”. Etymologically, all of these words can be traced back to the Latinized zephirum/zephyrum/ziphirum/cephirum/zefirum/zephyra/zephiro/zefiro/zeviro/zepiro, derived from the Arabic ṣifr/sifr/syfr/zifr (empty space, vacant, nothing, the “absence of anything”) — its root being the stative verb safira/safara (“to be empty”, “it was empty”). The term was originally a literal translation of the meaning for the Sanskrit/Vedic śūnyam/shunyam (the point of “emptiness”, empty/deserted place, cypher/cipher, void, vacuum, blank, naught, desert), which as a numeral was indicated by a dot. Other forms (from several other languages and eras) include sefr, sifer, cifer, ciffer, cifre, ciffre, ciphre, siphre, cyfre, cyffre, sipher, siffer, cijfer, cifra, ċifra, cifră, ciphra, siffra, šifra, cyfra, ziffra, shifr, shifra, chifre, chiffre, chiffer, shifër, zifer, ziffer, zifera, cifera, tsifra, tziphra, tsiphron. Also present on the reverse of the coin is the motto E Pluribus Nemo. In Latin, the word nemo (a contraction of ne-homo, “no-man”, “no-one”) signifies “nobody”.

     This coin is 30mm in diameter, and 2mm thick. It was minted by Pressed Metal Products, in a run of 51 bronze and 10 silver (plus 4 pre-production samples: one brass, one copper, one copper-nickel, and one 24k gold-plated brass). I am sold out of all 2007 pieces.

     After I had already made a decision to somehow incorporate Nemo on this coin, I encountered an enthralling passage, written by Max Black, in the Encyclopedia Americana article entitled ZERO: “Although 0 has no reference in isolation, a temptation remains to treat words like ‘zero,’ ‘no,’ ‘nothing,’ and ‘nobody’ as standing for extraordinary entities having a shadowy kind of existence. An ancient example is found in the sect called Neminians, established by one Radulfus at the end of the 13th century, who worshipped Nemo (that is, Nobody), the supposed person referred to by that name in religious and classical sources. Similar tendencies may be detected in the preoccupation of some modern existentialists such as Germany’s Martin Heidegger with ‘Nothing’ and the alleged ‘encounter with Nothingness.’” Based on the scanty information which I’ve been able to gather, Radulfus Glaber composed a sermon entitled Historia de Nemine (“History of Nemo”) circa 1290. This medieval monk (not to be confused with Raoul Glaber, the 11th century Benedictine chronicler from Cluny) searched Biblical and Patristic texts, perhaps as a devotional exercise, for sentences containing the word nemo. He interpreted the scriptural Nemo Deum vidit (“No one hath seen God”), along with many other references to No-one, to mean that Nemo was a certain person. The supposed members of the Secta Neminiana worshipped Nemo because he had seen the face of the Father. It has been suggested that the heretical Neminians — with their unorthodox cult of the immortal Nemo — were perhaps a fictitious bunch.
     And speaking of No-one in particular, I was extremely fortunate to later discover (on the Internet) a small but tantalizing excerpt from Gerta Calmann’s The Picture of Nobody: An Iconographical Study, which was published in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 23, No. 1/2 (Jan.-Jun., 1960). For a complete copy of the magnificent 44-page article (plus an additional 8, filled with plates/illustrations), I am indebted to Mrs. Jenny Boyle, the JWCI’s Publications Assistant. In the ensuing paragraphs, I shall attempt to share some of this precious information with you.
     Calmann’s monograph begins thusly: “‘Nobody is my name, I bear everybody’s blame.’ With these words Joerg Schan, a barber of Strassburg, introduced his hero in a broadsheet published about 1507, and went on to show how Nobody, eternally innocent yet eternally guilty, patiently bears the blame for the misdeeds of the whole household, particularly the servants. Schan was merely giving a new twist to an ancient jest, but in placing his Nobody among the pots and pans he created a literary and pictorial type which, as I hope to show, persisted through more than a century. The jest itself is almost inherent in the structure of language, and depends upon the impossibility of defining or depicting a negative except paradoxically. In some languages the negative seems to invite this kind of ambiguous usage, while for instance in French personne…ne virtually precludes it. The first recorded person to employ it to advantage appears to have been Odysseus, as Homer tells us in the ninth book of the Odyssey.” When the cunning Greek found himself trapped in Polyphemus’ cave, he made his getaway from the clutches of this Cyclops by cleverly giving his name as “No-man”/“No-body”/“No-one” (Outis, a shortened form of his name). Therefore, “when the blinded monster called on his fellows for help, he was met with indifference (if Noman was tormenting him, why did he make such an outcry?) and Odysseus escaped.” The Homeric joke was repeated in other Greek literature: Euripides, Cyclops; Aristophanes, Wasps; Demetrius, On Style. “Lucian of Samosata refers to the same story in the Downward Journey”.
     Calmann deemed it unlikely that Schan knew any of these versions before writing his own Niemand, “but it seems probable that he was acquainted with the mediaeval ‘Saint Nemo’”, whose spiritual persona had gradually evolved from his humble origins in the ecclesiastical musings of Radulfus Glaber (she refers to him as Radulphus the Angevin; other variants of his first name might also include Radulfus, Rodulfus, Rodulphus, Radulpha, Rodulphe). Calmann even jests that Schan the humorist and Nemo the mystic share “an interest in the absurdities of language”. Radulphus’ “sermon joyeux” (which was “apparently meant seriously”) was so devoted to proving the unequivocal divinity of St. Nemo that it “threatened to cast Nemo in the rôle of a heretic…It suffices to say that Nemo’s character was saved and he lived on as a mock-saint in a number of manuscripts. His praise appeared in print for the first time at Augsburg in 1510 under the title Sermo pauperis Henrici de Sancto Nemine cum preservativo eiusdem ab epidemia…The mock-sermon was translated into German, French and Dutch and various authors made free Latin versions up to the seventeenth century. We may assume that its fame spread even to the humble barber of Strassburg.”
     In a nutshell, Calmann’s treatise “attempts to characterize the traits of Schan’s creation in word and picture and to describe the rôle it played in popular and in humanist satire, in Protestant pamphlets and in Peter Bruegel’s drawing ‘Elck’ [or ‘Nemo-Non’], as well as to sketch the history of Nemo in England, where in various forms he survived longer than anywhere else.” In Schan’s era, the “Nollbruder” or “Nollhart” was a name given to a particular type of German vagabond/vagrant. “They were lay-brothers belonging to the order of the Hieronymites, the same that exercised a powerful influence through the devotio moderna. [Jacob and Wilhelm] Grimm thought it possible that their name was derived from nullus, signifying their low position in the order and in the opinion of other people. Paracelsus alone praised them for their humility. This may have been a word-association that contributed to Schan’s invention of ‘Niemand’.”
     “The particular use Schan made of the negation was a brilliant invention entirely his own. His jest had great success amongst both learned and unlearned in his time and has been repeated continually ever since.” Basically, Schan’s “poem tells us about the servants in a household of the time and of their numerous misdeeds.” The excuses employed by the maids, butlers, and men-servants are the same for every single transgression: Nobody did it…it is Nobody’s fault…Nobody is the culprit. “The master invokes a plague on Nobody and begs him to stay away. Yet — and this is an important point which gives a new twist to the word-play — Nobody pleads for the servants, saying that good treatment and sufficient food might improve them. If only his mouth were not locked he could answer their accusations, ‘lies as tall as three storeys.’ Yet if they would keep within the bounds of modesty, he would willingly remain their shield. Schan foresees at the end that the servants, like everybody else, will not like to hear the truth about themselves.” Apparently, there were “numerous manuals of household management which appeared all over Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” Much later, in 1657, “the anonymous Ergoetzliche Buergerlust contains a poem to this effect: “Nobody does everything, Nobody does nothing. How often the householder is heard to say: ‘If I do not work, Nobody works.’”
     Calmann describes, in great detail, the woodcut which accompanied Schan’s comedic verses: “Niemand in Schan’s picture haunts the kitchen; he is the ‘basest of all humans’, the wayfarer, who, in late mediaeval literature, played the rôle of a fool…Nobody wears all the attributes which at the time were considered typical of his class. He looks revoltingly ugly. His clothes are torn, his bare feet are in pattens, signifying their owner’s low social status; his bag has a hole, since, as a proverb said, ‘A beggar’s bag has no bottom.’ He carries a sword, but the scabbard is in tatters; his pilgrim’s bottle is cracked. His left hand is raised in the characteristic gesture of the street-hawker or pedlar and his cry is: ‘Nobody is my name, I am blamed for everybody’s deeds.’ The padlock in his mouth, the spectacles on his nose, the bird’s wing in his cap, mark him for a fool. This is not immediately obvious, and will need some explanation.” Calmann then offers an analysis of all of the motifs pertaining to the image of Nobody. For instance: “A padlock in the mouth was a symbol of silence. Plutarch, widely read by the humanists, quoted Pythagoras as saying that silence was a divine quality and advised men to close their mouths as if with a lock or key. The slanderer was shown in woodcuts as prevented from uttering wicked words by a padlock. In the mouth of a ‘wise woman’ it signified that she knew how to be silent. ‘The monk on the cross’ and the pious simpleton were represented in woodcuts of the fifteenth century with padlocked mouths…But in popular usage the person who could not speak was a fool; as an old French proverb said, such people should stay at home, for only the man who has the ‘gift of the gab’ goes far. Nobody must be silent, otherwise he would be Somebody. This the padlock signifies; but at the same time, it underlines his inability to say anything or defend himself, and therefore he was considered a fool.” According to one of Sir Francis Bacon’s Apophthegms, “Silence is the virtue of fools.” Calmann also states that “It is probably no coincidence that the 13th-century Spanish saint Raymond Nonnatus — unborn — has a padlocked mouth and that he is the patron of ‘innocent persons falsely accused’.” Furthermore, Niemand “is innocent of self-love” and “He is referred to by later imitators of Schan as an image of patience. But patience such as his, in the face of false accusations, is folly.” Calmann later continues: “The character of folly is ambiguous. Those who deride the fool only for being exceptional, do it for the wrong reasons and are themselves laughed at in the end. This notion of fun already emerged from the stories of ‘Eulenspiegel’, and corresponded to the idea that ‘the madman is wiser than the man of sense’. The wise fool was altogether a popular subject as in Solomon and Marcolf. And Lazarus — the beggar on earth, living the ‘vita afflictiva’, but compensated in Paradise — was adopted as the saint of the poor. The conviction that poverty, formerly only praised in a religious, was a virtue, was strengthened in the sixteenth century through the influence of mystics and Spiritual Libertines like Paracelsus and Sebastian Franck. They proclaimed that God and the world are incompatible opposites; the patient poor whose very existence threw doubt on accepted worldly values, was therefore at times identified with ‘God’s fool’.” Everywhere, the right-minded poor were contrasted with the wicked well-to-do. In the words of Paracelsus (Liber prologi in vitam beatam), “Become poor and a beggar, then the Pope will desert you, the Emperor will desert you and will think you a fool. Now you are quiet and your folly is great wisdom before God.” But Nobody, as it turns out, is a much more perplexing figure than this. “Nobody is superior to his environment. Schan leaves no doubt about it; we are faced by no common beggar-fool. The padlock stresses his saintly patience in the face of false accusations, and we are invited to take his side and to realize that Nobody is innocent. Nevertheless the evil has been done. The rubbish-heap of domestic equipment manifests the neglected state of the house where Nobody takes the place of the ‘master’s eye’: in the last resort the householder who allows Nobody to be blamed is himself the culprit.” In the earlier pictures, the main characteristic of Niemand “was that he was falsely blamed for what everybody did. All through his history he is innocent of the crimes of those who took cover behind his name. They, not he, were the guilty ones: the neglectful householder and his servants and the corrupters of the affairs of the world. Even the pauper claimed identity with ‘God’s fool’, Nobody, in order to gain recognition for his rights on earth.” Many versions of the Niemand image, some of them genteel, followed Schan’s original. “Personifications of ‘Nobody’ independent of the household context, but originating in it, were numerous in the first half of the 16th century.”
     The work of Ulrich von Hutten provides an example. This young knight, whose ambition was “to be a poet and an adept in the liberal arts”, had joined the humanists because he admired their principles. Though familiar with Schan’s broadsheet, “Hutten was not interested in admonishing householders; this kind of pedestrian moralizing belonged to the small townspeople despised by the aristocratic scholar. But he was anxious to be widely known and may therefore have harnessed the popular Nobody to his learned purpose. Besides, his nature was rebellious. Schan’s outlaw touched off a response in him. The word-play encouraged search for those who were guilty of corrupting the affairs of this world. Neither the person of no importance nor the anonymous powers that be — not ‘Nobody’ — but individual man was made responsible for the bad conditions which were allowed to prevail in Church and State, in the household, the workshop and the universities. Negative words in general held a poetic fascination for the humanists; the ‘What is not’ was felt as a challenge to oppose the ‘What is’ with the imaginary ‘What ought to be’, untrammelled by restraints of religious and social traditions.” Dissatisfied with society, Hutten engaged himself “in the controversies of the day, inspired by an ever-increasing anger…He was conscious that his contemporaries held to a wrong scale of values and convinced that the future was with him and the humanists.” Hutten wrote the successful Nemo (first published in 1510). “Nobody, no longer fettered about the mouth by his padlock, is represented as a well-dressed man, raising his hands in comic despair.” In later editions of the same poem, the padlock is re-introduced. Calmann provides us with a phrase from Jacob Spiegel, Secretary to the Emperor: “‘Hutten,’ he writes, ‘a mere nothing in the eyes of blind admirers of popularly acclaimed literature, has consequently produced a nothing about Nobody.’” Hutten eventually “rewrote his Nemo, changing it so as to add to its bite”. Nemo II (first published in 1518). The absence of a padlock in his mouth finally indicated that his virtuous Nobody “was free to speak, was not dumb, frightened or patient”. Hutten used his tracts “to introduce his religious and political ideas”. His “Nemo became a catchword among the literati…The humanists turned the Nemo conception to refer to the burning questions of the day.” At the centenary of the publication of Nemo II, the humanist joke was revived. “Here Nobody was celebrated as the perfect man.”
     Niemand, in pamphlets of the Reformation, “was always on the Protestant side.” The earliest example was “an attack on Luther’s followers by Johannes Atrocianus in 1528…This may have induced Schan to re-cast his Niemand as a Protestant broadsheet in 1533.” Schan was older now, and seemingly “ran no risk, therefore, in publishing his Niemand in the new rôle of a rebel, relying on truth to defeat his spiritual oppressors. His two poems reflect the change that took place during their author’s lifetime. He bitterly accuses the Catholic Church of evil practices, attacking the mass, the adoration of relics and the sale of indulgences; he turns against the pretensions of the Pope, especially against the kissing of his foot, and denies purgatory and the efficacy of good works. He joyfully declares his faith in the redeeming power of the word of God if it is received by a pious heart. The woodcut is a slightly changed and technically improved version of the first broadsheet; the pedlar looks less ferocious, his clothes are not only torn but have the leafy fringes of the fool’s costume…Niemand still wears spectacles; he has two wings on his head instead of one; but one thing is missing: the padlock. The new title of the poem and its first words draw attention to this fact. Der wohlredendt Niemant (The welspoken Nobody), begins: ‘God has given evidence of His power through me, and has taken the padlock from my mouth.‘” A certain mutinous quality had matured in the “mendicant” known as Niemand (variants of his name include Niemants, Niemantz, Niemandt, Nyemands, Nyement, Nymant, Nemanth). “Nobody had become the type of man that was put upon” and his complex image had acquired a social connotation. In fact, “Nemo”/“Nobody” quickly “became a frequent disguise for anonymous writers” who addressed their offensive letters to the authorities. Schan’s prototype had been radically transformed. “The pedlar had become a revolutionary.”
     Though a shortened English version of this German Protestant poem (“a very close, though extremely clumsy, contemporary translation”) was also printed that same year or shortly after, “whether the household scapegoat with his picture had ever been published in England before, we do not know. The rebellious Nobody of the Protestant broadsheet is proof of how closely the religious reformers collaborated across national boundaries, in the same way as the humanists. It would be intriguing to find out who took the poem across the Channel…In his rôle of a foil for the follies of mankind — a mirror of perfection reflecting nothing — Nobody lived on in England.”
     It must be noted that “Schan’s original poem on Niemand had been almost simultaneous with the first appearance of Everyman, the morality play, which had been performed and re-written in every language in the course of the sixteenth century.” By the time Nobody (now an international phenomenon!) arrived in England, “Everyman — man related to absolute values — was no longer Nobody’s counterpart. Somebody — man in his social setting — took his place. He was a person of consequence, whose name was perhaps intentionally suppressed or to whom importance was at least sarcastically conceded (O.E.D.). His evil character was seen as the real cause of all the abuses of society, though he denied all responsibility. Nobody, ‘a person of no importance, authority of social position’ (O.E.D.) was good. He made no pretensions and at times he even attempted to set wrongs right. The English form of his name permitted a pun which is not possible in other European languages, and by the seventeenth century he is pictured as a manikin composed of head and limbs only, without a trunk. This type, which gradually established itself as the dominant one in England, appears for the first time in 1606 on the title-page of the play Nobody and Somebody. With the true Chronicle Historie of Elydure who was fortunately three severall times crowned King of England…‘Printed for John Trundle and are to be sold at his shop in Barbican at the sign of Nobody’. The woodcut shows a bearded man with a little hat holding a short staff in his left hand. His most conspicuous feature is his enormous trunk-hose starting at his shoulders and reaching down to his knees; his servant, the clown, reproaches him for his strange attire: ‘Master, why do you go thus out of fashion? You are even a very hoddy doddy, all breech.’ Nobody: ‘And no body…’” His arch-rival “Somebody, on the other hand, was all body and had very small legs. His consequential air was enhanced by the fact that he carried a baton, and, unlike Nobody, wore a sword.” In a sense, Somebody and Nobody “form part of man’s paradoxical nature” and aptly illustrate this “psychological phenomenon.” (materialistic obsession isolates the individual, while the other part of man’s nature, divine reason, annihilates this isolation). As for the story itself, it hinges on the notion “that Nobody is persecuted for the misdeeds of Somebody. He is accused of oppressing widows and orphans, impoverishing farmers and living ‘in goodly manor-houses fit to receive a King’. These were general complaints on economic conditions.” By the end of the play, “the two adversaries, Somebody and Nobody, are forced to confront each other in court. Nobody bases his defense on the familiar revolutionary statement: ‘Whatever was done, must have been done by somebody, else things could have no being.’” In German broadsheets, Nobody continued to appear “as the original tatterdemalion, for the English pun makes no sense in German. In England No-Body remained a bodyless personage.” As such, he is seen in No-Body, his complaint, a 1652 pamphlet by George Baron. “It consists of a ‘Dialogue between Master No-Body and Doctour Some-Body’. The patient, No-Body, suffering from a thousand-year-old disease, asks the doctor’s advice. He teases him for a long time with contradictory symptoms, until it emerges that Some-Body himself is the cause. His unfailing habit of denying guilt has made his patient ill. He promises never to blame No-Body again and the latter thereupon ‘takes comfort in nothing’.” Even though Schan’s “padlocked ‘Nobody’ has never been used in English pictorial tradition”, the household-Nobody “was well known in seventeenth-century England…and this Nobody survives in a nineteenth-century nursery rhyme and in popular songs.” There, his picture appeared “on the lids of warming-pans together with the words: ‘Who burnt the bed Nobodie 1632’ and ‘Who burnd ye Nobodie 1635’.” As far as is known, Schan’s pictorial type was never used in England to represent Nobody. “There can be no doubt that Nobody remained a stock joke and the figure was therefore commonly known. [William] Hogarth exaggerated its characteristics by leaving out the body altogether in the tailpiece of his Peregrination, and Mr. Somebody likewise had his head and legs cut off, ‘pushing the notion to its furthest length’…He also took over the tradition of representing the ‘general publick’, the common man, as Nobody, and in his last years he opposed him once more to the pretentious Somebody.” A brilliant sentence comes from “Hogarth’s draft-dedication of a book on the state of the arts and artists in England: ‘But if for once we may suppose Nobody to be everybody, as Everybody is often said to be nobody, then is this work Dedicated to every body.’” From the mid-18th century “until about 1832 English satires abound with No-Bodies.”
     Calmann concludes with the following brilliant paragraph: “For centuries the joke served to point a moral and to express patient or rebellious misery, confronting the individual with his perfect counterpart in the shape of a poor fool, of a mock-hero or of a person without body. Nobody was consistently endowed with innocence; this of all possible characteristics the individual could not claim to possess. Nobody appealed to him, roused his conscience and encouraged him to face his self. But the relationship between individuals entered a new phase with the rise of organized mass-movements in the nineteenth century. ‘Nobodies of the world unite’ would have been a contradiction in itself. Now, as ‘average man’, the ‘common man’ may be said to have lost his individuality and to have become an abstraction. The person in the ‘picture of Nobody’ was forgotten. And so, alas, […] Nemo has almost vanished from our lives; the least the historian can do is to remember gratefully the good fellow — that never was.”
     Even today, No-one is still the perennial scapegoat conjured up in situations that require a denial of guilt: who amongst us, when faced with an accusatory question like “Who did that?” (especially after childhood lapses and slip-ups), hasn’t hurriedly replied “Nobody!” Poor chap. This innocent bloke is always getting blamed for one’s misdeeds.
     Calmann’s essay contains another fascinating quotation, which I thought bore an uncanny allusion to my 2003 coin: “In 1814 there appeared a small illustrated volume called Something concerning No-Body edited by Somebody. On the title-page is the hero, a fey creature inside a zero, with the words: ‘Ex nihil nihil fit’ and ‘Since Nothing is with Nothing fraught, the Nobody must spring from naught.’”
     It is amazing how this entire Nichtsburg & Zilchstadt project has been the result of extraordinarily serendipitous moments, all of them stupendously timely. When I designed the original Miden, I deliberately placed a halo (representing a saintly, radiant light) atop the head of Zero MacNaught (I actually borrowed the entire image from one of my sketchbooks from about 10 years earlier). I don’t know exactly why I kept the delicate nimbus. I guess it looked and felt right to me. At that point, I honestly had no idea that there ever was a historical Saint Nemo. Over the years, I was truly astonished at the number of disparate elements — all of them perfectly suited for the overall theme of the series — that appeared out of the blue from seemingly Nowhere (from Nichtsburg and/or Zilchstadt itself?) and converged unexpectedly upon each of the coins. Gerta Calmann mentions one other pertinent citation, from Gil Vicente’s The Ship of Hell: “Here the fool tries to enter the Ship of Heaven; asked who he is, he answers ‘I am Nobody’ and is eventually admitted.”

     At first, I never thought I'd design a coin myself, nor take the necessary steps to see the fanciful venture come to fruition (much less provide it with its own destination in cyberspace). The entire experience has been a veritable dream-come-true for me. It turned out to be a success with many collectors, including some international ones (Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ukraine). I am also indebted to Michael E. Marotta, who has given it generous mention in the pages of the Georgia Numismatic Association’s GNA Journal (Autumn 2003), the ANA’s Numismatist (“Internet Connections”, November 2003), and the Michigan State Numismatic Society's The Mich-Matist (Winter 2004). Now, my initial accomplishment has expanded and grown unexpectedly, culminating in the production of more than one highly anticipated follow-up. I wish they continue to merit a positive response. The primary aim is to share my ebullience with other enthusiasts. I'd simply like to get these conceptual coins out there, inexpensively and in a fun way, to those whose particular interests may be similar to mine. Of course it would be nice to financially “break even” in this endeavor, but if I don't, that is fine as well.

     So if you are in a Zilchstadt state of mind, I hope there is a rightful spot for these handsome coins in your collection; right next to your Adelas, Decas, Ducals, Cali, Skaloj, Steloj, and all the other uncommon, privately-made coins of the unofficial “world”. Additionally, I joyfully invite you to find your trusty parasol and spring on over to L’île d’Héliopolis, for which I've also produced coins.

     Personally, I am always eager to learn of little-known or newly-surfaced objects that pertain to this alluring category, so if you are aware of an ou-topos (Greek for “non-land”, “non-place”, “non-locus”) or any other other peculiar localities (countercountries, microstates, “new country” projects, online/cyber-nations, virtual republics, quasi-states, phantom/imaginary/ephemeral/unrecognized governments, ego/hobby nations, or model countries) which distribute their own coins, please let me know.   Also, feel free to contact me if you just want to chat with another aficionado about these types of coins. Let's hear it for coins from the “Lands-of-almost-but-not-quite”!

     Danke tausend mal!!

     Erik Victor McCrea
     Der Ministerpräsident


Click here for a larger sized image of the 2004 Nichtsburg and Zilchstadt stamps

     I am immensely elated to announce that 4 full-color postage stamps, dated 2004, have been professionally produced for Nichtsburg & Zilchstadt by Mr. Inzander Berenku, of Occussi-Ambeno's Imperial Government Printing Office (KDPN, Kantor Diraja Penchetakan Negara).
     The 90 Midenika stamp conveys afresh the age-old sūnya.
     The 75 Midenika stamp portrays al-Khowarizmi, the Persian astronomer/mathematician from Khiva. By transplanting Indian numerals to the Middle East (c. 810 CE), the Chorasmian scholar introduces “zero” (which he derived from the Hindu polymaths who perfected it, such as Brahmagupta, c. 628 CE) to its newest destination.
     The 30 Midenika stamp honors Leonardo Pisano Fibonacci, the Italian merchant/mathematician from Pisa. By studying Arabian arithmetic/algebra and translating al-Khwārizmī's algorithms, he reveals “zero” (circa 1202 CE) to Western Europe and beyond (the Hindu-Arabic numeral system — a decimal place-value numeral system — soon replaced the Roman numbering system).
     The 15 Midenika stamp illustrates mih, the Mayan cephalomorphic hieroglyph/portrait glyph for “zero”.

     And while we are still on the topic of Nothing, an artist named Allen Patten has conjured up (as part of a multifaceted art project) a tiny nation-state known as the Republic of Nada. It “is almost the world's smallest independent republic.” Nada is also the “Gateway to nowhere and the world.” Mr. Patten (of Victoria, B.C.) has also poured a lot of his creative efforts into the Nada Bank ( and, for which he has produced beautiful paper currency. “As the name implies: Nada Bank is not a bank.” The “Notes” are signed, limited edition lithographic prints. Mr. Patten (“The head of nothing”) began designing banknotes (hand-drawn “on a cafe place mat”) in 1972. He made “Several sojourns to Nowhere over the years to study it's singular qualities and odd language.” Finally, “The official ‘Declaration of the State of Nada’ and it's extent” took place in 2001. There are now “About 60 + officers and operatives (known to me) around the world”. Mr. Patten’s “Nada prints are a fundraising instrument” to help support his artistic endeavors, including those “with some social good as their aim.” Along the same lines, there is another currency called the Noney (, which is issued by Obadiah Eelcut. Each specimen is “a hand-drawn, hand-printed and hand-signed piece of art. Each note can also be traded for things. Like all money, Noney is for people to circulate. The result is a combination of performance, public art and printmaking.” Noney (the word rhymes with “money”) serves as “cultural tender for the payment of any amount, anywhere.” The notes “entered worldwide circulation” in 2003, “through a series of release events in Providence, Rhode Island.” Noney’s sole standard of worth “is the aesthetic value of the note itself. It's an economic system backed by art — art that also serves as the system's currency…Each Noney note has the same denomination: zero. This doesn't mean each note has no value…just relative value. There's no fixed exchange rate or location of operation. Noney's worth as both art and currency is something to negotiate through each individual transaction — anywhere.” On a related “note”, there is an interesting banknote from “The Unknown Kingdom of Pomoma and Other Places”. It bears a denomination of “One Nothing”. According to Mr. Richard J. Reed (, it “parodies an old British one pound note. This is apparently from some prop artist's hand drawn original and is really a work of art!!” The “Pomoma” bills were purportedly used in the United Kingdom as prop notes (in the movies or on television). They “were possibly used to represent the old British pound notes they were parodied after.” Unfortunately, Mr. Reed is “not sure what production(s) the notes were utilized in.” Furthermore, there is a micronation, established in April of 2001, called San Pedro de Nada ( and This “nationette” was created by Dieter Hamm and someone known as the “Redneck Penguin”. According to Mr. Hamm, “There was quite a bunch of people who loved to write ‘Sanpedronesian’ stories, people from the USA, Canada, Australia and incidentally, Germany.”

     In closing, I would like to present a few pithy epigraphs. I have been collecting these for several years and I think they add a nice touch to our topic of “blankness”. Enjoy!

The only good is nonbeing;
the only really good thing is the thing that is not,
things that are not things;
all things are bad.
Giacomo Leopardi

What struck me then
and still strikes me now
was the place’s overwhelming
aura of absence.
Ian Frazier

Here, Sariputra,
form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form;
emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness;
whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form,
the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.
The Heart Sutra (translated by Edward Conze)

It’s as if the rhythm of nothingness
was, on the inside, the sum of all rhythms;
or, in that case, like a song that’s come to rest
atop a mountain in motion.
Chico Buarque, Morro Dois Irmãos has
been said by others, though few, that nothing
is got for nothing: so I am reconciled: I
traipse my dull self down the aisles of
desire and settle for nothing, nothing wanted,
nothing spent, nothing got.
A.R. Ammons, Tree Limbs Down

Where you are worth nothing,
you should want nothing.
Arnold Geulincx

So finally there was nothing.
It was put inside nothing.
Nothing was added to it
And to prove it didn't exist
Squashed flat as nothing with nothing.
Chopped up with a nothing
Shaken in a nothing
Turned completely inside out
And scattered over nothing —
So everybody saw that it was nothing
And that nothing more could be done with it...
Ted Hughes, Conjuring in Heaven

Wu wei er wu bu wei.
(“By doing nothing everything will be done.”
also translated as
“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”)
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The modern painter…begins with nothingness.
That is the only thing he copies.
The rest he invents.
Harold Rosenberg

One of the most painful elements in the act of writing
is to live so much of the day with that nothingness.
To deal on a daily basis with nothingness is vitiating.
Norman Mailer

...there is nothing to express,
nothing with which to express,
nothing from which to express,
no power to express, no desire to express,
together with the obligation to express.
Samuel Beckett

Why is there something,
when there could have been nothing?
Paul Tillich

Since human pleasures and pains are mere illusions,
the anguish deriving from the certainty of the nothingness of things
is always the only true reality.
Giacomo Leopardi

Copyright © 2002-2011 Erik Victor McCrea

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