World Coins

When Germany engaged in 'economic terrorism'

Small coinage was a big deal in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries.

When the Thirty Years’ War broke out in 1618, the real silver value of fractional coinage in the Holy Roman Empire had already been debased by tremendous margins. The period of further debasement that followed is now known as the Kipper und Wipper period. Heidelberger Münzhandlung Herbert Grün offers a collection of Kipper und Wipper coins at the firm’s Nov. 8 and 9 auction Nos. 69 and 70. 

The Kipper und Wipper period is “arguably the most bizarre episode in all of economic history,” according to author Mike Dash, writing for Smithsonian magazine in 2012.

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What made the era bizarre was that “it was the product not only of slipshod economic management, but also of deliberate attempts by a large number of German states to systematically defraud their neighbors.”

German states engaged in “monetary terrorism,” issuing low-value imitations of coins from other territories and then spending them as far as possible from their own lands, hoping that resulting damage would occur to the economy of those other regions, rather than their own. 

The name “Kipper und Wipper” refers to the use of tipping scales to identify not-yet-debased coins, which were then taken out of circulation, melted, mixed with baser metals such as lead, copper or tin, and reissued. 

Eventually the public caught on, and the debased coins were removed from circulation and replaced with good coinage. Because of this, examples in good condition are rare, according to the firm. One example of Kipper and Wipper coins in the auction is a 24-kreuzer piece issued for Amberg, Bavaria, in 1622. Graded Extremely Fine to Mint State by the auction firm, it has an estimate of €1,000 (about $1,114 U.S.).

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