Paper Money

Paper 'coins' survivors of Eighty Years' War siege

From 1568 to 1648, 17 provinces of the northern and southern Netherlands fought for independence from the Spanish Hapsburgs in the Eighty Years’ War. 

Few of history’s conflicts offer as much numismatic fascination and opportunity, as well as such an interesting numismatic question: If something looks like a coin, was manufactured as a coin would be, but the material is paper, is it paper money or a coin made out of paper? 


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Many cities were placed under siege by the Spanish, particularly during the war’s early years. Leiden, in the province of Holland, was one such besieged city when in 1573 to 1574 Spanish general Francisco de Valdez tried to capture it. Though Valdez would fail, in the interim, because Leiden was isolated from the world, it lacked everything. That included circulating money, needed to pay rentals, soldiers, and merchants. So the city, as others have done, made its own. Residents, churches, and guilds turned in their gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead. Included were religious articles and anything else that could be melted and turned into coin. In Leiden, by the end of 1573, the city had even run out of all this, so it resorted to shredding books and converting the paper into hardened sheets. Next, with dies provided by a local silversmith, they were pressed into round “coins.”

Arent Pol and Bouke Jan van der Veen, formerly of the Royal Coin Cabinet, disclosed in a lecture in 2007 that the dies used are of the same shape as the usual dies for metal coins, and may be found in De Lakenhal Museum of Leiden. Their research also showed that soon after the siege ended, the paper coins could be exchanged for silver.

Only two types were made, and even though they are more interesting than rare, it is unusual to see both types offered for sale two weeks and 5,000 miles apart.

A 1574 1-gulden piece weighing 1.68 grams and measuring 39 millimeters in diameter was offered by Schulman b.v. in its Oct. 26 auction in Amsterdam with an estimated price of €1,000 (about $1,200). It was in what was described as Very Fine condition, but which would be higher under American grading standards. 

The obverse has the city’s arms in a cartouche within a two-line legend, one of which translates as “God keep Leiden.” The reverse has a rampant lion holding a spear and liberty cap flanked by the date. The Latin legend HAEC LIBERTATIS ERGO means “All for the sake of liberty.”

The second type, a 1574 5-stuiver piece (quarter gulden) is offered by Heritage Auctions in Dallas on Nov. 7 in Part X of its sale of the Eric P. Newman Collection. Its estimate was $2,000 to $4,000 in PCGS Currency New 62. The rampant lion on this piece stands behind the city arms, holding a sword. The legend is PUGNO PRO PATRIA (I fight for my country). The reverse has a four-line legend LVG/DVNVM/BATAVO/RVM (Leiden in Batavia) in a wreath. 

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