Old World, New Ideas
Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.
The Holland Enigma
Holland is an enigma. The Holland of our popular imagination—libertine, tolerant, and progressive—is but one side of a startlingly complex society. Another equally important side of Holland—stoic, sober, and rooted in Calvinist tradition—still pervades several historic Dutch settlements in locations as far removed as Indonesia and Michigan. But in Holland, as with all things Dutch, things are not always as they seem.
Today, Holland is a synonym for the Netherlands, home to the Dutch. Before 1800, Holland was only one constituent part of the Dutch Republic, or what later developed into the Netherlands, of which Holland is today synonymous. Confused yet? Well, the Dutch are too.
All of this confusion, linguistic or otherwise, has made Dutch (or Netherlandish?) coinage a feast for the specialized collector.
As elsewhere in Europe, the mere longevity of circulating coinage in this crucially important cultural and trading zone (where the Rhine empties into the North Sea) means that collectors have many centuries of coins to explore. The tumultuous history of the Netherlands (really, Dutch history is more volatile than the old Amsterdam stock exchange) also means that its coinage was constantly in upheaval, with religious revolts, foreign monarchs, and global ambitions all taking center stage at one point or another.
For many collectors, the period of the Dutch Republic (aka Republic of the Seven United Provinces), 1581-1795, is the most compelling. The Dutch Republic emerged following years of anguish under the political and religious sway of the Spanish monarchy and died amidst the swirling chaos of French-infused Republicanism. While the Republic’s 200+ years’ existence is frequently simplified to fit the smooth narrative of a steep incline and then decline in Dutch influence, its two centuries worth of coinage endures as a highly collectible treasure trove in today’s numismatic world.
At the meta-level, the coins of the Dutch Republic lay somewhere between national and provincial issues (for sake of comparison, this is similar to the state issues of the German Empire, 1871-1918, when more than a dozen states still had minting rights). The distinct provinces of the Dutch Republic technically issued their own coins, though higher level agreements mandated uniform types and weights. For example, nearly all provinces struck duits, stuivers, daalders, and ducats. This uniformity in denomination and weight allowed for easier circulation across provincial borders. There is always a clue, usually a provincial symbol or at least an indication in the coin’s legend, which reveals the actual issuer. Of course, the reality of provincial consolidation over time, fluctuations in the price of metals, and political unrest made sure the system did not function flawlessly.
Coins from the major provinces, including Gelderland, Groningen, Holland, Overyssel, Utrecht, West Friesland, and Zeeland are readily available. Smaller issuers, including Elburg and Zutphen, may be more difficult to locate but do not necessarily command a rarity premium. We must remember that the Netherlands was an economic powerhouse; coins were never in short supply. Nor were these coins relegated to the European continental periphery. Thanks to the global trade networks operated by Dutch merchants, the Republic’s coins circulated widely in the colonial Americas, Asia, and Oceania.
Let us return to the Holland enigma. It was during this period that Holland and the Netherlands became synonymous. As the home province (technically, Holland was a County) of the prospering cities of Amsterdam, the Hague, Leiden, and Rotterdam, Holland was the most populous, wealthiest, and most influential of all Dutch provinces. The great port at Rotterdam was the gateway between the Republic and the World. Over time, the County of Holland came to stand for the Dutch Republic as a whole, particularly in the minds of outsiders. We might say that Holland, as the cream of the provincial crop, earned its right to posterity. We numismatists are fortunate heirs to the Dutch Republic’s great wealth.