World Coins

Hungary celebrates King Matthias year

The Hungarian Mint is celebrating the King Matthias Memorial Year, a set of interconnected celebrations honoring the anniversaries of the birth and ascension of King Matthias I, with two commemorative coins.

The coins, a .925 fine silver 20,000-forint piece and a copper-nickel 2,000-forint coin, portray artifacts associated with his life, including most prominently depictions of coins from his reign. This “coin within a coin” motif makes explicit Matthias’ impact on the numismatic history of Hungary.

December 2018 Coin WorldInside Coin World: Celebrating Christmas numismatically: The December issue of Coin World features several features with a Christmas theme and a look at paper money depicting people you might not recognize.

Matthias Corvinus ruled Hungary and Croatia between 1458 and 1590. Corvinus’ father, John Hunyadi, was a successful general whose statesmanship and military prowess defending central European frontiers from Ottoman incursions earned him renown among the lesser nobility of Southeastern Europe, culminating in his ascension to the role of regent-governor of the Kingdom of Hungary. Perhaps because of this influence, after Hunyadi’s death in 1456, Corvinus was imprisoned by Ladislaus V, also known as Ladislaus the Posthumous, who was vying for power in Hungary. Corvinus was released the next year. His uncle and Juan Caravajal, a prominent Catholic bishop and admirer of John Hunyadi, lobbied successfully for his placement on the throne, and he was installed in 1458. Consensus among the nobles on his fitness for the kingship led to his reputation as the first “elected king” of Hungary.

His rule saw successful military campaigns that expanded Hungary’s influence and power into Austria, Moravia, Silesia, Luasitz, and parts of Bohemia. He also reformed the tax code and the administration of justice, established a professional army for Hungary, and made efforts to include and promote people in the royal bureaucracy based on merit, in addition to reducing the power of Hungarian and central/eastern European barons. His more meritocratic impulses also helped to contribute to his image as a democratic king. Folktales describe Corvinus as “Matthias the Just,” and many tell stories of Corvinus disguising himself to wander among his “common” subjects. 

Not all of Corvinus’ policies were popular; his levying of extraordinary taxes in fact precipitated a Transylvanian rebellion in 1467. Nonetheless, Matthias Corvinus enjoys a vaunted status in Hungarian history, and with the 575th anniversary of his birth and the 560th anniversary of his coronation, the Hungarian government is commemorating his life. The 2,000- and 20,000-forint coins minted in 2018 are a part of that effort. 

For both coins, the obverse features a half-length portrait of “Matthias the Just” based on a relief of him in Bautzen, Germany. He appears in royal regalia, holding a scepter in his right hand and an orb in his left, a more accurate depiction, according to the Hungarian Mint, than many more commonly seen depictions of the elected king. 

Beneath the portrait, an elaborate entwined carving provides the setting for two cherubs who support the king’s coat of arms with its central crow motif, a symbol of science and education, a nod to the king’s reforms and emphasis on education and scientific exploration.

The reverse of the coins features a Gothic-style helmet and armor in the center of the lower part of the coin, referencing Corvinus’ military successes and innovations in military organization. The king’s signature appears above the armor; Corvinus was the first Hungarian ruler whose signature survives on documents. 

Perhaps the most numismatically interesting feature of both the commemorative 2,000- and 20,000-forint coins is the gold florin design that occupies the top of the reverse, above the signature. On it is an image of the Madonna and Child that would become an iconic motif on coins from Hungary and other nations for centuries, first featured on gold florins during Corvinus’ reign. The coin image alludes to the monetary reforms that Corvinus enacted during his reign, and the “coin within a coin” motif represents the continuity of the Hungarian numismatic tradition. 

Beneath the Madonna portrait, at the bottom-left side of the florin coin image, is the crow from Corvinus’ coat of arms. 

To the left of the florin are three dates, 1443, 1458, and 1490, the years that Corvinus was born, ascended to the throne, and died, respectively. To the right of the florin is the current date, 2018, and the Hungarian Mint’s Mint mark, and a repetition of the crow image. 

Both coins are 52.5 millimeters in diameter, making them Hungary’s largest-ever coins. The .925 fine silver proof 20,000-forint coin weighs 77.76 grams, and can be purchased for $99.75, while the copper-nickel Uncirculated 2,000-forint coin weighs 76.5 grams and is priced at $19.75. In total, 5,000 of each example will be minted and will be available beginning Nov. 17. 

An interested collector can contact the Hungarian Mint’s North American representative at P.O. Box 399, Williston, VT 05495. Shipping and handling for U.S. customers costs $5.75, and Vermont residents are charged a 6 percent sales tax. 

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