Gold Ducats

By Joël van Dam – Owner of Joëlnumismatics, for MA-Shops.com ……
 

The subject of this piece is about a gold coin most collectors of European coins know about, and it is probably the most famous gold coin of Europe: the golden ducat. But how much do you know about the coin and its huge history?

The word “ducat” is etymologically derived from the Latin word ducatus, which means that the coin is related to the duke: the duke’s coin. Golden ducats consist of around 3.5 grams of greater than 97% pure gold.

Additionally, there were other emissions of the golden ducat, with the most common being the two-, four-, six- and ducats and 10-ducat coins, their weights determined in relation to the one-ducat coin. The golden ducat and its brethren were minted for trade purposes from the 13th century until the beginning of the 20th. This is what makes it one of the most successful coins in the world. The coins were (and still are) minted in many countries in Europe with different iconographies, including the zecchino-type, the Austrian-type, the Ferdinand and Isabella or Spanish type, and the Dutch-type. But there are many others.

Today they are still minted in The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Hungary but only as Not-Intended-For-Circulation collector coins.

There is some controversy about which coins should be categorized as golden ducats. Therefore it is safer to say that the “first” gold ducats were minted by order of the duke of Venice in 1284[1]. The name for this ducat was the zecchino, and it was invented because of the debasement of the gold hyperpyron by Michael VIII Palaiologos, emperor of the Byzantine Empire[2].

The debase of the hyperpyron was not good for the trade that Venice had with the eastern Mediterranean. The Great Council of Venice therefore decided to mint their own gold coins with a very high fineness. Thus the gold ducat was born, and the coin flourished for centuries in Europe as a trade coin.

Books can be written about gold ducats, and they have been. But what can be concluded in this brief article is that the golden ducat was created because of the debased state of contemporary coins used by Venetian traders in the late 13th century. They decided to create their own coin type with a standard weight and a very high fineness. It was due to this that it spread throughout the whole of Europe as a perfect trade coin, and not the typical iconography that was utilized. The iconography changed according to time and place, but what makes the ducat a ducat stays the same.

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Notes

[1] It is also possible to determinate a coin of King Roger II of Sicily in 1140 as a ducat and some coins after this type.

[2] Whiting, P.D. Byzantine Coins (1973). Print. 232-33.

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