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Coins of the month - September 2013
Political satire on Risorgimento coinage: the Bourbons and the Pope
(Click on images for full size.)
The Italian Risorgimento was accompanied by continuous monetary change between and within the Italian states after the Restoration decided by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Those states were mainly the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Lombard-Venitian Kingdom, the Granduchy of Tuscany, the Pontifical States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Three smaller duchies (Parma, Modena and Lucca) produced only a minimal and very occasional monetary circulation. Monetary chaos derived in part from the parallel circulation of older types of local coinage or of foreign types, particularly French. It also derived from the continuous changes decided on by the Papal, Austrian, or Bourbon absolute governments in their respective states, searching for a response to economic crises and to the alternate scarcity of silver or gold coinage, according to the fluctuations of world prices. Monetary unions were started repeatedly (the one initiated by Napoleon I, the de facto union of Northern Italy in early 1848, the second Germanic Münzverein in 1857 which included northeastern Italy, the Italian unification of 1862, the Latin Monetary Union in 1865) and then were disbanded when political union broke down. New currencies by provisional governments (either republican or pro-Piedmontese) further complicated the matter. Only with the completion of national unification between 1859 and 1870 was the monetary circulation was reordered in a more stable manner.
Within this confused situation, the political struggle was also reflected in a small number of satirical countermarks or manipulations of official images. The King of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand II, was singled out after his repression of the 1848 movements. He first crushed his opponents in Naples. Then in September 1848 he started the reconquest of Sicily which had inaugurated the European revolution by chasing the Bourbons with an uprising in January. Ferdinand ordered the beginning of operations by bombing the civilian population in Messina, earning the nickname of "Re Bomba" (King Bomb). Some of his coins were therefore countermarked by the liberals with the words "BOMBA" or "BOIA" (executioner). Occasionally the word "OLIM" (formerly, in Latin) was inserted between his name and his title as well, to claim that Ferdinand was no longer "King by the grace of God" (as in the silver coin here illustrated, a 120 grana piece, minted in Naples in 1842). The British Chancellor of the Exchequer and liberal leader William E. Gladstone clearly agreed with such considerations given that a few years later he defined Ferdinand's rule as "the negation of god erected in a system of government".
A much larger use of insulting manipulation of coinage hit Napoleon III after the defeat at Sedan in 1870, which will be examined next month. However French ideas and skills were also used against Italian coins, in particular those of the Pope. Pio IX (1846-78) had become, together with Ferdinand II, the main opponent of Italian unification from 1849 onwards. Having lost the richest territories of the Pontifical States to Italy in 1859, his temporal power was reduced to the impoverished region around Rome. The Pontifical government was in perpetual financial difficulties and depended on France to defend itself from repeated Garibaldinian attempts to liberate the city. When France promoted a monetary union with Italy, Belgium and Switzerland in 1865, the Papal government immediately adapted its monetary system to the lire-franc of the Latin Monetary Union (as the Union was rapidly nicknamed by the English press) and applied for membership. During the very long negotiations, protracted artfully by the Secretary of State Cardinal Antonelli, Roman coins were issued in very large quantities (30 million lire for a population of half a million people, about ten times the limit per person established by the Monetary Convention establishing the Union). A large part of these coins migrated to France to pay for troops and the trade deficit. An inconvertible paper money had also been established, both in the Kingdom of Italy and in the Papal States, contributing to the flight of good silver and gold coins replaced by depreciated paper, following Gresham's law. When the French realized this and negotiations with Rome broke down it was too late. The Papal government would not take them back, the French government banned them and holders were supposed to bear the losses to get rid of those pieces (of 10-20%, according to which financial intermediary would buy them back at a discount, causing a political scandal).
During the turmoil of 1870-71, large quantities of Pontifical silver coins of 1 and 2 lire were still circulating in France and were available for satirical transformations. Most of those transformations were simple curiosities in which the Pope would become a bourgeois smoking a pipe or a cigarette, wearing civilian clothes and carrying various types of hats or bonnets. Others however had a political significance, showing him transformed into a French soldier (they saved him from Garibaldi in 1849 and 1867) or adding the moustache and beard of his archenemy, the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II, while cancelling his papal hat. Symmetrically some Italian coins were engraved to crown the King of Italy with the Papal tiara, marking the end of the temporal power of Popes with the annexation of Rome in 1870. This latter work was probably not Italian, despite the presence of some of these coins in the collection of King Vittorio Emanuele III, grandson of the first King of Italy and great numismatic collector.
The drawing above, by the author, illustrates two of the many possible changes on the coins of Pio IX. The silver coin is 1 lira minted in Rome in 1866. The bronze piece is 10 centesimi of the Kingdom of Italy of 1866. It was minted in Birmingham because the Italian government was creating a national currency too rapidly for the productive capacities of the available local mints and the Roman and Venetian mints were still in foreign hands.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics