German ducat made of Rhine River gold in Sincona auction

Piece highlights Oct. 25 auction in Zurich
By , Coin World
Published : 10/01/16
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The concept of striking coins from locally gathered metals — familiar to collectors of U.S. pioneer gold coins — is not unique to the United States. 

German coinage includes many examples of “locally sourced” metal being used to make coins, including a gold ducat from Munich that is offered in Sincona AG’s auction No. 33, on Oct. 25.

These so-called “river gold” pieces were minted from alluvial gold in placer deposits in German rivers. Gold panning or “washing” was a relatively lucrative business in 19th century Germany, with 83 kilograms recovered in the Grand Duchy of Baden alone, according to Lutz Neumann, an adviser to Sincona. The gold was minted into ducats that bore the name of the rivers from which the gold came.

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This practice extended the tradition of naming the source of the precious metal used to mint a coin or medal, whether a general mining area such as the Harz Mountains or a very specific mine located in one of Germany’s several mining districts, according to the auction house.

Three main sources of the river gold are identified: the Rhine, the Danube and tributaries, and the Eder in North Hessen, according to Neumann. 

The gold found on the banks of the Rhine originates in the Swiss Alps, and gold can still be panned in the Rhine today, according to the auction house.

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The first German coin with an inscription denoting its gold origin is a half ducat from the Electors of the Palatinate minted in Heidelberg. On the reverse of that piece, under the coat of arms is EX AURO RHENI, which means “From gold of the Rhine.” 

Aside from the Electors of the Palatinate, the Grand Duchy of Baden, the Archbishops of Mainz and the Kingdom of Bavaria also minted coins from Rhine gold.

Another source of river gold was the Danube and its tributaries, the Isar and the Inn. The gold found here also originates in the Alps and has been harvested since medieval times. 

A very limited amount of gold was recovered from the Eder River in North Hessen. This gold originated from the Eisenberg (Iron Mountain) near Korbach in the Principality of Waldeck. The coins were minted by the Landgraves (later Electors) of Hesse-Kassel. 

The striking of gold ducat coins from alluvial gold continued from 1674 until 1863, with different cities striking coins at various times and quantities. The river is not always identified as the source on earlier coins. The first ducats carrying the name of a river were minted in 1756 in Munich, from gold found in the Danube River.

In addition, several medals were made from river gold, as well as from silver recovered as a by-product of refining the gold. 

According to Neumann, an “exhaustive, excellent” monograph on the subject is Erläuterter Katalog der deutschen Flussgold-Gepräge (the “Illustrated Catalog of German River Gold”) by Franz Kirchheimer.

The work provides a detailed, condensed list of the various issues from the three major rivers, details that are also scattered throughout listings in Gold Coins of the World by Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg.

The coin in the auction is an 1830 gold ducat issued under Ludwig I of Bavaria. The 3.49-gram coin exhibits traces of mounting but the auction firm lists it as “Extremely Fine-Good Extremely Fine,” and gives it an opening bid of 3,800 Swiss francs (about $3,911 U.S.).

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