February 26, 2013
It's fun to collect coins with an interesting history. This can certainly be true of the five coin set called "Polish Revolutionary Coinage Complete Set, Circulation Strikes (1831)." These coins represent Poland's tumultuous, short-lived Russo-Polish war which began with the November Uprising on November 29, 1830 and ended less than a year later, on October 5, 1831. Tragically, thousands of soldiers on both sides lost their lives.
At the end of the 18th century, Poland was caught between three expansionist nations, Austria, Prussia and Russia. In 1795, Poland virtually ceased to exist having been partitioned between the three countries. The demise of Poland's independence was not met with any significant opposition from the rest of Europe, but in later years, became a major bone of contention.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the people of Poland aligned themselves with France, fighting against Austria and Russia. Napoleon rewarded the insurgents by establishing the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807. However, in 1815, the Congress of Vienna, which was established by Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria to settle the many issues which were a result of the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, voted to dissolve the Duchy of Warsaw. In doing so Austria took over more territories to the South, Prussia took control of the West, and Russia gained sovereign of what was left of the Duchy of Warsaw. This area was called the Congress Kingdom and although controlled by Russia, was relatively autonomous until 1830.
The Congress Kingdom had its own constitution, courts, army, and treasury. But in just a few years, the Russians began to take these rights away. The people of Poland tolerated the Russian rule until 1829 when Nicholas I of Russia crowned himself as King of Poland. At that point, the Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, who had been assigned viceroy of the area by Nicholas I in 1815, began to aggressively further diminish the liberties of the Polish people. As a result, insurgency was on the rise and revolution was in the wind.
On November 29th, Piotr Wysocki, a young cadet from the Warsaw officers' school, led a group of conspirators to the Belweder Palace where the Grand Duke was housed. The Duke escaped but Wysocki was able to capture the palace and the city's main arsenal. The next day, the local Polish government assembled to decide a course of action. Unfortunately, lack of leadership, unity of purpose, and poor planning resulted in the eventual surrender of the Polish rebels. Although the general population supported the revolution initially, confidence was soon lost. Without the backing of the population and no foreign aid, the insurgency was on the road to ruin.
Faced with the large Russian army, the Poles were outnumbered. In February, 1831, the Russian army of 115,000 began its advance towards Warsaw. The city was attacked on September 6th, and the Polish Army withdrew leaving the Congress Kingdom, once again, in the hands of the Russians. Surrender came on October 5, 1831, when 20,000 Poles crossed into Prussia and laid down their arms. Poland ceased to exist until November 11, 1918 when it was re-created as an independent state.
Considering how unorganized the Polish government was during the rebellion, it's amazing that the Poles took the time to produce their own Revolutionary coinage, but that's exactly what they did under the leadership of the mintmaster, Karol Gronau, in 1831. Five denominations were made at the Warsaw Mint: the copper 3 Groze, the silver 10 Groszy, 2 Zlote, and 5 Zlotych, and the gold Dukat.
At the same time, Karol Gronau also oversaw the production of the Russian coinage which featured either Alexander I or a double headed eagle on the obverse. Some issues had both Polish and Russian denominations engraved on the coin such as the 20 Zlotych – 3 Rubles.
The obverse of the Revolutionary copper and silver coins depicted a crowned shield with a Polish white eagle and a Lithuanian Vytis (armour-clad knight on horseback holding a sword). The reverse had the denomination engraved surrounded by a wreath.
The Revolutionary trade dukat, which contained .1109 ounces of gold had a knight standing holding a bundle of arrows surrounded by the legend with an eagle and torch privy marks at 11:00 and 1:00 o'clock on the obverse. The reverse had the legend engraved on a tablet.
Assembling the Polish one-year five-coin set gives the collector a chance to own classic examples of copper, silver, and gold coins. And, it is a wonderful opportunity to own part of a failed, yet historic revolution.
1831 KG 3 Grosze PCGS MS66RB
1831 KG 10 Groszy PCGS Secure MS65
1831 KG 2 Zlote PCGS Secure MS64
1831 KG 5 Zlote PCGS MS64
1831 KG Dukat VF25
Image courtesy of Stacks Bowers
For more information about the 1830-31 Polish November Revolution visit:
Wikipedia: November Uprising
Encyclopedia Britannica: November Insurrection