By Dariusz F. Jasek …..
Not long before the first gold ducats were minted, in 1252 the mints of Florence and Genoa started minting florins. They were minted with a similar but inconsistent weight and fineness, thus they did not always maintain the same value. This led to the introduction of a new coin – the ducat. The first gold ducats originated in Venice, first minted in 1285 following the edict of 1284. Venice started minting gold ducats (aka zecchinos), because like Genoa the city was at this time a leader in international trade. Therefore they needed a good, stable form of trade money and such small, light and very valuable gold coins as the gold ducat–with a consistent weight of 3.5 grams and a consistent fineness of 0.986–were perfect for this purpose. What’s more, the design of the Venetian ducat remained unchanged until 1797, when the Republic of Venice surrendered to Napoleon.
Following the Italian State’s idea, gold ducats were also minted by other countries. Two of them, Hungary and Spain, minted and distributed large amounts of their own ducats worldwide. These coins became popular, well-recognized and easily accepted in international transactions. As a result, gold ducats of the Hungarian and Spanish types were copied and quite intentionally minted by other countries.
In the middle of the 16th century the first gold ducats were produced by a number of mints in the Low Countries (like Nijmegen and Batenburg). These ducats were, to a large degree, debased coins. After declaring their independence from Spain in 1579, representatives of the United Provinces (the so-called States-General) insisted those mints be closed and that the minting of debased coins in the newly founded Republic was stopped.
The first Dutch gold ducats of the Republic were minted by the Holland province in 1583, but they were Hungarian-type ducats. In 1586 the first gold ducats of the Dutch type were being minted by several provincial mints, allowing the Low Countries to accomplish the same goal that Venice did three centuries before. At that time Amsterdam was a growing center of international trade and the demand for gold coins had increased; it was obvious that a good quality, well-accepted trade coin was a priority. In addition, the Low Countries established the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) in 1602 to establish direct trade between the East Indies and The Netherlands.
Gold ducats were minted from 1586 until 1816 with a consistent weight of 3.515 g and 0.986 fineness. Starting in 1606, double ducats of the Dutch type were also minted, with the same fineness and double the weight of the single ducats. In 1817 the weight of a single ducat was slightly lowered to 3.454 g and fineness to 0.983. Since then, these metrics have remained unchanged because gold ducats of the same design have been and are still being minted today by the Royal Dutch Mint in Utrecht.
The Netherlands ducat minted in 1586
The Netherlands ducat minted in 1816
The Netherlands ducat minted in 2016
As a coin series, the Netherlands gold ducats are special, because of their unchanged design from the first year of minting. As a comparison, the weight and fineness of florins and gold guldens, which circulated at the same time in various European countries, was inconsistent.
The obverse of the Netherlands gold ducat shows a knight to the right, holding a bunch of arrows in the left hand and a sword in the right hand. The obverse legend (which is also their motto), Concordia Res Parvae Crescunt, is Latin for “Union makes small things grow”. The last letters of the obverse legends indicate the mint where coin was minted:
- GEL or GE means the Gelderland mint
- HOL means the Holland mint
- WEST, WESTFRI or W.FR means the West Friesland mint
- ZEL or ZEEL means the Zeeland mint
- TRA or TRAI means the Utrecht mint
- FRIS, FRI or F means the Friesland mint
- TRANS or TRAN means Overijssel mint
Various other mints also produced ducats over the years.
The arrows on the obverse are supposed to represent the seven United Provinces, however the number of arrows sometimes differs from three to eight because of inconsistencies between die makers. Surprisingly, the Edict of 1586 actually shows a drawing with five arrows. In the early period ducats were usually minted with four or seven arrows. Over time, the percentage of ducats being minted with the correct seven arrows increased. But between 1648 and 1650 some of the Gelderland ducats, and only those, were minted with just three arrows.
The reverse shows an ornamented square with an inscription inside, which was probably inspired by Moroccan dinars. The inscription on the single ducats says: MO. ORD. PROVIN. FOEDER. BELG. AD. LEG . IMP. It is an abbreviation of the Latin text Moneta Ordinum Provinciarum Foederatarum Belgii Ad Legem Imperii. Translation: “A coin of the provinces of the United Netherlands according to the law of the Empire”. The legend on the double ducat reverse was usually slightly different from that on the single ducat.
Some special Dutch ducats were minted by the Imperial cities of Deventer, Kampen and Zwolle, located in the Overijssel province. These coins were minted with the emperor instead of a knight on the obverse, and with the city name in the reverse legend. Also the obverse legend, which included the name of the emperor, was completely different from other provincial ducats.
In the early period ducats were minted by hand, with a hammer. But by the end of the 17th century mechanization of the Dutch mints had started. In 1749 the first ducats with a reeded edge were minted in the Holland and West Friesland mints.
The largest numbers of gold ducats were minted in Holland and Utrecht. By the criteria of the time, the most ducats were minted in the 18th century – mostly due to a huge demand for those coins by the VOC for payments in trade with Asia.
Due to their worldwide acceptance, Dutch gold ducats were extensively counterfeited by the Russian Royal Mint at St. Petersburg for 133 years! It is important to understand that the coins minted by the Russian government were counterfeits in the purest sense. They were all of the correct weight and fineness, and as close to being exact copies as they could get. But there are diagnostics by which all Russian counterfeits can be identified.
It is also important to understand why the Russians counterfeited these coins. Simply put, they were the most widely and readily accepted coins in the world.
Between 1735 and 1769 almost 23,000 ducats of the Dutch type were minted secretly in Russia. In the next 26 years an additional number of 334,000 ducats were minted. Under Alexander I and his successor Alexander II, the minting of counterfeit ducats skyrocketed. For example, St. Petersburg minted over three times more counterfeit ducats with the date of 1807 than Utrecht minted in that year. In 1849 the Utrecht mint produced 14,344 ducats, and then stopped minting them until 1872 because of all the Russian counterfeits. Having no other choice, all Russian counterfeit ducats from 1849- 1868 were minted with the date of 1849 and therefore their total mintage reached 4.75 million pieces! Only after continued strong objections from The Netherlands against the counterfeiting did the Russians finally stop minting them at the St. Petersburg mint in 1868.
Starting in 1917 gold ducats were minted by the Royal Dutch Mint mostly for collectors. In 1974 a medal strike of the Dutch ducat was minted, in addition to single ducats with this date (regular coin strikes). Proof strikes began in 1989. In 1988, after a break of a 121 years, the minting of the Dutch double ducat resumed.
With 430 years of history behind them, Dutch ducats are today the oldest coin in the world still being minted with an unchanged design. Only Venetian ducats have a longer history – they were minted for 512 years.
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Mr. Jasek’s 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.
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