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History of coins and medals

Silver as the means of payment

It was in Mesopotamia, where silver rings in the shape of spiral coils were used as money two and a half thousand years ago. The available amount of silver was constant and therefore its value also remained constant, which was ideal for its function as a means of payment. One unit was a shekel – about 8.5 grams of silver. For example, the price of a slave ranged from ten to twenty shekels of silver. Two hundred litres of oil could be bought for one shekel.

In the 1970s, scientists examined about a hundred pieces of silver spirals. Some were as strong as spring in a sofa, while others were fragile and made of thin silver wire. According to ancient records, the weight of silver spirals and rings ranged from one to sixty shekels. They were basically precursors of coined money. Common people did not use this kind of money because the value of silver coils and rings was too high for them. They rather paid with pieces of tin, copper, lead or grain. Grains functioned as a kind of small change, like tiny bronze coins did later.

Earliest coins

The earliest coins were minted between 640 and 630 B.C. in Lydia (now Turkey). They were amber-coloured discs of a given size and weight made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver (4:1). These coins were first discovered at the beginning of the last century in the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. They were precisely elaborated, the obverses showing images of large animals, which are believed to be the seal marks of the influential Lydians.

In 550 B.C., the original Lydian coin made of electrum was replaced with a pure gold and silver coinage. Lydian coins had different values, and therefore all social groups could use them.

Lydia was followed by the Greek states. Within a few decades, beautiful coins of different values began to be minted here. Between 575 and 570 B.C., silver from the Laurion Mines, about forty miles south of Athens, was used to make coins here.

During the reign of Philip II of Macedonia, the unifier of Greece, the coin was first used to propagate the ruler. The golden stater (14.5 grams) depicts Philip’s triumph in a two-horse chariot race at the 356 B.C. Olympics.

In the 5th–3rd century B.C., coinage development in Greece underwent significant technical and artistic progress. With the emergence of the Roman Empire, large cast copper pieces were first used as coins, but they were impractical to use, even though they were complemented by a number of smaller units. For these reasons, sometime around 211 B.C., silver coins were minted. These silver coins were called denarii according to the ratio of about 1:10 they had to the original Roman copper mintage (from Latin deni meaning “containing ten”). Gold coins were minted in Rome since the middle of the 1st century B.C. – the aureus at 1/60 of the gold Roman pound (5.46 g) and since 309 B.C under Constantine I – the solidus at 1/72 of the gold Roman pound (4.55 g). Mintage of the Roman denarius ended at the end of the first quarter of the 4th century, but later it appeared again as a denomination minted in Carolingian Europe during the 8th and 9th centuries. The gold solidus significantly influenced Europe’s early medieval monetary system.

Coins in the Czech lands

Before the introduction of early coins onto Czech territory, iron collars called grivnas or canvas scarves (documented in writing for the 10th century) were used as a means of payment. The first Czech mintage was introduced during the reign of the Přemyslids (Prince Boleslav II in the second half of the 10th century). These coins were called denarii and were minted from pure silver. The first minted denarii were decorated with simple motifs. On one side there was the name of the ruling monarch and the mint, the other side depicted a simple object (sword, hand, etc.). The so-called denarius of St. Wenceslas has aroused considerable attention and is considered by some experts to be the first Czech mintage, others date it to the 11th century).

Sometime after the 11th century, so-called coin renewal began to be introduced into the monetary system. The purpose was to withdraw quality silver coins from circulation and to issue new ones with a lower silver content or smaller in size, and instead of silver, copper was added to the new coins. As a result of this process, which aimed to increase the wealth of the ruler, coins of lower fineness were circulated.

Much more elaborate denarii began to be minted from the beginning of the 12th century, when the monarch was better depicted and various Christian motifs appear on the coins. Early in the 13th century, a large number of denarii were degraded by “renewal” where the silver content dropped to less than 10 percent of the coin’s metal, thus creating the need to introduce new coins. Therefore, the so-called “bracteates” started to be minted. These were very simple coins without a motif, minted from a thin silver sheet, and had a button-like shape created by the stroke of a punch. Multiple pieces could be punched in one stroke. But these new coins soon began to break off at the edge, and when used for payment they were weighed rather than counted.


In 1300, a huge change occurs in coinage in the Czech lands. The discovery of silver deposits in the Kutná Hora region contributed to this development of Czech mintage. The new coins minted were called Prague groschen (grossus = heavy) because they were much larger and heavier than the existing denarii and their mintage lasted until 1547, when the thaler or tolar currency replaced them. These groschen were supposed to have a constant weight and fineness, and so-called parvi were minted as subdivisions, 12 of which made up one groschen. The Prague groschen was a highly respected currency that was used even to pay in neighboring countries. During a busy period of historical development there was a disruption in the money circulation, and in times when the situation was unstable (Hussite Wars), foreign coinages, most often Austrian, Bavarian or Meissen, circulated in the Czech lands. With some foreign coinages, exchange rates even arose; for example, there were two Meissen groschen for one Prague groschen. At the end of the 14th century, there was a big shortage of small coins in our country, and so the “peniz” coin was introduced. There were seven of them for one groschen, and the peniz was further divided into halers, such that two halers were needed for one peniz. The name haler derived from the name of the German mint in Hall. During the Hussite Wars there was again a shortage of currency, so so-called “flutes” began to be minted, which were no longer made of silver, but only copper. The shortage and simplicity of the coins tempted people to falsify them. Simple motifs were easy to imitate and common metals were used that were then silvered.

After the Habsburgs came to the throne, an effort was made to unify the monetary system by introducing – unsuccessfully at first – the thaler currency. In Bohemia, the earlier coins continued to circulate and indeed had their respective conversion rates set, but there were too many of them for normal use (for example, the zlatnik was divided into 60 kreuzers, the thaler into 30 white groschen, one groschen into two small groschen or seven white peniz coins or 14 small peniz coins, one white groschen into three kreuzers and so on). Such a complicated monetary system was very confusing, and it became more complex still when forced to consider, for example, whether you were counting in Prague groschen or the half-value Meissen groschen.

The development of Czech coinage and the emergence of the Joachimsthaler were largely influenced by the contemporary Brabant, Tyrolean and Saxon coinages. The Brabant silver coins of Mary and Maximilian from the second half of the 1570s are considered the very first predecessor of the thaler.

The first Saxon replacement of the groschen system was the Schreckenberg groschen. The Schreckenberg groschen was minted in 1498 in the Saxon town of Schreckenberg. An angel was portrayed on this coin, and therefore it was called the angel groschen. Its weight was around 4.49 g. It became very popular also outside Saxony immediately after its creation. Later, the guldengroschen was minted. This was introduced by the Leipzig Mint Code in 1500 and became the main unit of the Saxon money system. Like its predecessor, it soon began to spread beyond Saxony, where it too became very popular. Therefore, in 1505 and 1518 its quality was reduced. The most important mining centres at the turn of the 15th and 16th century included Schneeberg, Annaberg and Marienberg on the Saxon side of the Krušné Mountains, which were later, however, surpassed by Joachimsthal or Jáchymov on the Czech side.

Some researchers also mention the so-called thick Prague groschen among the first of the thaler’s predecessors. It is commonly believed that thick Prague groschen are more of a medal, which the king gave to rare visitors at the Czech royal court or distributed during his visits abroad.

During the reign of Vladislav II, thick Prague groschen were regularly minted in the Kutná Hora mint. Beginning in 1473, the thick groschen is continuously minted up until the 1490s, when the Czech ducat mintage was restored. After which the minting of thick groschen became only occasional again, until it ceased at the beginning of the 16th century, when the Joachimsthaler was created

Thaler period

The Šlik counts decided to mint heavy silver coins in Joachimsthal or Jáchymov in order to use the richness of the ore deposits discovered on the estate, which they had pledged from the Czech Crown. Their thalers were minted in hundreds of thousands of emissions and were designed for Leipzig’s annual markets. By 1528, Šlik’s Mint is estimated to have produced around 3 million thalers! The main motif of the Šlik thaler was the Czech lion on the obverse and the figure of St. Joachim on the reverse.

Ever since Ferdinand I of Habsburg took over the Czech throne in 1526, he also began to apply his tough financial policy in the lands of the Czech Crown. The aim was to unite all of the King’s mints and unify the coins being issued. Ferdinand started at the Joachimsthal Mint, which in 1528 was brought under the administration of the newly established Royal Chamber. However, for some time the Šliks retained their influence on its operation, finally losing their sway in 1545.

He also wanted to unify the currency in the countries under his rule. First of all, this took place in the Alpine countries, where the Austrian Mint Code of 1524 introduced the guldiner-zlatnik, with an average weight of 28.82 g and a quality of 0.895. In Bohemia, the tradition of issuing the Prague groschen made it impossible for the time being.

The Joachimsthal Mint was the only one to produce a huge amount of thaler coins. The mint in Prague started its mintage only in 1539, and its thaler production was small. The mint in Kutná Hora long resisted thaler mintage, but in 1543 it was forced to retreat from its position. The Royal Mint in Kutná Hora issued mostly small coins – traditional Prague groschen, as well as white and black peniz coins.

Conversion table of the denomination structure after unification of the thaler system in all provincial mints

Denomination Weight [g] Quality Relation to thaler Comment
ducat 3,55 0,989 -  
Two thaler 59,49 0,930 0,5 minted only in Joachimsthal
thaler 28,93 0,895 1  
half thaler 14,22 0,895 2  
quarter thaler 7,04 0,895 4  
Prague groschen 2,845 0,418 24 not minted after 1547
light Prague groschen 2,005 0,422 30 minted only in 1547
new groschen 2,82 0,437 24 last minted in 1529
white peniz 0,384 0,312 210  
small peniz 0,345 0,172 420  


Along with the decentralisation of Czech mint production, the Mint Master Marks were stamped on coins. The master of the mint thus assumed responsibility for the correct weight, fineness and exterior of the coin.

In 1559, a zlatnik worth 60 kreuzers was introduced into the coinage under the reform of 1524. According to the Augsburg Mint Code, which entered into force in the Czech lands in 1561, government mints started minting a light thaler – a zlatnik of 60 kreuzers and its subdivisions: 30, 10, 2 and 1 kreuzers. The appearance and motif of Ferdinand’s thaler coins became a model for the coinage over the next (nearly) four centuries. As a rule, the thaler’s obverse bears the bust of the king and the text around the edge indicates his name and titles. Ferdinand’s coins show the sovereign in armour with the royal crown on his head, a sceptre in his right hand, and an imperial apple in his left. It is this imperial apple which is later seen as the only external difference between the thaler and goldsmith.

The 1540s saw the beginning of thaler mintage in other lands of the Czech Crown. In Kladsko, Jan of Pernštejn (who was the Count of Kladsko in the years 1537–1548) issued thaler coins between 1540 and 1544 with the ancestral sign of a wisent head with a ring in its nostrils. At that time, Ferdinand I issues thalers and half thalers in Wroclav, Silesia. Later in 1581, Vilém (1552–1592) and Petr Vok (1592–1611) start to mint ducats (and their multiples) and thalers in the Silesian town of Rychleby.

The zlatnik system in Bohemia did not last long. The reluctance of people to recalculate into “German kreuzers” was so strong that the successor of Ferdinand I, King Maximilian II (1564–1576) was persuaded by the Estates to return to the thaler system in 1573. The main coin unit once again became the thaler. It was then coined by all royal mints – in Jáchymov (Joachimsthal), Prague, Kutná Hora and České Budějovice. The groschen in the form of white groschen and small groschen also returned to the money system. On the face side of both the small and white groschen is the Czech lion.

The reign of Rudolf II (1576–1612) brought many changes in the development of coinage in the Czech Crown lands. The 1580s witnessed the beginning of frequent emissions of gold ducat coins. Both traditional ducats, weighing 3.5 g and with a fineness of 0.986, and their 10, 5, 4, 3 and 2 multiples were minted. The unusual development of gold mintage in the Prague Mint was also enabled by the supply of metals from private persons, such as the Nuremberg merchant Bartoloměj Albrecht, under whom more than 1,000,000 ducats were issued from the Prague Mint.

In 1608, the history of the private mintage of the bishops and archbishops of Olomouc began. Bishop and Cardinal Francis of Dietrichstein (1599–1636) turned to the Emperor Rudolf II, asking him to restore the medieval privilege of mint. The request was accepted and the first coin was issued from the Kroměříž Mint in 1613. The Kroměříž Mint contributed significantly to the emissions of provincial money in the next 150 years, and its activity became the most important in terms of the coinage of church institutions in Central Europe.

During the reign of Rudolf II, thalers of three emperors were minted in the Czech mints. These thalers were issued as commemorative coins of the emperors Maximilian I, Charles V and Ferdinand I, and bear portraits of all three important Habsburgs and their names.

During the reign of Matthias II, Czech ducats return for a short time. The arrival of Matthias on the Czech throne also brought the first Czech coronation coins. They were minted tokens of silver that were thrown among the watching crowds during the coronation procession. Along with them, coronation coins of silver and gold were minted and then used as presents for important guests. This tradition lasted until the last Prague coronation in 1836.

The ducats of Charles IV compared to other European ducats were mined in small quantities, because the natural gold resources in the Jílové and Kašperské mines were very limited. These Czech coins are therefore very rare today. On the obverse side of the ducat is a depiction of the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV with the crown jewels. The ducats, minted from almost pure gold, served as a means of payment mostly in international trade only. Despite the fact that Bohemia flourished enormously both economically and politically, the quality of Prague groschen was in decline. At the end of the reign of Charles IV, the silver content in groschen was only 75 percent, whereas the first Prague groschen contained about 93 percent silver (1300).

The Maria Theresa thaler

During the reign of Maria Theresa, a silver Austro-Hungarian thaler was minted, which was used as a means of payment in many countries around the world.

The Maria Theresa thaler, which became popular thanks to its well-executed portrait, was called the Levant thaler in the 19th century and together with the Spanish peso it was highly recognised in trade. It was widely used throughout Europe, in today’s Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula and in much of Africa; in the Arab countries, for example, it was the only coin trusted by merchants. In particular the coffee trade contributed to the spread of the thaler around the world. In Ethiopia it was in circulation from the end of the 18th century and was the official means of payment until 1936, when Ethiopia was occupied by Italy. The Maria Theresa thaler continued to be minted in Rome and London (until 1961), and even in Mumbai.

During the early years of Franz Joseph I’s reign, coins were still minted with the portrait of his predecessor, Emperor Ferdinand V. Copper kreuzers , half and quarter kreuzers were minted with the year 1816. The first coin with the image of Franz Joseph I was a conventional 20 kreuzer with the head of Franz Joseph I on the left and the year 1852, minted in the Vienna and Prague mints. Thalers and zlatniks with the years 1848 to 1851 are from the later minting in 1852.

Coin minting during the reign of Franz Joseph I was carried out in several mints, which were gradually shut down (Nagybánya, Prague, Kraiburg) or lost in military conflict (Milan, Venice). Finally, only two mints remained: Vienna and Kremnica. The monetary system was changed several times under the reign of Franz Joseph I. Initially, it was the currency from the reign of Maria Theresa, later until 1892 the Austrian currency, and the last was the koruna currency which remained until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1938

After the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia, it was not possible to change the currency, and therefore coins and banknotes from the previous period remained in circulation. In the period from 3 to 19 March 1919 banknote stamping took place, while 1/2 of the currency was withheld that was submitted for this purpose in the form of state debt. Small banknotes and the old Austrian one- and two-koruna coins remained in circulation.

There were two reasons why new coins could not be minted immediately. Since 1856, the Czech lands had been without their own mint, and the equipment of the Kremnica Mint (in the territory of the former Hungary) was all stolen before it was taken over on 15th December 1918 – almost only the shell of the mint building remained. The new punching machines arrived in 1921 because of the post-war situation in industry. On January 19, 1921, Kremnica started minting Czechoslovak coins for the first time – the 20 haler test series, and on June 2, 1921, the mint was put into normal operation

Negotiations on the new form of coins and the name of the currency had been held since the beginning of the Republic. In the end, the name koruna won out, beating the competing “sokol”, which was even stamped out in a sample series. The graphic design of the new koruna was the work of Otakar Španiel.

The new coins came into circulation gradually, in the following order: 20 haler, 50 haler (1921), 10 haler, 1 koruna (1922), 2 haler, 5 haler (1923), 5 koruna (1923). In 1928, a silver commemorative 10 koruna was minted to mark the 10th anniversary of the republic’s existence; a circulation form came out in 1930. The unusual 25 haler together with the silver 20 koruna were added to the currency in circulation in 1933.

Soon after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic, the First Republic St.Wenceslas ducats started to be minted here. They were the first gold coins of Czechoslovakia intended for trade and, like the earlier medals, did not have a nominal value. The mintage of St. Wenceslas ducats was accompanied by great interest from the public and 400,000 1 ducat coins were sold between 1923 and 1939. Between 1929 and 1939, the coinage was expanded to include 5 and 10 ducat coins. These coinages have become much sought after all over the world, and therefore St. Wenceslas ducats began to be minted for international trade purposes in 1951 and are still highly valued to this day.

History of medals

Medals often accompany political, cultural and social events. In Bohemia, the work of medallists gained greater significance at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In connection with the history of medals, the term faleristics is important. It was introduced in 1937 by a Czechoslovak soldier, collector of orders and medals Oldřich Pilc to describe the science that deals with historical orders, medals and badges awarded for merit in various fields of human activity. The term faleristics has its origin in the ancient Greek word “phalara”, which denotes metal ornaments worn on the helmets of warriors. The Romans took the term and used it for military awards.

The first mention of medals can be found in ancient times. In the early Middle Ages, various modifications occurred until the Italian Renaissance of the 15th century, when the beginnings of the modern medal appeared. From the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries emerged the minted medal, allowing large quantities to be produced. From Italy this art spread to Germany, and these cast medals also influenced production in Bohemia. From the 1520s, however, medals in our territory (in Jáchymov) were produced by minting. Jáchymov or Joachimsthal became a world-famous mining and coining centre of its time.

From the mid-17th century, so-called Baroque medals began to be developed, depicting monarchs and the nobility, church dignitaries, saints, biblical motifs and the like. In the second half of the 18th century, Baroque classicist themes appear on medals of monarchs and the nobility. In 1915 a medal-making department was established at the Academy of Fine Arts, with Stanislav Sucharda as the first professor. After the First World War, there is a particular interest in minted medals dealing with socially important topics such as historical and cultural anniversaries, economics, science and technology. After 1968, the production of medals continued, only the themes of the reliefs and purposes for which they were issued changed. Following the example of the Soviet Union, a number of honours for merit were introduced, which were received by prominent members of the party (Order of the Hero of the Socialist Labour, Order of Labour, etc.). Today, medals are again used to commemorate important aspects of society, or else as an investment, whereby the issuer, manufacturer, material, cost, theme, and the workmanship decide the value of the medal.

In 1990, the Association of Art Medallists was established in the Czech Republic to preserve this art in society and maintain its standards. As a consequence, special schools have been founded in the Czech Republic, such as the Jablonec Medallist School.

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