Perhaps on Newyear’s Day, after having read out loud your letter with Season’s greetings, you have received a currant loaf or other type of sweet bread, which is called ‘zoetekoek’, ‘krolleman’ or kramiek’ in several regions of Flanders. Some of these delicious breads are decorated with a painted clay pipe disk. Not only these party breads but also the disks are known by different names such as ‘patacon’, ‘schild’ (shield or ecu), ‘maan’ (moon), ‘rondelle’ (slice), …
Numismatists may be surprised to read this because ‘patagons’ and ‘shields’ are not only baked clay disks with painted figures but also coins. Pure coincidence? It is possible that the names refer to an ancient custom whereby the value of party breads was increased by placing coins inside the breads or just by laying them on top of them as a decorative element.
Unlike the origin of the coin to which the disk or patacon owes (most likely) its name, the origin of the baked patagon still remains a mystery. Let us return to the days in which the Archdukes Albert and Isabella were in office (1598-1621). Due to political and religious tensions at the end of the 16th century they had to cope with high financial costs. On top of this, a lot of often wealthy and influential merchants, talented craftsmen and artists emigrated. The economic consequences of the closing of the Schelde together with the sea blockade led to a decrease in dynamism and finances. During the reign of the Archdukes peace returned in the Southern Netherlands and the introduction of a healthy and stable monetary system resulted in an economic revival.
In 1612 a new series of gold coins as well as a series of silver coins were put into circulation. Both series were based on the sovereign but the silver sovereign soon became known as the ‘patagon’. The half patagon, the quarter patagon, the eighth patagon, the stiver, the half stiver and the farthing were also part of this series. The silver series was later on completed with the sixteenth patagon (1616), the ducaton and the half ducaton (1618). These new coins formed a system that did not change much until the middle of the 18th century. These new coins excelled in quality, weight and fineness as well as in design and finish.
On the obverse is a crowned Saint-Andrew’s-cross with the flint and the collar of the Golden Fleece in the middle. Left and right we recognize the crowned monograms of the archdukes and in the legend ALBERTUS ET ELISABET DEI GRATIA. On the front side there is also a cherub’s head at the top, which is the Brussels’ mintmark. In fact, most of the patagons were minted in Antwerp although Brussels was gaining importance as a new competitor. Next, on the reverse we can see the crowned Burgundian weapon between the chain of the Golden Fleece and the legend: AVST DVCES BVRG ET BRAB.
The patagon with a value of 48 stiver became an important trade coin and enjoyed great international fame until far beyond the borders of that time. In eastern Europe and Russia the patagon was a popular means of payment for the purchase of raw materials, amber, wheat, leather and fur. A tangible proof of its international use is the jefimok . The jefimok that is depicted here is originally a patagon from Antwerp which had been adapted to the Russian monetary system by adding two counterstamps. From then onwards the coin obtained a value of 64 copecks. The two counterstamps consist of an oval with the equestrian portrait of tsar Aleksej Michajlovitsj (1645-1676) and a rectangle with the year 1655.
In this way the patagon was officially admitted to the Russian circulation and in a further stage it was used to pay the Russian troups. As a jefimok this patagon stood alongside a number of other Dutch and German heavy silver coins. ‘Jefimok’ is in fact the Russian word for thaler and is derived from ‘Joachimthaler’.
Already in 1659 jefimki were withdrawn from circulation, although they were still used in remote areas until the beginning of the 18th century. So the patagons of Albert and Isabella were granted a long life, not only in the Netherlands but also elsewhere.
Also after the reign of the Archdukes the patagon was minted although the mints were not able to uphold the same quantitative and qualitative production level because of a decreased supply of silver.
Ingrid Van Damme
Source: H. Enno Van Gelder, M. Hoc, Les monnaies des Pays-Bas bourguignons et espagnols, 1434-1713, Amsterdam, 1960; Supplément, Amsterdam, 1964., A. Stroobants, Patacons uit het Dendermondse, Dendermonde, 1992., J. Fortuyn Drooglever, ‘Een yefimok of een tot Russische munt getransformeerde patagon’, in: De Beeldenaar, 2, 1, 1978, p. 18; A. Makarov, ‘Dutch coins with a Russian flavour and Russian coins with a Dutch flavour’, in: De Beeldenaar, 27, 2, 2003, pp. 61-62.