Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Financing a Revolution

Louis Kossuth (1802-1894) spent his life in politics, working for Hungarian independence. He participated in nationalist, liberal reform movements. Hungarian aristocrats formed a national diet in 1825; and Kossuth served as secretary to one of the ministers.  After the diet was dissolved, Kossuth published his own accounts of their sessions and eventually was arrested. 

 EGY FORINT  (One florin)
Central vignette in neo-classical style shows hero with sword and spear 
standing over slain monarch.  
Legend around on buckled leather belts: 
(For Freedom / For God / For Home ) 
Left vignette – Three Graces. 
Right vignette – goddess with pen, scroll resting on column; 
anvil, machinery on ground.
Signed lower right by Louis Kossuth 
in Hungarian, Kossuth Lajos: family name first)
At left exergue: Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co., Phila.
Legend in Hungarian in engraver’s script reads from left of central vignette 
and continues to right of center.

Ezem pénzjegy álladalmi es egy ezüst forint huszas gyanánt 
nevszerinti értéke által biztositatiki 
minden magyar közpenztar vagy is három 
elfolgadtatik’s teljes a közallomány

 "This note will be redeemed for one silver florin 
in sets of 20 
after three subscriptions have been paid into 
and been accepted by the Hungarian people’s treasury.”

The note has the fabric of other American "wildcat" banknotes of the era.  It is tissue-thin, yet tough, printed on one side only.  The firm Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co., is known for its banknotes and its US Government postage stamps. These notes were issued as 1- 2- and 5-Forint.  The fives are common.  My 1-forint is the only example that I have seen. I have never seen a 2.  You can find them all on eBay, including uncut sheets.  (I bought mine on a bourse floor from an ANA-member dealer.) They never circulated. They easily fit within the "cinderellas" of failed states.  They are not rare, only that some kinds are more commonly available.  As I understand the story, these were sold in America for dollars to raise money for the next revolution which never happened. 

After the failure of the 1848 revolutions, Louis Kossuth escaped via the Ottoman Empire to France. He then went to the UK before coming to the USA in December 1851.  Here he was treated like Lafayette, given parades, having towns named for him.  He met Abraham Lincoln in Springfield.  However, he fell into diplomatic embarrassments and returned to the UK ahead of more serious problems.  Speaking to a German-American club in favor of the election of Franklin Pierce in the 1852 election was a blunder. (See the XYZ Affair.)  Conspiring with American military officers to overthrow the government in Haiti was far beyond any limits. 

It was also typical of Kossuth.  In 1851, he was aboard an American ship, the USS Mississippi from Turkey, in France, when he insisted on speaking to a public gathering.  French president (not yet emperor) Louis Bonaparte forbade it. Kossuth spoke anyway, and in so doing violated the neutrality of his American hosts.  He was put off the Mississippi at Gibraltar

Louis Kossuth was an aristocrat and a Hungarian. He had no sympathies with those outside his class and few with the other ethnic groups within the Hungarian domain.  Other revolutionaries found him impossible to work with.  On the plus side, during his imprisonment 1837-1840 he taught himself English by reading Shakespeare.  When he visited the UK in 1851, even his political enemies were impressed with his speeches.

He is considered a national hero.  Only King Stephen ranks higher.  Kossuth has been honored on several series of coins and notes since Hungary’s complete independence from Austria following World War One. 

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