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: https://inc2022.pl/congress_medal/. 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 https://inc2022.pl/lelewel-session/ 

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 https://inc2022.pl/registration/ 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 m.in. 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 m.in. 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, m.in.: Adam i Jadwiga Czartoryscy. Fotografie i wspomnienia (2013), Stanisław Kazimierz Kossakowski. Kocham fotografię(2019), współtwórca wystaw historycznych, m.in.: 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. 

Coins and the Importance of Where to Look

by Andreas Kolle

Have you ever wondered why the head of the monarchs appear to look either to the left or the right – and if there is a system with it? Short answer, it’s both complicated and fun.

Long traditions for facing right

Faces on coins first appeared in the 6th century BC, but it was during the following century that profiles of gods and goddesses appeared frequently. The most famous is probably the Owl tetradrachm of Athens. The much-copied tetradrachm and stater of Alexander the Great also looked right. There were exceptions to this rule, for example the Corinth Pegasus stater, but the dominating coins looked right.

Roman emperors almost always looked to the right. Given the significance of these coins, this made right-facing coins dominant both in Rome and in many countries copying them. The outwards-looking solidus coins of the Byzantine Empire did not catch on, and right was the direction to look. 

There might be an easy explanation: We write from left to right. This means that this is the “preferred” way of looking. We also know that the devil is associated with the left, and the word “sinister” comes from the Latin word for “left”.

The English Switch

Another interesting development is that queens like Elizabeth I of England and Christina of Sweden often looked to the left. And this might have been the reason for a typical English tradition. 

Henry VII and Henry VIII both looked right and straight ahead in some cases. Mary I and Elizabeth I both looked left. James I faced both left and right depending on the coin. Charles I looked left, but Charles II looked both ways. Finally, his younger brother, James II, looked only to the left – and the monarchs that followed him have alternated between looking left and right, all the way down to our current monarch…

Of course, there is one interesting exception to the rule, and it is our old friend, Edward VIII. He was supposed to look to the right, but preferred the left side of his face, and insisted on looking the “wrong” way. The tradition from 1685 onwards did not seem to bother him. The coin was prepared, but no coins made it into circulation. When he abdicated, the Royal Mint pretended that his coin was made with him looking to the right. Therefore, the George VI coin was made with him looking to the right again to keep in tradition.

What could be more British than insisting that a coin never circulated was made with the opposite design to the one it had so that tradition was upheld? 

The Emperor and the King

When it comes to portraits, Scandinavia did a bit of everything. Denmark insisted on always looking to the right, whereas Sweden from 1907 onwards always looked to the left. With all due respect to the Anglo-French enmity, this is the real long-standing feud in Europe. Norway, on their part, did exactly like Britain and switched sides.

France, however, is where things get very confusing. It seemed as they alternated every other turn, because Louis XIII and XIV looked to the right, and Louis XV and XVI predominately looked to the left. Then you have the cat among the pigeons: Napoleon. He decided to look to the right, probably to symbolize a new time in opposition to Louis XVI. When he was deposed and Louis XVIII took over, the new king was quick to look to the left again. This is hardly surprising. Louis XVIII was the brother of the deposed and executed Louis XVI. Making a break with Napoleon made sense. When he died, his brother Charles X took over, also looking to the left. When he was deposed in the 1830 revolution, the once-radical Louis Philippe was made king, and perhaps to make a stand against the two conservative kings who preceded him, he faced right.

And now we end up with the wisest fool in Christendom, Napoleon III. In 1851 he was crowned emperor. This made him the second emperor in traditional counting, however the Bonaparte family claimed that Napoleon Bonaparte’s son was emperor for a couple of weeks. This meant that either Napoleon I looked right, and an imaginary coin of Napoleon II would look to the left and Napoleon III should look to the right again or that all emperors, like in Ancient Rome, should look to the right.

Napoleon III looked to the left. Because of course he did.

This might have meant that he considered himself a continuation of the kings of France rather than an abomination with his own rules. It could have had another explanation. After all, Napoleon III was the man who Karl Marx had in mind when he coined the phrase “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a farce“. Napoleon III was in either case the last monarch of the French. 

Andreas Kolle is a Norwegian historian cum laude and the resident historian for Samlerhuset Norway. A professional copywriter with 10 years of experience, Andreas also keeps the Samlerhuset blog active by covering a range of numismatic and historical topics. He has a contagious love for all things numismatic and historical and adheres to the QI adage that there is no such thing as an uninteresting item.

The First & Most Valuable Polish Banknote (1794)

by Marcin Brzeziński

1794 was an exceptional year in Polish history. It saw the outbreak of the first Polish uprising against Russia, led by Tadeusz Kościuszko, who would become the national hero of both Poland and the United States of America. It was also the year when the citizens first started to use banknotes as a form of payment. Facing a shortage of gold and silver, the insurgent administration made the decision to turn to printed currency. Their banknotes did not gain much popularity, however. Made of an impermanent material, they were easy to damage, and only a small number has survived. Thus, they are now sold at auctions at astronomical prices. 

From the Constitution to the Treason at Targowica

On 3 May 1791 Poland adopted a modern constitution, intended to reorganise the country and bring about far-reaching reforms. In reality, however, the act triggered a sequence of events that ultimately led to the discontinuation of the Polish State in 1795, when its territory was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. After the constitution was signed, a group of citizens opposing the proposed changes gathered at Targowica in present-day Ukraine, and formed a confederation which asked the Empress of Russia Catherine II to intervene. Russian troops entered Polish territory in 1792. Two years later, the first Polish uprising against the occupier began. 

Monetary Reform During the Insurgency

The 1794 uprising led by Tadeusz Kościuszko was the last attempt at defending Poland’s independence. The insurgent authorities proceeded, for instance, to reorganise the country’s financial system. King Stanisław August Poniatowski’s right to issue money was revoked. The monarch initially objected, but ultimately supported the Treasury Committee, offering his own reserves of silver and hard currency. Bullion for minting coins was also acquired through the confiscation of liturgical paraphernalia from temples of all religions. 

Tadeusz Kościuszko, national hero of Poland and the USA, depicted on a 1933 stamp. Source: Wikipedia

The Supreme National Council, which was the central civil authority during the uprising, changed the official rate of mintage. One Cologne mark (233.812 g) was to be used to produce a total value of 84 ½ zloty in thalers, half-thalers and zloty. The minting of half-thalers and silver double-groschen was discontinued; the production of szóstaki (six-groschen coins) recommenced.

A numismatic curio from the year 1794 were the so-called półstanisladors (half-stanisladors; from the French ‘stanislaus d’or’) and stanisladors, minted of .833 fine gold. Their value was 1.5 and 3 ducats respectively. The stanislador coin weighed ca. 12.4 g; ca. 5200 such coins were issued. The mass of the półstanislador amounted to ca. 6.2 g; the total issue was ca. 8100. 

Three-ducat coin (the so-called stanislasdor), 1794. Source: Wikipedia

Paper Instead of Coins

500 Polish zloty treasury note, 1794, the National Museum in Krakow

The banknotes that appeared in 1794 were an entirely new element in the Polish monetary system. They functioned as treasury and utility notes, substituting coins, which could not be minted at the time. The denominations of the first notes were 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 zloty, each printed on differently coloured paper. In practice, they were state-issued promissory notes. The caption put on the notes proclaimed that the National Treasury was obliged to pay each holder of the note the amount specified thereon, in coin, at a future date. National assets marked for sale were to serve as guarantee of the payment. 

The face of the banknotes/treasury notes featured the text of the resolution passed by the Supreme National Assembly, and above it, the coats of arms of the Polish Republic – the Eagle and the Chase – as well as symbols of the French Revolution. The latter elements included a Phrygian cap, a section of prison walls and the chains of absolutism broken by the people. Interestingly, the signatures at the bottom of the notes and the serial numbers were written in by hand. The back of the note was blank. The highest denominations (including the 500 zloty notes) were issued in very small numbers, estimated at 500 to 1000 specimens. As for the 5 zloty notes, some 60,000 were produced. 

Another novelty introduced during the insurrection were utility notes (paper means of exchange substituting coin). They had the form of small sheets of paper, with coats of arms, denomination and the name of the issuer depicted on the face. The back featured a facsimile of the signature of Filip Malinowski, one of the commissioners of the Directorate for Treasury Notes. The denominations of the utility notes were: 5 and 10 groschen, 1 zloty and 4 zloty.

10 groschen utility note, 1794. Source: Wikipedia

People’s Mistrust and Subsequent Auction Records

The banknotes did not gain much popularity among the population, for a number of reasons. The promise of a future payment in hard coin, to be made after the sale of public property, had no guarantee. Insurgency authorities allowed citizens to pay only up to 50% of their taxes in treasury notes; the rest had to be handed in coin. Kościuszko’s armies, on the other hand, were permitted to pay for everything using paper currency. Consequently, people regarded the notes with a considerable dose of mistrust. Their circulation remained very limited. Due to the impermanent nature of the paper of which they were made, only a few specimens of the notes have survived. The extant ones are a collector’s item. .

The hitherto highest bid on a Polish banknote was made in February 2019, at a numismatic auction in Wrocław, where a 500 zloty note from 1794 was bought for 220,000 zloty (ca. 60,000 dollars).

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.

The Greatest Polish Gold Coin is Already 400 Years Old!

by Marcin Brzeziński

The year 1587 began the reign of the Swedish Vasa dynasty in the history of Poland. The times of Sigismund III Vasa are a period of unprecedented momentum in coin minting. Never again in Polish history has there been such an abundance and variety of numismatic items. More than a dozen mints worked on an extremely extensive coinage system, covering the entire coin catalog, from the magnificent one hundred ducats in gold to the modest denarii.

Ruler of Two Kingdoms Overlooking the Third

Sigismund III Vasa (1566-1632), the son of the Swedish king Jan III Vasa and Katarzyna Jagiellonka, sat on two thrones, which did not prevent him from aspiring to a third. He was elected King of Poland in 1587. After the death of his father, in 1592 he hurried to Sweden to assume the throne there and to look after dynastic issues. In 1599, he was dethroned by the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, although he formally used the royal title until the end of his life.

The third throne that Sigismund tried to conquer this time for his son Władysław—was the Moscow throne. Poland intervened in the internal affairs of its eastern neighbor during the so-called of great sadness, after the end of the Rurkovich dynasty, and before the accession of the Romanovs to the throne. In 1610, the troops of Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski captured Moscow and the Kremlin, which they occupied for two years. In 1611 in Warsaw, the former Russian Tsar Vasyl IV Szujski pledged an oath to the Polish king, which went down in history under the name of the “Ruthenian Homage“.

Mint Policy of a Great Country

Sigismund III ruled over a large area of ​​Europe, with an sophisticated and complex fiscal system. It is therefore not surprising that the numismatic heritage of his time includes not only the coins of Poland and Lithuania, but also the Swedish thalers and öre, and even the Moscow kopecks of his son Władysław. These were issued in the years 1610-12 during the occupation of the Kremlin by the Polish army.

Polish flag on Kremlin, Stanisław Nowakowski, National Museum in Warsaw

The beginning of the reign of young Vasa coincided with a great financial crisis in Western Europe. In the countries of the German empire, divided into many small state organisms, and in the Crown of Bohemia, there was an increasing devaluation of the small silver coin. The rulers benefiting from the mint’s profits bought their own coins as well as foreign coins in order to re-mint them into inferior numismatic items with a lower silver content. As a consequence, this practice led to a significant price disproportion between the “thick” coins: ducats and thalers, and the small ones. In some areas, inflation was above 1,300%!

This phenomenon left an indelible mark on the Polish economy. Trade exchange meant that weak, foreign coins were flowing over the Vistula, and good coins (suitable for melting) were flowing out of the country. To prevent this from happening, Sigismund III was forced to lower the silver content in coins and to introduce new denominations to the market. This is all to adjust the Polish currency to the changing thaler exchange rate.

During the times of the first of the Vasa, fascinating numismatic novelties appeared on the market. The so-called “Półtoraki”, ie coins worth 1.5 groszy, which were to improve the trade with Brandenburg. An “orth” was introduced, corresponding to a quarter of a thaler. For a short time, the “Trzykrucierzówki” were also minted, which equaled the three countrymen and served trade with Silesia and the Crown of Bohemia.

The Monetary System of the Republic of Poland (c. 1623)

The aforementioned financial crisis, deepened by the monetary chaos, forced the need for reforms. In 1623, the exchange rates of market denominations were stabilized. It was assumed that one “heavy” thaler is worth 80 groszy. Apart from it, a smaller version of it, known as the “light” thaler, remained in the market. In the following years, the issue of the small coin, the most prone to devaluation, was limited. Half-thalers and quarter-thalers were also put into circulation.

Around 1623, the country’s monetary system included the following denominations: gold ducat and its derivatives (Portuguese, donatives), in silver: thaler and its derivatives, orth (1/4 thaler), sixth (6 groszy), threefold (3 groszy), one and a half (1.5 grosz), penny, penny (1/3 grosz), third (1/6 grosz), two-dollar (1/9 grosz) and denarius (1/18 grosz). The unit of account was the Polish zloty, equal to thirty groszy. Sigismund III flooded the country with a gold coin. Not only single ducats were issued, but also their multiples.

Seventeen mints operated for the needs of the expanded monetary system. These mints were located in: Bydgoszcz, Drezdenek, Kraków, Królewiec, Lublin, Malbork, Mitawa, Olkusz, Poznań, Warsaw, Vilnius, Wschowa, Łobżenica, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Riga and Toruń.

Samuel Ammon’s Golden Masterpiece

Among the list of mints just cited, Bydgoszcz deserves special mention. It is there that the largest coin in the history of Polish coinage was created – 100 ducats in gold, which is one of the greatest numismatic items in the world.

Although Bydgoszcz obtained the privilege of minting coins in the Middle Ages, organized production dates back to 1594. Initially, the mint operated as a private mint, and from 1613 as a royal one. Three years later, the Dutchman Jakub Jacobson von Emden became its leaseholder. Under his excellent management, the mint became one of the best coinage centers in the country, specializing in the minting of half-thalers, thalers, ducats and Portuguese. It was here in 1621 that a gold stud, weighing about 350 grams, with a diameter of 70 mm, was minted.

It was an example of the so-called medal coin intended for awarding to meritorious people. Its break coincided with the victory over the Turks at Khotyn. The project was made by Samuel Ammon, a medalist from Gdańsk. This master from Switzerland became famous as the creator of great portrait medals and numismatics.

On the obverse of the 100 Ducats coin, the medalist showed a bust of the king in majesty. Sigismund III does not wear a crown, his features are realistic. He is wearing sumptuous armor, decorated with the head of a lion. He is girdled with the commander’s sash. On the chest is the Order of the Golden Fleece, the highest decoration of the House of Habsburg awarded to monarchs. The inscription in the rim gives the title – by God’s grace, the king of Poland and Sweden. A seasoned eye will also notice, among the richness of armor ornaments, the medalist’s monogram: SA and the date of issue: 1621.

The reverse is decorated with a nine-field coat of arms under the royal crown. It features the emblems of Poland and Lithuania, as well as the intermediate shield the coat of arms of Sweden – Three Crowns and the Folkung Lion – and finally on the heart shield the coat of arms of the Vasa bunch. The whole is surrounded by a chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Along the rim, the next part of the titles of Sigismund III – the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Żmudj, Livonia. Next to the cross, on the crown of the royal crown, date: 1621. On both sides of the coat of arms, among the ornaments, there is a monogram of the general manager of the mints: IIVE (Jakub Jacobson von Emden).

The same stamp every one hundred ducats was made in gold, in Bydgoszcz, also other denominations, including silver. Over the last decades, the studukatówka has rarely appeared at numismatic auctions, arousing great interest from collectors. It was sold for the last time in 2018 for the sum of over $2 million US dollars – setting a new auction record for any Polish historical coin.

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.