As time ticked down in a recent auction, and I suspected that my bid would win, my mind turned immediately to an impending mini-crisis of classification. Is this pair of 18th-centuryHolstein-Gottorp-Rendsburg coins German or Danish? The frontier between Germany and Denmark had been hotly contested for centuries, and the small state of Holstein-Gottorp-Rendsburg (Holsten-Gottorp-Rendsborg in Danish) shared traits of both. Had this question only been academic, I would have hardly batted an eye, but this was about something more important than geopolitics or scholarly pedantry; this was about real problems for coin collectors…this was about choosing the proper album for storing these coins for the long term.
Organization is both a bane and pleasure of numismatics. Whether we use albums, folders, boxes, or some other contraption, we all rely on some form of organizational tool to help us enjoy the hobby. But what happens, as it so often does, when coins seem to fit into two (or more!) categories that we use to organize our collection? With separate albums for Germany and Denmark, how do I decide where to place these coins,which, truly, are German and Danish?I decided to share my thought process here in this forum, hoping to solicit feedback on your own strategies when this or similar dilemmas arise.
The case for Germany: The territory in question is located in what is today Germany. Though passed back and forth for centuries, the town of Rendsburg is now a sleepy hamlet of almost 30,000 in the northern-German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Within the hobby, there really is no separate niche for Danish states. Rather, these territories on the German-Danish frontier are almost always lumped into the much larger German states category. To strengthen the case further, the well-respected international dealer who hosted the auction sold the pair as German.
The case for Denmark: Holsten-Gottorp-Rendsborg was a territory of the Danish king, Frederick IV. Asa result of the Great Northern War, Denmark had established dominance in the region, and had stripped less powerful German and Swedish princes of their territory. The coins themselves also tell a story…and the story they tell is in Danish. With the monogram of Frederick IV on the obverse and “I Skilling Danske” on the reverse, there is little room for doubting their Danish provenance.
While this dilemma offers some nice food for thought for numismatists, the so-called “Schleswig-Holstein” question had perplexed observers for a very long time. Speaking in the 1860s, the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston purportedly remarked about the true nature of this territory: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the [Danish] Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.” It’s no wonder then that I should struggle so mightily to determine the fate of these otherwise delightful coins in my collection.
I’m curious to know what strategies you use to organize coins that may fit many niches in your collection.