Paper Money

Polish central bank honors Copernicus with commemorative note

Narodowy Bank Polski will issue on Feb. 9 a commemorative polymer 20-zloty bank note marking the 550th anniversary of the birth of astronomer and economist Nicolaus Copernicus on Feb. 19, 1473.

Images courtesy of the Narodowy Bank Polski.

Narodowy Bank Polski, Poland’s central bank, will issue on Feb. 9 a commemorative polymer 20-zloty bank note celebrating the 550th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus on Feb. 19, 1473. It will have an issue limit of 100,000 pieces.

Although he is known to the world primarily as the astronomer who proposed the then-radical idea that the earth and the other planets revolved around the sun, the bank note is part of its “Great Polish Economists” series. This is because Copernicus studied economics too. His Wikipedia entry characterizes him as also a physician, classics scholar, translator, governor, and diplomat. He was, additionally, a painter and a canon of the church.

The face of the new predominantly blue note (which is the equivalent of about $4.83) has a large bust of Copernicus, while the back features four medieval Polish coins. The portrait is the same as on the communist era 1,000-zloty note issued from 1975 to 1996. The solar system is featured in a see-through window.

The explanation for the appearance of the coins is simple. Sometime before April 1526, Copernicus wrote Monete cudende ratio (Essay on the Coinage of Money), a finalization of a paper he first wrote in 1517. Leszek Zygner of Nicolaus Copernicus University offers a description of this important work, which postulated that the debasement of money is one of the main reasons for the fall of a state.

Copernicus, Zygner says, was the first to explain that the value of money decreased because of the mixing of copper into gold and silver during the minting process. He also presented a detailed analysis of the debasement process in relation to the coinage of Prussia, the controlling power at the time.

He presented six points: There should be only one mint for the entire country. The old coinage should be withdrawn immediately when putting new currency into circulation. Twenty 20-groshen coins should be made of one pound of pure silver, creating equality between Prussian and Polish coinage. Coins should not be issued in large quantities. All types of new coins should be put into circulation at the same time.

The value of a coin to Copernicus was established by its metal content. Its face value should be equal to the value of the metal it was made of. He said that when debased money was introduced while the old better money remained in circulation, the bad would drive the good out of circulation. This has become familiar today as Gresham’s, or Copernicus-Gresham’s Law.

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