By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
In 1796 the French army of Italy invaded the Italian peninsula. With General Napoleon in command, the army swept through northern Italy, overthrowing various Austrian and Italian rulers before instituting the so-called “sister republics”. This did not, however, guarantee peace and tranquility. Italian nationalism was on the rise in the late 18th century and when faced with a foreign occupying force of non-Italians, the citizenry did not welcome their new French rulers. Once the nature of the French rule–and the expectation France had of them being “obedient satellites of Paris”–became apparent, discontent flourished. As a result, it was decided by the French Revolutionary Government that an army of 25,000 men would be left in Italy to quell any attempt at secession.
Only two years after the initial invasion, General Louis-Alexandre Berthier reached Rome. Under orders from Napoleon, Berthier incorporated the Papal States into a self-contained republic dubbed the Roman Republic, and later the First Roman Republic once the Second Roman Republic was declared in 1849. The First Roman Republic would only last from February 18, 1798, to September 30, 1799. Due to a lack of both internal cohesion and military support, a Neapolitan army marched into Rome and won a series of victories against Marshal Jacques MacDonald, the French governor.
After a brief restoration of the papacy, the French army reconquered central Italy and declared the Kingdom of Italy in 1805. The Papal states would remain divided between direct control by France and the Kingdom of Italy until 1815 when the Napoleonic wars ended.
The Papal States had two banks: Il Sacro Monete della Pieta’ di Roma and Il Banco di S. Spirito di Roma. Il Sacro Monete della Pieta’ di Roma was founded in 1539 by Pope Paul III and formalized in 1584 by Pope Gregory XIII as a bank for the poor. Instructed to “provide interest-free loans to the poor”, the bank operated for over two hundred years. Starting in 1782, the bank issued paper banknotes in the denominations of 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 Scudi. Each Scudi was equivalent to 7 Lire. In 1785, the bank expanded the denominations until they were issuing 74 distinct denominations. The new series started at 3 Scudi and continued to 50 Scudi in increments of one. From 50 to 100 Scudi the bills increased in multiples of five; from 100 to 150 Scudi in multiples of 10; from 150 to 500 Scudi in multiples of 50; and from 500 to 1500 Scudi in multiples of 100.
Il Banco di Santo Spirito di Roma, the second Papal bank, was founded by Pope Paul V at the end of 1605. Originally designed to provide “capital for church and hospital construction in Rome”, the bank also lent money to various “public works projects” around the city of Rome.
In 1785 the bank began issuing private notes – a practice it continued until 1992 when the bank was merged with the Banco di Roma. At 108 different denominations, Il Banco di Santo Spirito printed even more types than Il Sacro Monete. Its bills “ran consecutively from 5 scudi to 99 scudi” and then from 100 to 1000 Scudi in increments of 100. During 1797, the Scudi’s last year of production, the Bank also issued bills valued at 1,500, 2,000, and 3,000 Scudi.
The 3 and 4 Scudi notes from this second series measure 130 mm by 100 mm and the higher value bills 200 mm by 150 mm. Low-denomination bills (3 to 30 Scudi) are common, mid-range (30-50 Scudi) are rare, and high denominations (50 Scudi and larger) are extremely rare.
The bills from these two banks are very similar. Both banks used “the same heavy white watermarked paper stock” and similar font stiles until the French took over the banks in 1798. To control the local monetary system, the French seized control of the banks and reorganized the monetary system. All notes larger than 35 Scudi were canceled, and the lower denomination notes were devalued by half. New notes issued by the banks were to be denominated in Baiocchi and Paoli, instead of the older Scudi. Additionally, a limited issue of French style assignati in Baiocchi and Paoli was authorized.
Under the First Roman Republic, il Banco di Santo Spirito di Roma issued noes in 25, 40, 50, 60 Baiocchi, and 10 Paoli denominations. There are two different types of the 50 Baiocchi notes. One is denominated as BHI. 50 and the other as Bhi. Cinquanta. All notes are relatively common, but the 40 Baiocchi is the most difficult to collect. The bills are of relatively simple design with a border of fasces with liberty caps in each corner. Each bill is topped by a Roman eagle which sits above the words Liberta and Equaqlianza. Two “overprinted” ink seals representing the Republican government and the Committee of Accountants flank the eagle.
The coat of arms of the Republic depicts a fasces with a liberty cap surrounded by the legend Romana Republica. The second seal, representing the Committee of Accountants, portrays a figure of Liberty holding a fasces and a spear topped with a liberty cap. The legend states FEDES PUBLICA.
While all notes from both banks are identical, including the denominations, those printed by il Banco di Santo Spirito di Roma measure 135 mm x 95 mm instead of the larger 138 mm x 97 mm notes from il Sacro Monete della Pieta’ di Roma. Also, all non-assignat notes are dated 1798.
Like the standard banknotes, the assignati bills bear the Baiocchi and Paoli but in much fewer denominations. Only notes of 3, 5, and 10 Baiocchi and 1 ½, 2, 2 ½, 7, 8, 9, and 10 Paoli were issued. Instead of using the standard Roman calendar, these assignati were dated using the new Revolutionary calendar, and bear various dates within the seventh year of the revolution. Unlike the standard notes, the assignati Baiocchi and Paoli are quite different.
To start with, at 88 mm x 69 mm, the Baiocchi are smaller. The seals of the Republican government and the Committee of Accountants flank a Roman eagle within an oval border. In the four corners are the alphabetical and numerical denomination and the date. On the reverse appears the signature and numerical denomination.
The 10 Baiocchi assignati notes are different. The eagle is flanked by the numerical denomination within a horizontal mandorla or almond-shaped border. The two seals representing the Republican government and the Committee of Accountants are above in the top corners on either side of the legend “Liberta Equaqlianza – Republica Romana”.
The higher denomination Paoli assignati all have the same imagery as the rest of the series; however, the border is square like the standard banknotes.
Each assignati denomination has a different signature. They are as follows: 3 Baiocchi -Brancadori, 5 Baiocchi- Ballanti, 10 Baiocchi – Barili, 1½ Paoli – Francisco Landoni, 2 Paoli – L. Fontana, 2½ Paoli – Broggi, 7 Paoli – P. De Rossi, 8 Paoli – Ag. Dolcibene, 9 Paoli – Gio. Persiani, 10 Paoli – Lod. Galli.
The assignati of the Roman Republic come to auction with some regularity. When they do, it is not uncommon for them to sell for $50-100 in good condition. The lower denomination standard banknotes from the Roman Republic sell for slightly less, between $40 to $75 USD, in good condition. Notes from 30 to 100 Scudi are available online for between $100 and $200. High denomination banknotes are extremely rare, and very few have come up for auction recently. When they do, notes of 1,000 Scudi or more can hammer for $600 to $1,000.
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).