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
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
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
Their coinage offers an interesting challenge
and history lesson for collectors willing to
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
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
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
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
Those member states were the kingdoms of
Bavaria, Prussia, Saxony and Wurttemberg; the
grand duchies of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt,
Oldenburg and Saxe-Weimar; the duchies of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Varied mintages, collecting approaches
Mintages of the German states coins seem to
reflect the respective states' power and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.