January 1945: the World War II in Europe comes to its end. The Battle of the Bulge (Unternehmen “Wacht am Rhein”) launched by Nazis through the densely forested Ardennes region severely depleted German armored forces on the Western Front; the Red Army liberated Warsaw, spearheaded an advance to the Oder; Germans troops surrendered in Budapest and Krakow. State administration as well as economics of the Axis countries are on the brink of collapse. However, it was under those appalling conditions that the government of Romania whose King Mihai I declared war on their former ally on August 23, 1944, decided to issue commemorative gold medal.
“Transylvania Of Ours” commemorative medal was struck to “immortalize the historical day of liberation of Northern Transylvania” in accordance with the Royal Decree of Mihai I No.656 of December 22, 1944 that was published the next day in the state bulletin “Monitorul Oficial” (No.298 of December 23, 1944, p.11).
Surprise mintage of the medal was actually a part of the nation-wide program aimed at collection of funds to pay reparations to Soviet government. The cost of medalia comemorativă “Ardealul Nostru” was set at 15,000 Lei and it was available for purchase by those who already bought public bonds worth 50,000 Lei. According to the Article IV of the Royal Decree No.656, selling conditions of commemorative medals were controlled by the legislation governing sale of objects made of precious metals, namely Article III of the Law No.1907 of August 12, 1936 and amendments introduced by the Law No.3203 of September 12, 1938 and published in the state bulletin “Monitorul Oficial”, No.213 of September 14, 1938.
Following a history of medal needs a little digression into the history of Soviet-Romanian relations at the end of the WWII. The Red Army occupied Bucharest on August 31, 1944. Two weeks after, on September 12, the Kingdom of Romania and USSR signed an armistice in Moscow on terms Russians virtually dictated. Thus, Romania agreed to pay reparations, repeal anti-Jewish laws, ban nationalist groups and retrocede Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the Soviet Union. Representatives of the USSR, Great Britain and USA established an Allied Control Commission in the Romanian capital, but the Soviet military command exercised predominant authority. The armistice obligated Bucharest to pay Moscow $300 million in partial reparations for the damage caused by Romanian troops and occupation authorities, including spoils of war and destroyed property. In fact that amount made up 20% only of the total damage, and the total loss estimated at $1,5 billion. The reparations were to be paid by various goods valued at 1938 prices within six years. The USSR also re-appropriated property that the Romanians had confiscated during the war, requisitioned food and other goods to supply the Red Army during transit and occupation of the country, and expropriated all German assets in the country.
Thus, war-torn Romania was in dire need of extra funds and selling of gold medal could fill up the state treasury slightly. Besides, mintage of medal at the final stage of the WWII was also aimed at utilization of remaining gold reserves in order to avoid their confiscation by Soviets.
Commemorative medal manufactured by the National Mint was available for private purchase since January 15, 1945.
Design of its obverse was elaborated by the Romanian engraver Haralambie Ionescu. Face of the medal with raised border bore three portraits facing left (or right in heraldic perspective) of prominent Romanian monarchs famous for their efforts in reunification of Transylvania with the kingdom. Those were Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) wearing traditional voivodal cap, King Ferdinand I in WWI-era steel helmet and King Mihai I in steel helmet of the WWII pattern. Portraits of monarchs were encircled with a thin raised rim. Inscription “Transylvania Of Ours” (“Ardealul Nostru”) executed in capital letters was running in semi-circle at the upper part of the obverse. “Ardeal” (initially “Ardeliu” in 1432) stood for the historical Romanian name of Transylvania, also known as Erdély in Hungarian language, Siebenbürgen in German, Siedmiogród in Polish and Semihorod in Ukrainian (i.e. “Seven cities”, or “Seven fortresses”). Medieval Latin name “Ultrasylvania”, or later “Transsilvania” signified “The land beyond the woods”, and as such – “Transilvania” – name of that region finally came to the Romanian language. Three dates – 1601, 1918 and 1944 – separated from each other with short raised ticks and from the inscription with raised dots were placed at the bottom of the obverse. Those three dates were actually milestones in the history of Romanian Transylvania. Thus, Mihai Viteazul, or Mihai Bravu (1558-1601), one of the Romania’s greatest national heroes, was the first warlord who acquired the crowns of Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania at the same time, in 1601, but only for a year. The second date, “1918” stood for The Great Unification of Romania as a result of the WWI and disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the end of 1918 Romania gained control of Transylvania previously occupied by Hungary, and the region officially became part of the kingdom on December 01, 1918, a date that is today celebrated as the country’s national holiday. Finally, in 1944 Romania reclaimed Northern Transylvania thanks to the armistice between USSR, Great Britain, USA and the kingdom.
Design of the reverse was elaborated by two Romanian engavers: Ioana Bassarab Starostescu and Ştefan Iordan. Head of the heraldic eagle, or aquila topped with a crown, facing left and holding a cross in its beak, i.e. fragment of the Romanian coat of arms was situated in the very centre. Inscription “Romania” in capital letters was placed in semi-circle below. Eleven historical coat of arms of Northern Transylvanian județe (counties) that were turned over to Hungary in 1940 but returned to Romania in 1944 encircle the central composition. They are, in counterclockwise order, starting at 12 o’clock: Trei Scaune, Năsăud, Odorhei, Cluj, Satu Mare, Bihor, Sălaj, Maramureş, Mureş, Ciuc and Someş. That was acquisition of those counties that led to an issue of a medal.
“Nihil Sine Deo” (“Nothing without God”), a motto of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty that ruled Kingdom of Romania in 1878-1947 was incused on the flat edge of the medal in capital letters. Each word is separated from another with equilateral miniature crosses.
The Ministry of Finance authorized the National Mint to struck and release into circulation one million medals as the maximum mintage according to the Royal Decree No.656. The medals were manufactured of alloy containing 90% gold and 10% copper, i.e. “900 gold”. Content of gold varied from 898 to 902 parts per 1,000. Medalia comemorativă “Ardealul Nostru” measuring 21 mm weighed 6,55 g. The decree mentioned above stipulated in its Article 3 tolerance figures for dimension and weight of the medal: 20,95-21,05 mm and 6,5369-6,5631 g.
Exact number of medals struck remains unknown, and the maximum mintage figure of one million pieces might have never been reached. However, that figure debunks a myth that the medal in question was a speculative issue aimed at contemporary collectors to swindle their money out of.
Now a few words should be said about never-ending dispute that traditionally accompanies this popular and still largely available work of art from the closing stage of the World War II. Whether “Transylvania Of Ours” is a medal or coin?
On the one hand, that piece is unequivocally described as “a commemorative medal made of gold” in the Royal Decree No.656 (“Decret-Lege pentru autorizarea emiterii unor medalii comemorative din aur”). Moreover, no face value is to be found on either sides.
However, “Ardealul Nostru” was actually used by Romanian subjects in 1945-1947 as an unofficial means of payment for large-value transactions of a civil or commercial nature. Although such circulation was illegal, hapless population suffering from inflation regarded the medal struck of a precious metal as a “secure currency”. Besides, the medal was minted in a solid number that suggested itself a nature of a coin. And finally, “Transylvania Of Ours” was struck almost accordingly to the Latin Monetary Union standards that all the 20 Lei gold coins issued in XIX and XX centuries conformed to. Suffice it to make a comparison.
- 20 Lei coin (1868). The first golden coin ever of the Romanian modern state, struck either in Bucharest, Paris or Berlin in a very small number of pieces, 100 or 200 only. Coins were presented as gifts to the European monarchs and Romanian nobility by the Prince Carol I and were never intended for circulation. Measurements: diameter – 21 mm diameter, weight – 6,452 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
- 20 Lei coin (1870). The second golden Romanian coin minted either in Bucharest or Berlin, only 5,000 pieces were manufactured. Measurements: diameter – 23 mm diameter, weight – 6,452 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
- 20 Lei coin (1883). Although 150,000 coins were struck at the Bucharest Mint in 1883 and additionally 35,290 pieces were minted in 1884, all those coins bear the date “1883”. Measurements: diameter – 21 mm diameter, weight – 6,452 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
- 20 Lei coin (1890). Totally 196,000 coins were struck in Bucharest. Measurements: diameter – 21 mm diameter, weight – 6,452 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
- 20 Lei coin (1906). Commemorative coins minted in Brussels to celebrate the 40th anniversary of reign of the King Carol I. Measurements: diameter – 21 mm diameter, weight – 6,452 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
- 20 Lei coin (antedated 1922). Struck at the London Royal Mint in 1928 or 1929 to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the coronation of Ferdinand I as a sovereign of the entire Great Romania. Measurements: diameter – 21 mm diameter, weight – 6,452 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
- Medalia comemorativă “Ardealul Nostru”. Measurements: diameter – 21 mm diameter, weight – 6,55 g, composition – gold 90% and copper 10% (900 gold).
Supporters of the “numismatic” point of view assume that the “20 Lei” value was not struck due to the inflationary tendencies of the late-war era.
Come 1947, shortly after the long-awaited peace established in Europe after the WWII, the short history of a “Ardealul Nostru” commemorative medal came to its end. Like gold, foreign currencies and other means of payment it had to be sold to the National Bank of Romania. Interesting to mention that “Transylvania Of Ours” medal was explicitly mentioned twice in the text of the Royal Decree (Law) No.284 signed by the King Mihai I on August 14, 1947 (Lege pentru cedarea către Banca Naţională a României a aurului, valutelor efective şi altor mijloace de plată străine). Thus, Article 2 started with the following wording: “To be surrendered: a) “The gold in any form, as well as jubilee medals minted in accordance with the Law No.656 of 1944 with the following exception”. Note that “Transylvania Of Ours” medal is incorrectly mentioned for some reason as “jubilee medal” (medaliile jubiliare).
All the medals being kept in property or possession were to be sold within fifteen days from the date the Royal Decree No.284 was gazetted in the state bulletin “Monitorul Oficial” (No.186 of August 15, 1947, p.4А). In accordance with the Article 14 of that Law violators were to be punished with the confiscation of valuable items, fine at the rate of fivefold the amount of confiscated values and even 5 to 25-year prison term.
Article 16 of the Law stipulated that “provisions of the Royal Decree No.656 of 1944 regarding circulation of the commemorative gold medals are expired”. Note that there “Ardealul Nostru” was referred to correctly, namely “commemorative gold medal” (medaliilor comemorative de aur), but not “jubilee medal” as it happened in Article 2 of the same Law.