Coining technology — Part 3: Machine mintage of testons and thalers
At the end of the XV century — early XVI century Europe saw the rise of trade relations with the sharp increase in cash flow. At the same time begins the influx of a large amount of silver from America, where the Spaniards discovered rich deposits. And in Europe itself the new silver mines were also opened and developed thanks to the latest advances in technology at the time. All this led to the release of large amounts of silver as a raw material and a simultaneous demand for it in the form of money as silver coins then were the main cash equivalent.
In this situation, the circulation of money was not happy with the presence of only small silver coins, such as a penny, denarius, etc. The improvements of the technical possibilities of production of money lead to the appearance of coins of larger denomination, of good quality and sufficiently regular editions.
Moreover, in these years of prosperity of Renaissance a large number of engravers were taught, especially in Italy, ready to demonstrate their skills, not only on the medals that were minted rarely and in limited quantities, but also on larger coins usually of a large serial production. Professional masters that could cut out refined portraits of princes and bishops, were very popular at the mints. In the Venetian Republic in 1472 during the reign of sixty-eight Doge Nicolo Trono a large coin was minted. It weight 6.5 grams and was of almost pure silver (948 samples). This coin was called «lira». For the first time in the Republican coins was presented not the traditional Doge of Venice, kneeling in front of St. Mark but the bust Doge. The reverse represented the image of a winged lion. Lira caused a lot of discontent among its contemporaries, outraged by Nicolo Trono’s audacity. And soon, the images on the lyre were traditional again: on one side there was Jesus Christ, on the other — the Doge kneeling before St. Mark.
A couple of years later the Milanese duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza used the Venetian lira as a model and issued a coin with his portrait. The coin was also almost pure silver (960 samples) and weighed 9.65 grams. The coin was equated to 20 soldi, and it was called «teston» (from IT. testa — head). Very soon other Italian dukes, as well as the pope, began to mint testons. All these coins can be united by the fact that the obverse depicts a head or a half-length portrait of the ruler. All the coins were made by highly professional skilled engravers. The first Italian testons can be called monuments of the Renaissance epoch. A little later testons start to be minted in other European countries. These large and interesting coins performed the role of propaganda, and partly — the advertising role. Kings, dukes, princes and bishops did not spare money on the good carvers of the stamps for the testons, wanting to see their fanciful portraits on these most beautiful coins.
Another large silver coin equal to the gold ducat, was minted in 1486 by an Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol. The coin weighed 31.83 grams and contained 29.23 grams of pure silver. The Cologne mark of pure silver gave eight coins. The value of the coin was 60 kreutzers, and it was worth the gold coin — goldgulden. Therefore, the new silver coin was called guldengrosh or guldiner.
Teston of the Milanese Duke Ludovico Sforza and guldiner of the Tyrolean Archduke Sigismund
At the beginning of XVI century the mints of Saxony, Württemberg and Salzburg, as well as some mints in Italy, Hungary and Switzerland started minting a large silver coin of guldiner type. But these were the test coins, which can be considered as anniversary coins or medals. Fineness and weight of these coins differ a lot, and the very purpose of such coins is more suitable for gifts than for regular currency. But soon, unable to properly establish as the main currency in Europe, testons and guldengrosh cede their place to a new coin, which will become the leading currency for several hundred years.
In 1518 Czech Count Stephan Schlick began minting his own silver coins by the type of guldengroshens. It happened in Joachimsthal in northwest Bohemia. The coin weighed 29.5 grams and 27.2 grams were of pure silver that meant that the coin had a slightly smaller sample and weight than guldengroshen. These silver coins had the image of St. Joachim on the obverse and the Czech flag with a lion on the reverse. According to the city where they were minted, the coins were called «joahimstalery.» This complicated term in common usage was reduced to the word «thaler» familiar to us.
Thaler of Stephan Schlick minted in Joachimsthal
These beautiful, full-fledged high-grade coins became a very popular means of payment in many European countries, and quickly spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire and beyond. Circulation of the Czech coins of Stefan Schlick was just huge. All in all there were more than 2,000,000 pieces.
After the death of Stephan Schlick in 1527 the Emperor Charles V took away the right of coinage from his family in favor of the imperial household. To maintain the quality of silver coins and to streamline the money emission in the Holy Roman Empire November 10, 1524 Eslingensky Imperial Mint charter was adopted. The thaler’s weight was legalized in 29.43 grams (27.41 grams of pure silver).
Thaler quickly penetrated into neighboring countries, gaining the leading place in circulation. By the middle of XVI century thaler became the basic monetary unit in Europe … It was only its name that changed. In Spain it was called the peso, and in the Spanish Netherlands — patagon, in free Holland — daalder, in Italy – skudo, in England — crown, in the Scandinavian countries — daler, in France — ecu.
With the appearance of such large coins as thalers, the technology of minting got a new impetus to develop. Until the end of XV century for many centuries nothing new occurred in the technology of coinage. Coins were minted in an antique primitive manual mode that required only a hammer and two stamps. It was not suitable for minting thalers – it was impossible to engrave a large coin with a manual hammer. There was a need to improve the process of mintage to increase the force of impact of the stamp on the workpiece.
In the end of the XV century falverk was invented. It was the first mechanical device with a hammer gear that fell on the coin workpiece from a great height, and therefore, it had the power to mint the coins of a large size. The coinage technology with the help of a hammer gear looked like this: the lower stamp was stationary mounted on the bottom of the machine’s gun carriage. The beam with the upper stamp fixed below was lifted up with the help of the transfer wheel with the force of a few people or a horse. Then the gear was released, and it was under the influence of gravity that it fell down and minted the stamp image on the coin. Then the gear was lifted again and the engravers checked how clear the picture on the coin was. If it was not enough, the gear hit the coin again to obtain the desired quality of the relief.
With the invention of the hammer gear the workers made another discovery, which was a breakthrough in the technology of coinage. This invention was the usage of the special mint stamp – a peculiar stamp for minting the other stamps. By a number of complex technical procedures, highly skilled engravers produced at the end of a steel rod the positive obverse and reverse of the future coins. These stamps served as examples for manufacturing a number of absolutely identical mint stamps. Using the same technology as at the coinage, the negative image was put on the stamps and after hardening, they were used for the production of coins. That was the birth of the technical possibility to produce hundreds and thousands of twin coins.
Technical thought was constantly pushing forward the development of coinage. One of the great representatives of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci made his contribution to the technique of coinage. In 1514 he invented and made a press for cutting coin workpieces from the tape, and then he advanced the mechanical hammer machine.
The next breakthrough invention was the usage of the rolling machine for the production of the tsans. Masters no longer had to forge thin silver plates manually — polished steel cylinders that rotated in opposite directions did it. To obtain the required thickness a sheet of metal was repeatedly put between the shafts, where the distance between them was gradually reduced. The silver circles of metal were cut out with a sharp steel pipe or with a cutting machine.
Rolling machine used for the production of tsans of a certain thickness
The rolling machine for minting coins that was based on the principle of the press was invented in 1550 in the Tyrolean town of Halle. It consisted of two shafts connected with a notched gear. Depending on the size the shafts had from 4 to 19 negative images of the obverse and reverse sides of the coin, so that the images chopped on the tape of the tsan after passing it in the machine. The appearance of this machine greatly accelerated the process of manufacturing and also improved the quality of the image on the coins. There was no more displacement of the picture after double or even triple blows that were so characteristic of the hammer gear coinage.
The main sign that the coin was manufactured on the rolling machine is a slight curve of the coin with typical signs of cutting on the edge. In spite of this and a number of other disadvantages of this method of production of coins, it remained in some mints in Europe until the end of XVIII century.
Enhanced rolling machine for making the tape tsan
The cutting process and the copper tape with minted and partly carved Swedish coins in 1679
As before, only punches were used to create three-dimensional image. Complicated pattern of large denominations demanded a huge variety of minting tools. With the help of punches skillful craftsmen produced beautiful belt, group, and equestrian portraits of the rulers on the obverses, made complex heraldic, landscape compositions on the reverses.
But funny things happened in the use of punches. This comical effect has an ort of the Polish King Jan Casimir, struck in Gdansk. It is surprisingly interesting to look at the coin in the context of the history!
The legend on the coin reads about the splendid title: Jan Casimir the grace of God King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Russia, Prussia, Mazowiecki, Zhmudsky, Livonian, and Sweden, Gotland, Vandalia Crown King.
And here is the transcript of the legend, which fits more that historical moment: by the grace of God the King of Poland that is in ruins, and Sweden, that drowned its lands in blood, the Grand Duke of Lithuanian arbitrary barons, of the lost East Prussia and rebellious Russian Cossacks.
Despite the precarious situation of the king, the engraver creates a heroic image of a powerful ruler: perky profile, the jaw is moved forward, aquiline nose, menacing brows and a sharp look. A magnificent mane of hair completes the image of the king. It is stamped with the same punch as the lion’s mane on the reverse! What is this? Saving money on the production of the new punch? Or an artistic trick? It is difficult to say how deliberate was the usage of one tool to work on the king and the lions. Perhaps it was to instill confidence in the citizens and the faith in the Lion King. Either this is a hidden irony on not a very successful ruler, whose reign knew some monstrous destruction, an abject surrender of the capital and almost all the cities, shameful escape to Silesia because of the flood, the loss of Kiev and the Dnieper lands, and finally, the renunciation of the throne.
Details of obverse and reverse of the ort of Gdańsk John Casimir 1662g.
King’s hair and lion’s mane are made with the same punch.
Technique of coinage was keeping pace with the development of scientific and technological progress, and in the middle of XVII century was invented a new machine. It was based on the rolling machine but had the interchangeable dies. The images on the coins were cut out of the round, arched and curved plates. These stamps had a clamping stud, which was fixed in the so-called «pockets» of the two rotating shafts of the embossing machine. Thanks to well-functioning system of levers and gears the stamps clearly rolled one over the other, pressing the image on the plate that was passing between. The advantage of this machine is the ability to replace a broken stamp without having to replace the entire shaft.
Rolling minting machine with interchangeable stamps, and the images of the pocket stamps of Egenberg coins
In the middle of the XVII century shpildelverk or beam is used for coinage. The machine was powered by using a T-weighted screw mechanism, which was speeded up by a few people. The lower stamp – the rod, as always was attached to the base. And the upper stamp, the aisen, was fixed on the lower end of the screw gear which was whirled with tremendous force. The energy of a rotating screw was so huge that it allowed engraving a thaler or a double thaler coin from the first try. The beam allowed increasing the coinage in about two to three times compared to the use of the rolling gear.
Screw press driven by the efforts of a few people
But, despite all the obvious advantages of technological progress, not all the countries applied immediately the new machines. Here is an example of one of the most industrialized countries in Europe XVI-XVII centuries – the example of England. It is hard to believe, but the hammer chisel was used by the mintsmeysters of the Tower as the main mode of production of coins up to 1662! While in Italy, Germany, Switzerland the modes of coinage were continuously improved and updated, England practiced medieval hammer coinage.
Hard to say what was the main reason for non-technological innovation for a whole century: whether it was the English conservatism or the workers’ outrage, which feared that the machine would deprive them of work? But the irregular machine coinage was used only from 1561 to 1572 during the reign of Elizabeth I and during two years during the reign of Charles Stuart.
Sixpence of Elizabeth I, minted by the machine (miled) and the hammer coinage. Two ways of coinage — two styles.
However it was impossible to ignore the development of the mintage technology for a long time. Moreover, in order to increase the speed and complexity of coinage, to protect the coins from falsifications and counterfeiters, all states sought to use the latest achievements of science and technology for the production of money.
The milled edge of the coin
Until the middle of XVII century the edge of the coin, with few exceptions, was smooth. After cutting the coin piecework out from a strip it was tapped before the coinage, as it was usually done, for example, in Saxony. If the image was applied with the help of the rolling machine, the side of the coin had no further processing after the coin was cut out from a strip.
Tyrolean thaler of the Archduke Maximilian of Tyrol and its milled edge. This thaler is known as a thaler of the Teutonic Order, with the Master Maximilian Tyrol. The coin has typical signs of cutting on the edge.
The first thaler coins with an embossed writing on the edges appeared in France around 1576. These coins were called silver pefory (French pied-fort). Much later, in 1642, in Austrian in the land of Shtrii at the Harz mint the masters tried to mill the edges of the coins, in 1651 — in England, in 1668 — in Denmark, and in 1670 — in Sweden and Brandenburg.
The inscription on the edge was applied during the minting of the coin itself. It was done with the help of a split ring that was inserted into a round thick frame. Before passing between the stamps the piecework was put in this ring, the inner side of which had an engraved mirror image of the inscription. Under the pressure of the press the metal of the workpiece filled in all the parts of the stamps’ relief and the rings, forming the picture. More often the edge was decorated not with an inscription, but with repetitive patterns of plants and abstract elements.
Such «embellishment» had a purely practical purpose — to prevent the filing and clipping of the precious metal, and also served as an additional and reliable means to prevent from counterfeiting coins.
The milled edge machine simplified the technology of decorating the edge of the coin. It was invented in the XVII century.
The milled edge machine and the examples of the edge
It consisted of two steel rails. On the inside one rail had a notch where the coin was deposited. The coin was tightly clamped between the rails and was scrolled with the help of the system of rollers and notched wheels that were driven by a crank gear. As a result of rotation of the coin the desired pattern was extruded on its edge.
At the end of the XVIII century an improved machine with a ring came to replace a milled edge machine.
Before moving on to the section describing the modern machine coinage, I would like to summarize the whole way, which made the manufacturing technology from ancient coins and the first hand-stamping machines to the production in the modern times.
Since ancient times, manufacturing of the earliest coins, the masters tried to make their products of the same type: to give a series of coins a recognizable pattern, to subordinate all the elements of the legend and the design to one style, to mint coins of the same weight and size.
The dream of the masters of the past centuries to make the identical coins was embodied in the modern monetary production. Scientific and technological progress and the improvement of the coinage led to the fact that today coinage is done with virtually no human intervention. His role is limited to design the image of the coin, which is performed on a computer. Manufacturing of the coins is entrusted to robots that give millions of identical, perfectly correct, but completely soulless circles of the embossed metal.
Old coins at all stages of production passed through the hands of the coin craftsmen who invested in them their knowledge, skill and soul. Prior the usage of the reducing machine all the coins had the smallest features that distinguished them from millions of the other coins. You cannot find two identical coins, made by the first coinage machines: beam, hammer and roller gears. And especially it concerns the coins made by hand-stamping coinage. Each piece is unique! Each coin has its lively, unique beauty, created by several masters from the engravers to the chasers who lived in those early years …
All this makes the old coins of particular interest to collectors in our computer and standardized age …