Topics of coins

The ducat of Sigismund the Elder

Sigismund the Elder’s reign (1506–1548) marks the beginning of a new era in the history of Polish money. The epoch of late medieval coins, based on the half-grosz, was over, and the era of modern money began. It was then that a complete monetary system was born. It was based on the złoty, a unit of account which was equal to 30 real grosz. There were also multiples of the grosz, namely the trojak (three grosz) and the szóstak (six grosz), as well as smaller denominations – the półgroszek (half-grosz), denarius and ternar (worth three denarii).

The appearance of coins also changed. Gothic letters in inscriptions were replaced by what was referred to as Latin letters. Truly Renaissance-style, realistic portraits of the king appeared, and dates of issue started to be included in the legends.

Of crucial significance was the introduction of a gold currency – the Polish złoty called the ducat – in 1528. We have chosen a ducat from 1529 for our series. The obverse of the coin features a bust of the king wearing armour and a crown, turned to the right. A striking element is the caul that the king is wearing under his crown, which resembles a hairstyle. The inscription along the rim reads: SIGIS[mundus]◆I – REX◆POL[onie]◆, i.e. Sigismund the First – King of Poland. At the bottom, horizontally, there is the date 1529 and a plant ornament. On the reverse, beneath the crown, there is a five-field shield. At the top it bears the Polish Eagle and the Lithuanian Chase, at the bottom – the Russian Lion and the Prussian Eagle, while in the centre – the Habsburg coat–of-arms. This last one commemorated the king’s mother, Elisabeth of Austria. On the sides of the shield there are the letters C – N, denoting the place of minting (Cracovia) and the first name of the Crown Treasurer, Mikołaj Szydłowiecki (Nicolaus). The inscription along the rim reads: IVSTVS VT PALMA FLOREBIT (The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree).

The central motif on the new coin is of course the representation of the ducat. The obverse additionally features a round label with the Eagle, the denomination – 20 złoty and the date – 2016. The whole coin has been placed in a most impressive framing alluding to the interior of the dome of the Sigismund Chapel in Wawel Cathedral in Cracow. On the opposite side, the reverse of the ducat is accompanied by the Eagle (in the form of laser ground print) beneath a crown from a 16th-century woodcut.

Stanisław Suchodolski