The imperial city of Augsburg: Few people are aware that this little city west of Munich was the most important commercial and industrial centre in the southern half of the Holy Roman Empire – Augsburg was way more important than Frankfurt or Munich. Even though most people have already heard of the Fugger and the Welser families, the incredible economic importance of this city only becomes apparent when you take a look at Augsburg’s tax lists. There were not only wealthy citizens in Augsburg, there were many rich and super-rich ones.
How important and prosperous Augsburg was is shown by the fact that its citizens were able to host as many as 13 Imperial Diets in the course of the 16th century, that is more than a third of all Imperial Diets held in that century. For comparison: the other major trading city of the 16th century, Regensburg, hosted “only” 8 Imperial Diets.
Although Augsburg’s economic power had been crushed by the Thirty Years’ War, the city remained a trading centre of supra-regional importance throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
Therefore it is all the more surprising that there had been no proper catalogue of Augsburg’s coinage until now. The experienced collector Anton Vetterle set to work to finally fill this void.
Clear Limitations and a Clear Structure
We have to congratulate the author at this point. He has managed one thing in an exemplary way, he set clear limitations regarding the material and put it in a systematic and clear order. Anton Vetterle presents a catalogue of the city’s coins: from 1521, when Charles V granted Augsburg the privilege of minting coins, to 1805, when Augsburg lost its imperial immediacy and was incorporated into Bavaria. He reasonably limits himself to the coins and does not attempt to include the medals as well.
The author used seven coin cabinets, eight private collections and the catalogues of two coin shops to find the material. That is a lot considering that he is a collector. If he was a scholar, one might have to ask why he did not ask the coin cabinets of neighbouring Switzerland. After all, St Gallen, Schaffhausen and Zurich were closely connected to Augsburg in terms of trade, which is why these collections might contain additional material. Moreover, one could have consulted additional auction catalogues (CoinArchives and the like?). However, he probably had to limit the material due to time constraints. And who knows whether there would have been a reasonable ratio between effort and benefit anyway.
For the sake of completeness – not as criticism – it should be mentioned that treasure finds were also neither included nor evaluated for this catalogue.
Anton Vetterle’s work is no die catalogue but a type catalogue. This means that all types are listed and there is a depiction of an example for all of them. They are sorted according to the year of issue, and coins of the same year are sorted according to their denomination: from gold to bronze.
Every type has a unique number – which is a combination of the year of mintage and a consecutive number. There is a brief description including denomination and year of mintage, then there is a detailed description. At last you will find the material, weight and diameter of a specific specimen, whose location is given. Then the author lists the best-known catalogue references. There is no indication as to whether a type is common or rare.
The catalogue is preceded by an introduction of almost 50 pages. Briefly said, these pages are not the strongest part of the book. The author tries to put the coinage of Augsburg into its monetary context. He explains which coins were minted prior to 1521 and mentions the most important events that had an impact on the city’s coinage. Anton Vetterle summarises his ideas about the minting process, how it changed and mentions the craftsmen involved. A separate chapter is dedicated to the gold and silver trade and to the depictions that are featured on the coins.
The problem is that the author mostly presents excerpts from secondary literature that do not always provide readers with a coherent and, above all, accurate idea of the matter. In addition, one wonders sometimes how the information is related to coins at all. An example are the wonderful city views that can be seen on Augsburg’s coins. Experience shows that such depictions usually are not made from scratch but are inspired by printed models. Anton Vetterle does a wonderful job of listing which printed city views of Augsburg exist in a separate chapter, but he does not make the second step of checking which of them were used to be depicted on coins.
Another example is the chapter on river deities, which are often depicted on Augsburg coins. In this part, the author emphasises the importance of water as drinking water and source of energy. It would have probably made more sense to look at the fountains of Augsburg and to compare how river gods are depicted there, analysing whether this might be how they ended up being depicted on coins. The fact that – until modern times – rivers were important primarily because heavy goods could be transported on them at low costs should also be mentioned.
A third example is the chapter on the identification of the personification of Augsburg as the deity Cisa. Although the author states that there is a depiction of Cisa, he calls the same personification Augusta in his catalogue. This leads to the inconsistency that the personification is sometimes called Cisa and sometimes Augusta although we’re talking about the same coin.
Although Anton Vetterle’s systematic approach of the introduction is remarkable, he is not able to stick to it due to the complexity of the matter. As a reviewer, one cannot but feel sorry for this because the author has imposed a task on himself that he would not have needed to fulfil. There are enough books that provide you with in-depth knowledge about Augsburg’s silver craft and the art of minting. Regarding this aspect, less would have been more.
The History of the Augsburg Coin Collection
Another matter that is not really about the subject of the book but quite interesting is the chapter on the history of the coin collection in the Maximilian Museum in Augsburg. It is quite surprising that this coin collection only dates back to the 19th century! After all, extensive coin collections of some of the most important representatives of German numismatics had been in Augsburg prior to the Thirty Years’ War. Just think of Adolph Occo, Marcus Welser and all the antiquarians who served the coin-collecting nobles of their times as agents. It would have been very exciting to find out whether not only the Augsburg art cabinet but also parts of Augsburg’s collections ended up in Sweden, or whether they came to the State Coin Collection in Munich when Augsburg was incorporated into Bavaria in 1805.
An Excellent Tool
The catalogue is accompanied by a lot of additional information such as
- a list of mint masters and mint marks,
- a list of the “Probationstage” held in Augsburg (meetings to test coins),
- two lists of Augsburg dies in the Maximilian Museum in Augsburg and in the State Coin Collection in Munich,
- a bibliography,
- an index listing places and people.
One may congratulate the author on his work, despite small weaknesses regarding the content, the catalogue is an extremely useful help for every collector of Augsburg coins and every coin dealer that has to identify Augsburg coins. It is to be expected that this catalogue will become the standard reference when it comes to describing the coins of Augsburg.
You can purchase the catalogue of Augsburg coins directly from the Gietl publishing house.