1926-1938, Complete Albania Set
aka the Zog era coins
The span for this set encompasses the time frame that Zog, whether as President or King, was in power.
Ahmet Mutar Zogolli was born in 1895 to a feudal landowning family in the Mati area of what was then still part of the Ottoman Empire. His younger years included an education in Constantinople. He claimed descent via his maternal line from the sister of the great Albanian hero Skanderbeg (who managed a successful, but not permanent, rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s and who remains an integral part of maintaining a national identity).
Even though he was the second (surviving) son, Zogolli succeeded his father as leader in the region. He was one of the signers of the Albanian Declaration of Independence---separating Albania from the Ottoman Empire and forestalling dreams of annexation by other Balkan powers.
Ahmet Zogolli fought on the Austrian side during WWI and did not return to Albania until 1919 after spending two years in Vienna. Upon his return he entered politics including stints as Governor of Shkoder, Minister of Interior, and Chief of the military ultimately becoming Prime Minister. He also changed his last name from Zogolli to ‘Zogu’. Interestingly, Zogu translates to ‘bird’, which made for a very nationalistic name given the country’s eagle emblem.
In 1924 Zogu was briefly ousted, but returned as Prime Minister with the support of Yugoslav forces and he was ultimately elected President in 1925. At this point he was the leader of an impoverished, primarily rural country, where the remote villages were still essentially separate feudal regions run in the old Bey/serf style.
As President he was reputed to be ruthless and unforgiving to his enemies as he pulled the country together into a single system as a European modeled government. Though reportedly running the country as a police state, he also instituted such reforms as ending serfdom, instituting animal cruelty laws, and ‘banned the veil’ and otherwise forming a more 'European' nation. He required outside support from a modern nation to fund the infrastructure and changes he was making, which were obtained primarily from Italy as Zogu was relatively ignored elsewhere.
In 1928 a constitutional monarchy was proclaimed and President Zogu became Zog I, King of Albania.
As his reforms continued ties to Italy strengthened, somewhat reluctantly at times. As the King, he tried cultivating relationships with other nations, with Italy trying to exert more control. He was not successful and Italy remained a significant presence.
In 1938 King Zog married Countess Geraldine Apponyi, who was a half Hungarian, half American aristocrat. She was also Roman Catholic and was apparently partly chosen, from Zog's point of view, as a unifying force for the religiously diverse country, and had the potential to open European ties. A real affection was also reported. Also, not being 'local', she would not confer favor to any one faction over another.
By this point Italy was pressuring for more control in Albania, including defense positions and port control. Among other issues was the increasing demand to expulse Jewish Albanians which Zog refused to do. In fact Albania remained open for Jewish immigration and continued to issue visas even in Berlin as late as 1938, which apparently infuriated Italy. (Albanians--Muslim and Christian--actively protected the Jewish Albanian population during the WWII, and the Jewish census increased from 200 at the beginning of the war to 2000 by the end).
On 5 April 1939 Queen Geraldine gave birth and on 7 April Italy invaded.
The Queen and the household were evacuated, followed closely by Zog. This was not unanticipated as King Zog had been delaying and stalling an official response to a final demand from Italy which would have greatly reduced Albanian’s independence. The King was able to leave with the greater part of the gold in the treasury.
His stated plan was to use the funds to return to Albania. But after WWII ended Zog received little external political support, the Communist faction gained control, and so the gold was pretty much used to sustain his household.
The 'bag-marked' appearance of so much of the otherwise uncirculated state gold coins has been attributed to the rather rough and rapid transport of the gold coins.
Not unexpectedly, Albanian coinage under Zog shows a clear Italian influence in design. Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel was an avid coin collector and fan of the Roman neo-classical designs, and the Italian Mint produced the majority of the Albanian coinage of the era. This influence is reflected in the half leku featuring Hercules wrestling the Nemean lion, the full leku with Alexander the Great on horseback, a helmeted female reminiscent of Athena etc.
Coins were struck in varying denominations between 1926 and 1938, though not every every year--or denomination within a given year--is represented. Proof coins of selected issues were minted and there are several ‘prova’ (specimen or trial) examples across the denominations and years. The provas are not included in the complete set presented here, though the proofs are.
Three mints are represented in the coinage with the vast majority being produced in Rome, with the ‘R’ mintmark. Vienna and London also had limited roles and are indicated by ‘V’ and ‘L’ respectively
The coin denominations were based on the ‘lek’, with its fractions, and the ‘frang ar’ and its multiples (and the plural of frang ar is franga ari).
The word lek or leku is derived from Alexander the Great—called Leka in Albanian. There are 5 lek to the franga (franc equivalent), making the 5 franga a crown equivalent.
The Albanian word for one hundred is ‘qind’ so ‘qindarke’ (and its variants) are hundredths. 10 quindar leku thus means 10 hundredths of a lek. 1 quindar ari is 1 hundredth of a silver franga ar.
In 1926 the bronze 5 and 10 qindar leku were produced. The other denominations were the nickel ¼, ½, and 1 lek, the silver 2 and 5 franga ar (ar for silver), and the gold 10, 20 and 100 Franga. The 5 and 100 franga denominations had variations with differing numbers of stars located beneath the bust of Zogu.
The set listing by NGC and Krause both indicate the 1926 20 franga ari gold coin has both a Zogu bust and a Skanderbeg bust (with the Lion of St. Mark reverse). However, the Zogu bust version is not listed on the Bank of Albania website (not an error free page), nor has one been graded at either NGC or PCGS. In addition, a perusal of available auction and sales results does not show a 1926 Zogu bust 20 franga ari coin sold. It is entirely possible this was either never minted, melted, or were not included for some reason with the other gold coins that were taken out with the fleeing King. However, given the number of collectors (including the King of Italy) it would seem that there would be at least a few examples seen if they had been minted.
Also, in addition to the Skanderbeg coin with the Rome (or ‘R’) mintmark, there were a small number of coins that had fasces adjacent to the mintmark. Of the 100 produced, 90 are listed as melted. They are not provas but a translation of an Albanian source calls them a trial. It would be reasonable to suspect the first hundred were minted, but were rejected due to the fasces. One of the contemporaneous banknotes was recalled as it featured a single headed eagle rather than the double and it was ‘not Albanian’ and thus rejected. The prominent fasces on the coins would possibly have been seen as too Italian, and it would not be surprising if the dies were re-worked to remove the fasces. Purely speculation, but given the verbiage and the other events of the time it might explain both the limited run and the melting.
With 1927 the bronze smaller denominations, the circulation silver 5 franga ari (provas exist and are heavily counterfeited), and the smaller gold denominations were dropped. Added was the silver 1 frang ar. As with 1926, there are variations of the 100 franga coin to include those with/without stars under the bust of Zogu. In this year both the Zogu and Skanderbeg busts are found on the 20 franga ari coin. The Skanderbeg coins bear the 'V' mintmark this year.
1928 is listed by Krause (and the set criteria) as having a silver 1 and 2 franga ar circulation coins. This is not supported by the Bank of Albania website, nor have there been examples graded. What was produced were prova sets and examples of these can be found. However, the bank site does have some errors noted and can’t be completely relied on.
In 1930 and 1931 the ½ and 1 leku were minted (in Vienna and London), including proof examples for 1931.
1935 saw the minting of the 1 and 2 ‘qindar ar’, denominations which were equal to the 5 and 10 ‘qindar leku’ respectively. As it is 5 leku to the silver 1 Frang Ar (or Fr ar) the 1 and 2 represent hundreths of the silver frang ar coin. The 1 and 2 frang ari were also minted this year.
1937 coins were minted to celebrate 25 years of Independence. The 1 frang ar had both a regular and commemorative reverse design. The silver 2 franga ari and gold 20 and 100 franga ari were of the commemorative style.
In 1938 only gold commemorative coins were minted. There were two versions, one to celebrate the 10th anniversary of King Zog’s reign as monarch, and another to celebrate the royal wedding. Both had the 20 and 100 franga ari denomination, and the sole representative of the 50 franga denomination is for the anniversary. _________________________________________________________________________________________Read more...