A New Series: “The Gold Florins of Medieval Hungary”
The First Gold Florin of King Charles Robert I (1301-1342)
The ancient coins of Hungary in modern form
10,000 Forint coin issued as a double-thick, quadruple weight “piéfort”
Gold coinage in Hungary dates back to the first days of the Hungarian kingdom. The first gold coin was a solidus of the first king, St. Stephen (997-1038) which is extremely rare today. It was then over 300 years before we find another one, this one struck by the first ruler from the House of Anjou, King Charles (or Karl) Robert (1301-1342). That coin, while occasionally offered to collectors today for thousands of dollars, is now the model for the first issue in an annual series of Hungarian gold coins – “The Gold Florins of Medieval Hungary.” It is precisely replicated on a just-issued legal tender 10,000 forint coin. Designed by E. Tamás Soltra, both sides are based on the gold florin of Charles I* supplemented with the name of the king and the dates of his reign. The coin is issued in two versions, regular and piéfort, both of which are in brilliant uncirculated quality.
The quadruple-weight piéfort coin bears the legend “KAROLUS · REX · FLORENUS · 1325” and the fleur de lis motif of the Anjou House around the edge. It is also 20mm in diameter, but double the thickness of the normal issue and at 13.964 grams is the equivalent of 4 ducats. It is limited to only 1,500 coins and costs $1,489.00.
Born of the House of Anjou in Naples, ‘Caroberto’ or Charles Robert was the maternal grandson of King Stephen V of Hungary. With the end of the House of Árpád, he was crowned King Charles I of Hungary in 1301. The majority of his contemporaries viewed neither this first coronation nor his second in 1309 as valid. It was only his third and final coronation with the Holy Crown of Hungary at Székesfehérvár on August 27, 1310 that met all the formal requirements and was accepted as valid by all. Charles himself felt that his reign began in 1301.
Charles is associated with numerous monetary reforms, the most important of which was probably the introduction of gold coinage that was backed by the upswing in Hungarian gold mining that occurred at that time. According to estimates, in the late Middle Ages, Hungary’s gold production accounted for more than three-quarters of Europe’s total annual output.
The first mention of the Hungarian gold florin is found in the will of the bishop of Olomouc, and based on this, the start of minting Hungarian gold coins is traditionally dated to 1325. According to medieval documents, the gold florin was minted at three locations: Buda, Körmöcbánya and the mint in Transylvania.
As was customary in many parts of Europe of that era, the Hungarian gold florin was patterned after the gold coins of Florence first minted in 1252 with the fleur de lis design, known as the fiorino d’oro (also the source of the Hungarian word “forint”). The coins of King Charles included the inscription KAROLV?REX (King Charles) around the Florentine fleur de lis on the front and an image of Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city, encircled with the legend S IOHANNES B on the back. At the end of the legend on the reverse, there was a small crown, which possibly represented the mint in Buda, but as this mark is found on all the known specimens, it is more likely that it refers to the Kingdom of Hungary as the issuer, clearly distinguishing it from the Florentine coins. Florence’s issues were not only the pattern, but they also provided the physical dimensions. According to documents from 1335-1336, the gold florins of Hungary were minted on the pattern of the Florentine florin, but were slightly heavier. As a result of these strict rules, the gold florin was minted with a weight of 3.5 grams of 23 ¾ carat ‘fine’ gold. According to sources from the period, the gold florin of Charles I was one of the most valuable gold coins of the Middle Ages, treated as an equal to the florin of Florence and the ducat of Venice.
*(Modern scholars say that in Hungary his name should just be King Charles and that the use of the name Robert was a mistake.)