The lira : token of national (dis)union (1814–74)
Title: The lira : token of national (dis)union (1814–74)
Author: CHIARUTTINI, Maria Stella
Series/Number: EUI RSCAS; 2018/01
A single currency is a powerful tool to integrate markets and instil a sense of common belonging. In nineteenth-century Italy, however, the introduction of a national currency, the lira, proved divisive, especially in the South. While it has already been argued in the literature that the South was disadvantaged in the long run by the currency union it formed with the North, this paper explores the concrete way in which monetary unification was achieved. The prolonged period of chaos following annexation stood in sharp contrast with the monetary stability the South had enjoyed under the Bourbons. Despite accounting unification, the peninsula remained divided for many years into a Northern area dominated by gold and a Southern one dominated by silver. Recoinage was further delayed once the notes of the National Bank – the former Piedmontese bank of issue – were declared inconvertible. On the one hand, inconvertibility fostered monetary integration by spreading the National Bank notes across the whole country. On the other, however, besides delaying recoinage, it generated a new monetary divide: between a North where paper money was readily accepted and a South still clinging to coin. Moreover, it impaired not only the relations of the Southern banks of issue with the privileged National Bank but those between the Southern banks themselves. Rampant speculation, favoured first by the slow and clumsy introduction of a single currency and later by note inconvertibility, could hardly be expected to rekindle national feelings, while the bitter banking antagonism reinforced regionalist aspirations.
Subject: Monetary integration; Central banking; Italian unification; North-South divide; Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; E42; E51; F36; N13; N93
Type of Access: openAccess