The National Bank’s coin collection covers over 2500 years: the oldest coins date from the reign of Croesus (560-547 B.C.), the last king of Lydia in Asia Minor, the most recent ones are the euro coins.
In addition to a small number of coins illustrating the development of coins over the course of time, the collection principally holds coins that have been used in our region at some time. The highlights of the collection are on display in the museum.
The first coins originated in the 7th century B.C. in the kingdom of Lydia. They were made of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, discovered in the sands of the local river, the Pactolus. The presence of two precious metals and small amounts of lead meant that it was not easy to determine its value. Attempts were therefore made to split electrum into gold and silver. The first gold and silver coins may have made their appearance during the reign of King Croesus (approx. 560-547 B.C.).
The Greek coins are the oldest in Europe. There is no doubt that the most international of the Greek coins was the Athenian owl, the nickname given to the Athenian silver coin minted from the sixth century B.C. While the issue of coins by a great many Greek cities remained limited to one or two denominations, the series minted by the Athenians consisted of fifteen and later sixteen different values. The series of coins was not used only for large or international transactions but just as much in day-to-day dealings.
No portraits of living people appeared on coins until the fourth century B.C. A change occurred here after the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.). His successors attributed a divine status to him and put his portrait on their coins. In Rome, Julius Caesar, obtained consent from the Senate to put his portrait on coins during his lifetime, thus recognising his absolute power. He is portrayed on the coin as if he were a king, in the tradition of the successors of Alexander.
Charlemagne introduced the denarius novus, the Carolingian penny. It was based on the Carolingian pound that was divided into 20 solidi (shillings) and 240 denarii (pennies).
The penny would be in use for five centuries. The “pounds, shillings and pence” system did not disappear in Great Britain until 1971.
The name “franc” for a currency unit is over 600 years old and came into being during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. In 1356, the French king, Jean le Bon, was taken prisoner in a battle at Poitiers by Edward III, king of England. After payment of a ransom of 3 million golden ecus, Jean le Bon was released in 1360. On his return, he reorganised the French currency and had a gold piece minted bearing the statement “Dei gratia francorum rex” (By the grace of God, king of the Franks). Some people maintain that this is the explanation of the name “franc” for that gold piece, others point to the meaning of the adjective “franc” as referring to the release of the king.
In the 16th century new sources of precious metals werd discovered in Central Europe. The discovery of the New World meant that a new source of precious metals could be tapped. The heavy silver coins brought into circulation by Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) and King Philip II (1527-1598), such as the “Carolusguilder” and “Philip daalder”, were minted in silver from the new colonies. They are the first to provide a realistic portrait of the monarch in renaissance style.
This “silver Lion” is one of the coins issued by the United States of Belgium after their uprising against the Austrians in 1790. The silver Lion lasted only a year because the United States of Belgium came to an end just one year later.
The oldest Belgian coin is a silver 5-franc piece dating from 1832. On the first coins, Leopold I wears a wreath of oak. This symbolizes a wise and energetic king. This is in contrast to a portrait with a laurel wreath, for example, the symbol of a warlike king. On the precious golden coins, the king is looking to the right, the direction of the future. On the silver coins, he is shown looking left: looking back to the past. On the copper coins, the monarch is represented by a handsomely stylized monogram.