The Darphane is one of the most rooted institutions of Istanbul, which appeared on the stage of history as the capital city of a great empire. In Istanbul, where East Roman coins had been minted for centuries long, Ottoman coins began to be minted after the conquest of Sultan Mehmed II. The Istanbul Mint carried its activities maintaining its importance from this date to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The Istanbul Mint, which was called the Imperial Mint [Darphane-i Âmire] for it was the central mint of the state, began to be called Currency Imperial Ottoman Administration [Meskûkât-ı Şâhâne] after the Tanzimat Reform. On the coins minted in the Istanbul Mint the minting place was shown by denotations such as Konstantiniyye, İslambol, Darülhilafe, etc.
When considered under the light of the political, economic and financial developments of the Ottoman history, the story of the Imperial Mint can be examined in three periods: 1) The Classical Period from the conquest to the late seventeenth century (1453-1687); 2) The Mechanical Minting period from the establishment of the second mint with the currency reform to the Correction of Coinage period (1687-1844); and 3) The Modern period from the Correction of Coinage to the abolition of the sultanate (1844-1922). The organizational structure of the mint, the minting technology and the types of minted coins differ greatly among these three periods.
The Classical Period (1453-1687)
How and exactly when the Mint went into action after the conquest of Istanbul is not known. Yet considering the importance of the coin minting in the political culture of the Ottoman, it can be assumed that the government must have hastened to operationalize the Mint. In this period, the Imperial Mint rendered service in the vicinity of Beyazıt and minted coins using a very simple technique. This technique was respectively based on the smelting of silver and gold in pots, the addition of the necessary carat in the mixture and the moulding in bar-shaped moulds. The moulds were narrowed until they got into the required flatness, cut squarely in the length of coin diameter and these square-shaped gaskets called kehle were knocked into the shape of a circle. Then these circle-shaped gaskets were put in moulds and hammered by the coiner craftsmen [sikkezen], thereby both sides of the coins being engraved with the required inscriptions and figures. The silver sultanî, the copper mangır and the silver akçe and pâre were all minted in the Mint with this technique.
At the Imperial Mint, the minting was carried out either under the tutelage of government officials or by private enterprise. More precisely, the Imperial Mint was governed either by iltizam [tax-farming] or on consignment. In the iltizam system, the mints were contracted out as mukataa to entrepreneurs to be run for a given period. Furthermore, they were managed by a salaried government official in the management of consignment.
Giving detailed information about the Imperial Mint workers, Halil Sahillioğlu divides the personnel into two groups as those working inside and outside the mint. Sahillioğlu states that those working outside the mint were the silver prohibitors, silver seekers, the money changers and stamp-changers of the mint, and those working inside the mint were the administrative figures such as the bailee, custodian, stenographer, taxman and workers such as burnishers, varnishers, smelters, coiners, kehle moulders, flatteners, scriptors, etc. Furthermore, Evliya Çelebi remarks that employees of the Mint were the wire master, wire drawer, varnisher, vamping master, coiner, sebikeci, smelter, kehle moulder, cashier, flattener, golsmith, observer, burnisher, chamberlain (kethüda), broker, stenographer, head of coiners, gauger, etc.
Having been steadily active until the late sixteenth century, the Mint went through a serious crisis owing to the international movements of money and mines on one hand, to the various problems resulting from the internal structure of the Ottoman state. With the influence of the crisis, most of the mints at the provinces had to be closed owing to the scarcity in mine supply, while the Imperial Mint in Istanbul carried on its activities with marginal capacity. In fact, in the beginning of the second half of the sixteenth century, minting almost completely ceased in the Ottoman state. Meanwhile, because of the adulterations that became frequent, the amount of the precious metal in the coins was decreased and the size of them was reduced. As the akçe coin further lost value, adulterated coins and foreign currencies came to dominate the market.
The Period of Mechanical [Mihanikî] Coinage Minting (1687-1844)
The instability that the Imperial Mint and the currency system collapsed into was finalized with the reform in the late seventeenth century. Having been technically modernized during the reign of Süleyman II, the darphane moved into a solid currency system based on kuruş. After the modernisation process pioneered by a technician of European descent named Cerrah Mustafa, the coinage minting began to be made by mechanical minting methods. In this method, the devices were called çarh (wheel or laminoir), slicing/cutting-stapler (decoupoire or emporte-piece) and pendulum (balançoire). Çarh was used to flatten chunky metals; slicing stapler was used to slice metal plates into flakes and the pendulum was used to engrave the required prints and inscriptions on these flakes. On the other hand, the mint moved from Beyazıt into the garden of the Topkapı Palace.
From the late seventeenth century to the execution of Coinage Correction, the mechanical coinage minting was used. Silver coins such as kuruş, zolota, pâre, akçe, sultanî, rûmî, adliyye; gold coins such as şerifî, cedid eşrefî, zer-i mahbub, Istanbul gold, cedid zencirli, sultanî, fındık, hayriyye, rûmî, mahmudiyye, darülhilafe, adlî and copper coins such as mangır were among the coins minted at the mint in this period. A mechanism that enabled the provision of the metal required for minting under best conditions was established and the officials collecting metals in the name of the mint were conferred significant powers in this very period. That the monopoly right of the material called tizap, which was used in the processing of gold and silver, was given to the mint and that the craftsmen groups working with metals, such as goldsmiths and silversmiths as well as big mines were given under the authority of the mint were among the most important developments of the period.
In the mechanical coinage minting period, the mint was governed on consignment. Administrative cadre composed of professional bureaucrats. The executive and supervision board consisted of officers such as the bailee, gauger, kefçe custodian, stenographer, coiner, watchman, seeker and the imam, while the mercantile cadre consisted of the evacuator, smelter, stockbroker and the gold/silversmith, and the labourers consisted of masters and workers working in the workshops. Since the mercantile and labourer groups consisted of non-Muslims, they could not advance to executive positions. While the Jews had a certain weight among the mercantile and labourer groups during the first half of the eighteenth century, as from 1762 the Armenians constituted a majority in the mint. The number of the labourer class members was about 1.300. There were two other groups except for the executive and supervision boards all of which consisted of Muslim Turks. The mercantile group was charged with providing metals from the market and the labourers were charged with carrying out all kinds of technical operations about coinage minting.
In this period, the mint began to carry out activities other than coinage minting. In the end of the process from the ascension of Mustafa III in 1757 to 1764, during which several regulations was made, the mint acquired the status of the Treasury of Capital Reserve. Within the mint various income and expense funds were formed and thanks to these funds the mint could even support the Imperial Treasury in the financing of costly wars of the period. Moreover, the mint also participated in the elimination of malikâne, esham and timar systems; in the management of income sources and mines belonging to the Enderun and the provision of the cereals of Istanbul. After the establishment of the Treasury of New Revenues [İrad-ı Cedid Hazinesi] the Mint transferred some of its duties to this institution, thereby relatively losing its former importance. Yet owing to the political and financial developments of the period, the Mint maintained its significance as a treasury until the Tanzimat reforms and proved influential in the establishment process of the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury.
The wars of the eighteenth century drained the means of the Ottoman treasury and the state inevitably resorted to adulteration. Having begun in the end of the century, the adulteration reached its culmination point during the reign of Mahmud II. The most negative result of these adulterations was that the kuruş, which had represented the stability of the Ottoman currency system, went through a tremendous devaluation. The extent of this devaluation was so tremendous that it resulted in the bankruptcy of the whole currency system.
The Modern Period (1844-1922)
The mint’s transition to the modern period was determined by two dynamics. The first of these was the abolition of the adulteration policy which ruined the currency system. For this purpose, an important reform was made in the minting technology and in the currency system. Secondly, the mint was largely purified from its activities except for coinage minting.
The minting technique was modernized by experts invited from Britain shortly before the execution of the Coinage Correction in 1844, and the coinage minting began to be made by steam tools named vapur çarhı [paddlewheel] in the historical documents. As a result of the technical reforms, manpower requirement greatly decreased. In this period 1 gold lira and 100 silver kuruş was accepted as standard, laying the foundation of a solid currency system. In addition to coins, the mint produced reference marks, medallions, ornamented golds and valuable papers.
In the modern period, the personnel policy of the mint went through tremendous changes. The root cause of this was that the new practices resulting from the Imperial Edict of Gülhane ensured the Mint as well. The most important one of these changes was that non-Muslims were also entitled for assignment to administrative positions in the institution. The directory of the Mint, which began to be called Currency Imperial Ottoman Administration and became an affiliated directorate of the Treasury Office, was carried out by the Armenians of the Düzoğlu family for a long time. In this period, the administration of the mint was carried out with a relative small cadre under a single director. Musa Kâzım states that in this period the personnel of the mint worked in the units of directory, accounting, composition, council, çaşni, çarhane, coinage, mercerization, coin flattening, mimeography, museum, cauldron, maintenance and repair, ladling (kefçe) and foundry.
The Imperial Mint carried on its activities during the First World War and the Armistice period, and with the abolition of the sultanate and the extension of Istanbul government to Ankara in 1922, it was affiliated to the Treasury Office. The Mint was not moved to Ankara but its name was changed into the National Mint in the republican period.
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