World Coins

Rare gold ‘marriage’ medal from Hamburg leads sale

A rare gold 10-ducat marriage schautaler medal from Hamburg with religious designs highlights Fritz Rudolph Künker’s Feb. 4 auction in Berlin.

Coin images courtesy of Fritz Rudolph Künker.

During the Thirty Years’ War, Hamburg in northern Germany became a center of a series of medallic coins known as “schautalers,” including pieces that celebrated the institution of marriage.

Many of these marriage talers show Christ blessing a bridal couple on the obverse with a reverse showing the miracle at a wedding feast in Cana. 

A rare 10-ducat gold example of a different marriage schautaler highlights Fritz Rudolph Künker’s Feb. 4 auction in Berlin. The one-day auction serves as a prelude to the World Money Fair, which annually draws thousands of collectors and dealers from across the globe to the German capital.

According to Arthur R. Doumaux Jr., in “The Hamburg Connection” (The Numismatist, February 1989), “most marriage schautalers were produced during the Thirty Years’ War,” which took place in central Europe from 1618 to 1648.

Hamburg remained part of the Hanseatic League so during the war it was not involved in the conflict, allowing art and commerce to prosper as people sought a safe haven.

“The city’s newfound wealth and security attracted artisans and craftsmen, among them skilled engravers and mintmasters,” according to Doumaux. 

Though most pieces were made in Hamburg, many were apparently made in other areas, like Lüneberg, Wismer and nearby Lübeck.

A range of religious designs appear on these pieces, which were predominantly struck in silver in weights ranging from half taler to 5 talers. A small number of such pieces were struck in gold using the dies from the silver examples, with pieces of the 10-ducat weight the highest denomination.

The medals were struck on screw presses and required three or more strikings to obtain a full impression of the relief, according to Doumaux. 

The striking technology used also had another effect on the medals.

“Since a collar was not used to firmly hold the hand-cut blank, movement occurred between strikings, giving each medal its own unique identity,” he wrote. “For this reason, some talers can be followed from sale to sale, like old friends.”

He added, “Although much the same in character and design, marriage schautalers provide a glimpse of the artistic talent that flourished in 17th-century Hamburg.” 

The example offered in the Künker auction dates to the first quarter of the 17th century, the firm said.

In a scene from the Bible’s Old Testament, Moses stands at a stream, water flowing for the people of Israel, on the obverse. The reverse shows a New Testament scene. Here, Christ, seated, speaks with the Samaritan woman who carries a pitcher at the well in the city of Sychar, as described in John, chapter 4, where Jesus speaks of giving “living water” to deliver everlasting life. 

The medal in the Feb. 4 auction weighs 35.25 grams and measures 53.42 millimeters in diameter.

The auction firm grades it as Very Fine, and it carries an of €20,000 ($21,529 in U.S. funds). 

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