U.S. Coin Price Guide

Coin Collecting

Buy Coin Supplies

German states coins continue after empire begins
By Jeff Starck

When an amalgamation of states united to form the nation of Germany in 1871, this union did not spell the end of the practice of states issuing their own coinage.

All images courtesy of HeritageCoins.com. During the German Empire period, the national government was tasked with issuing the low denomination coinage, from 1 pfennig to 1 mark. These lower denomination coins were struck at all Mint facilities in operation during that period. A sampling of some of the coins appears here, and on the pieces illustrated, the Mint marks appear twice on the coins, flanking the eagle's tail.

Celebrating topics of local or regional interest with commemorative coins was one benefit to the privilege of issuing their own coins, the 25 German states found. Coins covered a wide array of topics, like this silver 5-mark coin of Bavaria marking the 90th birthday of Prince Regent Luitpold.

A wide array of Mint facilities struck German States coinages, as indicated by the total of 10 different Mint marks in use during the period. A small sample of coins is shown from various Mints, Saxony (E), Wurttemburg (F), Baden (G) and Hamburg (J).

Prussia's high mintages for its coins are understandable given its dominance during the German Empire period. More than 13 million 1876-A silver 2-mark coins were struck, the highest mintage for a German states coin.

Some states issued little coinage during the German Empire period. While Prussia was extremely active, Waldeck-Pyrmont issued just two coins, both in 1903, one of which is shown here (the silver 5 marks).

The numerous states were permitted to issue their own coinage for nearly 50 years, from 1873 to 1918, after the unification of the German Empire, continuing a tradition in place for more than 1,000 years.

Where there once was a dizzying array of issuers, denominations and designs, coinage of the German states during the German Empire is more straightforward.

Their coinage offers an interesting challenge and history lesson for collectors willing to consider them.

A little history

What is now Germany was once a loose confederation of many cities, states, regions and other bodies, among them the Holy Roman Empire, from about A.D. 800 to 1806, when Napoleon consolidated the geopolitical entities.

The origins of what would become the German Empire date to the Treaty of Verdun of A.D. 843, wherein Charlemagne's lands east of the Rhine were ceded to German Prince Louis, according to the Standard Catalog of German Coins by N. Douglas Nicol, edited by Fred J. Borgman and Colin R. Bruce II.

The Eastern Frankish Realm, as Prince Louis' lands were called, was, however, "little more than a geographic expression, consisting of hundreds of effectively autonomous big and little states," which "nominally owed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor." The Holy Roman Empire arose from the Eastern Frankish Realm in central Europe.

Coins were one way the emperor supported himself. Bishops at monasteries ran mints, striking coins and giving a share to the emperor, according to coin dealer Bob Reis of Anything Anywhere (www.anythinganywhere.com).

According to Reis, the great dukes of Germany "saw no reason why the benefits of such a profitable arrangement should accrue only to the church. Did they not, after all, contribute greatly to the stability of the empire? Did they not incur expenses?"

The emperor granted their wishes and by the end of the 10th century the practice of issuing coinage was beginning to spread, Reis said.

Fast-forward several centuries.

The emperor's diminishing concern for "the Germanies," as the loose confederation was often called, peaked with the Thirty Years' War in the 17th century, Nicol wrote.

During the intervening period, conflicts shaped the empire and the region, and though increasing commerce brought forth the creation of the somewhat uniform silver taler, "hundreds of mints had their own monetary conventions. There was no standard," according to Reis.

A considerable increase occurred in the number of states legally in possession of the coinage right during the 17th century, according to Germanic Coinages, Charlemagne through Wilhelm II, by William D. Craig.

Though a period of inflation led to reforms that placed monetary affairs back on an "even keel," Craig wrote, the largest changes occurred during the Napoleonic reign.

Following Napoleon's defeat of Austria in 1802 came the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and a drastic reduction in the number of sovereign German states, from more than 300 to 39.

The creation of the German Confederation in 1815 and the subsequent rise of Prussia as the dominant force in the region played out a few decades later when, after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Prussia annexed several states and formed the North German Confederation, the precursor to the German Empire.

In 1871, after provoking successful war with France, Prussia created a united Germany that remained until 1918 when Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated.

Prior to the birth of the German Empire, little in the way of consistency united the coin denominations the many German states minted.

Denominations included talers, ducats, hellers, groschen, kruezers and kippers.

The birth of the German Empire in 1871 and its standardized money system in 1873 ended the confusion – somewhat.

Coins of the German Empire

A total of 25 member states comprised the German Empire: four kingdoms, six grand duchies, 12 duchies and principalities, and three free cities.

Those member states were the kingdoms of Bavaria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg; the grand duchies of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklinburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg and Saxe-Weimar; the duchies of Anhalt-Dessau, Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Saxe-Meiningen; the principalities of Lippe-Detmold, Reuss-Elder Line, Reuss-Younger Line, Schaumburg-Lippe, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen and Waldeck-Pyrmont; and the free cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck, according to Catalogue of German Coins by P. Arnold, D. Steinhilber and H. Kuthmann.

A monetary system of 100 pfennig equal to one mark was instituted, and decisions were made as to what denominations the various entities could issue.

The federal government issued uniform lower denomination coins (from 1 pfennig to 1 mark).

The member states were granted the right to issue their own silver 2-, 3- and 5-mark coinage and gold 5-, 10- and 20-mark coinage.

The 1-pfennig to 1-mark denomination coins were rather simple in design, bearing the denomination and year of mintage on the obverse, with the German imperial eagle and the Mint mark on the reverse.

The 1-pfennig coin is composed of copper; the 5- and 10-pfennig coins were struck from copper-nickel.

Silver was used for the 20- and 50-pfennig coins and the 1-mark coins. A larger, copper-nickel 20-pfennig coin replaced the silver 20-pfennig coin starting in 1887 and a silver half mark replaced the 50-pfennig coin beginning in 1905.

A nickel 25-pfennig coin was added to the range of denominations for a few years, from 1909 to 1912.

During World War I, the metallic composition of a few denominations was altered. Aluminum was adopted for the 1-pfennig coin, with iron substituting for the copper-nickel used in making 5- and 10-pfennig coins.

The close of World War I also brought the close of the German Empire period, as the nation was partitioned under the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.

Ten Mint facilities struck the 1-pfennig to 1-mark circulating coins during the imperial period, and each coin bears one of nine different Mint marks: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and J. The Muldenhutten Mint claimed the E Mint mark formerly used by the Dresden Mint, which stopped producing coins in 1887. (The references used in researching this article did not explain how the national government shared minting duties and powers with the individual states.)

The silver and gold coins issued by the German states during the imperial period all feature common reverse designs, with each state choosing the designs for its coins' obverses. Germany's imperial eagle appears on the shared reverse, with the date and an inscription.

Three main reverse design types were used during the imperial period.

The first type, showing a small eagle with the date below, a small inscription and the abbreviation m for "mark," was in use from 1871 to 1873.

Following this style is the second type, featuring a small eagle, date at right edge, a larger inscription and the word mark; type 2 was in use from 1874 to 1889.

The third and final type, in use from 1890 to 1915, features a large eagle and inscription, with the date at right and the denomination mark.

Uniform denominations, varied issues

Though the silver and gold coins of the various states are sized uniformly (see accompanying chart), the series is hardly uniform.

Most states chose to depict their respective ruler on state-issued coinage. However, some regular circulating coins depict themes other than the ruler (for example, issues of the free cities show arms or an eagle).

In addition to the standard issue of regular circulating designs, some of the coins feature commemorative designs, like the 1904 silver 2-mark coin that Mecklenburg-Schwerin issued marking the wedding of Friedrich Franz IV to Princess Alexandria, or the silver 2-, 3- and 5-mark coins of Bavaria marking the 90th birthday of Prince Regent Luitpold.

Many of the coins of Prussia, the largest and most dominant state, are of a commemorative nature, including coins celebrating the kingdom's bicentennial and military victories such as the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 at the hands of the Sixth Coalition forces (which included Austria, Britain, Prussia, Russia and Sweden).

Some states were more active with their coinage issues. Other states only intermittently issued coins.

While Prussia's issues number in the dozens, at least three states (Lippe-Detmold, Schwarsburg-Rudolstad and Waldeck-Pyrmont) issued only two denominations each, with all six coins being one-year types.

Following Prussia, the states of Bavaria, Hamburg and Prussia are among the most active issuers, while states like Anhalt and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha issued merely a handful of denominations and dates.

Mintages range from what may be the lowest, for the 1908-J 20-mark coin from Hamburg, at a reported 14 pieces, to the more than 13 million pieces struck of the 1876-A 2-mark coin of Prussia.

Varied mintages, collecting approaches

Mintages of the German states coins seem to reflect the respective states' power and influence.

Considering Prussia's dominant place atop the German Empire, it's no wonder mintages for its coins far exceed those from all other states (possibly even if combined).

A quick look at reported mintages shows that for most states, numerous issues have mintages of 10,000 coins or less, with the apparent majority below 100,000.

By a large majority, the upper mintage limits are around 1 million or fewer coins, with the mintages for coins of Prussia being the major exception.

But a low mintage isn't always parallel with a high price, and vice versa.

For example, the aforementioned rare Hamburg coin does not rank as the most expensive coin; the coin that probably holds that rank is the 1918-D 3-mark coin from Bavaria, celebrating the Golden Wedding anniversary of Ludwig III and Maria Theresa. With a reported mintage of 130 pieces, according to the Standard Catalogue of World Coins, it lists for $40,000 in Uncirculated condition.

Meanwhile, even many coins from Prussia exceed several thousand dollars in price.

The wide array of issuers offers collectors many ways to collect the imperial coins.

One approach, but not necessarily the easiest, would be to collect one coin from each of the 25 states that issued coins during the imperial period. Collectors may find this approach difficult, since some of the states issued few coins, and those coins had smaller mintages than coins of many of the other states. Therefore, the surviving examples are comparatively harder to find and often more expensive.

Another, more comprehensive approach is to collect one coin of each denomination from each state.

Another approach is to use Mint marks as a guideline, collecting one coin from each of the 10 Mint facilities that struck state coins during the imperial period.

The vast majority of states had their coins struck at the Berlin Mint, indicated by the A Mint mark.

A handful of states had their coins struck at facilities inside their state.

For instance, the Mint at Karlsruhe struck coins for Baden, indicated by the G Mint mark.

Bavaria's coins bear a D Mint mark, for the Munich Mint, while Bremen and Hamburg coins bear the J Mint mark (for the Hamburg Mint).

Just five of the Mints – Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart – were operational for the duration of the imperial period (these five remain in operation to this day, and are the only national Mint facilities in Germany).

Early coins of Saxony bear the E Mint mark for the Dresden Mint, which was operational from 1872 to 1887, but the Muldenhutten Mint claimed that Mint mark in 1887 until it closed after 1953. So, you can own two different coins from Saxony with the E Mint mark that were struck at two different facilities.

Other collecting strategies include concentrating on coins of one state or of one year.

Seemingly limitless collecting possibilities exist for the German states series of coinage, all depending on what path you choose to take.

However you chose to collect German states coinage during the imperial period, a holdover from more than a millennium of German coinage history, they remain a tangible reminder of the arrangement that allowed states the right to issue their own coinage while the federal government did the same.

© 1992-2018 DC2NET™, Inc. All Rights Reserved