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Antique International Coins


1. TETRADRACHAM OR "ATHENIAN OWL" This silver coin weighed around 16.5 grams. It was coined by the Athenian mint at the end of the 6th century BC, reaching its peak production between 450 and 430 BC. This coin was considered reliable thanks to the quality of its metal. As a result, it was accepted in all areas under Athens' influence and beyond, spreading to the Eastern Mediterranean, Aegina, Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula. In the middle of the 5th century BC, a "monetary decree" was passed which provided for the unification of weights and measures. This effectively implemented a single monetary system.


2. STATER OR CORINTHIAN "PEGASUS" This silver coin weighed around 8.5 grams, the same as an Euboaen-Attic didramma (or quadrigatus), but which was worth three drachmas. It was coined by the Corinthian mint from the mid-6th century BC onwards. The obverse side featured a winged horse, while the reverse showed the head of the god, Athena, bearing the Corinthian helmet. Outside Greece, the "Pegasus" spread to the West, particularly in the island of Sicily. Between the mid-4th and early 3rd centuries BC, the coin established itself as a common currency for trade exchanges.


3. ALEXANDER THE GREAT'S SILVER TETRADRAM The great prestige of Athenian currency led Philip II of Macedonia, and subsequently his son, Alexander III (better known as "The Great"), to base their currency on a drachma weighing around 4.2 grams. Alexander the Great began issuing his tetradrams around 336 BC, the year he ascended to the throne. A large quantity of the coins were issued for almost century, even after his death in 323 BC, by the numerous mints in his vast empire, stretching across: the Balkans, Ancient Persia, Pakistan, Egypt and even Northern India.

4. REPUBLICAN ERA ROMAN DENARIUS The silver Roman coin, Denarius, weighed around 4 grams. The obverse side featured the head of Rome bearing a winged helmet and the "X" value symbol. On the reverse side, it showed the Dioscuri divine twins who came to Rome's aid at the Battle of Lake Regillus. The coin took its name from the original value of 10 axes, indicated by the "X" value symbol, i.e., ten. History suggests that it was in circulation as early as 211 BC, and was well-known and highly regarded not only in the Italian peninsula, but across the entire Mediterranean basin.

5. IMPERIAL ROMAN DENARIUS This is probably the most common Ancient coin. At the time of its introduction, it contained almost pure silver and weighed around 4.5 grams. Under Augustan's monetary reform, the control of silver and gold coins passed to the Emperor, while the Senate continued to issue coins of lower value. The currency remained relatively stable until Nero's new reform in 65 AD, which brought the Denarius to 1/96th of a libra (3.41 grams). This coin travelled beyond the borders of the Roman Empire: non-Roman Europe, Africa, the Far East and beyond the shores of the Black Sea.

6. ROMAN AUREUS The first aurei were introduced by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 87 BC, weighing 9.11 grams. In 48 BC, Julius Caesar began issuing aurei that weighed between 8.55 grams and 8.02 grams. Augustan's monetary reform had brought the aureus to 7.78 grams. In 65 AD, Nero's new monetary reform further reduced the aureus value to 7.28 grams. This process continued under the reforms of Caracalla, Aurelian and Diocletian, who reduced the coin to just over 5 grams. Constantine's introduction of the solidus in the early 4th century AD marked the end of the aureus coin which, like the denarius before it, had carried the image of Roman power throughout the known world. To prove just how far-reaching aureus circulation was, we need only consider that in India coins were minted that imitated the Roman aureus.

7. THE BYZANTINE SOLIDUS The Constantinian solidus maintained its weight and gold standard intact for a long period of time. This made it essential to markets, guaranteeing stability and favour in various parts of the now vast Roman empire and beyond. The solidus stayed at the heart of the monetary system and was a coin of real value. As such, it was a useful tool in long-distance transactions or as a reference for calcuations and exchanges with other currencies. Indeed, the "ob" initials on the coin (obryzum, which means pure gold) and its stable weight over time (4.45 grams) made it a currency above all others. The solidus was used even beyond the Empire's borders. It circulated in the vast area that stretched from the Mediterranean basin, sweeping across Spain, Africa, Asia and regions even further East. Amid highs and lows, the Byzantine solidus was a reference currency in great international circles until the early 13th century.

8. THE FLORENTINE FLORIN The florin was one of first gold coins to be minted after the fall of the Roman Empire in Italy. Weighing 3.54 grams, it was struck in 24-carat gold for the first time in 1252 in Florence. The name derives from the Latin term for lily (lilium), heraldic symbol of Florence, as engraved on the obverse side. The reserve showed St John, patron of Florence. During the 13th century and up to the Renaissance, the florin became the exchange currency of choice in Europe, thanks to the growing power of Florentine banks. Like the Venetian ducat, it was also the most imitated coin.

9. VENETIAN DUCAT The Venetian gold ducat was first coined in 1284 at the behest of Doge Giovanni Dandolo. The purity of its 24-carat gold explains the nickname "Sequin" or "zecchino" in Italian ("zecca" means "mint"), which was given to this coin from 1540 onwards. The ducat characteristics, such as percentage of fine metals, remained unaltered until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. This gave Venice's gold coin great prestige and value; it was accepted and imitated throughout Levant, Malta, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the Balkan peninsula, even India, and also in Italy itself in Parma, Mantua and Rome.

10. MARIA THERESA THALER In 1486, Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol began issuing large silver coins: the guldiner or silver florin. In 1520, Count Bassano del Grappa, Steffan Schlick, coined the guldiner bearing the image of Saint Joachim at the Joachimsthal mint. The coin was initially named " Joachimsthaler", but was later shortened to "Thaler" , and finally "Taler" as it is called today. The intrisic silver value of the coin remained stable for almost two centuries of circulation. Thanks to its prestige and continuity, the taler soon travelled beyond the confines of the Hapsburg empire. Through the Balkans, it permeated the entire Ottoman Empire. From the Middle East, it spread to Africa (spanning Sudan, Angola and Mozambique) and stretched to the Azore Islands in the Atlantic. With the opening of the Suez Canal (1869), the trade axis switched from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. The taler consequently expanded to the Horn of Africa, Tanganyika, and the Zanzibar area. It also reached the Far East: the Port of Macao, the Java islands and Indonesian islands (Dutch Indies).

11. LEEUWENNDAALDER In the Netherlands, the leeuwenndaalder (Lion's thaler) was coined in 1575 during the fight for independence. Shortly after, leeuwenndaalder coins were issued by six of the seven Dutch provinces. It was lighter than the other important currencies of the time, so it was better for merchants to pay foreign debts in leeuwenndaalders. This is why it became the currency of foreign trade. The leeuwenndaalder spread throughout the East and was imitated in a number of German and Italian cities. From the mid-17th century onwards, we find the leeuwenndaalder in the Balkans, Syria, Egypt and Africa. The obverse side features an upright knight with a shield in front of his legs bearing a lion. The reverse shows a heraldic lion.

12. THE SPANISH "8 ESCUDOS" COIN This large Spanish gold coin weighed 27.07 grams. It was first minted by Philip II in 1611, and was well received in Europe and South America, which saw the circulation of examples coined in numerous Spanish mints. It also was the money of reference in countries that were not under Spanish control, such as North America and the Far East.

13. THE SPANISH "8 REALES" COIN The silver "eight reales" coin (also known as the Spanish Dollar) was minted in the Spanish Empire following the monetary reform of 1497. Produced with a large variety of designs in the centuries that followed by various Spanish and even American mints up to the 19th century, it was hugely successful even beyond Spanish borders and colonies. It carried legal value in the US until it was abolished by an Act of Congress in 1857. Its large diffusion in Europe, the Americas and Far East made it the first global coin towards the end of the 18th century. A great number of currencies in circulation (for example, the Canadian and US dollar, the Chinese yuan, the Philippine peso and most Latin American currencies) were initially based on the "eight reales" currency. The "eight reales" coin (also known as "Pillar dollar" due to the depiction of the Pillars of Hercules in some versions) reached Asia via the Philippine colonies, where the Spanish bought goods from Indonesia, China and other Asian countries using this currency.

14. THE DOLLAR The dollar lends its name to the official currency of a number of states and territories, including: Australia, Canada, the East Caribbean, Liberia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. Its carries the $ symbol, usually placed before the numerical figures (in French Canadian, it comes after). There are varying accounts of the origins of this symbol. The most accepted version is that it derives from the Pillars of Hercules, featured on Spanish colonial money.Its present name is the English-language and Central-European derivation of another ancient currency, the thaler (tolar in Bohemia, thaler in Germany and daler in Sweden), which was used in various European countries from the 16th century onwards. The dollar which has achieved the greatest circulation and weight is the United States Dollar, the US currency since 6th July 1785. For around a century, it has been widely used as a reserve currency outside the United States. Some nations use the US Dollar as their official currency, such as Ecuador, Palau, East Timor, Panama, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

15. THE MARENGO AND THE LATIN MONETARY UNION The "Marengo", or "Napoleon", was a gold coin worth 20 francs, which was coined in 1801 by the Sub-Alpine Republic. This currency was issued between 1803 and 1815. It weighed 6.45 grams and comprised 900-thousandths of gold.After the fall of Napoleon, production of this money continued and its name was extended to all 20-franc gold coins made in 19th century France. Following the foundation of the Latin Monetary Union (LMU), the name Marengo was also used for LMU money of the same value. The LMU was a 19th-century attempt to allow the free circulation of several European currencies within member states. The LMU Convention was signed on 23rd December 1865.The success of the Latin Monetary Union, measured against the number of countries who adopted the system (an amazing 32), created the basis for an international monetary system. The Convention was formally annulled on 1st January 1927.

16. THE 5 FRANC SCUDO This silver coin was produced in the Napoleonic period. It weighed 25 grams and comprised 900-thousandths of gold. The coins bore the image of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the fall of Napoleon, production of this money continued. Following the foundation of the Latin Monetary Union, the 5-franc coin had the same name and weight as other LMU coins of the same value.A large number of nations coined this currency, both signatory countries of the LMU convention (France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Greece) and associated or unilaterally aligned countries, like: Austro-Hungaria, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Romania, Spain, the Pontifical State, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Crete, Serbia, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Danish West Indies, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Tunisia, Comoros, Congo, Porto Rico and Eritrea.


17. THE BRITISH POUND On 22nd June 1816, during the reign of King George III, the British Parliament decided to abandon silver as the basis of its monetary system in favour of the gold standard. In 1817, the gold guinea, worth 21 shillings, was replaced with a new coin which weighed 7.98 grams, in 22-carat gold, and with a final metal content of 7.32 grams. The reverse side of the coin bore the image of St. George slaying the dragon, designed by Italian engraver, Benedetto Pistrucci. Minting of this gold coin, commonly dubbed the Gold Pound, continued under George III's successors. It became the reference currency both for international trade and for investment, thanks to incredibly high demand. Its peak circulation was under Queen Victoria, when the British Empire was at its most glorious.


18. THE EURO The Euro is the official common currency of the European Union, and the single currency for the 16 member states who presently adhere to the European Economic and Monetary Union. The EMU, or Euro zone, has over 320 million inhabitants. If we also take into consideration third-party countries that use currency tied to the Euro, the single currency directly affects over 480 million people throughout the world. Eleven of the 27 EU member states have not yet adopted the Euro as their official currency. In addition to EU members, several micro-states (the Vatican City, the Principality of Monaco, San Marino and Andorra), have adopted the euro under the pre-existing conditions of monetary union with EU member countries. Most recently, Montenegro and the independent Serbian region of Kosovo have unilaterally adopted the euro. The author of the common side of all the Euro coins is Luc Luycx, coin designer of the Belgium Royal Mint, the same who made the design of the “Numer 1” side of the UFWC coins.


“…In order to regulate all sorts of payments and also to bring the entire world to the use of a single currency”.

This sentence is quoted from the long subtitle to the book “L’Alitinonfo” (ancient Greek for “True Light”) written by the Italian Gasparo Scaruffi and publishedin Italy by Hercoliano Bartoli in 1582. It was written between November 1574 and May 1579 and dedicated to Earl Alfonso Estense Tassoni, Governor of Reggio, city located on North Italy, who was judge of the Council of the Savi and private Councillor to the Duke of Ferrara Alfonso II d’Este (1533-1597).

Let’s start from the very beginning of the story, whose innovative power is such intense to be still actual today after more than 500 years. The Baldicelli family (or Baldocelli), alias Scaruffi, in addition to the title of Counts was attributed numerous powers and special concessions by Alfonso I d’Este (Duke of Ferrara) and then by Ercole II d’Este.

They were recognized as merchants specialized in many kinds of goods. Gasparo Scaruffi was born in Reggio (city of Reggio Emilia today, Italy) in the Duchy of Ferrara on the 17th May 1519, lastborn son among the noble Antonio di Gianfrancesco de’ Baldicelli’s seven children. His father was a wealthy merchant of spices, textiles and haberdashery. When Antonio died, his eldest son Gian Maria, who was quoted in some records of the time as campsor (exchanger), became a skilled and active guide for the entire family. The financial situation was prosperous and all the children, thanks to the inheritance left by their father, started a series of remunerative activities such as silk manufacturing and exchange bank business. The first records in which Gasparo Scaruffi appears date back to 1544 when he was in Piacenza for business and to make practice as an exchanger in Sir Agostino da Lodi’s Bank.

In 1547 he became assayer in the Mint of Reggio for the Town Council, in charge of testing coins minted locally. In 1550 he was sent by the Senior Town Council members to the Duchy of Mantova as an ambassador expert in coins. There, the value of the coins of Reggio – the gold scudi and the silver biancone or testone – had been arbitrarily reduced by means of a Grida (a public proclamation) issued by Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga – tutor to the Duke Francesco III Gonzaga’s nephew – and then to Parma, where he convinced, without assaying coins but only by means of his logic dissertation and persuasive argumentation, Ottavio Farnese Duke of Parma about the value of the coins of Reggio. In 1552 Gasparo took the management of the ancient Mint of Reggio, becoming “…leader of the Cecha (mint) of Reggio…” by paying to the Town Council 90 gold scudi per year. Later on, in 1560 he was named by the Council of the Fourties “Spenditore” (Treasurer).

In 1574 he made a series of assays and tests on coins coming from the neighbouring countries, often alterated or counterfeited, and two years later he moved to the Duchy of Ferrara as an ambassador in order to explain the reasons of the Mint of Reggio concerning the coinage of some pieces and in 1582 he was elected among the “superior” controllers in the Mint of Reggio. Throughout these experiences Gasparo realized the basic confusion concerning money: the greatest inconvenience caused by the circulation of such a large amount of coins is that of repressing trade and obliging governors to long and unceasing negotiations. “L’Alitinonfo” (true light), Gasparo Scaruffi’s masterpiece, faces the question of the monetary disorder with the aim of creating a universal Mint for the coinage of a universal currency for all nations in the world.

If we analyze the text we can identify, as if seeing through the watermark of a banknote, the basic concepts of Scaruffi’s believes and convictions:

  • The concept of natural law: derived from Reinassance pantheistic naturalism and applied to what he thought was the immutable relationship between the value of gold and the value of silver.
  • The concept of money: the exchanging value of money, due to its nominal value, makes us forget that its real value is the intrinsic one, namely the value of the precious metal.
  • The concept of “Prince”: apart from formal manners, Scaruffi did not have a high regard for the role of the Prince, revelling in his expensive life while the population struggled against famine, plague and calamities. Scaruffi acted like a financial councillor who, in order to affirm his audacious ideas about economic strategies, while encouraging the prince’s finance, he also stimulated his boastfulness. Upon these basic concepts Scaruffi based his fundamental values seen as the instruments to build his theories and proposals:
  • The rationality in acting: it belongs to the businessman who is indifferent to sentimentalism while aiming to his objective, capable of accepting any condition or limit in order to get it.
  • The certainty of social relationships: it is mostly based on certainty given by the value of money, which eliminates wastes of time, facilitates planning and makes relationships more fluid and fast.
  • Justice: an objective justice – not related to categories – which is a commutative justice applied to an exchanging mechanism where the trader’s job – the basis of his profits – meets the distributing justice whose natural guardian is represented by the Prince and where the main instrument to obtain it is the universal currency.
  • The coordinated order: natural order is when all entities operate in their own environment and perform their function according to nature; coordinated order instead presupposes the intervention of a public authority. Regarding coins, this kind of intervention happens by assuring the sampling of standard weight and shape and by having them as a public domain while carefully monitoring all the operators of the sector.

In the second half of the sixteenth century in Europe most coins were gold and silver and the first issue was choosing between monometallism and bimetallism. Scaruffi chose the second option. The two metals had to be 100% pure “but that gold which is considered pure is called in Italy and other provinces of 24 denari and the pure silver is called of 12 leghe”. Among governors of small States, such as the Duchy of Ferrara, where only small coins where minted locally in a fiduciary system, coinage was the main source of profit, since the nominal value was higher than the actual value, while strong coins (gold or silver) coming from outside circulated in legal currency system.

These coins were adulterated by all social classes, especially by the nobles who used them to pay the Army, the Court, debts and public services. Adulteration was performed through clipping with the consequent decreasing of weight (though keeping the same name) and through alteration of the alloy and thus of the actual value. Scaruffi supported the purity of the coin and exhorted “princes and nobles” to “imprint on all coins the signs of their value, of the alloy and purity and of the number indicating the amount necessary to make a libbra…wishing that the notes of value indicated lire, soldi and denari under the imperial title”.

All this argumentation leads to the basic concept of Scaruffi’s theory: a universal currency achieved by means of the imperial lira which is at the same time currency, money of account and unit of value. Gasparo Scaruffi died on 20th September 1584 when he was 65 years old and his wife was expecting their third child who would have the name of his father, while the names of the other two children were Jeroteo and Arsenio.

In conclusion, we can say that it is not easy nor immediate to understand how Gasparo Scaruffi’s thought influenced future economists, although many of them, such as Bernardino Pratisuoli, R. Bocchi, G. D. Peri and S. Franchi made argumentation and studies on his hypotheses and conjectures. In any case, we must be aware of the undiscussed originality of Scaruffi’s theories and admit that his reflections represent an essential passage between the strict mercantilism and a new, although careful, opening towards a new conception of economics, seen as a scientifically approached subject. He had a vision, and that vision could be possible in the coming future, with the United Future World Currency program created by an orther Italian, Dr. Sandro Sassoli.

Stefano Poddi, numismatic researcher for UFWC project (copyright – all rights reserved by Ufwc)

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