World Coins

Rare gift in gold coming to auction: On the Block

After Duke Albrecht von Wallenstein engaged in the Battle of Lützen in 1632 and 1633 during the Thirty Years’ War, he gave gifts to his supporters and chastised his detractors. 

One such gift was a gold coin or medal bearing his image. An earlier example of this “donative” gift, struck in 1630 at Jicin (a town in modern day Czech Republic), highlights Sincona Ag’s May 18 to 20 auction.

An 1898 monograph by Dr. Hans Schultz (with a title translating to Wallenstein and the Time of the 30 Years War, reports how Wallenstein rewarded his supporters. 

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“The meritorious were promoted, received monetary rewards, valuable gold chains [or coins or medals], not with the Emperor’s, but with Wallenstein’s portrait, also diplomas of nobility,” according to a translation provided by the auction house. 

The pieces with an image of the ruler (instead of the Holy Roman Emperor) must have been gold medals by Hans Rieger or one of the multiple ducats like the one in this auction. 

Multiple-denomination gold coins, containing multiples of the precious metal value of a standard-denomination coin, were minted in the 16th to the 18th century by secular and ecclesiastical rulers, cities and republics. These were not intended for circulation but were so-called “donatives”; presentation pieces that the ruler gave to his favored subjects for special service. 

Multiple ducats were often used as jewelry and most of the examples found today bear evidence of mounting; those marks are, however, absent from this example.

The obverse of the 1630 gold 10-ducat piece shows the portrait of the famous imperial commander-in-chief, and his title Duke of Mecklenburg, Friedland and Sagan, Lord of Wenden. 

On the reverse are further titles — Count of Schwerin, Ruler of Rostock and Stargard — as well as his shield of arms. 

The 1630 gold 10-ducat medal or coin represents great wealth, as few people encountered a single ducat coin, and 10 ducats of gold may as well have been unobtainable in that era. Though some rare 100- and 50-ducat pieces were also made, smaller examples like 20- and 10-ducat pieces are more frequently encountered. They are by no means common, though. 

Wallenstein’s coins are especially rare because of the political upheaval that followed the battle. Wallenstein, commanding the Roman Catholic forces, withdrew his troops from the field of battle. While the Protestants won, one of their most important leaders, Swedish King Gustavus II Adolphus, was killed.

Wallenstein was criticized for withdrawing and for later reluctance to attack the enemy, earning rebuke from the emperor. Though Wallenstein attempted to diplomatically remove himself from service of the emperor, the emperor had him assassinated, or at least failed to intervene when others announced such plans. 

Following Wallenstein’s death in 1634, most of his gold pieces were melted, and memory of him was also to be destroyed — in Latin, damnatio memoriae. 

The piece in the auction is from the Ladavac Collection, which includes the largest and most important collection of Wallenstein coins ever to appear on the market, according to the firm. 

The 1630 gold 10-ducat piece is graded Extremely Fine by the auction house and has an opening bid of 100,000 Swiss francs (about $103,426 U.S.). 

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