Romania Coins Issued Fitfully Under Reign of Carol|
September 30, 2008
The Russian claim to be the "protector" of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman empire was promulgated in the mid-19th century as a pretext for acquisition of territory on Russia's borders. This national urge to control buffer states is probably a psychological thing: the Chinese built walls, the Russians occupied their neighbors. The results have frequently reshaped the map.
A fortuitous intersection of organized nationalism and Russia's interactions on its borders resulted eventually (1859) in the detachment of Moldavia and Wallachia from the Ottoman empire in a semi-protectorated quasi-independent autonomy that came to be called Romania (1861). The personal focal point of this national venture was Alexandru Ioan Cuza, who proved himself unable to govern and was kicked. The Romanian politicians, gathered together to some extent in a legislature, cast around for a replacement. The idea of a republic was not seriously considered.
Well, France was in the salad days of Napoleon III, French culture and military might were thrivingly expansionist. Romania was, after all, a Romance language country. Romanians tended to be very partial to France. Some Romanian bigwigs consulted with Napoleon III, who recommended a buddy of his, Karl, prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Representations to the prince were favorably received, and in 1866 the prince arrived in Romania, intriguingly travelling incognito across Austria, where he was for the moment persona non grata.
The legislature immediately passed a constitution that declared Karl to be dominitor (prince) Carol. Liberal economic and political arrangements were meant to foster development along the lines of contemporary western European nations. The document did not mention any relationship with the Ottoman empire, still the technical suzerain.
A very complicated 11 years ensued in the Balkans. The essential focus of Russia and the Western powers was the shape of what would eventually become Bulgaria, Serbia. Montenegro, Bosnia, and so forth. The culmination of all of the pot stirring was yet another Russo-Turkish war. The outcome of the war was the independence of all of those southern Slav countries.
What that has to do with Romania is that prince Carol allowed transit of Russian troops through his territory. For this he had some of his towns shelled by the Ottomans. The war ended in 1877 with a substantial Russian victory. There was a peace conference in which the western powers whittled away at the Russian positions, and there were new independent states. Romania was one of those.
Carol was intensely patriotic about his adopted country. He felt that national prestige required a king rather than a mere prince. In 1881 he obtained international recognition of Romania as a kingdom and went on to reign in peace until 1914.
OK, there are coins of the reign of Carol. There is a first series of coppers only dated 1867 - 1, 2, 5 and 10 bani, struck at Heaton and Birmingham. The coins are not hard to find. When the Heaton Mint cleaned out its vaults not too many years ago, some quantity of uncirculated coins came on the market. Very high quality pieces were available, some of them perhaps could be proofs. Now I know that proof is supposed to be a striking method rather than a grade, but there are gray areas. I've seen utter gems of these coins, but I'm not sure that any of them were proofs.
The next coin was the extremely rare gold 20 lei of 1868. The module was French. Mintage 200 - presentation I imagine.
Then came the silver 1870 1 leu. There are two mintmark possibilities: B and C. Both are of the new Bucharest mint and are hard to find. The KM plate specimen is circulated. I did not find any for sale on the Web. I've never seen one. There is a companion gold 20 lei. It is extremely rare and expensive.
A silver 2 lei was inaugurated in 1872, with a 50 bani and 1 leu following in 1873. All three denominations were fitfully issued through 1876. The types turn up infrequently, usually in lower grades.
If there is a pattern to the issue of Romanian coins before World War I, it is the lack of a pattern. One year a few denominations, then nothing for a few years, then some others. Never a full denomination set. I am forced to imagine that a lot of the money on the street was not Romanian. Foreign money was the norm in Romania for centuries. What was it? French? Turkish? Austrian?
Speaking of Austria, we should keep in mind that this particular kingdom of Romania did not include Transylvania, which was Austrian territory.
A copper 2 bani came in 1879, and the type repeated in 1880 and 1881. These can be found. Carol is proclaimed as domnul (prince). There was a domnul 5 lei in 1880. It is not difficult to find in circulated grades. The 50 bani and 1, 2 and 5 lei of 1881 also can be found.
Carol reigned as king from late 1881. There are 2 "Rege" types of the 1881 5 lei. Neither are very hard to find. More miscellaneous denominations were fitfully issued until 1901. Theoretically it is possible to collect most of these coins, except, I suppose, for the odd presentation 1 ban coins of 1883 and 1888. In this period, the only potentially reasonably priced Romanian gold coin that was issued was the 20 lei of 1883 and 1890. But these coins are objects of fierce desire amongst the new Romanian middle class collectors, so good luck finding them and prepare to pay a lot more than the catalog. There's one for sale online on the first page of Google search: MS-63 raw for $499. Catalog is $360. I guess that's not too bad.
The seller also has an 1870 20 lei, finest known, for $12,499 as well as other Romanian gold. Nice stuff. View it at www.piecesdor.com/2.html.
The copper-nickel coins of 1900 are fairly common for Romanian coins, in low grade of course. But they don't turn up in the high class poundage. They're not like British halfpennies. They are rare in uncirculated. A design change came in 1905. Now they have a hole in the middle. These turn up in uncirculated from time to time.
In 1906 they put out a 40th anniversary set in silver and gold. Quite spectacular - gold 100 francs, I mean lei, exotic denominations like 12-1/2 and 25 lei. The bold designs are rather sought after of late in some circles.
Carol was getting old. There was one last series of silver in 1910-1914. The lady on the reverse is kind of like the contemporary French Semeuse. I've seen a number of circulated 1 and 2 lei pass through the inventory recently, the occasional AU or uncirculated. The 50 bani seem to have been a bit more scarce.
When World War I broke out Carol, the German noble, relative of the kaiser, wanted to ally with Germany of course, but the Romanians wanted to go with the Allies because the Allies included France. A political crisis developed, culminating with king Carol's death from natural causes. It was too much for him.
Carol had no children. The nearest heir was a nephew, Ferdinand, who was married to an English lady. Therefore, he was partial to the Allies. Political crisis evaporated. Romania eventually fought with the Allies and through serious vicissitudes ended up with Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina, where a lot of Romanians had for several generations lived blighted lives.
The enlarged "Greater Romania" of the interwar years was initially a liberal constitutional monarchy but suffered from the fascist disease that infected Europe at the time. It became a dictatorship in the late 1930s.
Coins of the interwar period start with the aluminum 25 and 50 bani of 1921, They have recently been available in uncirculated. They were the first coins since 1914. Then came the 1 and 2 lei of 1924. They are common coins.
King Ferdinand died in 1927. His son, Carol, was not suitable due to his playboy lifestyle, so Carol's five year old son Mihai was made king under a regency council. This arrangement lasted until 1930, when at the behest of a parliament dissatisfied with the absence of progress under the regency, Carol returned from his pleasant exile to become king.
Mihai child coins were made in 1930 only. They are 5 and 20 lei in nickel-brass and were struck at foreign mints. They turn up occasionally in grades up to uncirculated. They clearly show the onset of inflation in Romania, as indeed everywhere else in Europe at the time.
Carol had spent his life before coronation fooling around with women. As king he fooled around with politics, a pastime he was constitutionally not supposed to do. There were organized extremist parties running around in Romania, fighting with each other, intimidating ordinary people, promising salvation through violence. Carol played them off against each other and rode the turbulence to a hand-picked ministerial council and a new constitution in 1938 that gave him personal powers - not quite absolute, but almost.
At the start of World War II, Romania found itself surrounded by enemies and forced by circumstances to submit to the loss of territories to those hostile neighbors. Having demonstrated fundamental incompetence when the chips were down, Carol was forced by a pro-German government to abdicate in favor of the now 18-year-old Mihai.
The Carol II coins start with base metal 10 and 20 lei coins dated 1930 from various foreign mints. They are not hard to find in nice circulated but are difficult in uncirculated. The silver 100 lei of 1932 are less common and hard to find in uncirculated. The nickel 100 lei of 1936 and 1938 are easier. The 50 lei, with that funny plumed helmet he liked to wear, are the most common coins of this period, but not by much. A silver 250 lei of 1935 is a bit difficult, a different type of 1939 and 1940 less so, and yet another type of 1940 is extremely rare. The final Carol issue was the 1 leu of 1938-1941. It is not as rare as a type but not easy in uncirculated.
With the return of Mihai the constitution was suspended, parliament dissolved and a dictatorship ruled until 1944. Mihai was a figurehead. Romania became a formal ally of Germany and its chief supplier of oil.
War coins include zinc 2, 5, 10 and 20 lei. All are somewhat difficult and quite so in uncirculated. The silver 250 and 500 lei of 1941 and the 200 lei of 1942 are fairly common in grades up to AU.
In late 1944 it became obvious that Germany was going to lose. Mihai and others organized a coup against the fascist dictator and joined the Allies. This did not prevent the invasion and occupation of the country by the Soviets. Romania was forced to sign an armistice dictated by the USSR. Essentially all government functions were to be run by the Russians. A Communist led government was imposed, but the king refused to cooperate with it.
The coins of this final royal period were a brass 200 and 500 lei of 1945, aluminum 500 lei, brass 2000 lei, silver 25,000 and 100,000 lei of 1946 and brass 10,000 lei of 1947. All are easily obtainable in grades up to uncirculated.
In mid-1947 a 20,000 to 1 currency reform was enacted without warning and with limited convertibility. It was designed to strip money from anyone who happened to have any. A short set of coins was issued. These can be found but are somewhat difficult in uncirculated.
At the end of 1947 Mihai was forced to abdicate and a communist People's Republic was established. Romania remained under Soviet occupation until 1958 and was forced to make rather onerous reparations to the USSR.
A new set of coins started in 1948, continuing in the spotty Romanian tradition through 1952. However, the scarce 1 and 2 lei coins of that year were bureaucratic mistakes since another currency reform was imposed in January. These coins are not so easy to find and are a bit expensive in uncirculated. This new currency reform had a complicated conversion scheme and was applied again without notice and with limited convertibility. In the new system, essentially everyone had no money at all.
The People's Republic endured until 1966. In 1958 the end of occupation was negotiated and Soviet troops left. Nicolae Ceausescu rose through the ranks and became head of the Romanian Worker's Party in 1965.
Pretty much all of the coins of the People's Republic are available. I found most of them in various places through a Google search online. Prices for the better coins in uncirculated ranged from 150 percent to more than 500 percent of Standard Catalog of World Coins quotes. The rare and expensive 1954 3 bani was not found.
In 1966 the People's Republic was renamed a Socialist Republic and Ceausescu proceeded to consolidate and conduct a personal dictatorship for the next 23 years. The economy languished and shrank. A few coins were issued for circulation. It is no problem to obtain most of them. A set of 1982-1983 Franklin Mint bagatelles in gold and silver commemorating ancient Dacia are hard to find. However, as I write this, the silver ones are on offer at eBay and prices are getting up toward the catalog values.
In a great display of socialist irony, all of the Soviet style governments fell apart between 1988 and 1991 due entirely to their internal contradictions and were replaced with new regimes. Romania fell hard. Ceausescu, it seems, had become a psycho along the lines of Kim Il Sung, Mugabe, etc. These guys build a dream and then they live in it, while around them everything falls apart as the energy of the country feeds that dream. In Romania there was fighting, and the dictator was captured and killed.
The post-communist governments have had a hard time getting their acts together. Life has been hard (what's new about that in this region?), with lots of graft, corruption and problems with elections. Notwithstanding all that, Romania has become a member of the European Union and NATO. For me, a tangible sign that a nation has attained a certain level of stability is if I can ship merchandise and it gets there. In recent years I have had parcels delivered in Romania. Maybe things are looking up.
The coinage of the new republic has a few points of interest for me. There is that currency reform of 2005. I always find currency reforms intriguing. Usually they are a way to deplete people's savings, but sometimes they are just matters of convenience: drop a few zeros, save a few seconds for everyone. The difference is in the changeover period. If it is a limited period of time, it is a destruction of assets. If it is long or open, it is beneficent. This particular reform was unlimited, therefore "good." The new leu appreciated on the world currency market. Coincidence? Probably.
The circulation coin types have been relatively easy to find, some turning up in poundage. They've been issuing commemoratives in base metals, silver and gold, and my experience is that they are not that easy to find.
That about does it for the ordinary Romanian coins. There are those "special" gold coins of 1922-1944. Generically termed "galbeni," which means "yellow," they were made for fundraising mostly and were not expected to circulate. Some of them have high mintages though and are fairly common. Take that 1944 20 lei, a year that had a circulating 100 lei made of nickel plated steel. A million of them were made. I saw several of them for sale on the Web, and they were priced not that much over bullion.
The new republic has continued the issue of quasi-coins. In the Unusual World Coins book, you see these things in various metals, very low mintages and cheap prices, relatively speaking. But I can't say I've ever seen any of them. They have taken to making lots of piedforts, still looking to France for inspiration and guidance. Look too at the list of patterns in SCWC. They made them from before the formation of the state and kept on making them through the darkest days of communism. A Google search revealed a few that had been offered in the past few years. I've never seen any myself.
OK, that's Romania. Next month we will dive into a very deep pool. Russia.
Please get in touch with comments, corrections, information or pictures for upcoming articles. My address: P.O. Box 26303, Raleigh, NC 27611; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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