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Wednesday, 1 June 2016

314) 100 Years at Prague: Igor’s Story (Part I): Historical changes at Prague in the 20th Century illustrated through Coins and Stamps:

314) 100 Years at Prague: Igor’s Story (Part I): Historical changes at Prague in the 20th Century illustrated through Coins and Stamps:
“Ahoj”, I am Igor.  I was born in 1914 in a small town on the outskirts of “Praha” (One may call it “Prague” in English)... I turned 102 years old this year...

Since I was a kid, I used to keep aside some coins that I found in circulation or stamps that I found affixed on the letters... Alas... of late, I no longer see any letters with stamps, with email and mobile phone having taken over most of the communication... coins are also going down the same route... and they may become fossilized specimens in the near future... Anyway, in this story spanning my life time, I have used some examples from my collection to illustrate the changes in the political, economic and social landscape…  Coins and Stamps, being official instruments, reflect to a large degree such aspects.   I also have some maps to help illustrate this journey...  Without further ado, let me begin.--

Prague in 1914 – 1919:

  •     Capital of the State of Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire
  •      Government – Constitutional Monarchy
  •     Emperor -  Francis Joseph I (1867–1916)  followed by Charles I & IV (1916–1918)
  •     Currency - Austro-Hungarian Krone, sub-unit Heller (German), Filler (Hungarian) 
  •  - Historically, from the 15th Century onwards, the kingdom had increasingly come under German domination until in 1526, the throne was claimed by the Archduke of Austria. Thereafter, the Hapsburgs ruled until 1918 and the latter coinage followed that of Austria and Hungary. The Prague Mint produced coins for the Hapsburg Empire, including the famous Maria Theresia Thaler of 1780.

  • -      The Austro-Hungarian coins were minted with different designs in Austria and Hungary but had similar shape, size and composition.  Prague, being on the Austrian side primarily saw the circulation of the Austrian variety of coins minted at Prague and Vienna, in denominations of 1, 2, 10 and 20 Heller; 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 100 Corona.

-      The Austrian Heller coins depicted the Austrian Coat of Arms, while the Corona coins depicted a bust of the King/Emperor.  The Austrian Coat of Arms depicted a double headed eagle with the crown.

-      The Hungarian coins, on the other hand, were minted in the mint of Kremnica, (now in Slovakia) in denominations of 1, 2, 10 and 20 Filler; 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 100 Korona.

Map showing Prague as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1900 until the start of the World War I with a stamp and coin, both worth 10 Heller in use during this period

Detailed image of the Austro-Hungarian 10 Heller stamp depicting the Austrian Crown.  This stamp was issued in between 1916-1918.  The 10 Heller coin (1895) depicts the Austrian Coat of Arms on the obverse

       The Austrian Empire Coat of Arms and Royal Crown

Prague in 1920 – 1938:

  • Capital of the First Czechoslovak Republic 
  • Government – Parliamentary Republic
  • President -  Tomáš Masaryk (1918–1935) followed by Edvard Beneš (1935–1938)
  • Currency – First Czechoslovak Koruna

-      After the end of World War I and defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary, both monarchies were abolished and Czechoslovakia was created as a new Republic with its independence being proclaimed on October 28, 1918, by the Czechoslovak National Council in Prague. The Czech lands of the historic kingdom of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Ruthenia and part of Silesia, which had been a part of the Hapsburg dominions now reunited to form the new Republic, with Prague as its Capital.

-      In 1919, the new country had a new currency called the Czechoslovak Koruna introduced at par with the Austro-Hungarian Krone. The coinage introduced in 1921 was modeled on that of pre-war Austria and Hungary.

-       In 1921, coins were introduced in denominations of 20 and 50 haleru, followed by 10h and 1 koruna in 1922, 2 and 5h in 1923, 5 korun in 1925, 10 korun in 1930, and 25h and 20 korun in 1933. The 2h was struck in zinc, the 5 and 10h in bronze, and the 20, 25 and 50h and 1 koruna in cupro-nickel.
-      The 5 and 10 haleru coins depict the Charles Bridge at Prague while the 20, 50 haleru and the 1 Korona coins show agricultural motifs such as sheaf and sickle. The Reverses depicted the denominational numerals and quasi-symbolic motifs.

-      The Obverses of these coins depict the Czechoslovak Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms depicted a silver double tailed lion on a red background wearing a crown which primarily represented the Czech (Bohemian) legacy. Superimposed on the lion was the Slovak shield with a double cross standing on the middle peak of a dark blue mountain with three peaks.  The double cross is a symbol of its Christian faith and the hills represent three symbolic mountain ranges.

-      From 1923 to 1939, gold Ducats (called “Dukaty” in Czech) carried on a Hapsburg tradition.

-      In 1928, Commemorative silver coins were issued celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Republic.

Map showing Prague as capital of the First Czechoslovak Republic after World War 1 along with images of stamps worth 100 haleru (1923 featuring Agriculture and Science), 1 Koruna (1935 featuring President Masaryk) and a set of circulating coins – 5 haleru (1938), 10 haleru (1937), 20 haleru (1938), 50 haleru (1922) and 1 Koruna (1922 obverse depicting the Coat of Arms)

Montage showing the Charles Bridge at Prague; Coat of Arms of the First Czechoslovak Republic and the First President, Tomas G. Masaryk

Prague in 1938 – 1939:

  • Capital of the Second Czechoslovak Republic
  • Government – Parliamentary Republic
  • President -  Emil Hácha (1938 – 1939)
  • Currency – First Czechoslovak Koruna
-      The Second Republic was the result of the events following the Munich Agreement, where Czechoslovakia was forced to cede the German-populated Sudetenland region to the Third Reich on October 1, 1938, as well as southern parts of Slovakia and Sub Carpathian Ruthenia to Hungary.

-      Slovakia became a separate State and a fascist ally of Hitler. Carpatho-Ukraine was granted autonomy in March 1939 but was promptly seized by Hungary. At the end of the War, Ruthenia was briefly absorbed by the USSR (it is now a part of Ukraine).

-      On March 15, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded what was left of the Czech territories and proclaimed the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

The currency continued to remain same as the Czechoslovak Koruna.

Map showing Prague as capital of the Second Czechoslovak Republic before beginning of the Second World War depicting annexation of Sudetenland Region by Germany and ceding southern parts of Slovakia and Sub Carpathian Ruthenia to Hungary

Prague in 1939 – 1945:

  • Capital of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
  •  Government – Autonomous Protectorate of Germany
  • President -  Emil Hácha (1939 – 1945)
  • Currency – Bohemian and Moravian Koruna

-      The currency during this period was the Bohemian and Moravian Koruna which replaced the Czechoslovak Koruna at par.

-       Although the general appearance of the coins was similar to the Czech Series, the wartime issues of Bohemia and Moravia bore the names of the Protectorate in German and Czech.

-      In 1940, zinc 10, 20 and 50 haléřů coins were introduced, followed by zinc 1 koruna in 1941. The reverse designs were very similar to the earlier Czechoslovak coins while the obverses depicted the Bohemian and Moravian Coat of Arms.  This too was similar to the previous Czechoslovak Coat of Arms minus the Slovak shield in the centre.


Map showing Prague as capital of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during World War II along with images of coins worth 20 haleru (1941), 50 haleru (1941) and 1 Koruna (1943) and stamps worth 1 Koruna (1939 depicting the Prague Cathedral), 10 haleru, 30 haleru, 50 haleru and 60 haleru (all released between 1939 – 1941 depicting linden leaves and closed buds)

Prague in 1945 – 1948:

  •  Capital of the Third Czechoslovak Republic
  •  Government – Parliamentary Republic
  • President -  Edvard Benes (1945 – 1948)
  • Currency – Second Czechoslovak Koruna

-      The Third Republic came into being in May 1945, after the end of the Second World War. The new Republic amalgamated the territories of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and Slovakia during the war. However, it fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and this fact or fait accompli impacted the next 40 years of this country.

-      The pre-war Czechoslovak Koruna was re-established in 1945, replacing the two previous currencies at par.

-      Between 1946 and 1948, 20 and 50 haléřů and 1 and 2 koruny coins were introduced. The lower two denominations were struck in bronze, the higher two in cupro-nickel.

-      The issues included several silver coins, commemorating the risings in Slovakia and Prague (1947-48). The 600the Anniversary of the Charles University (1948) and the 30th anniversaries of Independence (1948).

-      The designs of all but the 2 koruny were based on those of the interwar coins but the coins were smaller and the Coat of Arms also reverted to the pre-war Czechoslovak design with the Bohemian lion and Slovak shield.

Coins of the second Czechoslovak Koruna – 20 haleru (1948), 50 haleru (1948), 1 Koruna (1946) and 2 Koruny (1947) and a stamp denominated for 4 Koruna (issued in 1946) depicting late President Masaryk

 Prague in 1948 – 1960:

  •  Capital of the Third Czechoslovak Republic   (The official name was changed only in 1960)
  • Government – Unitary People’s Republic (single party government)
  • President(s) -  Klement Gottwald (1948 – 1953), Antonín Zápotocký (1953 – 1957)
  • Currency – Second Czechoslovak Koruna (until 1953) followed by the Third Czechoslovak Koruna

-      In February 1948, the Communists seized power and Czechoslovakia subsequently became a People’s Republic and then a Socialist Republic (1962).

-      The economy worsened and the value of the currency also declined.  The coins of this period reflected this decline.

-      A second set of coins of the Second Czechoslovak Koruna was issued in 1950 consisting of aluminum 1 korun coins, followed by aluminum 20 and 50h in 1951.  Designs on the obverse and reverse were similar to the previous set of coins.

Coins of the second Czechoslovak Koruna (second set) – 20 haleru (1951), 50 haleru (1951), 1 Koruna (1952) and a stamp denominated for 3 Koruna (issued between 1948-49) depicting President Klement Gottwald

-      A particularly drastic Currency Reform was undertaken wef 1st June 1953. At that time, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia had to deal with the fact that there was a double market in the country: a fixed market ensuring basic food availability a remnant of the postwar quota system, and a free market, in which goods were as much as eight times more expensive but better quality.

-      The currency reform involved distribution/exchange of new banknotes printed in the Soviet Union. Citizens were allowed to change up to 1,500 old korunas for new korunas at an exchange rate of 5 old to 1 new koruna and the rest at an exchange rate of 50 to 1.

-       All insurance stock, state obligations and other commercial papers were nullified.

-      After the 1953 Currency Reform a new series of coins were introduced.

-      Coins were first issued in denominations of 1, 3, 5, 10, 25 haleru, all of aluminum.  While the obverse design continued to depict the country’s name as ‘Republika Ceskoslovensko’ (Czechoslovakia Republic) and no change was seen in the Coat of Arms, the reverse design was modified to show just the denomination as a large numeral between linden wreath and a prominent star (signs of communism) above it.

Coins of the third Czechoslovak Koruna (first set) – 1 haler (1960), 3 halere (1954), 5 haleru (1953) and 10 haleru (1954) and a stamps denominated for 3o haleru (1958, depicting President Antonín Novotný), 2 Koruna (1954, depicting a Paediatrician) and 30 haleru (1954, postage due stamp)

Prague in 1960 – 1990:

  • Capital of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
  • Government – Marxist-Leninist one-party state
  • President -  Antonín Novotný (1957 – 1968), Ludvík Svoboda (1968 – 1975),  and Gustáv Husák (1975 – 1989)
  • Currency –Third Czechoslovak Koruna

-      The currency continued to remain the Second Czechoslovak Koruna, however a new set of coins were issued with a different obverse design in line with the change in name of the country.

-      The strikes from 1961 onwards bore the new socialist-style Coat of Arms along with the inscription: "ČESKOSLOVENSKÁ SOCIALISTICKÁ REPUBLIKA". 3 and 5 korun coins were introduced in 1965 and 1966, respectively, with 20 h and 2 koruny coins added in 1972.

-      The new Coat of Arms was redesigned in the form of a shield intended to stand on the ground and protect foot soldiers, rather than the customary/usual knight's shield seen on other Arms. Above the Bohemian lion, the red star of Communism replaced the crown and the Arms of Slovakia, still carried by the lion was totally re-made, removing the cross in favor of the fire of partisans and the trimount was replaced with a naturalistic silhouette of the Tatra Mountains.  I personally called this the ‘caged lion’ coat of arms… as quite literally, the lion had been caged by communism.

Coins of the third Czechoslovak Koruna (second set) – 1 haler (1986), 5 haleru (1963), 10 haleru (1969), 25 haleru (1963), 50 haleru (1965), 1 Koruna (1990), 2 Koruny (1986) and 5 Korun (1967)

Prague in 1990 – 1992:

  •  Capital of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR)
  •  Government – Federal Parliamentary Republic
  •  President -  Václav Havel (1989 – 1992)
  •  Currency –Third Czechoslovak Koruna

-      November 17, 1989 is one of the landmark dates in modern Czech history when the state was, once again, independent – this time, free of Communist rule. The country now became the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR).

-      To mark this significant change, a new set of coins of the Third Czechoslovak Koruna were minted with the new Coat of Arms of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic (CSFR) on the obverseTraditional heraldry was reinstated and a new National Arms was designed, quartering the Arms of Bohemia and Slovakia. These Arms were valid until Czechoslovakia was dissolved on 01 Jan 1993.  Notice that the lion is back with the crown and not contained in any ‘cage’.   
                          Coat of Arms of the CSFR

Coins of the third Czechoslovak Koruna (third set) –  5 haleru (1991), 10 haleru (1992), 20 haleru (1991), 50 haleru (1992), 1 Koruna (1991), 2 Koruny (1991) and 5 Korun (1991)

-      Interestingly, the coins struck between 1948 to 1990 reflect the dichotomy between those in general circulation, which are mainly struck in Aluminium or Brass and the prolific issues of silver commemorative coins.

Prague between 1993 – Current:

  •     Capital of the Czech Republic
  •   Government –Parliamentary Constitutional Republic
  •    President -  Václav Klaus (1992 – 1998), Miloš Zeman (1998 – 2002)
  •      Currency –Czech Koruna

-      The Czech Koruna replaced the Czechoslovak Koruna when it was introduced in 1993 after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

-       In 1993, coins were introduced in denominations of 10, 20 and 50 haléřů (in Aluminium), 1, 2 and 5 Koruna czech- Kc in Nickel-plated Steel and 10, 20 and 50 Kc (in Copper or Brass plated Steel).

-      The obverses depicted the Czech Coat of Arms (Bohemian lion, similar to the Coat of Arms of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) while the reverses depicted numerals with the higher denominations having images, a feature that had been removed from coins since 1953.

-      The 5 Korun coin depicts the Charles Bridge (similar to the design on the 5, 10 haleru coins of the First Czechoslovak Republic), 10 Korun coin depicts the Brno Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, 20 Korun coin showcases the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas monument on Wenceslas Square.

-      The 50 Korun, which is a bimetallic coin, stood out for its beautiful design which depicts a panoramic view of Prague, the Mother of Towns. This bimetallic coin (with a plated Brass centre and a Copper-plated outer ring) is my personal favorite with a very beautiful design and this was the winner of the Coin Of The Year (COTY) award in 1995 for the Best Trade Coin.

-      This Coin series constitutes one of the most aesthetically pleasing coins series of modern times

-      In 2000, a special Commemorative issue of a 2000 Kc coin was issued in gold and silver with a holographic inlay to celebrate the Millennium.

Coins of the Czech Koruna  –   10 haleru (1998), 20 haleru (1994), 50 haleru (1993), 1 Koruna (2002), 2 Koruny (2001), 5 Korun (1994), 10 Korun (1993), 20 Korun (2004) and 50 Korun (2009)

            Prague as Capital of the Czech Republic in current day

       Post script:

      Thank you for reading Part I where I have illustrated the political upheavals at Prague and the changes in the circulating coins and stamps. Please do read Part II where I recount my experience through these years … and a more detailed account of the historical development, political systems and changes at Prague (Link: "100 Years at Prague: Igor's Story: (Part II)")

  Blog Administrator’s Note:  (The above article has been contributed as a Guest Post for this blog by Rahul Kumar, an avid Numismatist based in Hyderabad who has an interest in the historical development of coins across the World. Apart from a detailed study of the subject, Rahul has supplemented his write-up with illustrative images of coins, stamps and maps in his collection.

     In addition, Rahul has written several detailed articles on the subject of Numismatics. He has earlier contributed a popular post for this blog as a Guest Contributor, titled “The British Empire: A Case of Numismatic Segregation” which makes for a very interesting study/read on this subject for Numismatists and Coin Historians. This post can be accessed through the following link:

    In addition, Rahul has given very interesting inputs in my earlier post put up on this blog in May 2011 titled “Independent India issues: The evolution of the one-rupee coin , the steady building block of the Indian monetary system”, supplementing his inputs with interesting charts. This post can be accessed through the following link:

    He has also contributed an interesting post, titled "Managing Curremcy Transition", which can be accessed at the following link:

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