Paper, SPECIMEN, P-26s Crisp UNC
171 mm x 89 mm (6-3/4” x 3-1/2”)
HISTORY: Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850‒1937) was essentially the founder and first president (1918‒1935) of Czechoslovakia. He was a politician, a statesman, and an educator, but most notably a philosopher. At the start of World War I, he went into exile where he continued to organize for Czech independence. At the end of that fierce war, Masaryk was residing in New York City. Nevertheless, on November 14, 1918, the National Assembly in Prague elected Masaryk as their first president. He returned in December and assumed the presidency where he served for the next 17 years.
When Czechoslovakia became an independent nation in 1918, there was an urgent need to establish a new currency system, distinguished from the currencies of other newly formed countries suffering from high inflation following World War I. The following year, the new koruna (crown) was created, equal in value to the Austro-Hungarian krone. It served as the national currency of Czechoslovakia from April 10, 1919 to March 14, 1939.
The designer of this beautiful note was Max Švabinský (1873‒1962), a draughtsman, a painter, an illustrator, and the creator of stamps and bank notes (see also P013). He was the founder of a school of graphic arts and a professor of special graphic arts at the Academy in Prague.
OBVERSE: For this 100-korun note, Švabinský has chosen beautifully illustrated themes based on Greek mythology. On the left side is a naked young boy, turning pages of a book over his knee. In his right hand, he lightly holds an olive branch. Behind him is a wheel and beneath his leg a blacksmith’s hammer. To his left are a crystal vase, a string of pearls, and a grip of an artist’s paint brushes. Over his left shoulder perches a rough-legged hawk, a Švabinský tribute to Czech wildness. This boy—Philomelus, son of goddess Demeter—matured to become the god of farming and agriculture. With his eventual creation of the plough and wagon, Demeter elevated her son to the constellation of Boötes, better known today as the “Big Dipper” or “The Plough.”
Švabinský was an exquisite portraitist. He posed a beautiful woman in a cameo on the right side of this note. I searched for a contemporary female who might deserve the honor of such distinction, such as Františka Plamínková (1875–1942), an educator, a writer, and an outspoken advocate of women’s rights. But, in 1931, she would still have been too controversial. So, in keeping with the theme that Švabinský created, this is probably the Greek goddess Tyche (luck, abundance, and prosperity), wearing a Phrygian cap (personifying liberty). Beneath is a mysterious scroll with a display of fresh fruit off to one side.
Center background is a colorful Czech coat-of-arms lion.
At the lower left is the artist’s name, “M · Švabinský Del ·” (Del, from the Latin delineavit, meaning “he drew it,” is generally inscribed next to the artist's signature). To the right is “F. Schirnböck SC”—Ferdinand Schirnböck (1859–1930)—the engraver (SC from the Latin incidit, meaning “he cut it,” synonymous with the Latin impressit, “he carved it.” These abbreviations refer to the individuals who engraved the master plate.) As an engraver of stamps and banknotes, this would have been one of Schirnböck’s final pieces before his death.
REVERSE: An impressive cameo portrait of Masaryk, held up by two naked children (perhaps Demeter’s daughter Persephone and Philomelus’s twin brother Ploutos) and representing a new Czech generation, illustrates the right half of this 100-korun note. An open book, likely Masaryk’s Ideály humanitní, rests beneath. Another still life of fruit is displayed next to Persephone’s right foot. Remembering that 1931 found the world plunged into a great depression, it is interesting to see this korun note so expressive of abundance and hope. To the left sits a relaxed Demeter (Greek goddess of harvest, grains, and fertility) upon a sheaf of wheat. With his hand upon her shoulder, Iasion (consort of Demeter, son of Zeus, demigod of agriculture) sits in her shadow holding a handful of grains. Above, to his left, are a pair of doves, an allegorical reference to Demeter.