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.

Spanish Gold – The currency of conquest

There are not many coins that can legitimately claim to have changed the world, but the Spanish escudo is one. Struck using the abundance of gold found in the New World, the escudo (which means “shield”) quickly became a trusted international trading coin, transforming the fortunes of Spain and delivering economic prosperity to Europe. By doing so, the iconic Spanish coin can be said to have financed the Renaissance and ignited the Industrial Revolution. The world would never be the same again.

At all costs, get gold!

When Spain agreed to finance Christopher Columbus’ dangerous voyage into unchartered waters, they could hardly have imagined what a sound investment this would prove to be. Columbus (1451–1506) mentions gold at least 65 times in the diary that he kept during his historic journey of discovery.

Columbus arrives in the New World

Upon his arrival in the Caribbean in 1492, the Italian explorer’s first question was apparently to ask where he could find it! When it became clear that the New World had gold in plentiful supply, Spain quickly dispatched more expeditions. In 1511, King Ferdinand of Spain instructed his conquistadors to “get gold, humanely if you can, but at all costs, get gold”.

When Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) arrived in Mexico, he was amazed to find that the Aztecs had so much gold that they used it to decorate childrens’ toys, walls, ornaments and plates. They prized brightly coloured feathers, cacao beans and cloth far above the yellow metal, and Cortés excitedly reported that half a kilo of gold could be purchased for just 250 cacao beans!

A document to history

In 1537 the Holy Roman Emperor, King Charles I of Spain (r. 1516–58), constructed the first mint in the New World at Mexico City and ordered them to strike escudos with gold mined from the region. The new coin was inspired by the Venetian Ducat, a popular trading coin due to its identifiable design, constant weight and consistent purity.

As Spain grew to become one of the world’s first major superpowers, the importance of the escudo as the chief gold coin of Spanish-America grew with it. Escudos were produced throughout the New World, in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru.

The Spanish escudo remained the most widely used currency in the Americas for over three centuries. Its popularity only waned after 1857 when it ceased to be accepted as legal tender in the United States. In 1864 Spain relaunched the escudo in silver as the official currency of Spain, but just four years later, they joined the Latin Monetary Union and introduced the Peseta. This brought over three hundred years of escudo production to an end.

Reborn as a commemorative

In 2018, 150 years after the last circulating escudo was issued, the Royal Mint of Spain struck their most iconic gold coin again, this time as a 24-carat gold commemorative. All four original escudo denominations were struck in their original sizes, each with a reworked design that charts the unique history of this remarkable coin.

The Spanish King of England

Gold from the New World began to arrive in Spain after 1503, and it is estimated that twenty-five tons went to the Seville Mint during the 16th Century alone. Built during the reign of King Philip II (r. 1556–98), the first Escudos struck by the Mint bore his shield, and this design appears on the 2018 Four Escudos.

Philip II

Under King Philip II’s reign, Spain enjoyed its “Golden Age”, with an empire upon which it was said that the sun never set. For four years between 1554 and 1558, the King also ruled England jointly with his second wife, the Catholic Queen Mary I. Theirs was clearly a political union, as they married only two days after their first meeting!

When Mary I died in 1558 without producing an heir, Philip automatically lost his rights to the English throne, and he was to spend the rest of his life trying to get it back! He immediately proposed marriage to his dead wife’s Protestant sister, the new Queen Elizabeth I. When she rebuffed his advances, he supported her cousin Mary Queen of Scots in a Catholic plot to seize the English throne. When the plot was exposed, he sent an Armada to invade England. But the Spanish fleet was routed at sea before they could land, thereby sinking his dream of ever possessing England again.

The 2018 Four Escudo depicts the Royal Coat of Arms of King Philip II and the official crowned “M” privy mark of the Royal Mint of Spain together with the new face value (200 EURO). The legend reads “PHILIPPUS.DEI GRATIA.” (Philip by the Grace of God).

The obverse depicts the Cross of Jerusalem within a quatrefoil and a leaf in each corner. This symbolised the King’s official determination to carry the Christian message to the four corners of the world. Of course, a cynic might argue that this noble intention was also a useful pretext to justify the conquest and plunder of foreign lands full of exploitable natural resources. The legend “HISPANIARUMN.REX” means “King of Spain”.

The 2018 commemorative gold Four Escudo

Pirate Treasure!

The Two Escudo was known as a Doubloon (Double), and they were minted throughout the Americas as well as in Spain. Until 1732, all coins produced in the New World were crudely fashioned “cobs” struck on irregularly shaped pieces of gold. Most were shipped across the Atlantic to be melted down, and the metal used to create Escudos of a much higher standard.

In 1586, new coining machines were installed at the Segovia Mint in Spain to strike escudos with the gold received from the New World. However, the Spanish galleons transporting this vast wealth through the Caribbean and across the ocean were always vulnerable to attack from pirates seeking to relieve them of their precious cargo. No other coin in the world evokes stronger images of pirate ships and treasure maps than the Spanish Doubloon.

The 2018 Spanish Doubloon features an original design that was struck at the Segovia Mint in 1607 during the reign of King Philip III (r. 1598–1621). Like his father, Philip III’s Doubloon also depicts the distinctive Cross of Jerusalem as a symbol of his “official” intention to spread the faith.

The reverse presents his Royal Coat of Arms together with a distinctive mintmark to show that the coin was initially struck at the Segovia Mint. Built by the Romans in the First Century to carry water to the town, the impressive Segovia aqueduct was an appropriate choice for a mintmark, as the Mint used giant water wheels to power its state of the art coin press. The legend reads “PHILIPPUS.III.D.G.” (Philip III by the Grace of God).

The 2018 commemorative gold doubloon (Two Escudo)

The Golden Fleece

The largest Spanish gold coin struck in the New World was the Eight Escudo. Often referred to as the “Onza” (ounce), the coin was first produced in 1610 and became the standard for large monetary transactions in the New World.

The 2018 Eight Escudo commemorative coin uses a design that was struck at the Mint of Madrid in 1719 during the reign of Spain’s longest-reigning monarch King Philip V (r.  1700–24, 1724–46). There were several public and private mints in Spain until Philip V decided to make striking coinage a state monopoly in 1718.

The official intention of the Spanish monarchs to spread their religious faith around the world had not diminished after more than a century. The obverse still bears the distinctive Cross of Jerusalem with four leaves. The reverse depicts the King’s Royal Coat of Arms and the legend “PHILIPPUS.V.DEI.GRA” (Philip V by the Grace of God).

An interesting feature of the shield is the inclusion of the mythical Golden Fleece on a chain. Philip V was the first head of the Spanish branch of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a Roman Catholic order of chivalry founded in Bruges in 1430. Since its establishment, the order has only had 1,200 members and is often referred to as the most prestigious and exclusive order of chivalry in the world.

The Golden Fleece was a highly appropriate image to feature on the largest gold coin of the New World. In Greek mythology, Jason and his crew of Argonauts travelled the seas to unexplored lands, searching for the fabled golden treasure. Now, centuries later, the Spanish were reaping the spoils of their own explorations, and the magnificent Eight Escudo was the proof that, like Jason, they had also found a golden treasure that exceeded their wildest expectations.

The 2018 commemorative gold Eight Escudo

Abundance

The amount of gold and silver produced in the New World was phenomenal. An estimated 70 million gold coins and over 2 billion silver coins were struck during the 17th and 18th centuries. The 2018 One Escudo pays tribute to this abundance of gold by depicting the design struck at the Popayán Mint in Colombia in 1758 during the reign of King Fernando VI (r. 1746-–59).

By 1758, all of the mints in the New World were striking coinage of a very high standard. The first milled coins struck in the Americas were produced in Mexico in 1732, and the technology quickly spread to the other mints. The last rough “cob” coins were produced in 1749.

Under monetary reforms initiated by his father, King Philip V, a portrait of the monarch was introduced onto the obverse of gold coins struck after 1728, replacing the Cross of Jerusalem. As a result, the 2018 coin has a portrait of Ferdinand VI on its obverse, with the legend “FERDND.VI.D.G.HISPAN.ET IND.REX.” (Ferdinand VI by the Grace of God, King of the Spains and the Indies).

The reverse presents the King’s lesser Royal Coat of Arms and the unique mint mark of the Popayán Mint (PN) to show where the coin was initially struck. Popayán was a strategically important location as a transfer point for gold and other riches going to Spain, and it continued to produce gold escudos and silver reales until 1819. Completing the reverse is the legend “NOMINA. MAGNA. SEQUOR” (I follow the Greatest Ones).

The first coins to bear the King’s image with his long, flowing hair became known, somewhat unkindly, as peluconas, because peluca is the Spanish word for a wig!

The 2018 commemorative gold One Escudo depicting King Ferdinand VI

The Currency of Conquest

The Spanish Escudo provided the wealth that enabled the transformation of European society. But it came at a high cost. The Spanish conquistadors forced many indigenous communities into dangerous mines to extract the precious metal as quickly as possible under the most atrocious conditions. In addition, they confiscated their gold ornaments, jewellery and decorations, which were almost always melted down and struck into coins or ingots before being sent across the sea to the mother country. Those fortunate enough to examine the craftsmanship of the Aztec goldsmiths reported that they were more skilled than their European counterparts. The loss of their cultural and artistic treasures from the historical record is incalculable. It will forever be a matter of great regret that the Spanish Kings preferred to receive their gold from the New World in coins and ingots.

However, without the influx of gold from the New World, it is hard to see how the intellectual, cultural and artistic Renaissance that swept through Europe after the 15th Century could have been financed. Likewise, the Industrial Revolution that began in Britain in the 18th Century required a prosperous economy to sustain it. The reliable gold coin helped to facilitate this by lifting Europe out of the grinding poverty in which it had languished for centuries.

The Spanish Escudo, with its stable weight, trusted purity, and distinctive design, can be said to have paved the way for the international trading coins, such as the Dutch Ducat (from 1586), the modern British Sovereign (from 1817) and the American Double Eagle (from 1907) that came after it.

Gold Escudos

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.

Irish Gun Money

King James II

A fascinating chapter in the history of Irish coinage occurred between 1689 and 1691 when the deposed King James II authorised the striking of token money made from melted-down guns to finance his army as he tried in vain to recover his crown. It was the largest regal issue of base metal coinage since the Roman Empire, and the impact of his actions are still felt in Ireland today.    

King James II (r. 1685-1688) deeply divided his people with his determination to return the British Isles to Catholicism. Believing that he had a divine right to govern, he tried to overrule Parliament when they opposed his plans, and used increasingly violent and unconstitutional methods to arrest and imprison Protestants.

Many of his subjects prayed for the day when the King’s eldest daughter Mary would succeed him. She had been raised a Protestant to marry her first cousin, the Dutch Stadtholder William Henry of Orange and cement an alliance with the Netherlands. However, when the King’s wife gave birth to a son and heir in 1688, the baby automatically became the next in the line of succession. Fearing the prospect of a Catholic dynasty, seven English nobles then took matters into their own hands and begged William to come to Britain and restore order.

The Glorious Revolution

William assembled a formidable invasion fleet larger than the Spanish Armada, but such a show of force was not required when he landed in England and received a hero’s welcome. After promising that he would maintain “the liberties of England and the Protestant religion”, English nobles, politicians and army officers joined the crowds in cheering his triumphant arrival. 

King WIlliam III and Queen Mary II, who reigned as joint sovereigns

William’s uncle and father-in-law found his support dissolving all around him. Realising that he had lost his grip on power, the King fled London, allegedly dumping his great seal of office into the River Thames as he did so. William permitted him to leave England and go into exile in France. 

Parliament then invited William and Mary to reign together as joint sovereigns. The successful transition of power was hailed as the Glorious Revolution because it was accomplished with very little loss of life in England. Sadly, this was not to be the case in Ireland.

Emergency Money

James was not prepared to give up the crown without a fight. His cousin, King Louis XIV of France, provided him with a substantial army, and on 24th March 1689, he arrived in Ireland, where many Catholics still considered him their lawful King and were prepared to fight to see him restored to the throne. Lacking funds to pay his soldiers (who called themselves Jacobites), he created a token coinage struck in base metal (copper, brass or pewter) which they could later redeem for silver coins after he had regained his crown.

A mint was established at 61 Capel Street, Dublin. In July 1689, the Secretary of State, Lord Melfort, ordered Lord Mountcashel, Master General of the Ordnance at Dublin Castle, to deliver to the mint old brass guns which were in the castle yard. A request was also sent to King Louis XIV asking for “forty guns to coyne money”. Cannons from Limerick, Athlone and Brest in France were melted down and turned into coins, and workers at the mint worked in shifts to ensure that production continued around the clock. Such was the demand for money that a second mint was established in Limerick to strike emergency coins between March and October 1690.

Today, the coins that were produced are referred to as gun money, but they were made with metal from other sources too.  By August 1689, appeals for metal were being sent throughout Ireland, and it was said that Jacobite soldiers would knock on the doors of homes, take the pots and pans they found inside and then walk off with the door knockers too! The Archbishop of Dublin, William King, described how coins were struck from “a mixture of old guns, old broken bells, old copper, brass, pewter, old kitchen furniture (utensils) and the refuse of metals molten down”.

The coins displayed the month and the year of issue to allow a gradual and orderly replacement when James was restored to the throne. Their value was displayed in Roman numerals on their reverse; ‘VI’ on the sixpence, ‘XII’ on the shilling (12 pence) and ‘XXX’ on the half-crown (30 pence). 

Gun Money Sixpence (1689)
Gun Money Shilling (1689)
Gun Money Half Crown (1689)

Despite the best efforts of the authorities to acquire metal, a proclamation was issued on 21st April 1690 to increase the value of the coins to make the metal go further. Rather than being smelted, the old coins were simply heated up and restruck with a higher value. Shillings were struck over sixpences, half-crowns on shillings and crowns on half-crowns. The crown (60 pence) bore the image of the King on horseback to distinguish it from lower value coins which bore his portrait.

Gun Money Crown (1690)

It is an interesting feature of gun money that many of the 1690 dated second issue coins were restruck at incorrect temperatures. This caused them to bear traces of their original designs after being struck for a second time.  

Restrike showing the original undertype

The Battle of the Boyne

Unfortunately for James, his Jacobite army was no match for William’s ‘Grand Alliance’ made up of English, Dutch, Danish, German and French Protestants. On 1st July 1690, the two armies faced each other on either side of the river Boyne, about thirty miles north of Dublin. After several hours of fierce fighting, William’s army crossed the river and drove the Jacobites back. James then gave the order to retreat, abandoned his troops and hurried back to exile in France, with all hope of regaining his throne lost forever.

William at the Battle of the Boyne

As James never regained his crown, his promise to replace the gun money with silver coins never occurred. The emergency coins circulated at reduced values until the early eighteenth century, when they were finally withdrawn from circulation.  Today, each surviving piece of gun money serves as a unique and valuable historical document to a turbulent period of British and Irish history.  

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.

Najwspanialsza polska złota moneta ma już 400 lat!

Rok 1587 otworzył w dziejach Polski panowanie szwedzkiej dynastii Wazów. Czasy Zygmunta III Wazy to okres niebywałego rozmachu menniczego. Nigdy w historii Rzeczpospolitej nie było takiej obfitości i różnorodności numizmatów. Kilkanaście mennic pracowało na potrzeby niezwykle rozbudowanego systemu menniczego, obejmującego cały katalog monet, od wspaniałych stu dukatów w złocie aż po skromne denary.

Władca dwóch królestw z widokiem na trzecie

Zygmunt III Waza (1566-1632) syn króla szwedzkiego Jana III Wazy i Katarzyny Jagiellonki, zasiadał na dwóch tronach, co nie przeszkadzało mu spoglądać w kierunku trzeciego. Został wybrany na króla Polski w 1587 r. Po śmierci swego ojca, w 1592 r. pospieszył do Szwecji, aby objąć tamtejszy tron i dopilnować kwestii dynastycznych. W 1599 r. został zdetronizowany przez szwedzki parlament Riksdag, choć tytułu królewskiego formalnie używał do końca życia.

Trzecim tronem, który Zygmunt próbował zdobyć, tym razem dla syna Władysława, był tron moskiewski. Polska zaingerowała w wewnętrzne sprawy wschodniego sąsiada w okresie tzw. wielkiej smuty, po wygaśnięciu dynastii Rurykowiczów, a przed wstąpieniem na tron Romanowów. W 1610 r. wojska hetmana Stanisława Żółkiewskiego zajęły Moskwę i Kreml, które okupowały przez dwa lata. W 1611 r. w Warszawie były car rosyjski Wasyl IV Szujski złożył polskiemu królowi przysięgę homagialną, która przeszła do historii pod nazwą „hołdu ruskiego”.

Polityka mennicza wielkiego kraju

Zygmunt III panował nad wielkim obszarem Europy, z całym złożonym systemem fiskalnym. Nie dziwi więc fakt, że mennicze dziedzictwo jego czasów obejmuje nie tylko monety Polski i Litwy, ale także szwedzkie talary i öre, a nawet moskiewskie kopiejki jego syna Władysława, emitowane w latach 1610-12 podczas zajęcia Kremla przez wojska polskie.  

Początek panowania młodego Wazy zbiegł się z wielkim kryzysem finansowym na zachodzie Europy. W krajach rzeszy niemieckiej, rozbitej na wiele małych organizmów państwowych oraz w Czechach następowała coraz większa dewaluacja drobnej srebrnej monety. Władcy czerpiący zyski mennicze skupowali monety własne i obce w celu ich ponownego przetopu na numizmaty gorsze, o mniejszej zawartości srebra. Ten proceder prowadził w konsekwencji do znacznej dysproporcji cenowej między monetami „grubymi”: dukatami i talarami, a tymi drobnymi. Na niektórych obszarach inflacja przekraczała poziom 1300%!

Opisane zjawisko odcisnęło swe piętno na gospodarce polskiej. Wymiana handlowa powodowała, że nad Wisłę płynęły szerokim strumieniem słabe, obce monety, a z kraju odpływały dobre, nadające się do przetopu. Aby temu zapobiec Zygmunt III zmuszony był do obniżenia zawartości srebra w numizmatach oraz wprowadzenia na rynek nowych nominałów. To wszystko, aby dostosować polski pieniądz do zmieniającego się kursu talara.

Za czasów pierwszego z Wazów pojawiły się w obrocie nowinki numizmatyczne. Zaczęto emitować tzw. „półtoraki”, czyli monety o wartości 1,5 grosza, które miały usprawnić wymianę towarową z Brandenburgią. Wprowadzono „orta”, odpowiadającego ¼ talara. Przez krótki czas wybijano także „trzykrucierzówki”, które równały się trzem krajcarom i służyły wymianie handlowej ze Śląskiem i Czechami.

System monetarny Rzeczpospolitej ok. 1623 r.

Wspomniany uprzednio kryzys finansowy, pogłębionych monetarnym chaosem, wymusił konieczność reform. W 1623 r. ustabilizowano kursy wymiany nominałów pozostających w obrocie rynkowym. Przyjęto, że jeden „ciężki” talar jest wart 80 groszy. Oprócz niego w obrocie rynkowym pozostawała jego mniejsza wersja zwana talarem „lekkim”. W następnych latach ograniczono emisję drobnej monety, najbardziej podatnej na dewaluację. Wprowadzono do obiegu także półtalary i ćwierćtalary.

Około roku 1623 system monetarny kraju obejmował następujące nominały: złoty dukat i jego pochodne (portugały, donatywy), w srebrze: talar i jego pochodne, ort (1/4 talara), szóstak (6 groszy), trojak (3 grosze), półtorak (1,5 grosza), grosz, szeląg (1/3 grosza), trzeciak (1/6 grosza), dwudenar (1/9 grosza) oraz denar (1/18 grosza). Jednostką obrachunkową pozostawał złoty polski równy trzydziestu groszom. Zygmunt III zasypał kraj złotą monetą. Emitowano nie tylko pojedyncze dukaty, ale też ich wielokrotności.

Na potrzeby rozbudowanego systemu monetarnego pracowało siedemnaście mennic, zlokalizowanych w: Bydgoszczy, Drezdenku, Krakowie, Królewcu, Lublinie, Malborku, Mitawie, Olkuszu, Poznaniu, Warszawie, Wilnie, Wschowie, Łobżenicy, Elblągu, Gdańsku, Rydze i Toruniu.

Złote arcydzieło Samuela Ammona

Spośród wymienionych ośrodków menniczych na szczególną wyróżnienie zasługuje Bydgoszcz. Tam bowiem powstała największa moneta w historii polskiego mennictwa – 100 dukatów w złocie, będąca jednym z najwspanialszych numizmatów na świecie.

Choć przywilej bicia monety Bydgoszcz uzyskał w średniowieczu, to zorganizowana produkcja datuje się od 1594 r. Początkowo mennica działała jako prywatna, a od 1613 jako królewska. Trzy lata później jej dzierżawcą został Holender Jakub Jacobson von Emden. Pod jego doskonałym zarządem zakład stał się jednym z najlepszych ośrodków menniczych w kraju wyspecjalizowanym w biciu półtalarów, talarów, dukatów i portugałów. To tutaj w 1621 r. wybito złotą studukatówkę, ważącą ok. 350 gram, o średnicy 70 mm.

Był to przykład tzw. monety medalowej, przeznaczonej do obdarowywania zasłużonych osób. Jej wybicie zbiegło się w czasie ze zwycięstwem nad Turkami pod ChocimiemProjekt wykonał gdański medalier Samuel Ammon. Ten pochodzący ze Szwajcarii mistrz zasłynął jako twórca wspaniałych medali portretowych i numizmatów.

Na awersie studukatówki medalier ukazał popiersie króla w majestacie. Zygmunt III nie nosi korony, rysy jego twarzy są realistyczne. Ma na sobie paradną zbroję, ozdobioną głową lwa. Jest przepasany szarfą dowódcy. Na piersi widać Order Złotego Runa, najwyższe odznaczenie domu habsburskiego przyznawane monarchom. Napis w otoku podaje tytulaturę – z Bożej łaski król Polski i Szwecji. Wytrawne oko dostrzeże także, pośród bogactwa ornamentów zbroi, monogram medaliera: SA i datę emisji: 1621.

Rewers zdobi dziewięciopolowy herb pod koroną królewską. Widnieją na nim Orzeł Biały i Pogoń Litewska, na tarczy pośredniej herby Szwecji – Trzy Korony i Lew Folkungów, wreszcie na tarczy sercowej herb Wazów Snopek. Całość otoczona łańcuchem Orderu Złotego Runa. W otoku dalsza cześć tytulatury Zygmunta III –  wielki książę litewski, ruski, pruski, mazowiecki, żmudzki, inflancki. Obok krzyża na zwieńczeniu korony królewskiej data: 1621. Po obu stronach tarczy herbowej, wśród ornamentów monogram generalnego zarządcy mennic: IIVE (Jakub Jacobson von Emden).

Tym samym stemplem co sto dukatów wybito w złocie, w Bydgoszczy, również inne nominały, także srebrne. Na przestrzeni ostatnich dziesięcioleci studukatówka niezwykle rzadko pojawiała się na aukcjach numizmatycznych wzbudzając ogromne zainteresowanie kolekcjonerów. Po raz ostatni została sprzedana w 2018 r. za sumę ponad 2 milionów dolarów USA, ustanawiając tym samym rekord aukcyjny dla polskiej monety historycznej.

The Coins of the Irish Free State

Yeats in 1923

In 1924 a special committee was set up to select the designs for the first currency of the Irish Free State. The committee was chaired by the Nobel Prize winning poet William Butler Yeats, who had been appointed to the Irish Senate two years earlier in 1922.

Born in Sandymount on 13th June 1865, Yeats was fascinated with poetry from childhood and published his first volume of verse aged just 22. He went on to found the Irish Theatre, writing plays that dealt with his favourite subjects of Irish myths, legends and spirituality.  Ironically, some of his greatest poetry was written after he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923, which cemented his reputation as one of the world’s greatest twentieth-century poets.

The committee was well aware of the enormity of the task that faced them.  Though a committed nationalist, Yeats deplored violence and had no wish to antagonise the predominantly Protestant north and the Catholic south. 

For this reason, early suggestions that the coinage should feature patriotic symbols, politicians or Christian saints were quickly ruled out, fearing that it could inflame tensions and lead to the currency being turned into religious medals.  Instead, Yeats wanted something that was “elegant, racy of the soil and utterly unpolitical”.

The Irish Harp on the obverse

After lengthy discussions, the committee agreed that the Irish harp would remain the national symbol of the coinage, as it had been since the early sixteenth century. This would appear on the obverse of each coin, surrounded by the inscription, Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State).   

For the reverse designs, an agricultural theme was agreed upon, which was essential to the Irish economy.  Yeats announced that they “decided upon birds and beasts … what better symbols could we find for this horse riding, salmon fishing, cattle raising country?“

Seven artists from Ireland, England, the USA, Italy and Sweden were invited to produce designs in plaster or metal. Marks that could identify the artist were removed from each of the sixty-six individual designs submitted so that the committee could not know who had submitted what. Eventually, after careful evaluation, they selected the “incomparably superior” work of a little known English artist, Percy Metcalfe.

Percy Metcalfe

Knowing that assigning the design of the first coins of the Irish Free State to an Englishman was going to be a controversial move, the committee took the unusual step of making all the designs that had been submitted public.  This was done, they said, “because we believe any adverse criticism of the choice of Mr. Metcalfe’s designs could not survive such an inspection,”

The new designs were introduced into circulation on 12th December 1928 and comprised the woodcock (farthing),pig and piglets (halfpenny), hen and chicks (penny), hare (threepence), wolfhound (sixpence), bull (shilling), salmon (florin) and horse (half crown).

Inevitably, there was some opposition to the designs, with some critics protesting that they gave the impression that Ireland was little more than a giant farmyard. One priest even went so far as to denonce them as pagan symbols intended to “wipe out all traces of religion from our minds .. and beget a land of devil-worshippers where eveil may reign supreme.”

However, the animal designs were quickly embraced by the public at large. By celebrating the vibrancy, diversity and beauty found in Ireland, Yeats hoped that the coins would become, as he put it, “the silent ambassadors on national taste”.  Having spent decades in our pockets and purses, it is little wonder that they are still remembered fondly by many people today. 

The coins of the Irish Free State designed by Percy Metcalfe