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

Who is the soldier on the Dutch Ducat?

The first Durch Ducat, struck in 1586

The Dutch ducat has always been an instantly recognisable and much imitated gold coin. Instead of a traditional depiction of a monarch or a saint, it features an armour clad soldier with a sword in his right hand and a bundle of arrows in his left. The year of issue is split so that two digits appear on either side of the soldier, and the design is surrounded by a legend “Concordia Res Parvae Crescunt” which can be translated “Union makes small things grow”. This elegant design appeared on the first Dutch ducat struck in 1586 and has survived with only minor modifications to the present day, making it the oldest continuously issued gold coin in the world.

The appearance of such a strong military figure on one of the world’s most important trading coins has always been something of a mystery. The commercially minded Dutch never relied on military force to build their Empire, preferring to govern colonies indirectly through the native authorities. This proved to be a quick and effective way to overcome cultural, religious and language barriers to trade, and the Dutch were more concerned with making a healthy profit than in subduing the local population by force.

The identity of the soldier depicted on the Dutch ducat has also been shrouded in mystery. Officially, he is anonymous. However, by reviewing the unique set of circumstances in which the coin was commissioned and struck, a plausible case can be made for his identity and his appearance on the Dutch ducat. Is it possible that the soldier on the Dutch ducat was an Englishman?

The First Ducats

The first gold ducats were struck in Venice in 1274. The coin’s name is derived from the medieval Latin word ‘ducalis’ and would initially have meant, ‘the duke’s coin’. At that time, there were many different gold coins in circulation throughout Europe and coins would often have different names in different countries. This made it much harder for merchants, traders and money changers to determine their correct values. They needed a reliable, trusted and accurate coin with an unchanging weight and purity.

The ducat met this requirement well. It had a consistent weight of 3.545 grams and a gold content of 98.6%, which was the highest purity medieval metallurgy could produce. Gold ducats proved to be so popular that other European cities and states began to copy its specifications and strike their own versions to facilitate their own international trade.

Not since the days of the Roman Empire had a gold coin been issued that would inspire the trust of nations around the world. Ducats were popular and easily recognized, and this led to their increasing acceptance as the primary coin of international trade.

Birth of the Dutch Republic

At the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish were reaping the spoils of their victorious conquests in the New World. The Atlantic and the North Sea became primary trade routes and the Spanish-controlled Netherlands became the hub of this international trade.

William of Orange

In 1566, the seven primarily Protestant northern provinces of the Low Countries began a long struggle to untangle themselves from the Spanish Empire. The Spanish tried to brutally crush the Dutch Revolt but were unable to prevent the unrest from gathering momentum and strength. More and more people rallied to the side of William of Orange, leader of the Holland Province and, by 1581 the northern provinces were strong enough to declare their independence.

However, uniting the provinces into a single Dutch Republic proved to be a struggle. Each province could appoint its own Stadtholder (Head of State) who had the power to appoint officials and councils. But in the immediate aftermath of their split from Spain, they wanted a monarch who could simultaneously unite them and defend them from the Spanish.

The Search for a Sovereign

Having rejected King Philip II of Spain as their Head of State, the Dutch initially asked Queen Elizabeth I of England to protect them from ongoing Spanish aggression. The Queen refused, having no wish to antagonise Spain or involve herself in the domestic affairs of other countries.

Following this rejection, they turned their attention to France, and invited the King’s younger brother François, Duke of Anjou to become their sovereign. He proved to be a disaster. Many regions distrusted him immediately because he was a Catholic and so he was granted only limited powers. In January 1583 he used French soldiers to try to seize control of Antwerp and when this failed, he left and didn’t return.

Afterwards, Elizabeth I was invited to become Queen of the Netherlands, but once again she declined, leaving the United Provinces with no alternative but to try to govern as a republican body instead.

Assassination of William of Orange in 1584

Just when it looked as if things couldn’t get any worse, the popular William of Orange was assassinated on July 10th 1584 by a Catholic radical hoping to collect the large bounty put on his head by the King of Spain. The murder caused political turmoil that threatened the fledgling Republic and left it even more exposed to the risk of Spanish aggression.

The Treaty of Nonsuch

One of William’s allies had been the wealthy English Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. He was horrified at the events that were unfolding across the English Channel and pleaded with the Queen to intervene. He and Elizabeth were childhood friends, and he enjoyed a privileged position at court as one of her closest advisors. Indeed, it was widely rumoured that they were lovers.

The Queen was eventually persuaded by her trusted companion to provide the Dutch Republic with the support it so urgently needed. On August 10th 1585 she signed the Treaty of Nonsuch in which England agreed to supply 6,400 foot soldiers, 1,000 cavalry and an annual subsidy of 600,000 florins. In return, the Dutch agreed to finance English garrisons at the strategically important seaports of Flushing and Brill to keep them out of Spanish hands.
A substantial amount of the money required to finance this endeavour came from Leicester’s personal finances, and the Queen appointed him head of the English troops in the Netherlands.

The New Governor-General

When Leicester arrived in the Netherlands in December 1585 he was welcomed like a King. Lavish festivals were held in his honour and cheering crowds followed him wherever he went. The following month, he was offered the title Governor-General and accepted the position without first seeking confirmation from the Queen. He probably realized that the title was necessary in order to be able to exert effective control and unite the provinces. But by accepting the position he effectively made his Sovereign the Queen of the Netherlands.

Elizabeth was furious. She had explicitly declined the invitation to become Sovereign over the Netherlands and she commanded Leicester to resign the post. This put the Earl in a very difficult position. He now had the “the rule and government general” with a Council of State to support him. The Dutch pleaded with the Queen, claiming that the position had been bestowed on him by the Dutch people, and not by a Sovereign.

Elizabeth issued a stern reprimand to the Earl and showed her displeasure by preventing his wife from joining him with a large entourage, which would have created the unfavourable impression that he was setting up his own court. However, she also recognised the importance of his role and wrote to the Dutch provinces asking them to follow his advice in matters of Government.

With Amsterdam’s reputation as a major centre of international trade growing the demand for a uniquely identifiable Dutch ducat grew along with it. On October 4th 1586, Leicester ordered that a gold ducat be designed and struck.

The Knight in Shining Armour

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in 1575

Ducats struck in other countries often featured monarchs and popular figures and so it is not a giant leap of the imagination to suggest that the figure depicted on the Dutch gold coin was modelled on the most powerful man in the Dutch Republic who had united the provinces and commissioned their new coin.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was held in particular high esteem by the Dutch for supporting their struggle for independence at great personal cost to his finances and political reputation. He was, quite literally, their knight in shining armour. And it appears that this is exactly how they chose to depict him on their gold ducat.

He wears armour because he was Head of the English army in the Netherlands. He carries a sword because he was determined to defend the Dutch Republic from Spanish aggression. He holds arrows in his hand to symbolize the provinces that he had united by becoming their Governor-General. Contemporary illustrations of the Earl of Leicester further support the theory that the oldest continuously issued gold coin in the world depicts the image of an Englishman.

A sketch made in 1575 depicts the Earl of Leicester in an expensive suit of tilting armour with a plumed hat that appears to closely match the image of the soldier on the ducat first struck in 1586. In addition, an engraving of the Governor-General on horseback in 1586 suggests that the Earl had put on weight during the intervening years. This could explain why the soldier on the coin has a significantly fuller figure than a typical soldier.

Leicester’s Legacy

Despite his best intentions, the Earl of Leicester ultimately proved to be a major disappointment for the Dutch. The Queen forbade him from using his army to seek out and proactively engage Spanish soldiers which seriously hampered his chances of defending the Dutch from their attacks.

In August 1557 the strategic deep-water port of Sluis, defended by English and Dutch troops, fell to the Spanish after weeks of intense fighting. It was a bitter blow, and Leicester quickly lost his credibility with the Dutch as an effective military leader.

The hopes of the Dutch rebels that had been raised by the Treaty of Nonsuch were dashed by the harsh reality that Leicester, with his hands effectively tied by the Queen, was simply unable to defend them as they wanted. To compound the problem, Elizabeth also withheld payments to Leicester’s army which further worsened morale and made Leicester’s position even more difficult.

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth’s ongoing reluctance to take any action that could be perceived by Spain as a hostile act ultimately proved to be futile. Ever since the Treaty of Nonsuch, King Philip II had been preparing a full-scale invasion fleet to conquer England and bring the reign of its Protestant Queen to an ignoble end.

By December 1587 relations between the Queen and the Dutch politicians had broken down to such an extent that Leicester asked to be recalled to England. He returned home heavily in debt, having been unable to provide the effective military leadership that the Dutch required. Following his departure, several governors appointed by Leicester betrayed his trust in them and handed over land to the Spanish.

Once back in England, Leicester resumed his close personal relationship with the Queen. She appointed him Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Queen’s Armies and Companies, and as the Spanish Armada drew closer he arranged for her to rally the English troops at Tilbury where he planned to defend London. With Leicester by her side, Elizabeth made the famous declaration that would cement her status as one of England’s most beloved monarchs; “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too”.

The Spanish Armada was defeated at sea before reaching English soil and afterwards Leicester was seen riding in splendour through the streets of London and dining frequently with the Queen. On September 4th 1588 he died suddenly at the age of fifty-six Elizabeth was inconsolable and locked herself in her bedroom for several days until her worried staff broke the door down. She was to mourn him for the rest of her life. His last letter, sent six days before his death remained beside her bed until her own death in 1603 brought the Tudor dynasty to an end.

A Shrinking Waistline

Between 1586 and 1816 Dutch ducats had an unchanging weight of 3.515g and had a gold content of 98.6%. In 1817 a slightly modified ducat design was introduced with a new specification. The gold content was reduced slightly to 98.3% and the weight was lowered to 3.454g. Since then, the metrics have remained unchanged and gold ducats struck to these specifications continue to be struck by the Royal Dutch Mint to this day.

A comparison of the 1817 Dutch ducat and the original 1586 ducat shows that the gold purity and coin weight were not the only reductions made. The soldier that appears on the coin has also lost a substantial amount of weight over the intervening centuries.

The changing shape of the soldier on the Dutch Ducat since 1586

If the first Dutch ducat really did depict the English Governor-General then the reason for the soldier’s changing appearance over the years suddenly becomes very clear. This was an intentional act to conceal the identity of the man on the coin. A deliberate attempt, perhaps, to airbrush from the collective Dutch consciousness the memory of the time when they enthusiastically welcomed an English Earl as the head of their Government and, in so doing made the English Queen their unwilling Sovereign.

After so much rejoicing at his appointment, the failure of the English Governor-General and the indifference of the English Queen to their plight was a bitter blow for the Dutch. It is highly unlikely that they would have wanted to immortalise such a painful chapter of their history on their most important gold coin, particularly during the bitter Anglo-Dutch Wars that were waged throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Of course, this may explain why the soldier on the Dutch ducat remains officially anonymous to this day.

Robert Dudley as Governor General in 1586