HEADS OR TAILS, THE TALE
Heads or tails? For many, the coin flip is an easy way to choose between two equal options; but folks like Hein believed it showed our true desire. To others, it’s a non-negotiable display of divine will - God’s Will.
Behind history’s coin flips, and every call of heads or tails, lies a compelling story. For some it was being first to fly. To others it meant jail, or plummeting to their death. Countless folk took secrets to their grave by way of the coin flip. Needless to say the history books would read different today without this simple game of chance.
Whenever you are called upon to make up your mind
And you are hampered by not having any,
The best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find
Is simply by spinning a penny.
No--not so that chance shall decide the affair
While you're passively standing there moping
But the moment the penny is up in the air
You suddenly know what you're hoping.
A Psychological Tip, written by Piet Hein c. 1945
The Most Tragic Coin Flip in Music History
On February 3, 1959, rock and roll legends Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson were killed. They were on tour when their plane crashed into a cornfield near Clear Lake, Iowa USA. It was the so-called ‘divine will’ of the coin flip that placed Valens in the path of tragedy.
Holly’s band members Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup, claim that Valens won a coin toss with Allsup for the remaining seat. But a second story emerged by Dion Dimucci, also on the tour. Dion states he was offered the flight and the coin toss was between Valens and himself. He claims to have won the toss, but gave the seat to Valens after balking at the cost.
Child's Play, or God’s Work?
The earliest known ‘Heads or Tails’ originated in Greece c. 600-527 BC. It was called The Shell Game, or Ostrakinda (?στρακίνδα). It was also known as The Piece, as it was played with other objects.
Two teams faced each other, divided by a line drawn in the ground. One side would be called the white team while the others would be the black team. A ‘piece’ or shell was painted white on one side, black on the other, and thrown in the air by a player who would call ‘day or night’. If correct, his team became the pursuers in a tag-like game. If he was not correct, his team became the pursued.
But why were the children calling day or night, why not black or white?
Plato may offer a suggestion through the mention of Ostrakinda in the context of ascension, or turning out the soul’s darkness and replacing it with light.
“Would you, then, have us proceed to consider how such men may be produced in a state and how they may be led upward to the light even as some are fabled to have ascended from Hades to the gods?” “Of course I would.” “So this, it seems, would not be the whirling of the shell in the children's game, but a conversion and turning about of the soul from a day whose light is darkness to the veritable day—that ascension to reality of our parable which we will affirm to be true philosophy.” - Plato, Rep. vii p. 521 C
500 years later, the theme of day and night would show up permanently in the game we know as modern Heads or Tails.
Pitch and Toss
Pitch and Toss was documented some 200 years earlier by the Ancient Greeks c. 800 BC. The game involved throwing bronze coins at a wall, with the closest being the winner. It was a popular game amongst Greek Mariners; and was included in the first Olympics, but later removed.
It is not known if there is an ancient connection to Ostrakinda and Pitch & Toss, but in modern history, the game features a ‘heads or tails’ component. Once all coins are tossed, the player closest to the wall gathers the coins and flips them. The player shouts head or tails and the coins that land in his favor are his.
The Birth of Heads or ‘Tails’ Nomenclature
Around the 8th Century BC, the Romans began replacing Greek Coins with their own aes rude, a lump of bronze used as a proto-currency. During the 3rd Century this became the aes grave, the first cast bronze coins of the Roman Republic.
The first liberal coins featured a two-headed Janus on one side and the prow of a ship on the reverse. The prow is said to signify Saturn’s arrival by ship. Janus received him favorably and they ruled together.
Janus was the epitome of heads or tails. He was the God of opposites, the God of beginnings and endings. He celebrated progress from past to future; change from one state to another, and one vision to another. He was all about time and movement, never standing still.
Therefore Janus is always depicted with two heads. But it is said his duality represents his reign with Saturn. And it is also said it represents the transformation of his people from wild to harmonious lives. Regardless, it was this design on the first aes grave that sparked the Heads or Tails nomenclature.
Heads Or Ships Anyone?
Between 300 - 100 BC coin flipping became commonplace among the Romans. Because their coins were patterned with Janus, and the prow of Saturn’s ship, the game was called Capita Aut Navia, meaning head or ship.
Capita Aut Navia migrated to medieval England, where it was named ‘Cross and Pile’ to reflect the design of their coins. On reaching Ireland it was called head and harps. It was still considered just a bit of fun, but one powerful man was about to transform it into a divine decision maker.
Caesar’s Unorthodox Decision Making
Using a coin flip to make a decision, known as flipism, appeared c. 49 BC after Julius Caesar returned to Rome and began minting coins in his name.
Although Caesar was considered a master strategist, he also practiced flipism. When presented with a decision where the right choice wasn’t clear, he would flip a coin. It was believed the coin flip revealed Gods divine will. Under Caesar, the practice was taken seriously and used for property, marriage, and criminal disputes. A coin flip was a legally enforceable decision.
Similar to the word ‘day’ used in Ostrakinda, and described by Plato as ‘light’ – Heads, was officially known as a symbol of light and righteousness. Throughout centuries the other side of the coin became known as tails, associated with evil and humanism. Although there is no etymology for the word ‘tails’ it may describe the serpent’s tail, a frequently used symbol for darkness and evil.
Finally, flipism found its way around the world. No longer used to make crucial legal decisions, flipism is responsible for some of the most significant outcomes and stories in US history.
The Most Significant Heads ‘or Tales’ in US History
In 1845 Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove owned a sizeable piece of land in Oregon. Each wanted to name the town after their respective hometowns, and were at a deadlock. To make the decision easily, the pair flipped a coin. Pettygrove won and the town was called Portland.
58 years on, in 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright flipped a coin to decide who would take the very first flight. Wilbur won the toss, but stalled on his attempt; so it was Orville who would take it instead!
And more than 100 years later, after the turn of the millenium, Heads or Tales Coins & Collectibles began telling the world’s most important stories, using the world’s most precious metals.
How Legends Become Heirlooms
The Heads or Tales designers are Master Artisans of statues, coins and collectibles. With iconic imagery and paradigm-shifting stories, 'Hotcoco' heirlooms are consistently ranked as favorites with collectors’ worldwide.
No one tells stories like we do.
Everything we do begins with a great story. Using the technical skill of the world’s best scultpors & designers, both art and story spring to life in stunning realism. It is then captured through the time-honored skills of our Thai master silversmiths; cast, etched, and traditionally finished into investment grade precious metals deep in the heart of Thailand. The result is a stunning heirloom piece, the value of which is exceeded only by its beauty, to be cherished for generations.
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From Heads or Tales to Hotco.co
HotCoco (Thailand) Co., Ltd is a world-leading precious metals fabricator creating richly significant Copper, Silver and Gold heirlooms.
It’s no accident the letters in Heads or Tails Coins & Collectibles spell hotcoco. It’s divine will. Because there’s only one way to make our best stories even greater - by sharing them around a warm fire with a steaming mug of hot cocoa.
So come and join us as we tell the most precious stories ever told, through the most precious metals on Earth.