Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

European Coins II

[First Steps In Coin Collecting]  [Housing The Coin Collection]  [Ancient Coins]  [European Coins]  [European Coins II]  [English Coins]  [English Coins II]  [English Coins III]  [English Coins IV]  [Scottish And Irish Coins]  [North American Coins]  [Candian Coins]  [Central And South American Coins]  [West Indies Coins]  [African Coins]  [Asian Coins]  [More Coin Collecting Articles] 


We have seen how France and Germany were at one time part of the Carolingian empire and how their early history is virtually inseparable. This is also the case in the early history of Austria and Germany; the possessions of the counts of Habsburg at one time included large estates in southwest Germany and following the election of Rudolph of Habsburg as emperor of Germany in 1272 the duchies of Austria and Styria passed into the possession of his sons. From this time on the power of the Habsburg family greatly increased in Austria, until various members of the family, on being elected emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, extended their rule over most of Europe.

The coinage of the archdukes of provinces such as Austria, Bohemia and the Tyrol, together with that of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, provides us with an attractive series of portrait coins in gold, silver and copper. The series is of especial interest if only because of two coins which are, each in their own way, unusual; the beautiful medallic taler of 1479 bearing the portraits of Archduke Maximilian and his wife, Mary of Burgundy and the Maria Theresia taler of 1780. The former is an excellent example of Renaissance portraiture whilst the latter is remarkable because of the extent to which copies of this coin have been circulated in the Middle East. Over the years the inhabitants of countries such as Abyssinia, Saudi Arabia, the Aden protectorate and the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman have become used to handling the Maria Theresia taler in trading and being fully aware of the fineness of the silver, they carne to prefer these coins to any others. So much so, in fact, that until the present time various mints throughout the world-including our own Royal Mint-have found it necessary to produce copies of the taler still bearing the date 1780.

The taler of Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy is not the only example of renaissance portraiture in the Austrian series. Although of a later date (1522), the coin of Matthaus Lang von SS Wellenburg (1519-40) bears an equally fine portrait.


As is to be expected, by far the greatest wealth of Renaissance portraiture is found in Italy. Coins bearing superb portraits of such people as Gian Galeazzo Sforza, duke of Milan from 1416 to 1476, and Guglielmo II, duke of Monteferrato (1494-1518) may be obtained at prices far below their value as original works of art.

Many of the self-governing city states such as Venice, Milan, Mantua and Florence produced coins over a considerable period, Venice in particular striking coins in the names of the Doges which, due to the influence of Venice as a trading centre, circulated in many parts of the world. The venetian silver matapanes and gold ducats of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are very reminiscent in style of Byzantine coins. On the obverse of the matapanes the doge is depicted standing with St Mark surrounded by the name of the doge; the reverse bears the figure of Christ seated upon a throne. The ducat is similar, except that here the doge is kneeling before St Mark whilst on the reverse Christ is standing surrounded by stars within an oval; many Arabic copies of these ducats are found, usually with blundered legends. During the seventeenth century crown-sized silver talari made their appearance with the doge and St Mark design on the obverse and the winged lion of St Mark on the reverse.

The Congress of Vienna formed a kingdom out of the states of Venice and Lombardy of which Francis I, emperor of Austria, became king. During 1848, a number of demonstrations against Austrian rule forced both Venice and Milan, the capital of Lombardy to capitulate and republics were set up for a few months. Five lire pieces were struck in both Milan and Venice, the former being inscribed GOVERNO PROVVISORIO DI I,LOMBARDIA and the latter REPUBLICA VENETIA: both types are quite common.

We have seen that the Venetian coinage found its way through trade into many countries of the world and the city state of Florence too, made its mark upon European numismatics. Early coins of the republic were in the form of silver grossi bearing the figure of St John the Baptist on the obverse and the badge of the city, the lily, on the reverse, together with a variety of legends. Later issues of the thirteenth century included the gold fiorino or florin which achieved great popularity in Europe and was subsequently copied by other countries including England where, although the name remained the same, it was a much larger coin depicting Edward III seated upon the throne.

Many of the great families of the Renaissance period have left us visible proof of the power that they wielded in Italy and in particular, fifteenth-century Florence is inseparable from the name of Lorenzo de Medici (1472-92), who became governor of the republic: succeeding members of the family included Alessandro de Medici who became the first duke of Florence from 1533 until 1536. The coin of the latter illustrated on PLATE IV, 1, is ascribed to Benvenuto Cellini, the famous silversmith.

Before proceeding to later Italian coins, some mention must be made of the extensive series of papal coins that has been issued by the Holy See concurrently with the regular Italian coinage. Pope Adrian I (772-95) issued the first papal coins struck in Rome and since then the coinage has been continued with some interruptions until the present day and no collection of Italian coins would be complete without the inclusion of a few specimens.

Various emblems are to be found on the coins such as the lily, rose, dove and the pelican, each of which has some religious meaning. One of the commonest, however, is the triple crown of the pope shown together with crossed keys symbolizing the power of the pope and his authority as the successor of St Peter. This design is often shown above the papal arms and is frequently used on the crown-sized scudi. Whilst many denominations have been issued over the centuries, some of the most eagerly sought after are the scudi which often bear delightful religious scenes on the reverse. Innocent XI issued a specimen which depicts Christ walking on the water whilst his disciples are shown in attitudes of amazement in the fishing boat; a scudo of Innocent XII depicts the Israelites collecting manna in the desert. Many of these coins also have superb portraits of the popes on them as do also the small silver denominations and the gold coins.

During the periods between the death of one pope and the election of his successor, Sede Yacante (seat vacant) coins were struck at the papal mints of Rome and Bologna. Their design in these cases usually consists of the arms of the papal chamberlain with the date and sEDE vacaxTE on the obverse and on the reverse the Holy dove within rays together with a legend usually asking for divine guidance in the choice of a successor.

The mint of Rome is the most prolific in the papal series, but that of Bologna also struck large numbers of papal coins over the years. These were not the only mints in operation however-some thirty-six other mints were used at various times, often only for a few months when the central mint at Rome was in danger of being overrun by enemies of the pope.

The extent of Napoleonic power in nineteenth-century Europe is very well illustrated by the coinage. At the height of his success in 1808 practically the whole of Europe, with the exception of England, was under the influence of Napoleon, either being under his direct rule, protected by him or allied to him. In 1806 Napoleon created his brother Joseph king of Naples, but later replaced him by Joachim Murat his brother-in-law; Joseph afterwards became king of Spain on the abdication of Charles IV. In both the kingdoms of Naples and Spain coins were struck bearing the head of Joseph (in Italy 1806-8, in Spain 1808-13) the portraits being unmistakably those of a member of the Napoleonic family.


The Spanish currency during this period of political unrest was, not surprisingly, in some disorder. The French rule was unpopular with the people and from 1808 they were in constant rebellion. Ferdinand VII was held prisoner by the French but crudely struck coins were being issued in his name from mints in various parts of the country whilst besieged by the French. Barcelona suffered occupation by the French from 1808 until 1814 and during that time a series of coins were struck bearing the denomination (5 pesetas) within a wreath with BARCELONA above and the date below; the reverse is devoted to the arms of the city also within a wreath. Those coins of Joseph Napoleon issued from the Madrid mint during this period are in most cases comparatively common whilst those from Seville, the only other mint operating at the time, are very much rarer.

The Netherlands

Napoleon united the various provinces of the Netherlands into the kingdom of Holland in 1806 and placed his brother Louis on the throne. The coins that were issued in the name of Louis are very similar in style to those issued in Naples and Spain and are remarkably fine examples of portraiture (PLATE v, 1). Louis remained on the throne for four years and then abdicated under pressure from Napoleon who had not always agreed with the perhaps too lenient policies of his brother; the kingdom then became annexed to France. After Napoleon's defeat at the battle of Leipzig and the revolution in the Netherlands in 1813 William, Prince of Orange, was offered the throne and was crowned two years later. William struck gold coins valued at ten and five gulden at the mints of Utrecht and Brussels; he also continued to strike ducats similar in design to those that had been issued during the reign of Louis. The largest silver coin to be struck was the three gulden which bore the uncrowned head of William on the obverse and the crowned shield of the Netherlands on the reverse. The rijksdaaler, a crown-sized silver coin, was produced for the province of Utrecht in 1814, 1815 and 1816, although only those dated 1814 seem to have been struck in any quantity for circulation.

William I exchanged his possessions in Nassau for Luxembourg before he ascended the throne but Queen Wilhelmina was prevented from inheriting the grand duchy because of the Salic law and it is interesting to note that the letters G.H.V.L. (Groothertog van Luxemburg-Grand Duke of Luxembourg) are omitted from the titles.


In 1830 Belgium became independent and the mint of Brussels which had previously produced coins for the Netherlands now began striking coins only for the new kingdom. In some instances examples are to be found of the same coin with the legend either in French or in Flemish.


Before proceeding to the Scandinavian countries, one important central European country yet remains to be discussedPoland. Throughout her long and eventful history Poland has suffered many setbacks. During the eighteenth century she was partitioned three times, in 1772, 1793 and 1795, when Russia, Prussia and Austria annexed parts of the country. In 1918, after the First World War, Poland was formed into a republic which lasted until 1939. In September 1939 Russia and Germany invaded the country and announced that Poland had ceased to exist; a demarcation line was established between the Russian and German armies, this fourth partition annexing another 77,000 square miles to Russia and 73,000 square miles to Germany. In 1947 a new constitution was adopted which supposedly granted freedom of choice of government to the people and with amendments to this in 1952, the Polish People's Republic was established.

In common with other European countries, the early coinage of the eleventh century took the form of silver deniers. In Poland these were issued by the archbishops and were known as wendenpfennige, being small coins with a central cross on either side surrounded by a legend; the issue of these coins lasted some sixty or seventy years. It was not until the fourteenth century that other denominations were struck; silver gros and half-gros made their appearance, sometimes being struck for the crownlands themselves and sometimes for free cities such as Fraustadt and Danzig or the dependent territories of Lithuania and Ruthenia. Sigismund I Stary (1506-48) was the first Polish king to place his portrait on the coins with the exception of the three known specimens of a gold ducat issued by Vladislaus Lokietek (1296-1300 and 1306-33) which were struck in 1320 at the Cracow mint. The first gold coins to be struck in any quantity were those issued by Sigismund. It is interesting to note that the Cracow mint, together with that of Thorn, was originally included in Germany and belonged to the Teutonic Order. Since then, these mints have changed hands several times and are now part of Poland once more. The introduction of these higher denominations was made necessary by the increasing wealth of the country, the greatest degree of prosperity being reached during the reign of Sigismund III (1588-1632) which fact is reflected in the vast quantities of coins produced during this period.

In 1697 Friedrich August duke of Saxony was elected king of Poland and from then on his coins struck in Saxony included his Polish titles, thus qualifying them for inclusion in a collection of Polish coins. Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 the duchy of Warsaw passed from the possession of the kings of Saxony to the czars of Russia and at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the czar, Alexander I (1801-25) was created king of Poland.

During the hundred and two years that Poland remained under Russian rule, various types of Russian coins were in use as well as coins valued in Polish currency. A rather peculiar situation arose during the reign of Nicholas I with regard to this in that on some of the coins the denomination is given both in Russian and Polish currency, hence we find 3 roubles=20 zlote; 1-12 roubles=l0 zlote; I rouble =5 zlote; 30 kopecks =2 zloteand25 kopecks =50 groze, etc. These coins were struck at both the St Petersburg and Warsaw mints.

The coinage issued during the period 1918-39 under the republic contains several commemorative coins including fivezlote pieces struck to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the creation of the republic and the revolution against the Russians in 1830.


The early coinage of the Scandinavian countries is not entirely without interest to the collector of English coins since some of the kings of ninth century Britain were also kings of Denmark; due to the enormous sums of money paid to the Danes in order to buy off their raids (Danegeld) large numbers of English coins have been found in Scandinavia in general and in Denmark in particular.

The early history of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark is closely interwoven and for a period of some fifty odd years in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries they were ruled as one kingdom. Sweden separated from Denmark and Norway in 1523, Gustav Vasa (1523-60) then being crowned king.

Norway was for a considerable time annexed to Denmark and remained so until 1814 when she was transferred to Sweden; it was not until 1906 that she finally gained her independence.

The early coinage of the Scandinavian kingdoms consisted of the now familiar silver penny, those struck in Denmark being similar to those being struck contemporaneously at the mints in England. Small bracteate type coins made their appearance during the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, later giving way to the silver penning and its multiples, struck mainly at the mints of Lund and Noestved. In Norway, Bergen was the principal mint during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, whilst that of Stockholm became prominent in Sweden during the fourteenth and fifteenth.

During the latter period in Sweden the coinage was one of silver ortugo. These were in some ways similar to the English silver pennies of Edward I in that from the latter part of the fifteenth century most examples have the head of the king facing wearing a bifoliate crown within a beaded circle and surrounded by his name; for instance SCS:ERICUS:RED and continuing on the reverse MON/ETA/STO/CHO within the arms of a cross on which is a shield bearing the three crowns of the kingdom. The coin so described was struck during the governorship of Sten Sture the elder (1471-97 and 1501-03), the type having been copied from a somewhat similar one used by Eric of Pomerania (1396-1439).

On the separation of Sweden from the Union of Kalmar in 1523 Gustav Vasa was acknowledged as king and a more comprehensive coinage was undertaken. This consisted of the one, half, and quarter gyllen, one ore, one ortug (I ore), one fyrk (J ortug), eighteen penningar and the one penning. A somewhat later addition was a crown-sized coin, the riksdaler, first minted in 1534 and now a very rare coin (PLATE v, 2). Gold ducats were first struck in 1568 by Eric XIV (1560-68) and his successor Johan III (1568-92) continued to strike gold coins but of different denominations: the gold gyllen and the forty-eight-mark piece together with its fractions, down to a three-mark.

In the eighteenth century we find some extraordinary copper coins struck in Sweden. Rectangular plates of copper with clipped corners and stamped with the crowned royal monogram and the date were struck in various denominations from the one daler up to the ten daler which measures over 2 ft. x 1 ft. and weighs nearly 40 1b.

These pieces were intended more as a form of bullion than coins for circulation and this was probably fortunate since the circulation of such cumbersome objects would no doubt have proved to be wellnigh impossible.

Denmark also struck a small number of rectangular copper coins during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but these were very much smaller than their Swedish counterparts and most of them were actually intended for circulation. Some of the commonest of the earlier Danish coins are those of Christian IV (1588-1648) and many of his coins, particularly the crownsized speciedalers, have fine portraits on them.

Christian VII (1766-1808) is depicted on his coinage as a rather lethargic-looking person wearing a powdered wig. This king was responsible for introducing two types of coinage, one for Denmark itself and the other for the Schleswig-Holstein duchies. The rigsdaler species was issued and guaranteed by the National Bank and was intended for circulation in Norway but was first circulated in Denmark as an experiment. The species daler, intended for Schleswig-Holstein was passed current there for sixty schillings and was guaranteed by the government.

Following the annexation of Norway to Sweden in 1814, Norway was granted a separate currency. Each country therefore adopted the practice of placing her name first after the king's name, thus, during the reign of Oscar I (1844-59) on Swedish coins We find OSCAR SVERIGES NORR. GOTH. OCH VEND. KONUNG and On Norwegian coins we find OSCAR NORGES SVER.G.OG V. KONGE (Oscar, King of Norway, Sweden, Gothland and Vendalia). This practice continued until she gained her independence in 1906.

For those collectors who specialize in commemorative coins, the Scandinavian countries provide a little material. Charles XIV Johan issued a riksdaler in 1821 to commemorate the tercentenary of the establishment of political and religious freedom; the reverse of this coin bears three medallions with the portraits of Gustav Vasa, Gustavus Adolphus and Frederik I. Gustav V issued a fivekroner in 1935 commemorating tfie fifth centenary of the founding of the Swedish parliament and apart from these and a number of Danish five- and two-kroner pieces such as the one commemorating the eighteenth birthday of Princess Margrethe in 1958 and the silver wedding of King Frederih and Queen Ingrid in 1960, there are few other commemorative coins.


The Russian series offers us rather more commemorative coins --eleven of them-and again as in so many other European countries the influence of Napoleon is felt, for here we find a rouble struck in 1912 that commemorates the retreat from Moscow. The reverse legend reads 1812, THIS GLORIOUS YEAR WENT BY, BUT THE HEROIC DEEDS DONE THEN WILL NEVER PASS, 1912. Other commemorative roubles include one struck in 1839 in memory of Czar Alexander I and the most recent and commonest of them all, the tercentenary of the founding of the Romanofl' family 1613-1913.

Until Peter the Great (1689-1725) reformed the coinage by issuing gold, silver and copper coins after the manner of European rulers, the principal form of currency had been small silver kopecks and dengi (half kopecks) of a somewhat irregular shape. This was due to their having been struck from lengths of silver wire and for this reason they are sometimes known by the generic name of wire dengi.

The feudal princes and independent free cities such as Novgorod and Pskov also struck somewhat similar coins until the fifteenth century when Moscow under the Grand Princes absorbed most of these states, thus forming a single territory. Illustrations of two examples of the feudal coinage are to be found. In appearance the coinage suffered little change until Peter the Great, both the kopecks and dengi depict a horseman riding to the right; on the kopeck he is thrusting downwards with a lance like St George slaying the dragon, whilst on the dengi he is brandishing a sword. Some of the coins have two or more letters beneath the horse identifying the mint of issue. The reverse is devoted to an inscription in four or more lines naming the czar together with his titles, thus: CZAR AND/ GRAND PRINCE/MIKHYAL/FEDOROVICH/OF ALL RUSSIA.

Gold coins had been struck from the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1533-84) but these were not in general circulation and usually, when higher denominations than would be obtained by the use of dengi were required, silver bars or foreign coins such as Venetian ducats and German talers were used. Alexei Michailovich sought to ease the situation in 1654 by issuing crown-sized silver roubles, but discontinued doing so after a short time when he began countermarking German talers and crowns of the Netherlands instead (PLATE v, 4). It was left to Peter the Great to introduce the rouble for general circulation and this, together with its fractions in both silver and copper, as well as the two roubles in gold, formed the basis for the new currency. The highest denomination issued by Peter was the gold twelve-ducats which, together with most of its fractions, is remarkable for being dated with the day, month and year of issue. The issue was a very limited one and these coins only occur dated February lst or March lst, 1702. The four, two and one ducats are, however, not dated in this manner. It is interesting to note also that this is not the only system of dating used in the Russian series. Some of the denominations issued by Peter are dated in Kyrillic, whilst others are in Arabic and certain of the dengi are dated from the year of the Creation according to the Russian Orthodox beliefs,A.D.1535.

The Russian series is also unusual in that between 1828 and 1845 twelve, six and three rouble pieces were struck in platinum. The metal was mined in the Ural mountains and as the sources were comparatively rich and platinum of less value than gold, it was decided to turn it into coin. They proved to be unpopular and the issue was short-lived, this contributing towards the value of these pieces which today fetch high prices.

On the foundation of the U.S.S.R., a new currency was evolved, again based on the rouble of one hundred kopecks. The central motif on nearly all the coins is the hammer and sickle on a globe within a wreath, with the exception of the early issues of 1921-30, when some of them depict a blacksmith, two workers looking towards the rising sun or a five-pointed star within a wreath.