Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Numismatic History of Hungary

Nagyszüleim magyarok voltak. My grandparents were Hungarians. Actually, the empire being what it was, my grandmother's father was Croatian. Her maiden name was Kovanics (originally Covanic). My grandfather's passport to America said that he was "German-Hungarian." But I know nothing else about that. Growing up, English was the official language of the house. But you get some relatives together and someone says, "Please" and someone else says, "Thank you" and then "You're welcome." And everyone is speaking Hungarian... except the in-laws... and it goes back into English. (And we never hung out with the Marotta side of the family because they never got over the divorce.) 

Kálmán (Coloman) the Learned (b 1070 r. 1095-1116). The historians are mixed in the evaluation of Kálmán’s reign. Generally, they are favorable. His emphasis on learning and education easily stemmed from his own physical handicaps. He survived and ascended the crown on the basis of his wits, not his strength.  1 denar (Huszar 37)

Louis I of Anjou (b 1326 r 1342-1384). …  he also confirmed the liberties of the Hungarian nobility at the Diet of 1351, emphasizing the equal status of all noblemen. At the same Diet, he …confirmed the right to free movement for all peasants.
The Saracen’s head on the obverse is supposedly a pun on the name of courtier Count Szerecsen. However, the etymology of the family name likely points back to “Moors” from Constantinople.

Maximilian II (1527-1576 r 1562-1576) “Though a Habsburg and a Catholic, he approached the Lutheran Imperial estates with a view to overcome the denominational schism,… He also was faced with the ongoing Ottoman–Habsburg wars and rising conflicts with his Habsburg Spain cousins… Maximilian failed to achieve his three major aims: rationalizing the government structure, unifying Christianity, and evicting the Turks from Hungary…,_Holy_Roman_Emperor
1 denier 0.52 grams 15.8mm 1568 Kremnitz 

Malcontents Revolt 
1, 10, and 20 Poltura.  The 1 is struck as expected. The 10 and 20 were rolled.  
1 Obv Mary with Sword and Christ Child HVGARIAE PATRONA. Rev Coat of Arms POLTURA 1706. 10- and 20-poltura PRO LIBERTATE (date) Coat of Arms. The Malcontents were Hungarian nobles who sought to re-establish themselves after the Turks were pushed out of Hungary by the Hapsburg armies. Their leader was Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi. The “Rákóczi March” is best known from its use in Hector Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust(1846). It may date only to 1730, but always has been identified with Hungarian nationalism, especially in resistance to the Hapsburgs. 

1848 Revolution
“When France sneezes, Europe catches cold.” Liberal, nationalist revolts broke out across Europe, the political expression of Romanticism that was typified by the music of Chopin and Liszt, and paintings of Eugene Delecroix, iconically, Liberty Leading the People(1830). 
Left (six kreutzer; billon silver; .220 fine Craig 67)
VALTO PENZ (“draft money”) 6 Coat of Arms K MAGYAR KIRALYI (of the Hungarian king).
Right (20 Kreutzer silver Craig 69)
Obv: V FERD MAGY H T ORSZ KIRÁLYA ERD N FEJED (Ferdinand V, Hungarian, Croatian (Hrvetska) and Slavic (Toth) Countries King [and of] Transylvania (Erdély) Grand Prince.
Rev:MAGY.OR.VÉDŐJE 1848 SZ.MÁRIA IST. ANNYA (Hungary’s national protector 1848 Saint Mary God’s Mother) (These two legends and translations from
Ferdinand V actually abdicated in 1848, giving the crown to Franz Josef. As with other revolts, for example Texas against Mexico, the first claim was for a prior constitutional legitimacy. 

The Hapsburg Dual Monarchy. 
Following the collapse of the 1848 Revolution, continued pressure for reform won the Hungarians special status in a sham dual monarchy in which their “king” was the crown prince of Austria. As Austria moved into the modern world of steam engines and indoor plumbing, the currency was reformed in 1892 from the Florin-Kreutzer (forint-krajczár) silver-copper to corona-heller (korona-filler; filler from German “vierer” = “fourer” or 4-penny groschen). 

Left top left : obverse Ferenc Joszef I (Imperial Kaiser of Austria Czechs Transylvania Hungary Croatia Serbia Dalmatia Apostolic King) Right top left reverse Hungarian Kingdom 1879. 
Left top Right: 4 Kreuzer coat of arms.
Left bottom Left: 1 korona on Latin Monetary system; about 20 cents US.
Left bottom right: MAGYAR KIRALYI VALTOPENZ (Hungarian royal draft money, i.e., base metal nickel token like a US 5-cent, nickel two of which get you a silver dime; in this case 100 copper filler to the silver korona ).
Right bottom right: 10 filler.

The Twentieth Century: Fascism... Communism...
Left MAGYAR KIRALYSAG (Hungarian Kingdom. Actually a fascist "regency" holding place for a missing king). 1 Pengö The word "pengö" while loosely derived perhaps from "pfennig" is an onomatopoeia for "bingle" meaning that it rang like silver versus collapsing like paper. This coin was 0.640 fine, 0.1029 troy oz actual silver weight.

Not that the Reds do not appreciate expediency. Center: Kossuth Lajos obverse; national coat of arms reverse. 5 Forint 1947 .1929 troy oz net silver as 12 grams 0.500 fine. (The coins of 1946 were 20 grams 0.835 fine Latin Monetary Standard but communism is expensive.) "MAGYAR KÖZTÁRSASÁG" (Hungarian Republic. But you need to understand the root word 
KÖZ as in  "community" and "collective" and from there to "village" and thence "public" things.

Far right. Commorative for Sándor Csoma de Kőrös who taught himself philology and then walked to Tibet in search of the ancestral home of the Hungarians. It was not there... but he did write the first western dictionary and grammar of the Tibetan language while in the employ of the British consulate. Reverse legend is 
MAGYAR NEPKÖZTÁRSASÁG (Hungarian People's Republic.)

When first issued in 1914, it was worth 50 korona, about $10 US.

They lost the war, but could have won the peace. 
It was just that fascism got in the way.
 10 Pengö 1936

 Inflation after World War II. Tied to Germany by ideology, Hungary killed her Jews and Gypsies and sent her soldiers to the Eastern Front. When she signed a separate peace with the USSR in 1945 to forestall a Russian occupation, Germany invaded Hungary and finished the job. Assuming that you can always make soup from the bones that were picked clean, the Russians moved in. One Billion... One Billion Millions... and 100, 000 New Billions. Gotta give the engraver credit for working through hard times.

10 Forint 1969. Face: Sándor Petőfi, national poet, revolutionary from 1848. Ironic on many levels as he likely died in Russia, captured after the Battle of Segesvar, when the Russians came to the aid of the Austrian monarchy.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Intuition is underappreciated. We like reams of repeatable data and validated statistics. As important as those are, they are perhaps less than half of the cognitive processing that we bring to problem solving. Of course, intuition is developed over time by experience that is informed by reason and tested by measurement. However, for the expert, whether a museum curator attributing an archaic statue or Marine Corps general repelling an invasion, intuition brings success. 

We all use it every day, especially when reading each other’s faces. Gladwell calls that “mind reading” because your face reveals your feelings—even if you try to hide them. It is “mind reading” also because making the face of an emotion triggers the same processes in the mind that external events would cause.
Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell,
Little, Brown and Co., 2005

Intuition also fails when it is under-informed. The classic “Pepsi Challenge” of the 1970s and 80s supposedly demonstrated that in a blind taste test, most people prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke. And they did. But we do not drink beverages in single sips with blindfolds on. More to the point, the very average consumers had no training in tasting. Gladwell introduces us to the world of professional tasters. Through long training, they develop vocabularies and sets of measures that are integrated into their percepts. They become deeply knowledgeable about food. For them, Oreos have ninety attributes of appearance, flavor, and texture. On a scale of 1 to 15, how slippery is your mayonnaise?

But experts can be wrong if their expertise is derived from the wrong measures. Professional audiences were unenthused with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family.  Gladwell advocates for a musician named Kenna.  (You can find him on YouTube, of course.) Kenna can’t get air time. But people who know music want his. He burst into the nightclub scene, shot his own videos, and was pursued by producers. But his music does not fit the radio genres. I listened to half a dozen on YouTube, all very good and all over the map musically.

Intuition is not omnipotent. It will not overcome physical barriers of time and space. That is what leads to the continuing string of tragedies where the police over-react and kill an unarmed person who is not threatening them. Their intuition is destroyed by the high-speed chase, the words and actions of other officers. Alone, forcing themselves to stop, they perceive the small slices that say “this man is not dangerous.” In those cases of wrongful harm, the police more closely resemble the functional autistic who is more interested in a light switch than a face. They have shut down parts of their brain thus denying intuition the opportunity to inform.

Malcolm Gladwell is a very popular writer. I only found out about his works recently while re-watching episodes of NUMB3RS. His name and his book, Tipping Point, are dropped in the Season 1 story, “Sniper Zero.” He is clear, concise, conversational, and insightful. He is a synthesizer, drawing together different stories to create a new narrative.

That brings a caveat. The presentation is not rigorous. Cook County Hospital in Chicago treats hundreds to thousands of people each day, most of them indigent and therefore without good medical support. A common problem is the man complaining of a heart attack. It must be taken seriously, but often is not an infarction. Sorting them out takes resources and erring on the side of caution requires even more bed space (and expense). Dr. Brendan Reilly began creating a database of case histories to serve a guideline in diagnosis. Reilly based his work on a previous effort by Dr. Lee Goldman who developed a mathematical model for cardiac symptoms. But Reilly met resistance, of course, from the ER staff cardiologists who did not want to surrender their expertise to an algorithm. Says Gladwell, "The algorithm doesn't feel right." But is that not the point of the book? Why would their intuition be less authoritative? This is likely just a simple misstatement. But I take it as a signal that Gladwell is offering us an array of interesting facts united by a thematic hypothesis. 

On the upside, Gladwell takes a mechanistic approach to solving the problems of social discrimination. He tells of how women finally made it into the major symphony orchestras when blind auditions became standard practice. From another source entirely I learned that India uses this to preclude geographic, ethnic, and religious bigotry from interfering with university placement. Examinations are anonymized. This week, I will again be a judge in the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival. I think that the suggestion has merit but I am not sure how to implement it in our case.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

World War II Sweetheart Dance (2019)

We had a great time at the Texas Military Forces Museum Valentine’s dance. This year, we prepared by taking dancing lessons. I signed us up for membership and four Thursday nights of foxtrot with Austin Ballroom Dancing, a social club organized as a not-for-profit. In addition, we attended their open dances on alternate Saturday nights and also accepted an invitation to dance to a live band at a City of Austin senior center on Friday nights. It all helped. 

The evening was in 1940s style, with the Sentimental Journey Orchestra playing the music of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and others. They were fronted by The Memphis Belles trio. About a third of the 150 attendees were dressed in era style. The event included a silent auction and a “Heads or Tails” contest to win a ride in a tank and fire a howitzer at the next reenactment.  

America’s entry into World War II shifted our culture. By the end of the war, nearly a tenth (8.7%) of the total population was in the military. And that does not count those in the Red Cross, USO, and other support groups. 

World War II was brewing long before the UK and France declared war on Germany in response to the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. The Fortified Forties followed the Thrifty Thirties. The worldwide economic downturn created an easy podium for demagogues of the left and right. Both sides declared that capitalism was dead. 

Leaders were everywhere. We all know the easy names: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco. Other dictatorships ruled in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece, Portugal, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Turkey was a one-party state especially tied to modernization and liberalization away from traditional Islamic culture. France proved that for them democracy was a failed experiment. In practice the French were embarrassingly cooperative with the Nazis until the success of D-Day made everyone a lifetime member of the underground. Adolph Hitler does not appear Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but Benito Hoover does, along with Mustafa Mond, Polly Trotsky, Lenina Crowne, and Bernard Marx. (For background on Huxley’s choices of character names based on Alfred Mond, Mustafa Atatürk, and others, see, for example, Shmoop here.) The future was collective. And the fact is that collectivism brings war. 

America gave the President a third term and the New Deal attempted broad government initiatives. However, American cultural traditions of individualism, self-assertion, private enterprise, and rule of law within a constitutional framework that promised both majority rule and individual rights were the stable foundation that withstood the shocks of war. (The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter is reviewed here.)

That political tradition was necessarily accompanied by culture of innovation. The inventions of the 19thcentury easily led to utopian predictions of material progress and prosperity. However, ultimately, the American Century was defined by innovations in entertainment. Life has meaning when we have the liberty to pursue happiness. Winning World War II on the basis of our industrial capacity was necessary but not sufficient. Our cinema and music conquered the world. There was a war on, but the music was swing. Gershwin defeated Wagner.


Sunday, February 3, 2019


Coins were invented about 600 BCE, about 3000 years after money (as we understand it) was invented. Within three generations, by 500 BCE, coins had acquired most of the attributes that associate with them today. Perhaps first among them, both in time and importance, was carrying a message. As signifiers or semata, coins paralleled the ascendance of writing over speech to extend the width and depth of communication. 

During World War II, Canada included a patriotic message on its 5-cent coins: We win when we work willingly. The slogan was in Morse code, flush along the rim of the reverse. While not obvious, neither was it intended to be secret. Rather, the message was an element of the propaganda effort. Another wartime effort was Canada’s use of tombac, an 88-12 alloy of copper and zinc to replace nickel on the 5-cent coins of 1942 and 1943.
dots and dashes represent Morse Code
In the United States, the 5-cent nickel became one-third (35%) silver from 1942 to 1945. The story was that we needed the nickel for armor plate. In truth, we got our nickel from Sudbury, Ontario, and it was plentiful. The new nickels had a large Mintmark over Monticello on the reverse.  The fractional coinage (“small change”) of the United State and Canada delivered constant reminders to the general population.
Two coins the same size but of different metals.
Canada 5-cent nickel (left) and 5-cent tombac (right)
war time issues with Morse code message at rim.
In our time, the US “Native American” (Sacagawea) dollars for 2016 honor the Code Talkers. At first, during World War I, Native American soldiers worked as telephone operators because it was unlikely that Germans (who did know English) would know their languages. In addition, the Americans quickly adopted slang of their own to add a layer of obfuscation. 

World War II was a much larger and longer engagement. In 1943, the total population of the USA was 136.7 million, of whom 9.2 million were in the armed forces. Although American civilians who were ethnically Japanese were placed in concentration camps, their sons were allowed to join the armed forces (and fight in Europe). So, of course, the military tapped a new generation of Native American Code Talkers.

Although the Navajo are best known from books and a recent movie, in fact, they came from over 30 communities and societies: Cherokee Nation, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Choctaw Nation, Comanche Nation, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Crow Nation, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Ho-Chunk Nation, Hopi Tribe, Kiowa Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, Menominee Nation, Meskwaki Nation, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Oneida Nation, Osage Nation, Pawnee Nation, Ponca Tribe, Pueblo of Acoma Tribe, Pueblo of Laguna Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Santee Sioux Nation, Seminole Nation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (Sioux) Tribe, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Tlingit Tribe, Tonto Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Yankton Sioux Tribe. (See the US Mint sales pages for special medals and medallions here.)
One dollar coin, tails, showing two army helmets and two eagle feathers
Reverse of US Mint 2016 Native American Dollar
honors the Code Talkers from two wars.
On the other side of the Atlantic the British were engaged in a “wizard war” against the Germans. Among their “boffins” were the codebreakers of Bletchley Park. The Imitation Game told the story of Alan Turing and his failed romance with Elisabeth Lowther Clarke (later Murray). Clarke was a brilliant mathematician, and an accomplished codebreaker. After the war, she took up a numismatics, largely as a result of her husband John Kenneth Murray’s collection of Scottish coins. In particular, several series of silver groats and gold “unicorns” were not well identified or sequenced as the weights and finenesses had changed during the reigns of James III and James IV. She figured it all out, publishing and delivering papers. (See “The Early Unicorns and the Heavy Groats of James III and James IV” in the British Numismatic Journal, Volume 40, Number 8, 1971 online here.)

For that work, the British Numismatic Society granted her a John Sanford Saltus Gold Medal in 1986. You can find a brief biography in Wikipedia, of course, but as Joan Clarke.  Lord Stewartby (Bernard Harold Ian Halley Stewart)one of her collaborators in the coinage of Scotland, wrote her obituary for the British Numismatic Journal Vol. 67 No. 13, pages 162-167, online here.)    

(See, also, my review of The Imitation Game with pictures of two computer security challenge coins in the E-Sylum newsletter of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society here.)