Coins of medieval Europe.
In 1204, Constantinople was captured and plundered, and not by wild hordes of barbarians, not by Muslim conquerors, but by brothers in the Christian faith - participants in the IV Crusade. The Venetian Republic played a decisive role in this matter, for which it was beneficial to destroy a trading competitor in the Eastern and Black Sea markets. The fabulous riches and shrines of Constantinople, accumulated in the city since the time of Constantine the Great, were taken to the West. As a result, the economic "center of gravity" of Europe shifted to Italy, and Byzantium was no longer able to restore its strength and later perished under the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks.
During this time, Western European currency was organized under various local adaptations of the silver-based Carolingian system. In this system, 1 pound of silver (libra, lira, livre) consisted of 20 solidi (sou, soles, soldos, shillings), each of 12 denarii (denier, pence). In circulation there was a mass of small silver denarii of various weights (on average, about 1 gram) and the quality of the alloy, which was extremely inconvenient for concluding large transactions and organizing international trade.
The first truly mass gold coins in Europe, actually since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, were the Florentine florins, first minted in 1252. These almost pure gold coins weighing around 3.5 grams (the equivalent of the Florentine lira) were designed to service major transactions in one of the strongest economies of their time, including the transactions of Florentine bankers who lent money to both European monarchs and the papacy. One side of the coin bears the image of a lily flower (the coat of arms of the city), and the other side bears the figure of St. John the Baptist in front. The coin quickly became universal and our collection includes a florin minted on behalf of the Pope during the “Avignon captivity” (c. 1352-1378).
A coin of the same weight and quality of gold - zecchino - in 1284 began to be produced in Venice. On one side the image of the ascension of Christ was depicted, and on the other - a kneeling doge, receiving a flag from the hands of St. Mark. The iconography of these coins comes from the silver Venetian grossos, which in turn have as a prototype Byzantine coins, but the images of zecchines compare favorably with their more realistic manner of execution. From the last word of the inscription on the front side “Sit tibi Christe datus, quem tu regis ducatus” (“To you, Christ, the duchy you rule is dedicated”) came the common name “ducat”, used for European gold coins minted according to the florin and zecchino standard up to until the 20th century. The Venetian ducat holds the record for the longest minted time - the coin was produced with the same quality and design for more than 500 years until the liquidation of the Republic in 1797. Our collection includes the zecchino of Doge Francesco Foscari (1423-1457), whose tragic history is the subject of Lord Byron's play "The Two Foscari".
The florins served as a model for German and Hungarian gold coins.
The guldens of the German feudal states eventually moved away from the florin standard and weight, and the fineness of the alloy decreased, including for the purpose of convenient exchange with the local silver coin, which eventually ended at the end of the 15th century with the introduction of a large silver coin - the guldiner (later thaler). On one side of the guldens, the place of the Florentine lily was taken by the coats of arms of the issuer of the coin, and on the other, the image of St. John the Baptist, whose style changed in accordance with the canons adopted at that time. Our collection includes the gulden of the Margraves of Brandenburg, Friedrich Ansbach and Sigismund Kulmsbach (1486-1495), with a beautifully executed Renaissance depiction of St. John the Baptist.
Hungarian gold coins, which received the name of the florin changed to the local way - forints, continued to strictly follow the standard of its prototype. Over time, the place of St. John the Baptist was occupied by King Laslo I, who was especially revered in Hungary and canonized as a saint. The Kingdom of Hungary owned the richest gold deposit in Europe in the region of Kremnica (Slovakia), which produced an average of about 1000 kg of gold per year in the middle of the XIV century (about 50% of world production and more than 80% of European production at that time), about 313 kg per year in the second half of the XV century and about 168 kg per year in the first half of the XVI century. Such a resource of precious metal allowed the Hungarian ducats to become a universal coin of its time, well known in Russia, where the name of "Hungarian gold" was fixed for a long time for all coins of the ducat standard. Rare Russian award coins were minted by weight in multiples of the ducat, for example, the previously mentioned hungarian quarter dated 1654 from our collection.
Also in our collection presented a ducat of the Holy Roman Empire minted in Kremnica in 1696, beautifully executed in the Baroque style.
Gold coins at the florin standard were minted in France and England in the first half of the XIV century - a time of active cooperation between monarchs and Florentine bankers. But the mass minting of gold by these countries took place according to their own standard.
The first French "gold deniers" were minted in 1266 under King Louis IX the Saint to finance the 8th Crusade. They carried on one side the image of a shield with lilies, from which their name "ecu" - a shield - came from. These coins were not widely used due to their underestimation in compare with "livre tournois" - the main counting currency of that time, which was the equivalent of approx. 81 grams of pure silver. Interestingly, Louis IX paid 40 thousand livres for the construction of a magnificent church to store the relics of Sainte-Chapelle, and 135 thousand livres for the main relic - the Crown of Thorns of Jesus Christ. I think that the king's passion for relics is completely understandable to numismatists, like no one else.
French gold coins of the XIV century changed their weight and design many times in accordance with the decrees of the king, but they always remained the standard of the Gothic style and still impress with their beauty. Our collection includes gold "horse" (franc à cheval) and "foot" (franc à pied) francs of King John II and his son and heir Charles V. These coins are minted from pure gold weighing about 3.8-3.9 grams and are the equivalent of the livre tournois. They most likely got their name "franc" from the corresponding French word meaning "free", because their issue is associated with the obligation of the French crown to pay a ransom to the British for the release of King John from captivity in the amount of 3 million golden ecu. Their minting was started in accordance with the decree of December 5, 1360, and this is one of the most mass issues of medieval French gold.
The classic ecu with the image of a shield with lilies is represented in our collection by a coin of the 1st issue of King Charles VII the Conqueror (minted in 1423). This coin is contemporary with the key events of the Hundred Years War - the time of Joan of Arc.
The Noble became the largest medieval, and at the same time the most massive English gold coin. This coin, worth 1/3 of a pound sterling, was first issued in 1344-1346 from pure gold weighing 9 grams. On the front side was placed a half-length image of the king in front with a naked sword and shield, standing on the ship. On the back: a composition of a flourishing cross and heraldic signs within a circular legend in Latin, which is a quotation from the Gospel of Luke 4:30 - "but He (Jesus), passing through the midst of them, departed." This design of the coin was adopted by Edward III, most likely to commemorate the important naval victory over the French at Sluys (1340), which as a result provided the English with superiority at sea and made it possible to increase the export of wool to Europe through Flanders. This quote from the Gospel was considered a talisman in battle. Despite being seriously wounded in the battle of Sluys, the king remained alive, and then the soldiers often took the golden nobles with them as a protective amulet.
Noble is a classic trade coin, which was accepted with pleasure for payment in vast territories. Depending on fluctuations in the relative value of gold and silver, both in England and in continental Europe, over time, the weight of the nobles decreased and by the middle of the XV century was about 7 grams, which, taking into account the reforms of the monetary systems in France and Holland, provided its convenient equivalent for trade with two Parisian livres and two Dutch guldens.
Our collection contains a sample of the last issue of these coins, the so-called “noble with a rose” - a contemporary of the protracted dynastic conflict in England - the War of the Red and White Roses, minted after another inflation of the pound sterling in 1465-1469. Now its cost was 1/2 pound sterling, which proved to be inconvenient. As a result, the place of the noble was taken by a new type of coins with a traditional value of 1/3 of a pound sterling - Angels.
On the obverse side of the coin, the Archangel Michael slaying the Dragon with a spear is depicted, on the reverse side, a ship with a shield and a cross in the circular legend “per crucem tuam salva nos Christe Redemptor” (“By your cross save us Christ the Redeemer”) is depicted. Our collection includes a coin of Henry VII 1505-1509.
Due to such strong spiritual symbolism, Angels were used in the ritual of healing scrofula (tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes), when the king, as God's Anointed on Earth, like Jesus Christ, healed by the laying on of hands. The coin was given to the suffering person as alms personally from the king.
The value of the Angels in relation to silver fluctuated, and its price also reached the value of 1/2 pound sterling around 1550. Angels as a full-fledged means of payment were last issued during the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), and gold tokens based on his motives for the healing ritual were made until 1714.
The difference in the style of the rosenoble made in the 1460s and the Angel, minted 40 years later, is clearly visible. The first coin is an example of the Gothic style with a static symbolic image of the king, while the second is an example of a more realistic Renaissance image.
Quite in the spirit of the Renaissance, already in the XVI century, realistic portraits of monarchs returned to the obverses of coins, which in the XVII century become quite perfect and often have direct references to ancient primary sources.
An excellent example of this is the double doppia of the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Ranuccio I Farnese, minted in 1618 from our collection. The image of the duke on the obverse is made in the style of an antique, so-called heroic portrait, viewed from the back. The reverse side depicts a she-wolf - a direct reference to Roman traditions and the throne of Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese), who allocated the duchy from papal possessions in favor of his son. Alessandro Farnese was a connoisseur of ancient art and, during his tenure as a cardinal, amassed a significant collection of objects from the Greco-Roman period, which still bears his name.
This large classic hammered coin is made to the Spanish Escudo norm and is the equivalent of the two pistoles from Dumas' "Three Musketeers" novels or the two doubloons from the pages of Stevenson's "Treasure Island".