The Czech made coins at an Italian Court
January 28, 2012 § 4 Comments
In the Central Bohemia Region lies a once very wealthy medieval town called Kutna Hora. Since they discovered silver deposits during the 13th century, this town established its wealth and prosperity through mining silver and minting coins. That was pretty much like getting rich by printing money. So the growing economy made it the second most important town at the time after Prague, both politically and culturally.
After visiting the unique bone church of Sedlec, I thought I could take a bus into the historic old town of Kutna Hora. However, the bus didn’t run as frequent as I thought. With no cabs insight, I followed the main road and walked for a little over half an hour. At first, it was just like some boring modern town, then it turned into some narrow cobblestone streets. Being in a town with such history, how could you not visit the Italian Court? It was the place where they manufactured their silver coins! I joined their English tour, which was the only option to see the inside of it. However it provided a lot of interesting history, and well worth it.
The Italian Court used to be a fortress guarding the trade route, a coin factory, a royal residence, a city hall, a hospital, a girls school and even a prison. If I remember correctly, it was named “italian” as they actually employed coin-making experts from Milan, in order to create the best quality of silver coins that the King desired. Therefore the first edition of coins contained high concentration of silver and they were proud of the great quality. However as the supply of silver decreased, they had to gradually lowered the silver concentration. (Probably from 90% down to 30%, if I remember it right.) At the beginning of the tour, I was in a room with all different edition of coins, comparing their design and quality.
The coin making process was shown with a mock demonstration. It was a very tough job, and the craftsman had to pounder the heavy hammer to make 2000 coins a day. However they were very well paid, as they get to keep a portion of what they made for the day as payment (I think it was 20 coins, when average wage was 5 coins a day). Since the workshop was so noisy, most of the craftsmen had bad hearing. There was a joke saying coin makers made very good husbands, as they were wealthy, physically strong and deaf, so the wives could yell at them all day long 😉
Another interesting fact: When the craftsman do the hammering job, someone had to hold the mold in place underneath. Unsurprisingly, the one holding the mold could get his hands crushed easily. Therefore this job often fell onto prisoners. If they didn’t get injured for 3 years while working in the workshop, they took it as a sign of God’s clemency: the crime and sin of that prisoner would be pardoned. Hmmm would you risk it?
We have also visited the city hall section, which held weddings nowadays, as well as a small chapel with a lovely antique altarpiece. All in all, it was a very fun and informative tour, especially with such a passionate tour guide. Don’t hesitate to join this tour if you’re in town!