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Kevin Goldberg

Old World, New Ideas

Kevin Goldberg

Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.   

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Archive for 'July 2015'

    Frankfurt's Numismatic Past and Present

    July 27, 2015 10:07 AM by Kevin Goldberg
    For most international visitors to Germany, Frankfurt is the (air)-port of call. But having been built, burned, rebuilt, re-burned, and re-rebuilt countless times, Frankfurt’s former charms may have gone up in the flames. Following its restoration in the aftermath of World War II, the city became a stopover of necessity and convenience, while its massive Messe, or trade fair area, morphed into a city unto itself. Experienced travelers suggest skipping Frankfurt altogether for the delights in nearby Franconia, Rhine wine country, or rural Hessen. Frankfurt has become destination non grata; a place to visit of last resort.              

    While a defense of Frankfurt’s worthiness as a tourist destination lies beyond the scope of this article, I do wish to call attention to the city’s importance in numismatics, past and present. Home to the European Central Bank, one of the largest monetary institutions in the world, Frankfurt is arguably the epicenter of global currency policy. Its Messe, the busiest in Europe, brings in almost $1 Billion in sales annually. Frankfurt is the wind that powers the EU’s and Germany’s economic sails.

    Frankfurt is centrally positioned along a North-South and East-West crossroads in Europe, a privileged location that has for over a millennium attracted merchants, bankers, and hard specie. By the 1100s, Frankfurt had secured its reputation as a commerce-friendly town and had begun to benefit from the imperial privileges that would later allow it to prosper as a Free City, unencumbered by the squabbling of petty princes and noblemen. Even the Messe can be traced to this same century, with one its earliest documented mentions found in a Hebrew literary text written by Rabbi Eliezer ben Nathan of Mainz. Without question, the late middle ages were a boom time for this former Frankish fort on the Main River.

    Frankfurt’s history as a coining city dates back about 700 years. The Holy Roman Emperor granted Frankfurt the right to mint small coins in 1346, though permission to mint a full gamut of silver and gold coinage (and, more importantly, to keep the revenue derived therefrom) was not gained until 1555. From the start, the city’s coins were in high demand because the mint had earned a reputation for not skimping on precious metal content, another factor which attracted traders to Frankfurt.

    Although Frankfurt had established itself as the preeminent commercial city in German territory by 1600, the city council had to navigate an environment in which multiple currency types and weights passed through town gates, especially at its by-then renowned Messe. In short, there were three general currency systems to balance between 1400 and 1600; Rhenish, North-German, and Bavarian-Swabian (South-German). The Rhenish contingency, led by the Archbishop of Cologne, would soon falter, leaving North and South German currency associations salivating at the prospect of greater alignment with Frankfurt’s mounting wealth. The accounting system at Frankfurt was a concern for traders across the continent, and the city became a hub for the vital, Europe-wide currency trade. In this fertile commercial field, the international banking houses of Metzler, Oppenheimer, and Rothschild (among others) would rise to international fortune.

    The nineteenth century was no less dramatic for Frankfurt. Due to its reputation for progressive economics and politics, the city played host to the parliamentary crusaders of 1848. Revolutionaries from across the land attempted to unify Germany under a constitution and to liberalize the economy, in part by creating a common currency. The movement failed, but Frankfurt further solidified its reformist stance vis-à-vis the reactionary courts in Berlin and Munich. In fact, Frankfurt would stubbornly hold on as a Free City until its seizure by Prussia in 1866. Frankfurt’s coinage had come to an abrupt end, though the city's mint would still operate in the new German Empire.          

    Fortunately for collectors, Frankfurt’s coins capture the city’s former beauty and stateliness. The coins appeal to all types of collectors, including those seeking breadth with attractive small denominations as well as those desiring depth and a striking centerpiece for their showcase. While Frankfurt may be unfairly deemed not worth visiting today, collectors of German States coinage would be remiss overlooking its brilliant numismatic past.

    The Holland Enigma

    July 20, 2015 1:08 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Holland is an enigma. The Holland of our popular imagination—libertine, tolerant, and progressive—is but one side of a startlingly complex society. Another equally important side of Holland—stoic, sober, and rooted in Calvinist tradition—still pervades several historic Dutch settlements in locations as far removed as Indonesia and Michigan. But in Holland, as with all things Dutch, things are not always as they seem.

    Today, Holland is a synonym for the Netherlands, home to the Dutch. Before 1800, Holland was only one constituent part of the Dutch Republic, or what later developed into the Netherlands, of which Holland is today synonymous. Confused yet? Well, the Dutch are too.

    All of this confusion, linguistic or otherwise, has made Dutch (or Netherlandish?) coinage a feast for the specialized collector. 

    As elsewhere in Europe, the mere longevity of circulating coinage in this crucially important cultural and trading zone (where the Rhine empties into the North Sea) means that collectors have many centuries of coins to explore. The tumultuous history of the Netherlands (really, Dutch history is more volatile than the old Amsterdam stock exchange) also means that its coinage was constantly in upheaval, with religious revolts, foreign monarchs, and global ambitions all taking center stage at one point or another.

    For many collectors, the period of the Dutch Republic (aka Republic of the Seven United Provinces), 1581-1795, is the most compelling. The Dutch Republic emerged following years of anguish under the political and religious sway of the Spanish monarchy and died amidst the swirling chaos of French-infused Republicanism. While the Republic’s 200+ years’ existence is frequently simplified to fit the smooth narrative of a steep incline and then decline in Dutch influence, its two centuries worth of coinage endures as a highly collectible treasure trove in today’s numismatic world.

    At the meta-level, the coins of the Dutch Republic lay somewhere between national and provincial issues (for sake of comparison, this is similar to the state issues of the German Empire, 1871-1918, when more than a dozen states still had minting rights). The distinct provinces of the Dutch Republic technically issued their own coins, though higher level agreements mandated uniform types and weights. For example, nearly all provinces struck duits, stuivers, daalders, and ducats. This uniformity in denomination and weight allowed for easier circulation across provincial borders. There is always a clue, usually a provincial symbol or at least an indication in the coin’s legend, which reveals the actual issuer. Of course, the reality of provincial consolidation over time, fluctuations in the price of metals, and political unrest made sure the system did not function flawlessly.

    Coins from the major provinces, including Gelderland, Groningen, Holland, Overyssel, Utrecht, West Friesland, and Zeeland are readily available. Smaller issuers, including Elburg and Zutphen, may be more difficult to locate but do not necessarily command a rarity premium. We must remember that the Netherlands was an economic powerhouse; coins were never in short supply. Nor were these coins relegated to the European continental periphery. Thanks to the global trade networks operated by Dutch merchants, the Republic’s coins circulated widely in the colonial Americas, Asia, and Oceania.

    Let us return to the Holland enigma. It was during this period that Holland and the Netherlands became synonymous. As the home province (technically, Holland was a County) of the prospering cities of Amsterdam, the Hague, Leiden, and Rotterdam, Holland was the most populous, wealthiest, and most influential of all Dutch provinces. The great port at Rotterdam was the gateway between the Republic and the World. Over time, the County of Holland came to stand for the Dutch Republic as a whole, particularly in the minds of outsiders. We might say that Holland, as the cream of the provincial crop, earned its right to posterity. We numismatists are fortunate heirs to the Dutch Republic’s great wealth.
















    July 12, 2015 8:10 PM by Kevin Goldberg
    The Summer FUN Show in Orlando was, well, fun. Well-stocked dealers, educational seminars, live auctions, and air conditioning; these were just some of the reasons to spend time in the Orange County Convention Center these past couple of days. But was the show a “success?”  

    Like any coin show, Summer FUN (Florida United Numismatists) was only as successful as we the collectors were willing to make it. No matter how we define a successful show, there is no getting around the fact that success is a personal metric, measured by one’s own experience. How then do we measure our own experience at a coin show?

    Well, for most collectors, it’s a matter of whether or not we find the right coin(s) at the right price(s). But it doesn’t have to be just that. I made more of a concerted effort to chat with dealers this time around, and I’m glad that I did. Maybe it was the Florida sun, but joviality and humor trumped the sky-is-falling, get off my lawn, misanthropic soapboxing that tends to anchor coin discussions. But, there’s more to a successful show than small talk, right?

    Absolutely. I’m always researching potential new niches for my collection, and there is not a better venue than a coin show to explore options firsthand. Despite the fact that I rarely commit to a new niche, it’s still an opportunity to converse and learn about something exciting and new (to me). This time it was the coinage of Tokugawa Japan.

    But, aren’t the coins that we actually buy more important than the coins that we almost buy when quantifying a successful show?

    I think so. And by this metric, I was extremely pleased with the FUN Show. Two coins that I purchased waited their proper turn on my slow-moving want list, another was a flyer in a peripheral field, and the final coin was a big hitter in a core area. I left feeling content (if a bit lighter in my wallet). So this means I had a successful coin show, right?

    I most certainly did, but for yet another reason. On the show’s third day, I was able to convince my two children to join me (this in lieu of another day at Universal with their grandparents!). But it didn’t end there; my father and a nephew tagged along as well. We had a blast panning for gold, spinning the wheel in the kids’ zone, and digging through junk boxes. Although my daughter denies it now, I am certain that she whispered to me while pulling out coins from the junk box that this was more fun than Universal! Now this is how I know the show was a success.

    Finnish Design

    July 5, 2015 7:58 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Certain national mints have a history of innovation. The Mint of Finland (Suomen Rahapaja) is today among the most progressive in the world, with its propitious output of Euro commemoratives scoring highly in novelty and attractiveness. It turns out that Finland has an exemplary record in coin design.
    A quick glance at Finnish commemoratives from the 1960s through 1980s (when, let’s face it, drabness was in vogue) showcases a design strategy situated between the resigned predictability from days of yore and the profane postmodernism of the present. Indeed, what Finland produced during these years is nothing short of remarkable.

    Finnish non-circulating commemoratives from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s are divided into three denominations; 10 Markkaa (1967-1977), 25 Markkaa (1978), and 50 Markkaa (1978-1985). There is no uniformity in size, silver content, or actual silver weight, and diameters range between 30mm-37mm. However, it’s the design of these coins, not their metrics, which makes them memorable. In addition, they remain highly affordable. Two in particular stand out:

    In 1970, Finland released a 10 Markkaa coin (.500 Ag, 22.75g, 35mm) honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of President J.K. Paasikivi, the architect of Finland’s delicate Cold War balance between the United States and neighboring Soviet Union. Rather than utilizing a traditional busted portrait, Heikki Häiväoja’s engraving features Paasikivi’s bespectacled, wrinkled face staring straight ahead, almost sleepily. The borderless design accentuates the president’s gloomy face. The typically aggrandized European portrait coin—always compensating for physical and political blemishes—takes on a patina of authenticity in this Finnish issue. The coin’s textured reverse adds to its realness factor, with the year, denomination, and country name etched into an unevenly mortared brick wall.  You can see the coin here: http://www.ngccoin.com/price-guide/world/finland-10-markkaa-km-51-1970-cuid-19350-duid-61150

    In 1978, the World Skiing Championships were held in Lahti, a popular sports destination about 60 miles northeast of Helsinki. To commemorate the event, the mint issued a 25 Markkaa silver coin (.500 Ag, 26.3g, 37mm); and once again, the progressive design of the coin is a striking example of Finnish numismatic ingenuity. The coin’s obverse features a cross-country skier trekking her/his way through the snow. On the reverse (this is the more inventive side) we see the tracks left by the skier in the powdery snow atop gently rolling hills. The gradual decline in the size and visibility of the path from the 6’oclock to the 12’oclock position creates a sense of distance while the fractured path of the skier—broken by the inclines and declines of the hills—establishes a stationary perspective based on our optometric limitations. The result is a stunning 3D-like image with an almost palpable crackling of the snow below and whipping of the winds above. You can see the coin here: http://www.ngccoin.com/price-guide/world/finland-25-markkaa-km-56-1978-cuid-19370-duid-61203       

    History has something to do with this. Wedged between its two more conformist neighbors (Sweden and Russia), and lacking a homegrown monarchical tradition (again, Sweden and Russia provided these), Finland has more ably thrown off the shackles of its less-weighty top-down customs (once more, compared to Sweden and Russia). Folkish ideas and an unfettered social democratization have taken root in Finland. These wonderful coins demonstrate this phenomenon. The rest of the world is still trying to catch up.