World Coins

Crisis in 1620s leads to debased coins in Germany

A rare 1623 silver reichstaler of Solms was issued during the Kipper und Wipper period of economic duress in the Holy Roman Empire.

Images courtesy of Fritz Rudolph Künker.

A financial crisis near the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War paved the way for an output of debased coinage.

In some cases, the coins were not authorized, as evidenced by a 1623 silver reichstaler from a county in the German state of Hesse being offered at auction June 25 by Fritz Rudolf Künker, one of four days of auctions in the firm’s annual summer sales series. 

This coin dates from the “Kipper und Wipperzeit” (literally “Tipper and See-saw time”) financial crisis at the start of the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648). 

Beginning about 1621, city-states in the Holy Roman Empire began to heavily debase currency to raise revenue for the Thirty Years’ War.

Mints increased coin production to meet the demand, pumping out increasingly debased coinage that was soon so worthless that children allegedly played with them in the street. 

The 1623 reichstaler is among a collection of coins from Solms, compiled by Günter Westphal (1929 to 2017).

Solms, a county in Hesse, west of Wetzlar, was partitioned repeatedly due to missing primogeniture arrangements. 

Consequently, according to the cataloger, coins from Solms are rare, and the auction house notes, “We have not seen such a large amount of material on the market in a very long time.”

The reichstaler highlight comes from the Bernardian line.

The coin was not supposed to be struck, as this family line did not have the right of coinage. However, during the Kipper und Wipper period, the family’s Wilhelm of Greifenstein and Reinhard of Hungen joined the coin business, issuing silver coinage.

To attempt to present their pieces as legal coinage, they claimed on the coins that the silver used to strike them originated from the Hungen mines, which would have made them legitimate according to the Imperial Minting Ordinance. But there were neither mountains nor mines in Hungen. 

The Imperial High Court worked just fine even during the Thirty Years’ War, and those responsible for the coins were indicted and the minting of the coins was abandoned. 

The taler from 1623 offered at Künker is a rare record of this failed attempt.

Graded by the firm as Very Fine to Extremely Fine, the coin has an estimate of €7,500 ($8,405 U.S.). 

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