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Examples of German and Austrian Thalers compared to a U.S. quarter (bottom center)
Examples of German and Austrian Thalers compared to a U.S. quarter (bottom center)
The Thaler (or Taler or Talir) was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. Its name lives on in various currencies as the dollar or tolar. Etymologically, "Thaler" is an abbreviation of "Joachimsthaler", a coin type from the city of Joachimsthal (J chymov) in Bohemia, where some of the first such coins were minted in 1518. ( is German for "valley". A "thaler" is a person or a thing "from the valley". In the 1902 spelling reform, the German spelling was changed from "Thal" and "Thaler" to "Tal" and "Taler", which, however, did not affect the spelling of "Thaler" in the English language.)



Hungarian Thaler of Leopold I minted in 1692
Hungarian Thaler of Leopold I minted in 1692
The roots and development of the Thaler-sized silver coin date back to the mid-15th century. As the 15th century drew to a close the state of much of Europe's coinage was quite poor because of repeated debasement induced by the costs of continual warfare, and by the incessant centuries-long loss of silver and gold in indirect one-sided trades importing spices and porcelain and silk and other fine cloths and exotic goods from India, Indonesia and the Far East. This continual debasement had reached a point that silver content in Groschen-type coins had dropped, in some cases, to less than five percent, making the coins of much less individual value than they had in the beginning.

Countering this trend, with the discovery and mining of silver deposits in Europe, Italy began the first tentative steps toward a large silver coinage with the introduction in 1472 of the lira tron in excess of six grams, a substantial increase over the, roughly, four-gram gros tournois of France.

In 1474 a nine-gram lira was issued but it was in 1484 that Archduke Sigismund of Tirol issued the first truly revolutionary silver coin, the half Guldengroschen of roughly 15 (fifteen and a half) grams. This was a very rare coin, almost a trial piece, but it did circulate so successfully that demand could not be met.

Finally, with the silver deposits—being mined at Schwaz—to work with and his mint at Hall, Sigismund issued, in 1486, large numbers of the first true Thaler-sized coin, the Guldengroschen (great gulden, being of silver but equal in value to a Goldgulden).

The Guldengroschen, nicknamed the guldiner, was an instant and unqualified success. Soon it was being copied widely by many states who had the necessary silver. The engravers, no less affected by the Renaissance than were other artists, began creating intricate and elaborate designs featuring the heraldic arms and standards of the minting state as well as brutally realistic, sometimes unflattering, depictions of the ruler (monarch).

The Joachimsthaler

By 1518 guldiners were popping up everywhere in central Europe. In Bohemia, a part of the Holy Roman Empire then controlled by the Jagellonian monarchs, a guldiner was minted—of similar physical size but slightly less fineness—that was named the Joachimsthaler from the silver mined by the Counts of Schlick at a rich source near Joachimsthal (St. Joachim's Valley, J chymov) (now in the Czech Republic) where Thal (Tal) means "valley" in German. Joachim, the father of the Virgin Mary, was portrayed on the coin along with the lion from the Counts' crest. Similar coins began to be minted in neighbouring valleys rich in silver deposits, each named after the particular 'thal' or valley from which the silver was extracted. There were soon so many of them that these silver coins began to be known more widely as 'thaler'.

From these earliest 'thaler' developed the new Thaler – the coin that Europe had been looking for to create a standard for commerce. The original Joachimsthaler Guldengroschen was 1 ounce in weight (27.2 g). The Reichstaler (1566 to 1750) was defined to contain 25.984 g of Silver which was set as the coin of account of the Empire.

In the 17th Century, a certain amount of Joachimsthalers was in circulation in the Tsardom of Russia, where it was called Yefimok () - a distortion of its name's first half.

Later German Thaler

17th-century Thaler coin from Brunswick-Wolfenb ttel with the traditional woodwose design on coins from the mints in the Harz Mountains
17th-century Thaler coin from Brunswick-Wolfenb ttel with the traditional woodwose design on coins from the mints in the Harz Mountains
The zenith of Thaler minting occurred in the late 16th and 17th centuries with the so-called "multiple Thalers", often called L sers in Germany. The first were minted in Brunswick, and indeed the majority were struck there. Some of these coins reached colossal size, as much as sixteen normal thalers. The original reason for minting these colossal coins, some of which exceeded a full pound (over 450g) of silver and being over 12 cm in diameter, is uncertain. The name "l ser" most likely was derived from a large gold coin minted in Hamburg called the Portugal ser, worth 10 ducats. Some of the silver l ser reached this value, but not all. Eventually the term was applied to numerous similar coins worth more than a single Thaler. These coins are very rare, the larger ones often costing tens of thousands of dollars, and are highly sought after by serious collectors of Thalers. Few circulated in any real sense so they often remain in well-preserved condition.

In the Holy Roman Empire, the Thaler was used as the standard against which the various states' currencies could be valued. One standard introduced by Prussia was the Reichsthaler, which contained one fourteenth of a Cologne mark of silver. In 1754, the Conventionsthaler was introduced, containing one tenth of a Cologne mark of silver.

In 1837, the Prussian thaler became part of a currency union which set the value of the southern German gulden at 1.75 per thaler. By 1850, nearly all German states used this standard of Thaler, though with differing subdivisions.

In 1857, the Vereinsthaler was adopted by most German states as well as in the Habsburg Empire. Vereinsthalers were issued until 1871 in Germany and 1867 in Austria. Within the new German Empire, vereinsthaler coins circulated as 3-mark pieces until 1908 when they were withdrawn and demonetized. Some old countermarked thalers circulated as emergency coinage in Germany during the inflationary period following its defeat in World War One.

The Maria Theresa thaler was still used during the 20th century in Ethiopia and throughout much of the Arab Peninsula.

Dutch daalder

In the Netherlands, the daalder and rijksdaalder circulated alongside the gulden at values of 1 and 2 gulden. The rijksdaalder depicted a lion; hence its Dutch name was leeuwendaler (German l wenthaler). These coins circulated in Romania and gave their name to the currencies of both Romania and Moldova, the leu. In the Netherlands, the name rijksdaalder lived on until the gulden was replaced by the euro in 2002.

Scandinavian taler

The Thaler was introduced and became the most widespread currency in Scandinavia under the name daler during the early 17th century. Various daler circulated, including the Danish rigsdaler, the Swedish riksdaler and the Norwegian speciedaler. These daler circulated in Denmark and Sweden until 1873 when they were replaced by the Danish krone and Swedish krona, the new currencies introduced by the Scandinavian Monetary Union. Norway joined the Monetary Union and introduced the Norwegian krone in 1876.

Other "Thaler"

Croatia]], in the early 16th century (until 1534) As silver flooded into the European economy from domestic and overseas sources, Thalers and Thaler-sized coins were minted all over with equivalent coins such as the crown, daalder from which the English word "dollar" is derived, krona, and from 1497, the Spanish eight real coin was minted a coin which would later become known in some parts of the world as the peso. Indeed, in England the word "dollar" was in use for the Thaler for 200 years before the issue of the United States dollar, and until the half crown ceased to be used following decimalisation in 1971, the term "half a dollar" could be heard for "half a crown". In Switzerland and Germany, coins were minted to commemorate the Sch tzenfest {Shooting Festival}. These are commonly known as "Shooting thalers".


No currency currently in circulation is named thaler. Several, however, are acknowledging its legacy with their names: twenty-three currencies named "dollar", used in countries including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and United States of America, as well as tolar (slovene for thaler), used in Slovenia until the end of 2006. Between 1992 and 1995, Belarus planned to introduce Belarusian taler as a national currency.

The birr, the official currency of Ethiopia and Eritrea, takes its name from the local name for thaler, as well as the riyal of many Arabian countries.

In colloquial German, "Thaler" persisted with the meaning of "three Marks" until the 1930s, as when the Mark system was introduced in 1871, 1 Vereinsthaler was revalued at 3 Marks.

In Greece, the term " " is commonly used for the denomination of five of the local currency (5 drachmas or 5 euros).

Chronology of Thaler development

  • 1486: Sigismund of Tirol issues his 31.93g Guldengroschen of 60 Kreuzers and 937.5 fineness.
  • 1493: Switzerland issues its first Guldengroschen at Bern
  • 1500: The first German Guldengroschen is issued from Saxony, with a value of 24 Groschen. In Bremen it circulates equivalent to 36 Groten. These Guldengroschen are reduced in weight to 29.2g so as to be minted at eight coins to the Cologne mark.
  • 1518: The first coin actually called a "Thaler" is minted in Joachimsthal, Bohemia, H.R.E.. Its weight is as the standard of 1500.
  • 1524: In an attempt to standardize the guldiner, a money ordinance (Reichsm nzordnung) is issued at Esslingen, Germany reaffirming the fineness of the coin at 937.5, and its weight to 29.2g
  • 1534: Saxony and Bohemia alter the fineness of their guldiners down from 937.5 purity to 903.0 while maintaining the same coin weight, thus lowering the actual amount of pure silver in the coin. This begins a separation of the Thaler from its guldiner ancestry.
  • 1551: A new money ordinance is decreed in Augsburg that lowers the guldiner's purity to 882.0, but raises the weight of the coin to 31.18g. This returns the coin to being the equal value of a Goldgulden. The Thaler is now equivalent to 72 Kreuzer.
  • 1559: After the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, yet another money ordinance is decreed at Augsburg, this time radically altering the coin (now to be called a Reichsguldiner) down to a mass of just 24.62g, but returning the coin to 931.0 fineness. This sets the Guldiner to be equivalent to 60 Kreuzer once again.
  • 1566: The guldiner as a denomination is more or less eliminated by a Saxon money edict that establishes the Reichsthaler (known later as the Speciesthaler) with a fineness of 889.0 and a weight of 29.2g
  • 1667: An agreement made at the Abbey of Zinna between Saxony, Brandenburg, and Brunswick-L neburg to help make the minting of small coins more economical than could be done under the old Augsburg ordinances led to the Thaler being reduced in weight to 28.1g but retaining the same 889.0 fineness.
  • 1690: The Leipzig Money Convention met to deal with the poor quality of coinage in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Brunswick. The agreement of 1667 had not solved the problem so the Thaler was again reduced in weight down to 25.9g. At this point 12 Thaler are being minted to provide one Cologne Mark of silver, up from nine in 1500.
  • 1750: This year saw yet another reduction in weight in the areas controlled by Prussia, Hesse, and Brunswick-Wolfenb ttel down to just 22.2g and a fineness of 750.0. 14 Thaler are minted to contain one Cologne Mark of silver.
  • 1754: The monetary agreement between Austria and Bavaria in 1753 began the period of the Conventionsthaler, a Thaler set at 10 to equal one Cologne Mark of silver. Its weight was 28.0g with a fineness of 833.0. Over time this coin spread into a large portion of central and southern Germany.
  • 1755: The Kronenthaler is first issued in areas controlled by the Habsburgs, especially in the Netherlands and southern Germany. It had a weight of 29.44g and a fineness of 873.0.
  • 1857: The Vienna monetary contract finally eliminates the Cologne Mark as a standard against which the silver coinage of Austria and Germany are reckoned, replacing it with a simple tariff of 500g. Thirty Vereinsthalers are set to be minted from this 500g standard. The coins weighed 18.5g and had a fineness of 900.0. They are set to equal 90 Austrian Kreuzer, 105 Bavarian Kreuzer, 30 Groschen, or 48 Schilling depending on the minting region.
  • 1872: The last Thaler are minted in a few states, notably Saxony.
  • 1908: The last circulating thalers were withdrawn and demonetized in Germany.
  • Early years of 20th century: unsuccessful attempt to mint Maria Theresa thaler in Abyssinia. Starting in 1935 Italians mint the coin still popular in the area.[1]

See also


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