The 17th century got off to an auspicious start for the Antwerp mint. Following the death of Philip II, the Southern Netherlands came into the hands of Philip’s daughter Isabella and her fiancé and later husband, the Austrian Archduke Albrecht.
The new rulers regarded the currency reform as one of their priorities. By developing a stable currency system, they hoped to give renewed impetus to financial and economic life. Under Philip II, the currency system had been in chaos. There were many different types of money, issued not only by the king but also by various municipalities and provinces. That led to confusion, a lack of uniformity and fraud. The archduke and his wife took up the fight against these fraudulent practices.
The coins minted during the reign of Albrecht and Isabella (1598-1621) can be divided into two periods, with 1612 as the turning point. In that year, a totally new currency system was developed. By issuing this new series of coins the archducal couple laid the foundations for a currency system which survived until the 18th century. The Antwerp mint was accorded a key role in this. It produced more coins than the other mints in Brabant, and they were always of high quality.
The new series comprised both gold and silver coins. The gold sovereign and the silver patagon and ducaton were the basic denominations, and are among the largest and most beautiful coins ever placed in circulation in Europe. Their artistic and intrinsic qualities were soon recognised beyond the borders of Brabant, so that eventually these coins were circulating throughout Europe.
On the obverse of the ducaton we can see a beautiful side-view portrait of the archduke and his wife. The legend gives the names of the couple and the date. Between 1 April 1618 and 18 November 1620, the Antwerp mint produced 609,867 ducatons. We also know for certain that this coin was minted in Antwerp, because the legend incorporates the mint’s symbol, which for Antwerp is a hand.
On the reverse are the symbols of Brabant. The centre of the coin displays the coat of arms of the archducal couple, surrounded by two lions supporting the crown of Brabant. Below is a small ram’s fleece hanging on a chain, the sign of the Order of the Golden Fleece, as the dukes of Brabant had belonged to that order since 1430. The legend on the back refers to the titles of Albrecht and Isabella. They were the archduke and archduchess of Austria as well as being the duke and duchess of Burgundy and Brabant.
The ducaton displayed here is a “piedfort” or double ducaton. It weighs 64.70 grams, which is twice the prescribed weight. Piedforts were produced as proofs or gifts, and are far less common than the “ordinary” coins of which they are a multiple.
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