A Genealogical Perspective of
during the Republic (c1568-1795)
Until a little while ago the guilder (gulden) seemed such a normal institution that people really did not consider the historical background of this coin. Ordinary people began to realize this only when the Netherlands switched to the Euro. With the introduction of the Euro an important era in the history of our coinage was closed off, a history that has been described in a number of attractive publications. This transformation of the coin makes it clear that, although coins seem to be for all times, each era and each place had its own system of coinage. This is the reason for the vast diversity of coins and coinage in centuries past, including in our country. Many coins remained in circulation for a long time, so that at any given moment there might be tens of different sorts of coins in circu-lation. Remember further that the development of a central bank with a 'national coin' was a gradual process. 1 The minting of coins was done by authority of the city or province; there was considerable struggle before the right to mint coins was given up. The gulden did not gain its official status as the national coin of the Netherlands until the law on coinage of 1816. Louis Napoleon had created the infrastructure for this. Because of the development of the decimal system (the system based on tens) we had the cent as a hundredth part of the gulden.3
In spite of the introduction of the gulden, the minting and circulation of many different old coins was maintained during the entire reign of Willem I (1813-1840 so that the country had a dual system of coinage of both old and new coins for about 35 years. In addition, both a gold and a silver standard were applied. Starting in 1816 attempts were made to come to a standardization of the coinage system. However, this was not really successful until the passage of the coinage laws of 1847, following which a major sanitization of the money system took place. Originally, the government had set aside too little money for this operation, and as a result a number of earlier attempts to come to a standard system of coins came to naught. Only after 1848 an end to the chaos in coinage was achieved as a result of the increasing prosperity in the country.4 In the border areas, such as Limburg, it still took quite a long time before the gulden was generally accepted as a means of payment.5 It can be presumed, therefore, that the monetary system of the Republic came to an end only around 1850. This is the reason that we will also discuss this transition period in this article.
It is noteworthy that in spite of numerous complaints about this monetary mess, the payment system functioned reasonably well, all be it that deceit and coin mutilation were accepted as a fact of life. This was partly so because it was beneficial to the government during these difficult times. Unfortunately, deleterious government practices were the rule rather than the exception.
In this article we will deal mainly with the methods of payment during the Republic, the French era, and the transition period to a new payment method while the old money was still in circulation. This transitional phase covers the reign of king Willem I and Willem II (1813-1849). The total period, therefore, covers about 300 years (1568-1848). We restrict ourselves to the circulation of coins and the minting in Holland and the northern regions. I purposely do not use the word gulden because various units of money were used during these times, wherein the gulden gradually prevailed and became the unit of our national monetary system. It is a very involved history of deve-lopment and which is subject to a lot of misun-derstanding. To cite an example, while the northern Netherlanders calculated with (virtual) guldens, for a long time there was no coin with the real value of a gulden. Actually, in daily life people thought and calculated in daalders, schellingen and stuivers (1 daalder = 5 schel-lingen = 30 stuiver), coins which were much more popular than the gulden. The gulden was used in trade and by the bookkeepers, the stuiver was applied in common life. In this essay we will restrict ourselves to the major topics that may be of interest to genealogists. The assortment of coins is so large that a complete explanation would result in a very extensive book.6 Anyone who wishes to delve deeper into this material is urged to consult the numerous and extensive numismatic literature.7
In this article we concentrate on the information about coins in the northern regions. As far as the coins of the southern area is concerned, including in Flanders, the matter is much more involved. Because of history, politics and location many more foreign coins were in circulation there than there were here. We also remind you that the economic development in Flanders started a hundred years earlier than in Holland. In a succeeding article we will deal separately with the coins in the southern provinces, although there is a short period (1814-1830) that theoretically the Netherlands and Belgium shared a common coinage.
The importance of the phenomenon of coins to the genealogist
Municipal Coin Minting Workshops (Ateliers)
The phenomenon of coinage has a much broader importance for the genealogist than only the name of the coins and their value. The Mint was an important municipal institution where people earned a living and where very specialized personnel was employed. A coin was a welcome source of revenue for the authorities in those cities. Because of that quite a lot of information about the coinage was retained. Remember as well that there was no paper currency. This meant that in the economic affairs the coinage had a relatively great importance and that there was relatively a large amount of coin in circula-tion, or was stored in the proverbial sock.
Inspection of Local Minting Workshops
An important difference with later times is that most of the mints were independent (private) enterprises which made coins on order from a businessman or from an institution. Every locality attempted to get its share of this enterprise.8 There was practically no central supervision of the coins that were produced. Gradually this changed and the local mint and coinage was subject to periodical inspection by the central governments9 who came to assess the newly minted coins for legitimacy and value. From these inspections also, quite a bit of archival material has been retained. The central authorities could hardly keep control of the (mainly copper) coins of low value (daily use change). Local proliferation of change was the result, with a large diversity of coins and coin names, and intended mainly to serve the local market.
Around the minting of coins a number of related trades developed that were concerned with the minting and quality of the coinage. One of these institutions was the central coin authority, a functional and advisory body (commission) of the Estates-General. Such functions as assayer general, evaluator general, and coin supervisor general were created (see later). At first the regional mints did not concern themselves very much with the central supervision. For it was the practice that the municipal and provincial authorities attempted to reap the advantages and continually claimed independence, based on manorial rights. Only after the ordinance of 1694, the cabinet (that is to say the national government 10 ) gained more influence on the municipal coinage.
Bank of Exchange
To maintain an overview of coins and their value an institute was founded in Amsterdam at an early stage (1609): the Amsterdam Bank of Exchange, which would become an international example. Among others, one of its functions was to bring to an end the confusion about the various coins. In other places similar institutions were established as well. But especially the Amsterdam Bank of Exchange would gain great influence in national and international trade, as beside the control of trade in coins it would also manage the system of payments. At this institution foreign currencies were assayed and weighed and assigned a value. To serve its foreign clients, the bank of exchange also had coins minted that were accepted internationally. Via this channel an extensive export of coins developed. The bank of exchange bought precious metal for its own use but also on behalf of the regional mints. The history of the Amsterdam Bank of Exchange was extensively researched by J.W. van Dissel.
At the local level there were money exchangers and cashiers who attempted to earn a living by trading in money. Shady practices were not a rare occurrence.
Resources for Control of Coinage
Originally coins were made in a primitive manner, often without a well-defined rim. There was large-scale tampering with the coins: that was called 'muntschennis' or coin violation. Frequent forms of this violation were scraping off the precious metal or snipping small slivers from the coin, which was called 'snoeien' or trimming. Another trick was to hollow out the coin and to insert a lead plug instead. By submerging silver coins in acid the silver was dissolved and this silver was then recovered (this method of deception was called 'semeren'.) It is interesting to point out that while there were severe penalties for coin violation or counter-feiting, there was barely any proper government supervision on the quality of the coinage.11 This meant that much was left to the initiative of the private citizen. As the value of the large variety of silver and gold coins that were in circulation depended mostly on their weight, there were many coin scales available to check the weight. For each coin a copper weight was made so that the weight of the coins could be checked. Most merchants owned coin boxes in which they kept a coin balance and a series of copper weights. These coin boxes were manufactured by the coin-weight-maker.
But even without explicit fraud the quality of especially the lower-value coins was very poor. Coins stayed in circulation too long, and there were no institutions that removed the old and worn coins from circulation. It must also be remembered that gold and silver are fairly soft metals and that there was little knowledge of metallurgy12 to harden the coins.13 Some coins from the Golden Age (1590-1672) remained in circulation until 1845; their weight sometimes was only 30% of the original. No wonder there was general dissatisfaction with the poor quality of the coinage. Add to this that the method of coin manufacture made it easy for devaluation (lessening of value) and fraud to occur. The devaluation of the minting was the result of the (sometimes fraudulent) reduction of the percentage of silver in the coins. Well-known poor types of coins were the daalders, the florins and the schellingen. It was even worse for the lower value coins which lost practically all their value through devaluation and gradually disap-peared from circulation.14
The Valuation of Coins
An important reason why coinage is important to the genealogist stems from the fact that in many important genealogical archival documents amounts of money are mentioned in specific coinage. To gain an appreciation of a large number of legal transactions (purchases and sales, leases, inheritances) it is necessary not only to know the coinage and the monetary units, but also to have some sense what could be bought with a particular coin (schelling, duit, daalder). Because of the chaotic circumstances that surrounded the valuation of coins that can not be simply explained, especially because the value of the coins cannot readily be expressed in current money. In addition, short forms and notations are used that cannot be easily under-stood without some background knowledge.
In this article we will deal first with the production of coins and some related matters, and after that with the disparate coin systems and assortment and their value.
Coins, the Origin
The word 'munt' (coin) is of Latin origin and derived from the location where money was minted in Rome: the temple of Juno Moneta.15 The value of the coin was established mainly by the value of the gold, silver or copper that was incorporated in the coin. In the Northern Netherlands the coinage system was based mainly on silver; for a short period a dual gold/silver system was used. However, the price of gold and silver changed substantially over the years. The arrival of large amounts of silver from South America led to a devaluation of silver coins, which led to a relative increase in the price of gold. When the gold coins became more expensive than silver ones, people tended to save gold coins. In this way the silver coins squeezed gold coins out of the market.
A long history of development precedes the technical and artistic sides of coins. In addition to being a bearer of the value of the metal, a coin is very artful product that portrays much of the technical ingenuity and artistry of the earlier generations. Just consider the form, the execu-tion, the alloy and the durability. The study of coins (numismatics16) is an important discipline in the study of history17. To be able to make a proper identification of coins and to assign an appropriate value, one needs to be versed in metallurgy (the composition of metal mixtures or alloys), the workmanship of the coins (manual forming of the coin dies), the stamps of the mint masters, assessment of the degree of wear, and other aspects such as violation, counterfeiting, and the quality of the minting process. In part because of the artistic qualities, coins have always been desirable collectibles. This is why coins have been extensively studied, where identification of genuine and counterfeit coins became of high importance. Genealogists do not need such specialized knowledge, because the historical backgrounds of the coins and of the production of coins are of more interest for the interpretation of archival documents.
The Coin as a Technically Advanced Product
Like all technically difficult products, coins went through a complex technical development. The status of the culture and technical knowledge can readily be established from the quality of coins. Originally metal sheets were manually forged and round coins were cut with shears to the correct weight. One of the greatest advances was the rolling of metal sheets with consistent thickness which made it possible to punch coins with a set diameter. When the thickness of the coin varied18 each coin had to be weighed individually after shearing19 to ensure a guaranteed weight of the coin. In the beginning the coin's image was impressed into the blank by striking a stamping die with a hammer. This is why we still speak of striking coins. The quality of the coins jumped forward when instead of coin striking, the screw-press for the minting of coins was introduced in Dordrecht around 1670. A simplification of the engraving process for the coin dies was made with pantograph equip-ment21. However, employees of the mint slowed the improvements as they feared they would lose their jobs. But the government was not prepared to push through the modernization because of budget restraints. Mechanization of the production of coins by way of horse-, wind- or waterpower was introduced at an early time as many aspects of the production of coins required great strength. After 1800 the technical improvements followed each other in quick succession. Major improvements in the minting process were carried through during the time of Louis Napoleon. He imported advanced machines from France, which were placed at the Utrecht Mint, at that time the most modern of the mints. With these machines it became possible to produce a better raised rim with a milled edge, which made the trimming of coins much more difficult. The die production was also standardized by the introduction of a 'master die' from which the next generation of dies was copied. With these modern techniques a superior identical product was produced which made it possible to recognize coin violation or counterfeiting much easier.
(1) The concept of 'nation', i.e. an admini-strative connection of people, dates only from around the end of the eighteenth century. Our national bank, the Nederlandse Bank, dates from 1816 but even then this bank had restricted powers.
(2) From olden times the privilege of minting coins belonged to the sovereign, who could lease this right to other persons or institutions (such as cities) in case of a money shortage. When we gained our independence from Spain the coinage rights devolved in part to the provinces and cities.
(3) For the introduction of the decimalization (the system based on tens) of the national coinage, the name of Van Swinden must be mentioned. He was an internationally respected professor of mathematics and physics at Amsterdam, and was closely connected with the introduction of the decimal system of weights and measures. His name is kept alive in the name of the Dutch laboratory for science of calibration. This decimalization was first intro-duced in the United States (1792) and after the revolution in 1795 in France. In the Netherlands this became a fact with the new law on coinage of 1816.
(4) The province of Limburg is an exception as Belgian and French money remained in circulation here, and only postage stamps, the train and taxes were paid in Dutch coin. To a lesser extent this also applied to parts of Brabant and for a time also in Twente where German Thalers remained current in wage payments by manufacturers.
(5) Until the end of the First World War employees in Limburg were paid in Belgian Francs or German Marks. Only for postage stamps and taxes Dutch money was used. Even in the time between the two world wars Dutch and Belgian money were used side by side in many businesses in Limburg.
(6) Of just seven of the most commonly used coins there were 250 variations. Additionally, in the Netherlands foreign currencies were used, especially if these were of better quality than the worn and devalued Dutch coins.
(7) Old coins have a value as collectibles that can only be determined with great expertise. Imitations and counterfeits have to be distin-guished from authentic coins. The value as a collectible depends on the rarity; the quantity minted of quite a number of coins is well docu-mented. For a good introduction, once should read De Nederlandse Munten by Dr. H. Enno Van Gelder, the national expert in this area. There are also numerous catalogs of coins. I have consulted, among others, the one by J. Mavis, De Nederlandse Munten van 1795 tot Heden (Dutch coins from 1795 to the present), 32nd revised and improved edition.
(8) As a result, in times of economic recession fewer coins were minted.
(9) In our country: the generaliteitsmuntkamer (the government commission for coin control)
(10) The concept of 'generaliteit' (=universality or joint effort) needs to be explained. During the Republic each province had its own admini-stration, the 'estates', which were completely independent, but which regulated matters jointly. The joint administration board was called the 'Estates-General'; the institutions which worked on behalf of all in common matters were called 'generaliteit'. Within the generaliteit there were several executive boards one of which, the generaliteit mint chamber, the old college of counsels and mint-masters-general, acted as the supervision and control institution on behalf of the Estates General.
(11) Officially the crime of 'trimming' was punishable by the death penalty, but it was difficult to prove the crime as all coinage was of poor quality. Just the same, a military musician was sentenced to death for trimming in 1831, but he was pardoned and after having been pilloried he had to serve 12 years in a place of correction.
(12) Metallurgy: the suffix 'urgy' is derived from the Greek word ergon, which means work. Think of such words as ergonomic. Therefore metallurgy literally means the working of metals. In fact it means knowledge of metals and alloys.
(13) Especially poor silver is subject to wear and gives off a blue oxide in extended handling. Hence the expression: Count money till your fingers are blue.
(14) In this connection remember the gulden cent (penny) of a few years ago which became worth so little that it was declared invalid and removed from circulation. The half-penny did not return after the Second World War for the same reason.
(15) Consider the English word money, or the French monnaie. The word is also incorporated in monetary, when dealing with financial matters.
(16) Derived from the word nomos, which also means legally defined.
(17) The successive series of kings is reflected in the images on the coins.
(18) The thickness of the manually cut coin sheets varied. When punching coins with an identical diameter the weight of the coins would differ.
(19) At some points in time, when money had to be produced in an emergency, square or rectan-gular coins were used. These can be cut more quickly, but coins with square corners are more easily damaged, especially if the metal is soft.
(20) There was a major objection to the screw-press, i.e. that the pressing required little skill, and also that the process was silent. This is the reason that the screw-press method was used especially by counterfeiters.
(21) While the making of coin dies was precision engraving, the pantograph made it possible to make many small copies of a large master, and these were all identical.
(22) Starting in 1806 all provincial and city mints were closed. The mint in Utrecht later became a branch operation of the French mint, and during the reign of king Willem I our national mint.