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The Paper Money Coin of 1574 – The First Paper Currency of Europe

By Jay Turner for PCGS ……
The Paper Money Coin of 1574 - The First Paper Money of Europe: Netherlands Leiden 1574 Siege ¼ Gulden, PCGS XF40

Netherlands Leiden 1574 Siege ¼ Gulden, PCGS XF40

Paper money requires a sacrifice, as they are not of any intrinsic value. It has a value that is assigned to the piece and based on a fiat or faith-based system that requires users to accept it for a particular value. Promissory notes from businesses or individuals have been known to exist since ancient times, but China is credited for the creation of the first paper currency issued by the government, and this had been known in Europe since the writings of Marco Polo.

The first official state-issued paper currency wouldn’t come to Europe until 1574 with emergency circumstances and with a people who made a great sacrifice. Accepted as money of necessity, the first banknote of Europe is the story of sacrifice and success. The next paper money wouldn’t come for another 87 years after under different circumstances.

During the Eighty Years’ War, rebellion occurred in the Spanish-ruled Netherlands. The Dutch took up arms against the Habsburg Spanish king and by 1572 these rebellious Dutch had occupied and controlled several cities and provinces. One such city, Leiden, which today is in the Netherlands in the province of South Holland, became one of the targets of the Spanish to reoccupy and siege warfare began in October 1573.

Siege warfare has been used against cities since ancient times. To protect their people, property, and rulers, city officials constructed walls and defenses to prevent armies from entering and conquering them. Armies, unable to break these defenses, would be at an impasse. But one option would be to blockade the cities from receiving support and goods, including food, in the hopes to starve the cities into submission. The longer the siege, the less food and water supplies that the city had stockpiled lasted. Starvation and disease afflicted the population inside the city, providing the sieging army a much easier capture of the city with fewer defenders; sometimes the city would just surrender.

Leiden was the second-largest city in Holland in 1573 when the siege began. The city had a good industry and was heavily active in the cloth trade. Yet one thing that happens in war and in sieged cities is that money dries up. Trade stops, and those who have coinage try not to spend it as they may need it later for survival to ward off starvation or bribe troops, thus the money disappears from circulation. Siege coinage is often produced in these circumstances, in which coins are produced quickly from all types of silver that can be found to pay troops and return money to circulation. Often these emergency siege coins are quickly cut in squares or klippes and stamped. And, when the siege is over, they are removed from commerce to be melted and recoined. Leiden was no exception to producing siege coinage, and round dies were used to produce not only round coins but also klippes. Yet, money quickly became an issue in Leiden and with the Dutch trying to defend against the Spanish.

Netherlands Holland Counterstamp (c.1573-74) on Spanish Netherlands 1572 1/10 Philpsdalder, PCGS F15.

Netherlands Holland Counterstamp (c.1573-74) on Spanish Netherlands 1572 1/10 Philpsdalder, PCGS F15.

Netherlands Leiden 1574 Silver Siege Money 14 Stuiver – Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions (www.HA.com) Europe MPO Auctions – Auction 56 lot 5724.

Netherlands Leiden 1574 Silver Siege Money 14 Stuiver – Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions (www.HA.com) Europe MPO Auctions – Auction 56 lot 5724.

In 1573, William Prince of Orange, leader of the Dutch Revolt, was running out of money. William ordered every coin in excess of 1/10th Daalder to be counterstamped with an oval coat-of-arms stamp from the respective province. This stamp would increase the value of the coin by 1/8th and the result would be a war contribution. The Zeeland coat-of-arms of a rampant lion left halfway above waves and the Holland coat-of-arms with a full rampant lion left began to appear on coinage. However, this wasn’t enough, and William Prince of Orange ran out of silver funds.

At some point the decision was made to produce coins not from metal but with something else to pay the troops and return money to commerce – these items were prayer books. It may have been because many Dutch were Protestants and the Spanish were Catholics, or it may have been because nothing else was as abundant as prayer books. Yet troops who were fighting for their freedom from the Spanish, their religious rights, their country, and were hungry and tired, would be paid not by silver coin but with paper. Pages from these prayer books were torn out and cut into planchet-size circles and compressed with multiple pieces of paper and then stamped with coinage dies, followed by counterstamping many with the Holland coat-of-arms.

This coin became the first European state-issued paper money.

Netherlands Leiden 1574 Gulden pages slip apart to show sections of prayer books. – Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions (www.HA.com) Europe MPO Auctions – Auction 58 lot 5715.

Netherlands Leiden 1574 Gulden pages slip apart to show sections of prayer books. – Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions (www.HA.com) Europe MPO Auctions – Auction 58 lot 5715.

A total of eight paper money coins were issued in the denominations of 5 Stuiver (1/4 Gulden), 14, 16, 18, 20 (Gulden), 28, and 30 Stuiver.

The ¼ Gulden coin or 5 Stuiver seems to have the highest survival of all of the pieces, measuring 30 millimeters in diameter and featuring the coinage dies with the crowned lion with shield and sword and the legend “PUGNO PRO PARIA” or “fight for their country” on the reverse. The coin comes up infrequently in European auctions. The 14, 16, and 18 Stuiver coins prove virtually elusive. The Gulden or 20 Stuiver coin measures 37 millimeters and features a crowned lion with a liberty cap on pole with the legend “HAEC LIBERTATIS ERGO” or “All for the Sake of Liberty” and “GODT BEHOEDELEYDEN”. The 28 Stuiver measures 43 millimeters in diameter and the 30 Stuiver comes in with a diameter of 48 millimeters. All of the coins are dated 1574; however, some believe these were struck as early as 1573.

For the city of Leiden, the siege continued from October 1573 until April 1574, when under command of Louis of Nassau, William of Orange sent troops to relieve the city from the siege. The Spanish army lifted the siege to face the invading troops. William of Orange advised leaders in Leiden to restock their city and take in a larger garrison to defend the town, yet these were disregarded and the Spanish army returned to the siege on May 26, 1574. Leiden was in a poor state and even considered surrendering as their supplies vanished. Through carrier pigeon communications William of Orange advised the city to hold out for three months for him to relieve the city.

By the third month, the city had run out of food stocks. The plan William of Orange had devised got derailed by his sickness, and misinformation as to the lay of the land caused the prolongment of the plan. The strategy was to destroy the dikes and flood the city, allowing for ships to deliver much-needed supplies. Thousands of people died of starvation in Leiden as the plan was delayed and disease spread, causing thousands more to die. Citizens demanded the city surrender, but Mayor van der Werff refused.

In October, more than a month delayed from the three-month promise, William of Orange and other Dutch patriots prevailed in destroying the dikes in multiple locations and successfully flooding the lands. The Spanish, who were not prepared for a watery terrain, retreated on the night of October 2. The water flooding the area would bring down one of the walls of Leiden soon after leaving the city completely open to attack and conquest had the Spanish not chosen to flee. On October 3, William of Orange’s troops were able to enter the city, giving much-needed provisions and feeding the starving people with herring and white bread.

By 1575 the Spanish treasury had run out of its own silver. The Spanish troops no longer being paid mutinied and looted the city of Antwerp. The whole of the Netherlands would rebel against Spain for these actions. Leiden was offered a gift for their loyalty and sacrifice by William of Orange: lower taxes or a university. The city chose the university and in 1575 Leiden University was founded. Leiden University went on to help usher in a Dutch Golden Age, with scholars from across Europe going to Leiden for intellectual tolerance and reputation. Even today, Leiden University ranks in the top 100 universities around the world.

Every October 3 the city of Leiden celebrates its victory with the 3 October Festival, where people often take the day off of work and school to participate in the festivities of parades, carnivals, markets, performances, music, reenactments, and memorial services; revelers feast on herring and white bread that are often handed out for free at the celebration.

While born of necessity, the siege paper money would be the first issued in Europe. The next paper money and first banknotes wouldn’t be issued until 1661 in Sweden. For the city of Leiden, the victory was a miracle that was fought by people for their independence, their faith, their lands, and such hardships and loss of life ended victoriously. The survival of a piece of cardboard cut and stamped from pages of a prayer book after over 400 years is truly a miracle all to itself and today is a testament to the people who persevered and kept such pieces that embody their colorful, fascinating history.

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  1. I would love to communicate with Jay Turner, about this story, however, after five requests to PCGS, I have not been able to communicate with a human being. It has been very frustrating.


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