By Dariusz F. Jasek ….. As edited by Etjen Vincani
Siege Gold Ducats and Silver Siege Coins appear in Polish numismatic history twice: during the siege of Gdańsk (known in German as Danzig) in 1577 and during the siege of Zamość in 1813. In the former case, the gold and silver coins were produced by the city mint. Among these coins particular attention should be paid to the siege gold ducats dated 1577.
Situation Before the Siege
On July 7, 1572, Sigismund II Augustus (Zygmunt II August in Polish), the last king of Poland from the male lineage of the Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty, died. After his death, Poland saw a period of one year without a head of state (an interregnum). During this period several critical functions of the king were fulfilled by the so-called interrex, who was in practice the Primate of Poland (the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Gniezno). An “interrex”, from the Latin words inter (“between”) and rex (“king”), was also, as the title would imply, a temporary king. The position was modeled on the office of interrex elected by the Roman senate at times of intercession. The most famous Polish interrex was one Jakub Uchański, who found himself elevated to the position twice, here in 1572-73 and again in 1575-76.
As a result of French involvement, the successor of Sigismund II Augustus (and Uchański) was Henry III of France. Also known as Henri Valois (Henryk Walezy in Polish), the son of Henry II of France and Catherine de’ Medici. Henry was considered a meritable candidate for the Polish throne because of the childless death of Sigismund II Augustus and due to the unlikely possibility of Henry ascending to the French throne (France was ruled at that time by his 23-year-old brother Charles). Henri Valois was the king of Poland from May 11, 1573 to June 18, 1574. His coronation as King of Poland took place in the Wawel Royal Castle in Cracow on February 21, 1574, crowned by the aforementioned Jakub Uchański. According to a previous obligation to Jan Zamoyski, Henry was supposed to marry Anna Jagiellon (a daughter of the former Polish King, Sigismund I the Old); however, the marriage did not take place. Following King Henry’s secret nighttime escape to France in June of 1574, another period of interregnum was observed in Poland, this time for almost 18 months.
On December 12, 1575 Uchański proclaimed Emperor Maximilian II of the Habsburg dynasty to be the king of Poland. In response to Maximilian’s election, members of the Polish nobility immediately opted for Anna Jagiellon to take the throne (Anna Jagiellonka in Polish). She was officially appointed Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania the next day. Anna was also to marry the prince of Transylvania, Stephen Báthory (Stefan Batory in Polish), who was declared King of Poland on December 14, 1575. On May 1, 1576, Anna Jagiellon married Stephen, a man 10 years her junior, and following the ceremony both were crowned as rulers of Poland by the bishop Stanislaw Karnkowski in Wawel Cathedral.
The Siege of Gdańsk
Gdańsk was the only city that did not recognize Báthory as king, declaring loyalty to Emperor Maximilian II. In response Báthory blocked off Gdańsk economically by directing the flow of goods from the Vistula river (grain in particular) to another city, Elblag. Additionally, on June 11, 1577, the siege of Gdańsk began by an 18,000-strong Polish army. The city defended itself successfully for many months, but suffered huge losses as a result of the aforementioned trade blockade.
Around the same time Báthory decided to mitigate his feud with Gdańsk on account of his involvement in a war with Russia (although Báthory formally declared war on Russia only on June 26, 1579, military action had begun in 1577). On December 12, 1577, both parties signed an agreement, and in exchange for a sum of 200,000 guldens paid by the city, Báthory curbed the city restrictions – collectively called the Karnkowski Statutes, consisting of 67 articles limiting the independence of the Gdańsk City Council and giving the Polish king the right to open and close a port, regulate shipping or impose an embargo on maritime trade with any country. Regardless, Báthory’s agreement did gave the city a certain level of autonomy and preserve existing privileges. Gdańsk subsequently paid tribute to the king.
The long siege and the constant high cost of warfare forced the city council to decide on the re-opening of the Gdańsk Mint, which had been almost inactive from 1559 (it operated only briefly in 1573, during the interregnum period). Due to the excellent minting equipment and the presence of well-trained die-sinkers, siege coins of Gdańsk are distinguished for their high quality and precision of workmanship among the typical siege coins of other cities. The gold and silver needed to mint the coins was obtained in every possible way, including purchasing it in every form from citizens and confiscating it from churches.
The mint continued in operation until the end of the siege.
Silver Siege Coinage of Goebel and Tallemann
Initially the mintmaster of the Gdańsk Mint was a local businessman, Kacper Goebel. He had previously introduced then-unknown roller presses to the mint, and performed operations there (together with his assistant Wilhelm Schrciehen) until the end of August 1577. Goebel minted thalers (talary in Polish), groschen (grosze in Polish) and schillings (szelągi in Polish, equal to 1/3 of a grosz). His coins were of excellent quality, and their manufacture was quick due to the innovative production techniques being applied. However, Goebel was accused of minting more thalers than was written in the accounts with the city, as well as minting debased groschen, and thereby exposing the city to financial losses. Although he tried to clear himself of the accusations, Goebel’s explanations were defunct and he found himself reprimanded.
On September 14, Walter Tallemann from Lübeck succeeded Goebel, and remained as mintmaster until the end of the siege on December 12. Tallemann had neither the skills nor the tools of his predecessor. Using traditional methods (i.e. by hammer) he struck thalers, half-thalers (półtalary in Polish), groschen and schillings with the bird mark at the end of the legend on the reverse. These coins are noticeably inferior to Goebel’s due to the poor quality of the dies and the continuously decreasing silver content in the alloy (this last was necessary due to the limited resources and financial concerns of the city). In addition, coins minted by Tallemann are missing a uniformity of dies for each type; for example, the bird mark occurs in several entirely different varieties.
Siege Gold Ducats
By a decision of the city council dated August 31, 1577, the minting of gold siege coins–namely ducats (dukaty in Polish)–to a Hungarian example (3.57gm, fineness 0.979) was to take place under the Italian mintmaster Gracjan Gonsalo. According to the signed contract, Gonsalo’s salary was one grosch for each ducat minted. What’s of significance is that gold ducats were the only minted coins that weren’t undervalued during the Gdańsk siege in 1577.
Specification of the 1577 Gdańsk siege gold ducats:
- Weight: 3.57 g
- Fineness: 23 carat 12 grains, means 23.5 carat, or simply – 0.979 gold fineness
- Obverse: Gdańsk coat of arms ( two lions with the shield) and the legend around: MONE. NO. AVR. CIVI. GEDANENS ended with cross (or arabesque)
- Reverse: Christ standing with a date 15-77 on both sides. The legend around: DEFENDE NOS SALVATOR.
Examples of ducats sold in the recent auctions:
- Warszawskie Centrum Numizmatyczne Auction 62, 7 November 2015. Lot 345. 3.50 g (sold for 42,000 PLN ≈ 10,592 USD) https://www.numisbids.com/n.php?p=lot&sid=1277&lot=345
- SINCONA AG Auction 2, 24 October 2011. Lot 1236. 3.48 g (sold for 10,500 CHF ≈ 11,868 USD) https://www.sixbid.com/browse.html?auction=262&category=3387&lot=178118
- Jean Elsen & ses Fils S.A. Auction 91, 24 March 2007. Lot 1187. 3.43 g (sold for 9,000 EUR ≈ 11,971 USD)
On the matter of the Gdańsk gold siege coins struck in 1577, four other types listed in the literature alongside the ducat deserve to be mentioned. These are strikes in gold, minted with the dies of a szeląg, talar and półtalar – with a weight of, respectively, ½, 4 and 5 ducats (the latter two are later commemorative strikes for collectors) and a 10-ducats piece:
- Siege Schilling struck in gold (weight: half a ducat)
- Siege Half Thaler 1577, struck in gold (weight 4 ducats, diameter 34 mm). Minted with the Tallemann’s dies, with a bird mark on the reverse
- Siege Thaler 1577, struck in gold (weight about 5 ducats – from 17.38 to 17.85 gm, diameter 41.5 mm). Minted with Goebel’s dies
- Siege 10 Ducats 1577 (weight 34.88 gm, diameter 41 mm). Minted with Tallemann’s dies, depicting a bird mark on the reverse, and with a reverse legend similar to Tallemann’s thalers (CIVI instead of CIVITATIS)
Countermarked Gold and Silver
In addition to all the aforementioned types of coins, the Gdańsk Mint countermarked an unknown number of foreign coins (also ducats and goldguldens), obtained from the city treasury as well as from citizens during the siege. This was done due to the fact that the number of siege coins minted was not enough to cover the expenses of the city. The countermarking of gold coins for the purposes of legalization was the primary activity of the gold mint, with Gracjan Gonzalo serving as mintmaster. Gold coins bearing the countermark in the form of the coat of arms of Gdańsk in an oval shield are known with the hosts being Hungarian gold guldens from the 1530s, gold ducats minted in the Kremnitz Mint in the 1550s and ’60s and the Transylvanian ducats dated 1560s and ’70s. Silver foreign coins were also countermarked with different marks, either a hook or three hooks.
Due to the conflict with the king, the siege coins of Gdańsk in 1577 differed from earlier city emissions. On the obverse a typical Gdańsk coat of arms was depicted. On the reverse a half-figure or a full figure of Jesus Christ was shown as opposed to the image of the king, with the inscription “DEFENDE NOS CHRISTE SALVATOR” (“PROTECT US CHRIST THE SAVIOR”). The reverse was supposed to emphasize the fact that Gdańsk was dependent not on the king but on Christ, who was higher in the natural hierarchy of things.
As mentioned before, five coin types were issued during the siege of Gdańsk: gold ducats, silver thalers, half-thalers, groschen and schillings. All of these coins, except for ducats, were minted with a significantly lower fineness than their nominal value. After the siege these coins were recognized in Europe as counterfeits because of their low silver purity. After the war the Gdańsk City Council ordered the withdrawal of siege coins so they would no longer be in circulation by the end of 1578. Some coins minted during the siege were already circulating outside the city, and even outside the country. Smaller silver coins were melted immediately after being withdrawn from circulation.
Stephen Báthory also ordered the melting down of all the Gdańsk coins issued after the death of Sigismund II Augustus to mint new coins. Some examples (e.g. gold ducats countermarked in 1577) remained in circulation for quite a number of years. What’s also of significance is that some of the siege coins were successfully used as devotional items of prayer, due to the image of Christ on the reverse.
An Interesting Siege Ducat in Bronze
Unconfirmed reports indicate that the obverse die of the 1577 siege ducat probably survived to our times and was allegedly used to remint ducats, significantly reducing the rarity of the known specimens. As a confirmation of such a possibility we have a ducat struck in bronze, offered for sale a few years ago (Numismatic Cabinet Damian Marciniak auction, September 3, 2013., 4.60 g, 22.4-23.0 mm).
According to the information provided by the seller, the dies of the 1577 Gdańsk siege ducat were probably found (along with several other dies of old Gdańsk coins) during the sorting works of the Gdańsk City Archives in the early 20th century. Most likely, some coins were struck using these dies; among them most likely was this bronze ducat. Reverse dies had to be recreated since the originals were missing. The restrike reverses maintain a high level of precision, style and employ the correct lettering (with minor exceptions, such as the letter E in MONE is different from that of the gold coin).
The obverse of the ducat struck in bronze shows die damage similar to those found in the original 1577 gold ducats. In addition, as noted in the description of the auction, “the coin has a particular sound to it. It is not a galwan, it’s a specimen minted with dies” (galwan is a Polish term for a counterfeit coin made by electroplating).
* * *
Mr. Jasek’s most recent book, Gold Ducats of the Netherlands, won the 2016 Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) award for Best Specialized Book on World Coins. Be sure to visit his website at www.goldducats.com.
NGC-Certified Gold Ducats Currently Available on eBay