The Infamous ‘Folsom Prison Nickel’

What follows is the text of an article which appeared in San Francisco’s The Call newspaper, March 10, 1898. 

Outside of California residents, most of the rest of the world was to first hear the name Folsom Prison in the 1955 hit song “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. In 1968, Johnny Cash performed live at the prison to the delight of inmates and jailers. 


Guards Surprise Convicts Busily Engaged in Coining Nickels in the Engine-Room.

SACRAMENTO, March 10. 

A counterfeiter’s layout has been discovered at Folsom within the State prison walls, the last spot on earth where one would look for the illegal minting of Uncle Sam’s coin. If there is a place in the broad universe where neither the opportunity nor demand of money arises it is within the walls of the State prison; at least such is the general impression of people who are without experience with criminals. To those who have had dealings with me sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for the commission of crime it is known that there is no passion or desire stronger than the predilection of a prisoner to carry upon his person some small amount of money. On the part of many it becomes a mania, and they will resort to all sorts of devices and any kind of a subterfuge to withhold a few pieces of coin from the Warden upon entering the prison. Secretary Smith, in speaking of this peculiarity on the part of prisoners, once said to The Call correspondent: 

You would be surprised to know what difficulty we have in securing money from the prisoners who are brought here. No second termer ever comes without an endeavor to conceal upon his person some bit of money. I have known them to have five-dollar pieces covered with cloth and sewed upon their vests as buttons. They conceal money in their hair and in their ears, and we are not always successful in obtaining possession of it. Not long ago I brought $75 worth of books for our library with money found around the prison grounds — money that had been hidden by convicts or carried in, notwithstanding the precaution we take to relieve all the prisoners of every cent they have upon their person when entering for registration .” 

But while it may not be astonishing to find this overwhelming desire on the part of convicts to conceal their spare change, there is probably no prison in the United States where the criminals successfully operated and circulated bogus coin, manufactured within the prison walls under the very eyes of the officers. For some time past Officer Charles Jally. whose station is at the rock crushing plant, has had his suspicions aroused by the peculiar conduct of some at the prisoners under his control At first he thought these whisperings and signals were carried on in the planning of some scheme to smuggle in opium. This is a very common matter at the prison, and only last week Guard Lamphry burned ten pounds of the drug which had been surreptitiously brought within the confines. After three or four days of watching Jally informed Superintendent Taylor, and both became convinced that some deeper plot was being laid, and they became more determined than ever to ascertain the cause of so much suppressed excitement among the convicts. 

Yesterday they were rewarded. Some time during the morning Jally informed Taylor  that there was something wrong in the engine room. Taylor gathered about him Guards Jally and Silak. and the three made a rush for the engine room. Convicts Cayne(sic) and Brown were encountered, and as the officers rushed in both convicts leaped through a window in the engine room and ran to the tank of the canal, which was within a short distance of the engine house. One of the guards followed them, while the others proceeded to Inspect the engine room.

As the convicts reached the edge of the canal there was a splash of muddy water. The crucible and dies they had used were forever beyond the possession of those in pursuit. The quick sands and murky waters of the American River were safe custodians of their guilt.

There were other evidences, however, and they consisted of a pile of nickels which were captured by the guard who entered the engine room. These nickels were splendid specimens of workmanship. The material out of which they were made consisted of babbiting, which is a white soft metal which forms the inside rim of the axle box found on a locomotive. This substance was taken from the engine which runs through the prison grounds and hauls the trains of crushed rock which are shipped from the prison rock crusher.

The nickels are seemingly as perfect and complete as any ever made by Uncle Sam. Many of them have been given circulation and The Call correspondent found no difficulty in procuring one of them in the town of Folsom.

How the dies and crucibles were ever made will perhaps remain a mystery. Plaster of parts molds were used, and in the engine room were found many fragments of this material.

Captain Murphy was rather reticent when asked about the affair.

It amounts to nothing,” the captain said, “and if it did I would not talk about it in the absence of the warden. I do not deem it to be best for the prison discipline to take such matters up and give them undue publicity in the papers.”

When shown one of the spurious coins the captain admitted that he had seen them, but beyond the admission he preferred to say nothing.

It is not supposed that Cayne and Brown are the prisoners who made the molds, but as there are several counterfeiters doing time in Folsom, it is probable that the devices used were made by some of them, and the coining of the counterfeit left to Cayne and Brown.

A very extensive traffic has for a long time been going on among the prisoners, and the officers have been at a loss to know where the convicts obtained the money which had been so freely circulated. The cigarette paper among the convicts is a very choice article, and they will give almost anything: to obtain a package of it. On the other hand, there has been a great quantity of opium smuggled in lately, and there is no doubt that these coins ; were being made for the purpose of paying those who sent it in from the outside, as well as exchanging them for cigarette papers.

It is a matter of some regret that the entire layout was not captured, as it no doubt would have given the officers some clew (sic) as to the means employed in obtaining it. Some of the officers think that the dies were smuggled in from the outside, while others hold that the entire apparatus was made within the prison walls. As there are many tools and furnaces available around the quarries, it is very probable that the latter theory is the correct one.

The ladle used appeared similar to those used around assaying establishments, while the crucible was crude in form, and appeared as though it had been melted into shape from railroad couplings.

There are many cars arriving every day in the yard, and it is from these that the prisoners are supplied with opium from the outside. The most wonderful devices are employed in this prohibited traffic. Opium has been found in the axle boxes of the cars, or fastened to the inside of a brake beam; in fact there is no place about a flat car that has not been used in concealing the drug.

The impression prevails among the officers that it was the intention of the convicts to coin a great quantity of nickels and then ship them out on the freight cars, where their friends on the outside could receive them in exchange for opium.

It is probable that nothing but nickels were attempted to be made for the reason that the convicts could not obtain the metal necessary to manufacture silver coins.

An 1898 Liberty “V” Nickel


Vibece Furseth in the Samlerhuset Group is taking on a new role, becoming the first female mint master and CEO of the Norwegian Mint in Kongsberg.

Vibece Furseth will take on the role of CEO and mint master for the Norwegian Mint in March. She has held many important positions in the Samlerhuset Group over the course of 25 years, and currently holds the role of Operations Director in Samlerhuset Norway. Vibece will continue to lead Samlerhuset Norway’s operations department and is part of the company’s management team, while also becoming the mint master in Kongsberg.

She takes over from Ståle Løkken by the end of March.

The Mint has a first-class team that is in the international league in the field of coin minting, and with commercial insight and in-depth knowledge of the industry, I believe Vibece will be an ideal leader and bring many business opportunities to the Mint in the future,” says founder and chairman of the board of the Samlerhuset Group, Ole Bjørn Fausa.

We thank Ståle Løkken for his good years at the Mint and wish him good luck with new important tasks at a new, strong Kongsberg enterprise,” he continues.

The Norwegian Mint was established in Kongsberg in 1686 and has had almost 50 mint masters during this time, all of whom have been men. Furseth thus becomes Norway’s first female CEO and mint master for the Norwegian Mint.

I am taking over a well-run Mint with over 300 years of traditions in Norwegian industrial history, and I look forward to being part of the competence environment that the Mint represents in coin and minting technology. I have broad experience in the industry and am excited to explore new commercial opportunities for the Norwegian Mint,” says incoming CEO, Vibece Furseth.

The Norwegian Mint in Kongsberg is owned by the Samlerhuset group and produces coins and medals, including the official circulation coins in Norway, on behalf of the Norwegian Bank. The Norwegian Mint also produces the Nobel Prize medals annually.

A Million Silver Dollars

The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair offered its ten million visitors many exciting sights.  Astronaut John Glenn brought his Friendship 7 space capsule, Elvis Presley even filmed a movie there, and Seattle’s famous Space Needle was built as the fair’s futuristic symbol.  However, if you had purchased your ticket and walked on the fairgrounds in the spring of 1962, you would have been treated to a spectacular display which has never been re-created:  a wire corn crib holding 1 MILLION gleaming US Silver Dollars!

This incredible display was the result of an unlikely partnership between the Philadelphia Mint and three Washington numismatists.  The three convinced a Columbus, Nebraska manufacturing company to build a steel building on the fair site, while two large semi trucks each carried 500,000 silver dollars in mint-sealed bags from Philadelphia all the way across country to Seattle.  (Of course, the trucks also carried armed Pinkerton guards, while state troopers and local police provided additional escort.)

To construct the Million Silver Dollars exhibit, 800,000 Morgan silver dollars in mint bags dated 1910-1915 were carefully stacked in the center of the aforementioned corn crib.  Then, once the mountain of bags was completed, the final 200,000 Peace dollars were poured in to completely cover the bags.  Fair visitors were allowed to pass within just a few feet of this amazing display from the Fair’s opening day, April 21, 1962, until it closed in October.   Anywhere from 25,000 – 40,000 visitors passed through the steel building every day to gaze upon this once-in-a-lifetime sight.  While most visitors considered themselves lucky to even be close to this treasure, one unsuspecting lady was the luckiest of them all!  In June, as the one millionth fair visitor passed through the gates, she was presented with 100 of the silver dollars from the exhibit.

In the fall of 1962, just after the World’s Fair has closed, an ad appeared in a national coin magazine offering actual dollars from this exhibit, in commemorative holders, for $1.95 each.  Or, you could purchase up to 5 bags per person for $1500 per bag of 1000.  

Oh for a time machine to travel back 48 years, eh?!!

Announcing the 16th International Numismatic Congress

The 16th International Numismatic Congress will take place in Warsaw in September 2022. The event attracts scholars, archaeologists, historians, numismatists, curators of coin collections, auction houses and dealers from five continents. It is organized under the auspices of the International Numismatic Council, the main organizer is the University of Warsaw. The Samlerhuset Group is the major sponsor of the Congress.

We are talking about upcoming congress with Professor Aleksander Bursche from the Warsaw University:

Professor Aleksander Bursche, Warsaw University

What is the principal aim of Numismatic Congresses? What are some of the highlights from past events?

For 130 years, Numismatic Congresses have been organised with the principal aim of sharing the newest discoveries and research results with an international community. These have for six years been summarised in the accompanying volume of Survey of Numismatic Research, which will this time be issued in summer, as a digital publication accessible online. One aspect that deserves attention is the involvement of large numbers of young students of numismatics, whom the Congress provides with an important opportunity to establish contacts and make personal acquaintance with the most prominent experts in the field. Such contacts often result in finding employment in the numismatic profession; auction houses in particular like to ‘fish out’ young professionals during the Congress. Previous congresses were full of interesting events. In Madrid, for instance, the Congress’ participants were invited for a private tour of the State Mint and of the Archaeological Museum, on the very day it closed; a similar night tour was organised in Glasgow; while in Taormina on Sicily the Congress participants could enjoy an unforgettable concert of historical music in the spectacularly located ancient Greek theatre overlooking Mount Etna.

Who participates in the congresses?

The Congress’ main participants are professional numismatists, representatives of various historical disciplines, especially academics and custodians of museum collections, but also employees of banks, mints and auction houses, as well as collectors. In recent years we have also been joined by a large group of scientists involved in various numismatic analyses, most notably experts in archaeometallurgy and information technology. Thus, it is an event that combines science with hobbyist passion. One might also add that the percentage of women participating in the Congress has increased substantially in recent years; in Warsaw they will already be the majority. 

This year the Congress will for the first time be organised in Central-Eastern Europe. Is this a landmark event for our region?

Most certainly so. Due to various reasons of political or financial nature, representatives of the countries in the region were thus far very limited in their possibilities to participate in Congresses that took place, for instance, in New York, Washington or Bern, sending only small deputations. This year, owing to stipends provided by private sponsors and a grant from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, we expect to welcome many more representatives not only from Poland, but also from Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. For the first time, it the main focus of the event will shift from Western Europe and the Mediterranean to eastern regions, including the Far East. We may look forward to many fascinating presentations, important in the context of the history of not only the Polish Republic and its minting industry, but also e.g. of the Golden Horde, India and China.

What determined the choice of the Polish candidacy?

It was decided by a resolution passed unanimously by the General Assembly of the International Numismatic Council, during the previous Congress held in Taormina on Sicily in 2015. The fact that we were the only candidate stemmed from the very intense promotion we continued since the Madrid Congress in 2003, which intensified between the Glasgow Congress of 2009 and the Taormina one. I was personally involved in these efforts; at that time, my doctoral seminar on numismatics at the Warsaw University was attended by more than a hundred numismatists from all over the globe, many of them very renowned experts in the field. The promotional video sent to all participants of the Congress also played an important part: 


Please say a few words about the organisers of the Congress. 

Since the first Congress, held in Brussels in 1891, the event has been organised mainly by the mentioned International Numismatic Council, curretly based in Winterthur in Switzerland. It is the world’s largest association of institutions dealing in numismatics. The principal organiser of this year’s congress, held in Poland, is the Warsaw University, in cooperation with the National Museum in Warsaw, the National Museum in Krakow, the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the National Bank of Poland and the Polish Numismatic Society, which is an association of collectors. The organisational centre of operations is at the Warsaw University’s Department of Archaeology; the entire Congress is managed by Mazurkas Travel, an institution with many years of experience in organising international events of similar nature. 

What are the main topics of discussion for this year’s Congress? 

The organisers do not influence the range of topics discussed at the Congress; their only concern is maintaining a high academic level of the presented material. We have just closed the call for papers and posters. We have over 600 submissions, which is the highest number in the history of the Congress, although it is unlikely that all these submissions will be accepted by the International Scientific Committee. Their content indicates that a full range of topics related to professional numismatics will be covered at the Congress; however, the speakers traditionally tend to favour the Antiquity and the Middle Ages more than the early-modern and modern period. The geographical scope covers almost the entire world, with Europe and the Mediterranean dominating, although a large number of papers and posters also pertain to Asian regions (most notably Iran, India and China), the Americas, Australia and Cuba. The number of submissions from the USA was particularly large. Many  presentations will focus on the history of collecting and of particular collections; iconography; numismatic finds, including many coins recently recovered from shipwrecks; the circulation of money; inflation and other economic issues; various subjects related to research methodology; medals; token coins; banknotes; substitute currency, etc. A particularly large number of sessions and panel discussions at the Warsaw Congress shall be dedicated to the extremely fashionable and rapidly developing field of digital numismatics, online databases, digitalisation and digital image identification, as well as various technologies and results of metallographic research.

Will any interesting numismatic items be issued in connection with the Congress?

It has become a tradition for a special-edition medal to be issued to commemorate the Congress. The winner of the contest for this year’s medal is the renowned Polish medallist Mr. Robert Kotowicz; his design may be seen here: Two versions of the medal will be made: in silvered tombac and in gilt silver. They will be distributed among Congress participants following preorders. Occasionally, a commemorative coin was also issued in connection with the Congress – most recently during its Madrid edition in 2003. This year’s edition will also feature such a coin: the National Bank of Poland will issue a 50 zloty silver coin with a bust of Joachim Lelewel on the reverse. Unfortunately, these are all the details I can disclose at the moment.

Where will the Congress be held?

For the entire duration of the event, i.e. between 11th and 16th September, the Congress Centre will be located at the historic campus of the Warsaw University, at 26/28 Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, by the so-called Royal Route near Warsaw’s Old Town. The sessions and panel discussions will be held simultaneously in three historic buildings: the Auditorium Maximum, the Main School and the Old Library Building. A publishers’ fair will be organised at the Column Hall of the Department of History. The Congress and its main events will be broadcast via a digital platform accessible online to all registered participants. 

There is an interesting programme of additional events connected with the Congress, including several exhibitions. What can we expect? 

The opening of the Congress will be celebrated with a Chopin music concert at the Auditorium Maximum, followed by a welcome cocktail at the Kubicki Arcades of the Royal Castle. The castle is also preparing a special exhibition featuring items formerly owned by the prominent Belgian collector André van Bastelaer, and an English-language catalogue thereof. The Old University Campus will host three exhibitions. The one entitled Two hundred years of numismatics at the Warsaw University is prepared by the Warsaw University Museum and will present the prize items in Polish collections. Another one, to be seen at the Tyszkiewicz Palace, will be dedicated to the history of Polish collections. The last one will feature exhibits from the Polish Numismatic Society. The National Museum in Warsaw is also organising an exhibition, related to the centennial anniversary of the establishment of its Department of Coins and Medals. The National Museum in Krakow and in Poznań will hold their own exhibitions. The Congress will be a great celebration of Polish numismatics, also featuring specialised thematic tours of Poland. Moreover, the Emeryk Hutten-Czapski Museum (a branch of the National Museum in Krakow), in cooperation with the Belgian Numismatic Society and the Royal Numismatic Society of Belgium, will organise an academic session dedicated to one of the most prominent Polish numismatists – Joachim Lelewel. The session will take place before the opening of the Congress, at the Krakow headquarters of the Museum 

Who can take part in the Congress and how can one apply? 

In practice, the Congress may be attended by anyone who takes an interest in numismatics. They must, however, fill in the registration form accessible on the Congress website and pay the participation fee. Congress participants will be entitled to attend all accompanying events and granted free entry to all exhibitions held by the co-organisers of the event. 

By way of conclusion, let me add that the next Congress is planned to take place in six years’ time in Athens, although the final decision shall be taken in September this year, at the General Assembly of the International Numismatic Council in Warsaw.

The First Polish Constitution, Commemorated on a Dutch Medal 

The Polish Constitution of 3 May was adopted 230 years ago. Thomas Jefferson, who then served as an American envoy in Paris and later became the President of the USA, stated that there were only three constitutional acts that deserved recognition: those of the United States, Poland and France. The introduction of the May Constitution was one of the most momentous events in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and an attempt at defending its independence. Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived. In 1792, a confederation of conservatives opposing all reform appealed to Empress Catherine II to intervene. The Russian army entered Poland, and the end of the Commonwealth drew near. 

3 May 1791  –  Sejm Proceedings under Military Escort

Faced with the progressive limitation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s sovereignty (following the first partition in 1772) and a growing dependence on Russia, patriots started calling for reform. A chance to introduce them arrived during the Great Sejm (1788-1792). The confederated Sejm (which could not be broken off) culminated in the adoption of the Constitution of 3 May 1791. 

The legislation was passed in a controversial manner, in circumstances that could be likened to staging a coup. The proceedings were held two days before the planned date, thus a number of MPs and senators (including many conservative) were not in Warsaw at the time. The army surrounded the Royal Castle, where the Sejm congregated, in order to quell any possible unrest. Military men disguised as valets guarded the members of the progressive patriotic faction. Marshal of the Sejm Stanisław Małachowski was given special protection. 

Jan Matejko, The Constitution of 3 May 1791, 1891, the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Source: Wikipedia

The session was heated from the very beginning. Everyone was aware of the gravity of the moment. And although patriots had the advantage, their opponents did not want to surrender without a fight. Member of Parliament Jan Suchorzewski, who opposed the reforms, even proclaimed that he would sooner kill his son than let him live under the oppression that the country was about to experience.

Amidst noise and nearly theatrical scenes, the king and the Marshal of the Sejm strove to have the Constitutional act ratified. The draft for the document had been prepared in secret by a team which included King Stanisław August, Stanisław Małachowski, Ignacy Potocki, Hugo Kołłątaj and others, aided by the royal secretary Scipione Piattoli.

Marcello Bacciarelli, Portrait of Stanisław August in a Feathered Hat, after 1780, the National Museum in Warsaw

Changes Introduced by the May Constitution 

The Constitution comprised eleven articles. It acknowledged the Roman Catholic creed as dominant, but guaranteed the freedom of practicing other religions. The nobility was to keep their privileges and prerogatives, with the exception of the infamous ‘liberum veto’, which allowed any single member of parliament to cause an immediate termination of the ongoing session. The Constitution also upheld the provisions of the Free Royal Cities Act adopted on 18 April 1791, which granted townspeople the right to send their representatives to the Sejm, guaranteed their personal freedom and allowed them to purchase land estates and hold public office, thus offering a path to social advancement to a substantial section of the society. The issue of the peasantry was also tackled. While not granting peasants any specific rights or freedoms, the Constitution was the first act to acknowledge them as a part of the civic community, alongside the nobility and townsfolk.  

The Commonwealth was to be governed in accordance with the principle of the separation of power, divided into the legislative (the Sejm), the executive (the king and the ‘Guardians of the Law’) and the judiciary branch. A bicameral parliament was established; it was to convene on a biannual basis. Laws would be passed by a majority vote. It was also expected that a Constitutional Sejm would be held every twenty five years, to introduce necessary amendments to the Basic Law.

The king held executive power together with ‘Guardians of the Law’, i.e. his government. Aside from the monarch and the primate, the body was to comprise five ministers, responsible for Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Police, Treasury and War. The ‘Guardians’ were appointed by the king. The Constitution also abolished royal elections in favour of hereditary monarchy. After the death of Stanisław August, the throne was to pass to the House of Wettin. If the king happened to be underage, the ‘Guardians of the Law’ were to act as regents, led by the queen or, in her absence, by the primate of the country.Lastly, the Constitution introduced changes to the judicial system. Courts of first instance would be established in all voivodeships, lands and counties. The choice of judges lay with local assemblies (sejmiki). Additionally, each province was to have a Supreme Tribunal, which served as the court of appeal. 

Johann Georg Holtzhey, Medal to Commemorate the Constitution of 3 May, Amsterdam 1791, the National Museum in Krakow / the Princes Czartoryski Museum 
Johann Georg Holtzhey, Medal to Commemorate the Constitution of 3 May, Amsterdam 1791, the National Museum in Krakow / the Princes Czartoryski Museum 

The Dutch Medal Presented to the King of Poland 

The adoption of the Constitution was an event that reverberated both within the country and worldwide. Such a momentous occasion had to be commemorated in a fitting manner – and, indeed, it was, not only by publishers and artists producing propagandist prints, but also by medallist. 

A unique work of the art of medal-making was created in Amsterdam in 1791. Rich in symbolic depictions, the coin was minted to honour King Stanisław August Poniatowski, and was presented to him as a gift. The donators were citizens of the United Provinces (the Netherlands), by the names of Gülcher and Mülder. A Warsaw-based banker Piotr Blank acted as an intermediary, making sure that the king received the gift. 

The donators enlisted the services of an excellent Dutch medallist Johann Georg Holtzhey (1729-1808), master of the mint in Amsterdam and Utrecht. 

Holtzhey designed the obverse of the medal to feature an elegant royal portrait of Stanisław August. In an interesting propagandist move, he chose to adorn the king’s head with oak leaves instead of the more typical laurel. In Ancient Roman tradition, an oak wreath was granted as a reward for extraordinary civic merit. Aside from the king’s customary titles (“Stanisław August, z Bożej łaski król Polski i wielki książę litewski” [Stanisław August, by the Grace of God King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania]), the legend around the rim of the coin included the phrase “PATRIAE PARENS” [Father of the Homeland]. 

The main motif on the reverse is the quartered coat of arms of the Commonwealth (with the Poniatowski family crest – Ciołek), depicted on a globe-shaped field,  topped with a mural crown and a Christogram (to signify religious tolerance). Beside it, a winged genius holds a Phrygian cap (a symbol of freedom) in his right hand, and an olive branch and a caduceus in his left. The broken shackles depicted at the genius’ feet represent foreign violence. 

The background features sunbeams and the eye of Providence keeping watch over the citizens’ endeavours. To the left of the coat of arms, the medallist depicted a fasces, scales and the sword of justice, to represent fair and equal judgment for everyone in the country. The surrounding inscription reads: “TERRORE LIBERA” [Free of Fear]; the one beneath the main motif is: “EX PERHONORIFICIO COMITIORUM DECRETO D.III MAY MDCCXCI” [By Honourable Decree of the Assembly on 3 May 1791].

Treason at Targowica

The May Constitution was a short-lived act. In 1792, opponents of the reforms formed a conspiracy that led to a Russian intervention. A group of magnates, among them General of Artillery of the Crown Stanisław Szczęsny Potocki, Great Crown Hetman Franciszek Branicki and Field Hetman Seweryn Rzewuski, met at Targowica in Ukraine to establish a confederation that would defend the freedoms they believed Constitution to violate. 

Their actions were enthusiastically welcomed by the Russian Empire, which – having signed a peace treaty with Ottoman Turkey – sought to reinstate its weakened influence over Poland. Empress Catherine II happily assumed the role of ‘protector of freedom’ and deployed nearly 100,000 troops to Poland to “aid the common cause of restoring to the Commonwealth its rights and privileges”. This was the beginning of the Russo-Polish War of 1792, a conflict that would hasten the demise of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 

‘Targowica’ crown thaler, Warsaw 1793, the National Museum in Krakow / the Princes Czartoryski Museum

These painful events were commemorated on a medal coin, the so-called Targowica thaler, issued in 1793 at the initiative of the confederates. Unusually, the obverse did not feature the likeness of the king, only a propagandist inscription glorifying the ‘patriotic’ deeds of the confederation: ”Obywatelom, których miłość kraju powodowała, że starali się bronić wolności polskiej, zniszczonej przez spisek z dnia 3 maja 1791 r. – Rzeczpospolita powstająca” [To the citizens whom love of their country prompted to defend Polish freedom, destroyed by the conspiracy of 3 May 1791 – the Commonwealth Rising]. The message was additionally reinforced by the wording of the inscription around the rim: “Wdzięczność współobywateli przykładem dla potomności” [In gratitude to fellow citizens to set an example for posterity]. 

The reverse also differed from that of standard thaler coins. Instead of the coat of arms, it depicted the following inscription: “Postanowieniem Rzeczpospolitej skonfederowanej w dniu 5 grudnia 1792 r. za panowania Stanisława Augusta” [By decree of the Confederated Commonwealth on 5 December 1792, during the reign of Stanisław August].  

The Grodno Sejm, the last session of parliament in the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, held in 1793 with ‘encouragement’ from the Russian army, ratified the second partition of the country and nullified the May Constitution. The final attempt at saving Poland’s independence came in 1794, in the form of an uprising led by general Tadeusz Kościuszko. The insurrection was suppressed by Russian forces; and one year later Poland ultimately disappeared from the map of Europe. 

Marcin Brzezinski is a graduate of the Faculty of Journalism and Political Science at the University of Warsaw. He is interested in the history of Polish aristocracy and old photography. Author and co-author of several books, including: “Adam and Jadwiga Czartoryski. Photographs and Memories” (2013), “Stanisław Kazimierz Kossakowski. I love photography” (2019). Co-creator of historical exhibitions, including: “For here we do not have an enduring city – a story about palaces on the Royal Route in Warsaw” (2010). He has been cooperating with the National Treasury (Skarbnica Narodowa) for several years.  The area of his numismatic interest is primarily historical Polish coins.

Pierwsze polskie banknoty

By Marcin Brzeziński

Rok 1794 zapisał się w dziejach Polski wyjątkowo. Nie tylko wybuchła insurekcja kościuszkowska. Obywatele po raz pierwszy w dziejach płacili banknotami. Władze powstańcze, wobec niedoborów złota i srebra, zadecydowały o druku pieniędzy. Banknoty nie cieszyły się jednak wielką popularnością. Wykonane z nietrwałego materiału przetrwały w nielicznych egzemplarzach, które na aukcjach osiągają zawrotne ceny.

Od konstytucji do Targowicy

Rok 1791 zapisał się w dziejach Polski wielkim wydarzeniem. Trzeciego maja uchwalono nowoczesną konstytucję, która w zamyśle sygnatariuszy miała zmienić kształt państwa i zaowocować szerokimi reformami. Decyzja sejmu uruchomiła jednak lawinę wypadków, które doprowadziły do ostatecznego rozbioru Rzeczpospolitej w 1795 r. Po zawiązaniu konfederacji targowickiej przeciwko reformom konstytucji do Polski wkroczyły w 1792 r. wojska rosyjskie. Dwa lata później rozpoczął się zryw narodowy.

Powstańcza reforma monetarna

W 1794 r. wybuchło powstanie pod wodzą Tadeusza Kościuszki, które było ostatnią próbą ratowania niezawisłości kraju. Władze powstańcze przystąpiły do reorganizacji finansów. Króla pozbawiono przywileju produkcji pieniądza. Stanisław August Poniatowski początkowo oponował, ale ostatecznie wsparł Komisję Skarbową własnymi zasobami srebra i gotówki. Kruszec do bicia monet pochodził także z konfiskaty paramentów liturgicznych ze świątyń różnych wyznań.

Tadeusz Kościuszko – bohater Polski i USA na znaczku z 1933 r. Źródło: Wikipedia

Rada Najwyższa Narodowa zmieniła obowiązującą stopę menniczą. Z grzywny kolońskiej (233,812 g) srebra należało wyprodukować talary, dwuzłotówki i złotówki o łącznej wartości 84 ½ złotego. Zaprzestano emisji półtalarów i srebrnych groszy podwójnych. Wznowiono natomiast produkcję szóstaków.

Ciekawostką menniczą z roku 1794 były tzw. półstanisladory (z fr. stanislaus d’or) oraz stanisladory bite w złocie próby 833/1000. Pierwsza z monet miała wartość półtora dukata a druga trzech dukatów. Stanislador ważył ok. 12.4 g. Wybito go w nakładzie ok. 5200 sztuk. Półstanislador miał masę ok. 6,2 g a jego nakład oscylował w granicach 8100 sztuk.

Trzy dukaty koronne (tzw. stanislasdor) z 1794 r. Źródło: Wikipedia

Papier zamiast brzęczącej monety

Bilet skarbowy o nominale 500 złotych polskich z 1794 r., Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie

Zupełną nowością w polskim systemie pieniężnym były pierwsze banknoty, które pojawiły się w 1794 r. Funkcjonowały jako bilety skarbowe i zdawkowe. Zastępowały monety, których nie można było wybić. Pierwsze z nich posiadały nominały: 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 i 1000 zł, które różniły się odcieniem papieru. W praktyce były to państwowe skrypty dłużne. Umieszczono na nich informację, ze Skarb Narodowy zobowiązuje się wypłacić w przyszłości i w monecie każdemu posiadaczowi określoną na banknocie kwotę. Gwarancją wypłaty miały być dobra narodowe przeznaczone do sprzedaży.

Na awersie banknotów/biletów skarbowych umieszczono tekst uchwały Rady Najwyższej Narodowej. Pod nim widniały Orzeł Biały i Pogoń oraz symbole rewolucji francuskiej. Te ostatnie to czapka frygijska, fragment murów więziennych oraz łańcuchy absolutyzmu zerwane przez lud.  Co ciekawe podpisy na dole banknotów oraz kolejne numery wpisywano odręcznie. Rewers był pozbawiony jakichkolwiek nadruków. Najwyższe nominały (w tym 500 zł) miały bardzo niewielki nakład, oceniany na 500 do 1000 sztuk. Nakład banknotów pięciozłotowych sięgał sześćdziesięciu tysięcy egzemplarzy.

W czasie insurekcji oprócz biletów skarbowych funkcjonowały bilety zdawkowe (papierowe znaki pieniężne zastępujące monetę). Miały postać niewielkich kartoników. Na ich awersie widniały herby, nominał i nazwa emitenta. Na rewersie faksymile podpisu Filipa Malinowskiego, komisarza Dyrekcji Biletów Skarbowych. Bilety zdawkowe miały nominały: 5, 10 groszy oraz 1 i 4 zł.

Bilet zdawkowy o nominale 10 groszy z 1794 r. Źródło: Wikipedia

Ograniczone zaufanie społeczeństwa i aukcyjne rekordy

Banknoty nie zyskały sobie większej popularności. Złożyło się na to kilka czynników. Obietnica przyszłej wypłaty w pieniądzu kruszcowym, po sprzedaży dóbr państwowych, nie miała gwarancji. Władze powstańcze zezwoliły na płacenie podatków biletami skarbowymi tylko do wysokości 50%, resztę należało uiścić w monetach. Z drugiej strony armia kościuszkowska mogła płacić za wszystko biletami skarbowymi w całości. To spowodowało, że ludność podchodziła do banknotów z dużą nieufnością. Ich zasięg pozostał bardzo ograniczony. Ze względu na nietrwałość papieru, z którego je wykonano zachowało się niewiele egzemplarzy. Te które przetrwały są kolekcjonerskim rarytasem.

W lutym 2019 roku zapłacono najwyższą jak dotąd kwotę za polski banknot. Podczas wrocławskiej aukcji numizmatycznej nabywca kupił 500 zł z 1794 r. za 220 tys. zł! Tym samym został pobity rekord z 2018 r. gdy 10 zł z 1919 r. sprzedano za 110 tys. zł.

Marcin Brzeziński – absolwent Wydziału Dziennikarstwa i Nauk Politycznych Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. Zajmuje się losami polskiej arystokracji, interesuje starą fotografią. Autor i współautor kilku książek, Adam i Jadwiga Czartoryscy. Fotografie i wspomnienia (2013), Stanisław Kazimierz Kossakowski. Kocham fotografię(2019), współtwórca wystaw historycznych, Nie mamy tu miasta trwającego – opowieść o pałacach przy Trakcie Królewskim w Warszawie (2010). Od kilku lat współpracuje ze Skarbnicą Narodową. Obszarem jego zainteresowań są przede wszystkim polskie monety historyczne.

The Seven LUCKIEST Coins in the World

Do coins have the power to bring GOOD LUCK? For centuries, many have believed this to be true. There are countless stories of how coins have ensured fortune and luck (and in some cases, the loss of a coin has led to failure and even disaster!) While your choice of a personal good luck charm remains completely up to you, let’s examine SEVEN of the most popular lucky coins around the world. 

1. The Silver Sixpence (Great Britain)

In Great Britain, the Lucky Sixpence appears in the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence as well as the tradition of hiding a Sixpence inside each British child’s Christmas Pudding to bring good luck for the new year. 

Even better known is the mention of this coin in the famous wedding rhyme: “Something borrowed, something Blue, and a Sixpence for her shoe.” For centuries, brides have been wearing a sixpence coin in their shoes in the hope that their marriage be filled with prosperity and good luck. For that reason, British sixpence coins are among the most popular wedding gifts for brides.

2. The Lucky Irish Penny (Ireland)

The Lucky Irish Penny was minted in Ireland from 1928-1968. In 1926, as designs were being considered for this new coin, Irish poet William Butler Yeats was named the design committee’s chairman. Ultimately, the committee selected a design of the Irish harp, which traced its origins to a coin first issued by Henry VIII in 1534.  The coin’s reverse side, it was decided, would feature a hen and chicks design as a tribute to Ireland’s tradition of agriculture.

These coins were first minted in 1928 and continued to be issued virtually unchanged until 1968. Struck in copper, each coin weighs approximately an ounce. The coin’s inscription is in Gaelic, the native language of Ireland. 

Large and relatively inexpensive, the Lucky Irish Penny is a popular good luck piece carried in pockets throughout the world.

3. Leap Year Mercury Dimes (United States)

Many gamblers across the U.S. swear by the luck of the leap year Mercury Silver Dime. This widespread superstition likely stems from an overall belief in the power of silver coins coupled with Mercury being the god of “the crossroads” or fate, as well as chance. The leap year dates that occurred during the run of the Mercury Dime series are 1916, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944.

The belief in the Leap Year Mercury Dime is particularly ironic, however, since this silver dime has long been misidentified as depicting the Roman god Mercury, when it actually features Lady Liberty wearing a winged cap – symbolizing freedom of thought.

4. The Five-Yen Coin (Japan)

Many Japanese people believe in destiny. The term “go-en” (ご縁) refers to those seemingly serendipitous encounters that result in long and meaningful relationships. The Japanese 5-yen coin is also called “go-en” 五円.  Because it sounds the same as the “go-en” of destiny, many Japanese people believe that holding a 5-yen coin will help them discover what the Universe has in store for them. This could involve finding soulmate spouse, a perfect job, a dream home, or many other facets of life. 

Similarly, 5-yen coins are commonly placed into offering boxes at shrines while one utters a prayer of thanks, followed by a wish for something in the future (always in that order). Because this belief all ties back to destiny, a 5-yen coin is seen as simply helping along the good luck and the serendipity that is actually always meant to be!

5. Vault Protector/Cash Coins (China)

In China, “cash coins” featuring a square hole in the middle hold a special meaning. The square in the centre represents the four corners of the Earth while the outer circle shape symbolizes the heavens around it. In ancient China, money was often frequently carried on strings rather than in purses. These coins are also often worn around the neck with a red ribbon as amulets to fight off negativity and illness.

Certain large and heavy cash coins are known as “Vault Protector” coins. Created only for special occasions, Chinese mints would sometimes cast large, thick, and heavy coins with a square hole in the centre. These coins were not for circulation – but instead occupied a special place at the treasury. The treasury had a spirit hall, where offerings could be made to gods such as the God of Wealth. These special coins would often be hung with red silk through their square hole, suspended above the incense table. They were called Vault Protector coins because they were believed to have charm-like powers to protect against evil and disaster, thus ensuring good fortune, prosperity, and wealth.

Giving a gift of Chinese cash coins ensures that the receiver is granted your wishes of wealth, prosperity and happiness.

6. Touch Pieces – Healing Coins (England & France)

Touch Pieces are coins that have been touched by rulers, monarchs or other powerful beings who are believed to hold their authority directly from God. Touch Piece coins were extremely auspicious and are said to have demonstrated healing powers.

Actually, this practice dates back to the Ancient Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor Vespasian (69-79AD) is reported to have initiated ceremonies during which he would hand out coins to the sick. This ceremony became known as “The Touching”.

Centuries later, the Kings and Queens of England and France embraced this practice – holding regular touching ceremonies up through 1714. The fact that an angel appeared on some British coins from the time of Henry VIII onward further cemented the tradition of the healing coin from the hand of your monarch. The British tradition of Maundy Money may have derived from this overall custom, as it features the monarch gifting specific subjects with token gifts of silver coins. 

Of course, it wasn’t just about royalty. Clergymen were also known to hand out or even sell healing coins during ceremonies which were said to bring healing powers to the believer. There are many contemporary accounts of people being cured by this method. In a convenient bit of rationale, those who remained ill were accused of not having enough faith.

7. The Gold Angel (France)

As we have just seen, coins with angels on them have been treasured as tokens of good luck, health, and fortune. If a King or Queen handed an angel coin to a subject, it would often become a family heirloom – being handed down through the generations. 

The legend of the Lucky French Gold Angel, however, has an even more dramatic start. During the French Revolution, Augustine Dupré, was standing on the platform waiting in line to lose his head to the guillotine. In his pocket, Dupré carried a gold coin that he himself had engraved, a French Gold Angel. He believed that carrying the coin with him would protect him from evil and danger. Sure enough, faced with the dire prospect of the guillotine, the Angel delivered him! 

Legend holds that moments before his execution, a huge thunder roared and lightning struck, scaring the executioner and delaying the planned execution. Before it could be rescheduled, Dupré was granted a pardon – and thus the Gold Angel saved his life. 

Inspired by this tale, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte also carried a Lucky Gold Angel—but legend reports that he lost his coin just the day before the Battle of Waterloo. We all know the outcome of that battle!  

Dupré’s angel design was revived from 1871 to 1898 on 20 Franc and 50 France gold coins. The coin’s legend continued into the 20th century, with sea captains and fighter pilots in both World Wars believing the coin brought them luck and protection.

SPECIAL BONUS: Personal Lucky Charm Coins

The above list details some of the most popular and longstanding lucky coins from around the globe. But you may, in fact, find your own lucky coin(s) quite a bit closer to home. 

Commonly, coins dated from your birth year or other significant milestone in your life are believed to be lucky. Also, if you are from an immigrant background, treasuring a coin from the country your parents or grandparents came from is often considered a way to ensure good luck, prosperity and fortune. 

No matter what the source, look around you today and see if you can’t pocket a special coin to bring you luck, prosperity, and happiness!

Steve Wolff is an American numismatist, writer, and video producer who has spent over 20 years sharing the fascinating stories behind coins and the historical events and personalities that inspired and shaped them.