COLLECTING GERMAN COINS
by Ron Guth
German issues represent one of the most popular areas
of world coin collecting. Not only does the series enjoy a strong collector
base in its home country, but American collectors, many of German descent,
continue to enjoy the variety and challenge they represent. Krause Publications'
1994 release of the "Standard Catalog of German Coins, 1601 to Present",
a 952 page reference, confirms their popularity.
At first glance, German coins appear daunting. These pieces have been
issued for hundreds of years by a variety of rulers representing numerous
cities, states, regions and periods. Commemorative issues seem to be the
rule rather than the exception, and the wide variety of individual coin
types can seem overwhelming. Nevertheless, if you are seeking a lifetime
of collecting pleasure, you will enjoy the challenge these fascinating
coins offer. The numismatist will find German coins a fertile field, virtually
in its infancy compared to United States coins.
For newcomers to the series, I offer several collecting suggestions.
Simply throwing money at this series most often results in a meaningless
collection. Because it is so large, it is nearly impossible to collect
every piece, even if you have unlimited funds.
Specialists with a long-range plan and well-defined goals will obtain
the greatest satisfaction and build the most meaningful collections. The
suggestions offered here are not meant to be all-inclusive or inflexible,
since ultimately each individual controls the destiny of his or her own
collection. Using these ideas as a basis, you will develop collecting goals
to meet your individual needs.
Many American families already have an accumulation of German coins,
most of which were brought to the United States by servicemen returning
from World War II. These coins can be the basis of a lifelong journey into
the interesting world of German coin collecting. By implementing or adapting
the methods outlined here, your journey will be easier and more enjoyable.
1. Collect by Location:
Prior to 1807, Germany was made up of a large number of "states",
many of which issued their own coins, tokens and medals. Germany changed
constantly throughout its history, with cities joining cities, and regions
Many collectors attempt to obtain a numismatic item from each location.
Some states, like Prussia, are represented by numerous types and denominations;
others, like Wallmoden-Gimborn, are represented by only a few coins, most
of which are expensive. Collecting by location can be made even more challenging
by extending the scope of the collection to earlier periods.
An interesting sideline is colonial issues, from the breathtaking "Bird
of Paradise" pieces of German New Guinea to the crude brass and copper
20 Heller coins of German East Africa (Tanzania).
2. Collect by Denomination:
Prior to the formation of the German
Empire by Bismarck in 1871, various regions issued numerous denominations,
particularly in base metals. A quick look at German States coinages of
the 1800s reveals different uses of hellers, groschens, guldens, vereinsthalers
and marks, plus fractional and multiple denominations. A collection by
denomination illustrates the economic and governmental diversity that is
a rich part of German history.
3. Collect by Type:
Depending on the time period it covers, a collection of German type
coins might be completed easily - or it might take a lifetime. If you focus
on the modern era,
it is fairly simple and not too expensive. On the other hand, collecting
all types of coins issued by the German
States in the 1800s is not a simple goal. Adding periods and/or
gold issues increases dramatically the time, patience and money required
to achieve your goal.
4. Collect by Series:
Certain series have enjoyed relatively long lives with few design changes.
For instance, the national
1-mark series, first struck in 1873, has only six design changes.
The design type issued from 1891-1916 parallels the United States' Barber
quarter series, yet the 1 mark sells for as little as $10 in uncirculated
5. Collect by Mintmark:
As you might expect, there are a variety of issuing mints and mintmarks.
However, the mints outnumber the mintmarks, because several mints used
the same mintmark (this is similar to a "D" mintmark representing
both Denver and Dahlonega on U.S. coins). On German coins, a "D"
might represent Aurich, Duesseldorf or Munich, depending on the time period.
There is no correlation between the mintmark and the name of the mint.
Thus, "A" mintmarks are found on coins struck at Berlin, "HK"
on coins of Rostock, and "S" on coins of Dresden. On the other
hand, one mint may have used more than one mintmark. For example, Dresden
(in Saxony) used "H" from 1804-1812, "S" from 1813-1832
and "G" from 1833-1844.
6. Collect by Ruler:
The German States had a variety of rulers, some unique to their region
or locality, others who ruled one or more cities or regions. The German
coin series is replete with dukes, princes and kings.
7. Collect Proofs:
German collectors prefer high-grade circulated and mint-state business
strikes to proofs, thus many values abound in all series, from the German
States to the low-mintage issues of West
Germany. Although certain proof issues are expensive, American
collectors who are accustomed to the high prices of U.S. proof coins will
find many relative values in the German series.
8. Collect Patterns:
Like proofs, patterns receive little attention from German collectors.
If German proofs are undervalued when compared to their American counterparts,
then German patterns are even more so, although they are just as rare as
U.S. patterns. Curiously, German numismatic reference books list some major
errors with patterns.
9. Collect by Time Period:
Many collectors like to focus on defined time periods, and German coins
lend themselves well to this method of collecting.
17th Century. While popular,
this period requires advanced numismatic skills because information is
difficult to find. References tend to be highly specialized and localized,
and accurate pricing and rarity information is almost nonexistent. The
recent release of Standard Catalog of German Coins, 1601 to Present
should increase collector interest dramatically.
1700-1871. A wide variety of
towns, regions and states issued many interesting denominations and obscure
emissions during this period. It was a time of gute-groschens, fractional
and double thalers, kreuzers and schillings issued by places like Anhalt-Bernberg,
East Friesland, Hohenzollern-Hechingen, Munster and Reuss-Schleiz. Information
is readily available, and items are not difficult to locate. Most collectors
acquire examples of each type, although the more ambitious attempt to acquire
one of everything. At least one numismatist (this writer) is attempting
to record die varieties for the Bavarian "Madonna" thalers of
the mid to late 1700s. Surprisingly, many coins that catalog for less than
$25 are as difficult to locate as some of the much more expensive rarities.
Some purists limit themselves to coins dated in the 1700s, while others
restrict their collecting to 1800-71.
1871-1918 (Empire). A more systematic
series of coins was produced during the Empire period. Silver coins, many
of which were commemoratives, were issued by cities, regions and states
in 2-, 3-, and 5-mark denominations. Denominations of 1 mark and smaller
were standardized and issued nationwide by a variety of mints.
1919-1933 (Weimar Republic).
This period is noted for the introduction of the short-lived Rentenpfennig
and its multiple versions; the lovely series of silver 3- and 5-mark commemoratives;
and the inflationary denominations of 200 and 500 mark.
1933-1945 (Third Reich). This
series is a real challenge because its zinc issues are difficult to locate
in nice, uncorroded condition. Most collectors include the Allied Occupation
issues of 1945-48.
1948-1990 (German Democratic Republic
- East Germany). This series is noted for numerous 5-, 10-,
and 20-mark commemoratives in copper-nickel and silver, most with historical
(and several with Communist) themes. Minor coins, struck primarily in aluminum,
generally were disregarded by collectors, who only recently started to
recognize their rarity.
1948-date (Federal Republic of Germany - West
Germany and Germany). From 1948 to 1990, this series consists
of West German issues; after 1990 and the unification of East and West
Germany, the East German coinage system was abandoned and that of West
Germany adopted as the national coinage. Commemorative issues begin in
1952 with the rare and popular Nurnberg Museum issue. One or more commemorative
issues have appeared annually since 1966, with the 10 mark replacing the
5 mark in 1987.