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Coins of the month - october 2014
Separatist coinage in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Coinage is one of the most obvious symbols of national sovereignty and the printing press is one of the simplest forms of financing for newly created states. Therefore separatist movements try early on in their campaigns to establish some form of separate money. Usually it is a form of emergency money, either through the production of inferior metal pieces by counterstamping preexisting banknotes or countermarking preexisting coins. The quality is often low and new symbols are tentatively introduced, but they rarely survive to become the permanent symbols of a new state even if the secession succeeds and their new state is internationally recognized and settled.
The struggle of Mexicans to separate from the Spanish empire between 1810 and independence in 1821 was initially a separatist movement with limited success. We have here a rough copper coin of two reales, minted in Oaxaca in 1813 under General Morelos. The coin carries the word "SUD" and a bow and arrow as a symbol, later replaced in the new coins of independent Mexico by symbols inspired by the French revolution (red cap of liberty) and by the pre-Columbian symbol (the eagle killing a snake on top of a cactus in the middle of the island of Mexico City).
Catalonia tried to achieve independence repeatedly through the centuries. We have here a 4 quartos copper coin from 1810, minted for Barcelona, with the crest of the town mixing two crosses together with the Catalan flag's red and yellow stripes. Despite carrying the Catalan symbols it was, however, minted under the French occupation of 1808-14, which later included a temporary annexation of the province into the French empire of Napoleon I. From the beginning the Catalans took up arms against the French in repeated uprisings and these coins were melted after their departure as a symbol of a hated foreign occupation.
In 1991 several regionalist parties in Italy formed the anti-immigrant Northern League (Lega Nord) which has supported alternatively a federal Italy or a secessionist Republic of the North, also labelled Padania from 1996 onwards. The Northern league started immediately inventing an avalanche of new symbols and selling pseudo documents (drivers' licences, passports, postal stamps, banknotes, coins, etc). In particular in 1992 token coins with a nominal value of 1, 2, 5 and 10 leghe were distributed to supporters at political rallies, bearing the symbol of the party (the mythical figure of Alberto da Giussano who in the twelth century supposedly led a coalition of Lombard cities to victory against the Emperor Frederic Hohenstaufen "Barbarossa"). In fact these tokens, like their numerous successors in metal and paper, remained curiosities and collector's items and never played a real monetary role (even if paradoxically the leghisti lamented the circulation of illegal forgeries produced in Naples.). Their main role was to create a pantheon of historical predecessors and invent a tradition in support of "Padania", a nation which never existed before. The result was a patchwork of incompatible figures, moving from the Gallic chieftain Brennus, who sacked and humiliated Rome in the fourth century BC, to the democratic federalist leader of the Risorgimento, Carlo Cattaneo, who led the Milanese uprising of 1848 against the Austrians. Some Italian banknotes with legal tender were countermarked by militants with the words "Padania Federal Republic" surrounding the "Green Sun of Padania" (a symbol which is in fact existed in Roman antiquity, and in the Muslim world, from Morocco to India, often called the rose of the desert). Northern league tokens were also produced under the name of scudi, fiorini, gulden, palanche, lire and even in euros, before the movement became anti-euro.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics