The disintegration of Czechoslovakia
Most of our coins were minted by the State Mint in Kremnica until 1992. It was the last mint of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1918 and the only mint of the Czechoslovak Republic since 1918. Its position was interrupted only three times. Firstly, it was during the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, when Czech-Moravian coins were minted in temporary conditions by the company Vichr a spol. (today Kovona) in Lysá nad Labem. The Ministry of Finance commissioned the secret preparation and production of coins for monetary reform in the Soviet Union in 1953, and Czechoslovak coins were minted by the Leningrad Mint in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Some two-crowns and five-crowns were produced due to capacity reasons by the British Royal Mint in Llantrisant in 1991.
The disintegration of the Czechoslovak state also meant the division of the common currency and the emergence of new monetary units together with new banknotes and coins. The Czech-Slovak monetary separation took place on February 8, 1993. For that reason, banknotes with three highest nominal values were stamped, while the banknotes and coins with lower denomination remained valid. One of the main tasks of the central bank was to ensure the artistic and technical preparation, production and issuance of new final currency - banknotes and coins of the Czech Republic.
Czech coins followed the technical and artistic preparation of Czechoslovak coins, which were to replace artistically inconsistent and ideologically and technically obsolete circulation coins from the 1950s and 1980s in the times of the Federation. In January 1992 there were competitions that were held for the design of new Czechoslovak coins with nominal values of 10, 20 and 50 pennies, which were to be issued in the following year. The use of these designs of Czech coins, of course, required reworking of the obverse sides and some authors also modified the reverse sides. The authors were Jiří Prádler (10 h), Jaroslav Bejvl (20 h) and Vladimír Oppl (50 h).
Higher nominal values of Czech coins then had to arise from the very beginning. Due to lack of time and qualified information, six authors - Jarmila Truhlíková-Spěváková, Jaroslav Bejvl, Ladislav Kozák, Vladimír Oppl, Jiří Prádler and Josef Úprka - were approached in September 1992 in order to create artistic designs of a crown coin, which should be an inspiration for defining proposals of other nominal values.
In the meantime, the technical side of the new coins was completed - shapes, diameters, thicknesses, weights, edge processing and other parameters. Aluminum was chosen for the three lowest values (10, 20 and 50 pennies), nickel-plated steel for the three middle values ( 1, 2 and 5 CZK) and for three highest values there were copper-plated steel (CZK 10), brass (CZK 20) and combination of copper and brass (50 CZK). The two-crown coin was processed with eleven edges, the twenty-crown with thirteen edges and the fifty-crown is a bimetallic coin, formed by colored and partly in terms of material different ring and center.
The expert committee evaluated the proposal processed by Jarmila Truhlíková-Spěváková as the best, according to which, after several modifications, a crown coin was created. At the same time, the committee concluded that no new unifying element of the obverse side of all nominal values had been found, and recommended the heraldic Czech lion to be the central motif on the obverse side of all coins. The submitted crown coin proposals thus partially served as a thematic inspiration for higher values which were processed by Jarmila Truhlíková-Spěváková (2 CZK), Jiří Harcuba (5 CZK), Ladislav Kozák (10 and 50 CZK) and Vladimír Oppl (20 CZK) based on clear assignment.
Looking for a mint
A search for mints that would produce new Czech coins in the required volume of around 700 million pieces was carried out simultaneously with the creation of artistic designs. For comparison - the current annual production of Czech circulation coins counts around 100 million pieces. Given the loss of the domestic mint after the disintegration of Czechoslovakia and the interruption of the continuity of Czech minting with the abolition of the Mint in Prague in 1857, there was no doubt that at least the first and decisive part of the 1993 edition would have to be minted abroad.
Therefore, in October 1992, the bank announced a request for the minting of Czech circulation coins, to which 21 mints responded. Some interest of domestic private companies in the field of metal production with a machine and logistics base, qualified experts and experience with pressing technology was also expected. The State Bank did not intend to initiate or support the possible construction of a domestic mint in the form of a state-owned enterprise or its organizational unit. Therefore, the similar interest of some organizations and cities was rejected.
The main criterion in the selection of the supplier was the economic advantage, i.e. the offered production price while meeting the quality and delivery date, on which the change of currency depended. These criteria were met by the German Mint in Hamburg (for values of 10, 20 and 50 pennies, 10, 20 and 50 CZK) and the Canadian Mint in Winnipeg (for values of 1, 2 and 5 CZK), which then produced and delivered most of the coins with the year of the issue 1993 and a smaller part of 1994 and 1995 coins.
The first Czech coin, fifty-crown coin, was minted by the Mint in Hamburg on 13 January 1993 at 9:00 am. Series production began on February 8, 1993, the first truck arrived in Prague on March 10, 1993, and, this first Czech coin was put into circulation on April 7, 1993.
Call-off for the production of Czech coins was also sent by two Czech companies that offered to secure part of the supplies (aluminum coins) without foreign investments. Based on favourable costs and elaboration of a comprehensive coin minting project, the construction of a domestic mint was further negotiated with the joint-stock company Bižuterie in Jablonec nad Nisou.
Bižuterie in Jablonec nad Nisou
Coining in Jablonec nad Nisou was the idea of Jiří Dostál, a long-term pedagogue and director of the local secondary school of arts and crafts (and later a higher vocational school). His vision of the Bižuterie company (in variously changed positions) was realized mainly by Jan Vízek, the business director of the Mint, in the years 1993–2010.
The first meeting of the representatives of Bižuterie with the central bank (at that time the federal headquarters of the State Bank of Czechoslovakia) took place in the autumn of 1992 in order to negotiate the methods of financing the construction and equipment of the Mint. The first trips abroad - to the Vienna Mint, to Deutsche Nickel in Schwerte, to the Hamburg Mint, the Berlin Mint and their subcontractors - then became the basis for the supply of machines, other technologies, stamps and a source of experience. The necessary construction work was carried out from January to May 1993 and the Mint in Jablonec nad Nisou was gradually equipped with the necessary basic equipment, including two high-speed presses entitled Gräbener MPU 156.
The success of the entire preparation of coinage in Bižuterie was the result of teamwork of interested employees, together with Jan Vízek and Josef Pazour, the chief technologist (in various positions) from 1993, and Miroslav Vítek, production director of the Mint (in various positions) during 1993– 2015.
The trial operation began in Jablonec nad Nisou on June 23, 1993, and the Czech National Bank approved first samples of penny coins a day later. The operation was ceremoniously opened on July 1, 1993. However, it was only the beginning of the Jablonec Mint's journey to meet all production requirements of the Czech National Bank, later foreign issuers and other public and private clients, and finally its own, still wider and more ambitious schedule of issuance.
Workshop in Jablonec nad Nisou became a real mint in 1994. It was equipped with an automatic reduction machine Bema, a press for reproducing Sack & Kiesselbach embossing tools and a device for surface treatment of stamping dies. It required appropriate staff, especially metal engravers. After all, the large engraving background was one of the reasons that contributed to build a mint in Bižuterie. The first engravers of the mint were Ivan Eyman and Jaroslav Hrách, and there were six of them in the 1990s. Later acquisition of the more productive non-contact reduction machine Impala enabled to reduce the number of engravers again, even with the emission increase and the speed of their occurrence.
The Mint in Jablonec nad Nisou managed the entire production process until 1994. This includes model processing, reduction, engraving, stamp reproduction and mintage. This, in parallel with the equipment of the minting hall with a press for minting coins made of precious metals, enabled to transfer the coining of commemorative coins to Jablonec nad Nisou. The first four Czech silver commemorative coins were made in Vienna, Llantrisant and Kremnica. The fifth - with the motif of protection and creation of the environment in usual (standard) and top (proof) quality - was made by the Mint in Jablonec nad Nisou at the end of 1994. Shortly afterwards, the production of the first Czech gold coin, the Czech Crown, followed.
The Czech Mint
The name of the Czech Mint division was incorporated into the name of the entire company - Bijouterie Czech Mint in 1996. The joint-stock company has been producing all Czech circulation and commemorative coins since 1996. However, it does not acquire its position automatically and must repeatedly tender for coin contracts of domestic and foreign clients.
The company's situation was slowly but unstoppably getting worse after the year 2000. While coin production flourished, jewelry production was in deep crisis, mainly due to strong rival companies from Southeast Asia. However, the company successfully faced this situation for a long time and it celebrated the 10th anniversary with the participation of important representatives of the European Union and European mints in 2003. The company then underwent repeated organizational changes, including changes to the company's name - first to Ornela and then to the Jablonex Group. The crisis culminated in the end of jewelry production and the sale of the mint to a new owner. Monetica group renewed its much-needed investment in a production facility dating mainly from 1993. In particular, one Gräbener high-speed press was comprehensively modernized and the hardening equipment and packaging line were also replaced.
There are almost 2 billion circulation coins in the Czech Republic. Even with already invalid and officially destroyed coins, the Czech Mint has produced over 3 billion pieces of them since 1993. At the same time, it issued almost 2.5 million pieces of silver coins and over 400,000 pieces of gold coins. However, the quality of the coins is much more important than quantity of the coins in which the Czech Mint still maintains a very high standard.
The number of coin and medal issues in the jubilee years 2018 and 2019, so significant for the Czech statehood and our currency, became a serious challange for all professions in the Mint. These works culminated in issuance of a high-weight gold coin with a nominal value of 100,000,000 CZK with a diameter of 535 mm and a weight of 130 kg. It was produced by the Czech Mint in cooperation with two foreign partners, and thus became one of the few world mints to have a similar gigantic project.
However, the Czech Mint cannot rest on its laurels. It is awaiting the replacement of the press for the reproduction of embossing tools, the modernization of other preparation and production equipment and probably the construction of a line for the surface treatment of cuttings before mintage. And every independent visitor would certainly wish the Czech Mint a more dignified place of work - in a new, ideally own building, of course in Jablonec nad Nisou, a city with such a long tradition of metal production and plenty of experts. All this will be the main task of the representatives of the Czech Mint in the coming years.
JUDr. Jaroslav Moravec, Ph.D., Chief methodologist of currency protection at the Czech National Bank