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Swedish Plate Money
by Bob Reis

"De Goertz" daler (experimental currency) Collectors of a more adventurous and inquiring turn of mind eventually discover that at various times and places peoples spent money that did not consist of round, flat pieces of metal or rectangular pieces of paper. After exercising their amazement on such relative commonplaces as square coins (India), wavy edged coins (Pakistan), coins with center holes (current Norway), and so forth, they may find themselves searching farther afield in search of things over which to exclaim "Well, what do you know?" In this manner they may come upon Swedish plate money.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Sweden suffered a silver shortage, but they had plenty of copper. They issued large quantities of copper minors in a range of denominations throughout this period, and generally these are probably the most common coppers of the time. Contemporary Swedish silver, on the other hand, is scarce, and gold is very rare.

At times, large payments had to be made and the necessary precious metal specie simply wasn't there. The government turned to copper to grease the skids of commerce, establishing by decree a fixed relationship between copper and silver, and issuing copper coinage of "equal" value to the large silver coins of the day.

The relative values were such that the copper equivalent of the silver daler (dollar) weighed about a pound, and the government saw fit to produce multiple dalers in copper. Halves, ones, twos, and fours were fairly common in circulation, and there were also a few eights. For a few years in the mid-seventeenth century threes, fives, and tens were tried, but that experiment didn't go anywhere.

Coinage of the mainline denominations continued for about a century, and at times they were the only type of coin to be had by most people. Interestingly, silver coinage did not cease during the plate money period, but you had to be connected to get it, so that if you were an ordinary citizen going out to buy a horse or a sword you had to carry twenty pounds of copper on your back.

As you might expect, these heavy slabs were very unpopular, and the government tried various ways of alleviating the situation without actually forcing people to use the things. A lot of them were exported all over the world as bullion, to be made into cannons and such. And during a particularly severe crisis copper tokens, the so-called De Goertz dalers, were issued. But these were received so badly by the people that even the bullheaded government of the time finally gave up.

Coinage of plate money was halted in 1768 and there was a general recall. A grateful populace turned in virtually all of the hated objects, and they were either melted or shipped overseas as scrap. They were rare to the point of unavailability until about ten years ago, when salvage operations were begun on the wreck of the Danish East India Company ship Nicobar, which sank off the coast of South Africa in 1783. About a thousand pieces of plate money were recovered, in a range of dates, denominations, and conditions, and suddenly, for a while, you could get one if you wanted one. But they're pretty much off the market these days. You'll have to wait until the current owners grow tired of them.

Bob Reis has been a collector for forty years, a dealer for twenty, and a writer on numismatic subjects for ten.

Bob Reis has over 40 years of numismatic study and 20 years dealing in world numismatics under his belt. As the author of the column "From A to Z" featured in World Coin News and numerous features in other publications, he is a dealer for a myriad of historical collectible "stuff".
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four-daler from the wreck of the Nicobar

closeup of four-daler showing 1736 date  

 




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