The history of the Hungarian Numismatic Society
Hundred years are barely more than a generation. Happy peacetimes, two world wars, revolutions and retorsions. Hungary lost two thirds of its territory and one third of its population.
Meanwhile, a four hundred-strong societal institution, the Hungarian Numismatic Society kept on studying one of history's auxiliary science, numismatics, spreading the knowledge collected through publications.
Out of those studying numismatics Károly Nuber, Károly Pákozdi, Mihály Szemlér, Jenő Sziklay and Lajos Zimmermann took on themselves the establishment of the association of numismatists. On a meeting held in Café Balaton in Budapest on 7th May 1901, they reached their decision. They won over for the case Ödön Gohl and László Réthy of the National Museum's Coin and Antiques Department.
The Hungarian Numismatic Society was founded on 14 May 1901, in the chamber of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. They laid down their constitution, in which they included the society's aims such as to cultivate and promote numismatics and coin collection, to maintain communication between those interested in the subject.
In a few months, membership grew tenfold, the report on the general assembly of 1902 mentions 105 members. The first presidium (photo) of the Society was elected here: Imre Szivák honorary president, László Réthy president, Jenő Sziklai vice-president. The first session of the committee elected the functionaries: Lajos Zimmermann secretary, Fülöp Kunváry treasurer, Hugó Kilényi supervisor. The curator of the collection and the librarian became Gábor Finály, the first editor of the Numismatic Bulletin was Ödön Gohl.
Similarly to our everyday life, the activities of societies also have essential points around which they organize. Milestones in the Hungarian Numismatic Society's life are the programmes formed by the membership, the library, the collection, the publications (Numismatic Bulletin, The Coin), issue of medals and communal tasks and above all, the presence and work of those self-devoted people who accomplished and promoted these activities. Hereby we cannot commemorate each of them, but the most deserving are to mention. Hundred years are also difficult to describe, but we try to show small mosaics from the Society's life.
The first 70 years are connected to two great personalities, Lajos Zimmermann and Lajos Huszár. Zimmermann was the main conductor of the Society until 1945. His attention was drawn to coin collecting by a Valentinian copper coin at the age of 12. This passion gave him satisfaction, and with cultivating numismatics he could render a service to his nation. Under his leadership the frames of the Society's operation, which stood up to World War II. This was also the time of forming the inner institutions, which helped the Society to remain after the war, under hostile circumstances, also to numismatics. Lajos Huszár lead the Society until 1968. Zimmermann was helped by notable professionals, but Huszár had to work in considerably less organizational autonomy, often under hostile environment, relying only minimal resources. Despite these facts, the Society succeeded to serve as an academic institution of exemplary decency, in which important scientific achievements were accomplished.
Going back to the beginnings, the first major achievement in the Society's life was the birth of the Numismatic Bulletin, the first numismatic periodical in Hungarian. Its image was determined by the first editor, Ödön Gohl.
After a short period of being edited by Pál Harsányi and András Alföldi, the Numismatic Bulletin was edited by Lajos Huszár between 1939 and 1976. Since then Katalin Bíró-Sey continued this work up to the present, with the help of Melinda Torbágyi with the last three volumes. The 100 years old Bulletin publishes the latest results of numismatic researches in Hungary, and it is the only numismatic publication in Europe, which, despite the tempests of history, is being published continuously.
The committee of the Hungarian Numismatic Society decided to publish larger works with narrow means in sequels, as supplements of the Bulletin. The first of these supplements in 1905 contained Ödön Gohl's work on medals. Between 1910 and 1914 the catalogue of count Miklós Desewffy's barbarian coin collection was put out. The following publication was The coin find of Huszt from the 10th century in Máramaros county by Aleksei Fomin and László Kovács.
Beside the Bulletin two periodicals were put out by the Society. One of them was The Coin (Az Érem). The first editor, Károly Szentgáli stated their aim in the preface: to serve the coin collectors. In the beginning, they were planning a manual, but the unfavorable financial circumstances made them to start a periodical. In the first period, between 1922 and 1942 ten volumes were brought out, most of them by Károly Szentgáli. The idea of reviving this periodical came in 1955, which led to continuous issue until 1970. By 1962, four booklets per year were published, edited by Lajos Huszár, Ferenc Király, and then Mihály Kupa and Elemér Pávó. From 1970 The Coin is being published by the Association of the Hungarian Coin Collectors.
Several independent publications were also published in the Society's edition. In 1911, József Weszerle's posthumous numismatic tables were put out in common with the Hungarian National Museum. On the 40th anniversary of the Society, a special support was granted to them by Bálint Hóman, Minister of Religion and Education. They intended to use it for a publication which would be a numismatic sensation not only in Hungary, but also abroad. This was The Kontorniát-coins by András Alföldi.
In 1947, the work of Lajos Huszár, Attila dans le munismatique was published under the serial title Monetaprisca. It was financed by Zsigmond Werkner. Its aim was to complement the Bulletin, which dealt with Hungarian or Hungarian-related subjects, and to treat general numismatics. Only one volume was put out.
János Lakos announced his plan to issue a serial called Pocket Manual of Coin Colectors in december 1946. The first manuscript was presented in March 1947, with the aim of determining the Hungarian coins, thus providing help for the collectors.
A festive session was held at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1978 to commemorate the 650th anniversary of the declaration of Kremnitz (Körmöcbánya, now Kremnica in Slovakia) as a city. Until the time after World War I (when the country lost two thirds of its territory), Kremnitz was the most important mint in Hungary, producing the major share of Hungary's coinage and established its reputation in Europe. 1980 saw the publication of a memorial volume on the 650th anniversary of Kremnitz (now belongs to Slovakia).
Another series with new typography was started in 1998. Its first piece was Inscriptions and coats of arms on Hungarian coins by Ferenc Soós, followed by a monograph by Viktória L. Kovásznai on Hungarian medals. The next book was a memorial volume on the 65th birthday of two outstanding numismatists, Katalin Bíró-Sey and István Gedai.
In addition to the publications, the Hungarian Numismatic Society issues medals, which are lasting memories of their activity and commemorate personalities of outstanding performance. The medallists themselves are also active members of the Society.
The Society plays an active role in public life in connection with numismatics. As an example, they played an important role in naming the new Hungarian currency, the pengő in 1925. They proposed the issue of a 5 pengő-coin with the portrait of Hungary's governor Miklós Horthy. Some modern commemorative coins were also issued on their initiative.
Another part of the Society's history is the library, which was founded at the same time as the Society. A call for contributions was published in the Numismatic Bulletin.
During the first fifty years three large donations were given to the library. In 1921, her husband's 117 numismatic books were donated by the widow of Miklós Desewffy, former honorary president of the Society. Pál Landesmann jurist - also a member - died in 1925, and his father gave 5 million coronas to form the "Pál Landesmann library fund". Géza Jeszenszky, honorary member donated the third major collection in 1920, when he gave his books, coin cabinet and collection. In the second 50 years the Hungarian Academy of Sciences provided regular budget for the library, and book exchanges also helped its development.
Members of the Society worked as voluntary librarians until 1974. They were elected every three year. Until 1912 both the library and the coin collection was handled by one curator.
The first librarian was Gábor Finály, teacher, followed by András Felföldi, archeologist and numismatist. From 1924 to 1929 dr. Géza Stöhr was in charge of the library.
Problems and successes of the technical development characterized the last decade of the library. In 1996, with the help of a computer programmer, the LIBRA system was set up, which is a manifold database of the books. By 1999 all items were electronically registered.
In 1916, the Society inherited the coin collection of colonel Sándor Bassarabits, acording to his wife's testament. Another great donation came in 1920. Géza Jeszenszky's donation came in 1940. One part of it could be auctioned, which did a great financial help in buying the Society's new place in 1996, thus creating memory of the donator. In 1945, another great donation was given to the Society: the medals of Dr. Béla Procopius, vice-president was given to the collection of several thousand pieces including rarities by his widow.
Géza Boltizár donated his collection for academic purposes in 1951. Dr. Elek Soltész offered his roman bronze collection to the National Museum and the Society. Géza Faludy contributed to the collection with his donation of more tha 1000 pieces.
Several exhibitions were organized from the Society's collection until 1996, when a part of it was auctioned in order to finance the new place of the Society.
Looking back at the most important achievements we can certainly say that the Society fulfilled its task. Generous donators of the past helped the communal place of their passion in becoming an institution that remains in the future, thus preserving their memories.