Gold coinage in Hungary dates back to the first days of the Hungarian kingdom. While the first gold coin was a solidus of the first king, St. Stephen (997-1038) which is extremely rare today, it was not until the Angevin Dynasty more than 300 years later that King Charles (or Karl) Robert (1310-1342) issued another one. That began one of the world's oldest continuous gold coining traditions, and was the model for the first issue in an annual series of gold coins from the National Bank of Hungary – “The Gold Florins of Medieval Hungary.”
The second coin in the series is now available. A gold florin of King Louis I (The Great) is precisely replicated on a just-issued legal tender 50,000 forint coin. Designed by E. Tamás Soltra, both sides are based on the gold florin of Louis I,. The obverse of each depicts a lozenge shaped shield within a hexafoil decorated with Anjou-lilies. The reverse shows the gold florin of Louis I with the widely known St. Ladislaus motif supplemented with the name of the king and the dates of his reign, 1342-1382. 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 “+LODOVICI ∙ DEI ∙ GRATIA ∙ REGIS ∙ UNGARIAE” 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 500 coins and according to the Budapest mint, a sell-out was expected within days of its release.
On July 21, 1342, at the age of 16, Louis the Great (1342-1382), son of Charles I from the Italian branch of the house of Anjou and Elizabeth Piast of Poland, was crowned king of Hungary in Székesfehérvár. He inherited from his father a politically stable, economically balanced realm, along with a rich treasury; as a result, the Kingdom of Hungary grew to be a truly great power under his reign, both in Central Europe and beyond.
Louis I essentially followed his father’s financial and economic policies, but at the same time he introduced a number of changes. His reforms were most visible in the field of financial administration, but his name is also associated with the creation of the florin (also called “goldgulden”) and its uniquely Hungarian appearance.
Minting of gold coins began in Hungary in 1325; at first their appearance and standard were based on the famous gold florin of Florence with a fleur-de-lis as its main feature. Starting in the 1350s, the traditional forms of the coins were intentionally transformed in several steps resulting in their unique Hungarian identity.
The first gold coins issued by Louis I were identical in appearance to the florin gold coins issued by his father, Charles Robert: On the obverse a fleur-de-lis, with a depiction of St. John the Baptist on the reverse (Friedberg, Gold Coins of the World, No. 3). In the second step, the fleur-de-lis on the obverse was replaced by an escutcheon party per pale containing the arms of Hungary and of the house of Anjou inside a hexafoil, thus uniting the arms of the country (Hungarian stripes) and the royal house (Angevin fleurs-de-lis) (Friedberg, No. 4). Thus, the obverse of the coin departs from the Florentine pattern, while the reverse still featured St. John the Baptist. The process of change was completed with a coin, the reverse of which depicted Hungarian King Saint Ladislaus, who was revered by Louis I. Saint Ladislaus holds in his right hand his main attribute, a battle-axe, and an orb in his left hand, with a halo around his crowned head. (Friedberg, Nos. 5-7). The new gold florins were produced at several mints, including Buda, Körmöcbánya (present-day Kremnica in Slovakia) and in Transylvania, probably in Kolozsvár (present-day Cluj-Napoca in Romania). The privy mark “P” between the saint’s legs on the coin now being struck indicates that the original was likely struck in the mint of Buda in the 1360s, under chamberlain Petrus Chimle. The rosettes on the two sides of the saint are not merely decorative, but probably also function as emission marks. These gold florin coins, with their particular Hungarian appearance, were also very popular beyond Hungary’s borders.
Owing to the coin’s quality and acceptance in trade, it was widely imitated and variations on the Hungarian St. Ladislaus motif began to appear on other coins in Europe, just as the Florentine patterns had been copied in the past. The motif of St. Ladislaus lived on long after the reign of Louis I, and Hungarian gold florin coins bearing his image on the reverse were still being minted as late as the end of 16th century.