The Top Ten of Künker’s Anniversary Auction 350
On 1 July 1971, Fritz Rudolf Künker founded his coin dealership. Nobody could have predicted that the small one-man company would develop into an internationally renowned auction house appreciated and frequented by customers all over the globe today.
The total result of the anniversary auction 350 reflects the interaction of on-site bidders, customers who submitted their bids via phone and email as well as online bidders: a total of 2,195 lots realized an overall result of 8.3 million euros while the estimate had been 5.8 million euros.
We present the Top Ten of the Künker auction 350. In case of two pieces realizing the same result, we ranked them according to the difference between estimate and hammer price.
A magnificent example of an imperial 5 ducat piece, which Leopold I had minted in Graz in 1690, realized 95,000 euros and thus made 10th place. The estimate had been 75,000 euros. Coins like these were not only created for payment purposes, the emperor mainly needed them to always have a suitable gift at hand, as was required by the politics of the time for countless occasions. Whether it be the official visit of a diplomatic delegation or the celebration of a birth, birthday, wedding or funeral – exchanging gifts was an integral part of the ceremony, and often coins were used for such purposes. Depending on the financial situation of the recipient of the gift, such coins either ended up in a coin collection or were used to settle payments.
Brunswick lösers served the same function. Those who had them minted owed their wealth and their high rank in the Holy Roman Empire to the rich silver mines of the Harz Mountains. To always have a gift that was appropriate for the rank of the recipient, the Dukes of Brunswick had lösers of different weights minted. Today’s price structure of these lösers is very complex because there are weight versions of which many specimens have survived while others are particularly rare. To determine the value of such pieces, you do not only have to take the motif and the year into account but also the rarity and the weight.
The coin type created for Duke Rudolf August in 1679 in Zellerfeld is a rare one anyway. Moreover, there is probably only one specimen of the 4 reichstaler version in private possession, which was part of the Peter von Lehmann Collection, the Virgil M. Brand Collection, the Preussag Collection and – most recently – the Friedrich Popken Collection. The new owner had to pay 95,000 euros to add this rarity to his own collection.
A wonderful Nuremberg commemorative coin weighing 5 ducats graded MS61 by the American grading service NGC was sold for 95,000 euros and thus ranked 8th. The coin had an estimate of 75,000 euros and features a splendid city view on one side, and the goddess Pax on the other side. The translation of the inscription reads: The much longed-for divine peace comes as a gift from heaven. Usually, this legend is associated with the one year anniversary of the Peace of Ryswick, which put an end to the Nine Years’ War in 1697 – but this association is quite questionable.
Why would Nuremberg mint such a piece one year after the peace treaty was concluded? What is the connection between the city and the war? After all, the international conflict over the legacy of the count palatine, who had died childless, took place far away from Nuremberg. That is why it is much more likely that this coin commemorates another peace agreement: the Peace of Westphalia had been concluded exactly 50 years before this issue was minted, and there was a particular connection between the Peace of Westphalia and Nuremberg.
Although it is much better-known today that negotiations took place in Münster and Osnabrück, very important discussions were held in Nuremberg. The practical procedure for establishing the new peace agreement were determined in the city. The “Peace Banquet” during which the people of Nuremberg and all the diplomats who had travelled there celebrated that the interim provisions had been signed is still considered one of the greatest banquets held in the famous city. It is much more likely that the coin refers to this peace treaty.
Two coins rank 6th with a hammer price of 120,000 euros and an estimate of 100,000 euros. Thus, there is no 7th place.
Exactly half of all top ten pieces of Künker’s auction 350 are from the Friedrich Popken Collection of lösers from Brunswick and Lüneburg, including this piece: a löser depicting on one side the horse of the House of Welf, wreathed with laurel and leaping over the city view of Celle. It was minted in 1654 in Clausthal. The commissioner Christian Louis immortalized himself on the obverse with his monogram and the coats of arms of the territories controlled by the Welf dynasty.
With a weight of 230.69 grams of silver, this is a löser of 8 reichstalers. That is why this variety of the usually rather common type is a first class rarity, as it is probably the only specimen on the market.
This extremely rare tenfold souverain d’or of 1751 featuring the portrait of Francis I is from the so-called Austrian Netherlands. Francis I was not only the husband of Maria Theresa, he had also been Roman-German Emperor since 1745 and is depicted in this function on this coin, as indicated by the imperial eagle on the reverse. By the way, the coin was not made in the capital and residence city of Brussels but in Antwerp, which had been experiencing economic decline since the Scheldt was closed for maritime trade in 1714.
The Austrians ruled over this territories since the War of the Spanish Succession had ended. Although France had occupied the territory for several years during the War of the Austrian Succession and Maria Theresa would have been willing to exchange it for French assistance in recovering Silesia, today’s Belgium remained under Habsburg control until the Treaty of Campo Formino was concluded.
No, this is no déjà vu. Künker’s auction 350 contained both a specimen of the Nuremberg multiple ducat of 1698 of 5 ducats, which raked 8th within the Top Ten, and a 6 ducats version, as this coveted coin type was also issued in several denominations.
Its price jumped from 75,000 to 120,000 euros. Since the hammer price of this 6 ducats piece from Nuremberg was 45,000 euros higher than its estimate, it is No. 5 of our Top Ten ranking.
Once again, this is a coin type that we are already familiar with: Rudolf August had several versions of his löser featuring the city views of Brunswick and Wolfenbütten minted. The 4 reichstaler version made the 9th place of our Top Ten with a hammer price of 95,000 euros; the 6 reichstaler version, of which probably only three specimens exist on the market and in public collections, realized 125,000 euros and is our 4th place.
In Fiala’s 6th volume of the catalogue of coins and medals of the Welfish lands published between 1907 and 1909, the author interpreted the motif as follows: “The duke, who now rules over the two cities of Brunswick and Wolfenbüttel, is symbolized by the ship of state and guides his state with divine help… For the sun of God shines over everything.”
And that brings us to the podium places: the most popular coin of the German Empire came in third place with a hammer price of 130,000 euros: the commemorative coin featuring the portrait of Frederick the Wise issued by Saxony to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Reformation.
The anniversary took place in 1917, i.e. in the midst of the First World War. For this reason only a tiny mintage of 100 specimens was struck and about half of them was melted down before any collector could get their hands on them.
The remarkable story about why Frederick the Wise, of all people, is featured on this coin has been told many times: With Augustus the Strong, the Saxon royals had converted to the Catholic faith. However, we do not know whether the reasoning that it was impossible to depict Luther – a common citizen – on a coin of the German Empire was made up to accommodate the religious feeling of the Saxon ruler, or whether this was actually a well-established rule in the empire. Anyway, the (Catholic) protector of Luther, Frederick the Wise, was featured together with the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Luther. The dates 1517/1917 are the only thing on the coin that refers to the anniversary of the Reformation.
However, one could also consider another reason why this coin commemorated the Reformation without hurting Catholic feelings: after all, the German Empire was in the midst of World War I at the time it was minted. They needed unity, not a demonstration of denominational differences.
An extremely rare löser of 4 reichstalers minted by prince Ferdinand Albert I of Brunswick-Bevern in 1670 in Clausthal to commemorate the death of his son was sold for 140,000 euros and is thus 2nd place of our Top Ten. The honoured person was a baby that, like many children in the 17th century, died shortly after birth.
Therefore, the coin was probably not minted due to the status of the deceased but for the sake of his father’s ambition: he probably planned to use the baptism of his firstborn son to impress his peers with a splendid feast. When his son died prematurely, he did not cancel the feast but turned it into a funeral.
With a hammer price of 240,000 euros, this coin has made it into the daily press: the top piece of the Friedrich Popken Collection, a löser of 10 reichstalers commemorating the emperor’s confirmation of the succession minted on behalf of Augustus the Younger celebrates his success with the inscription TANDEM meaning “Finally!”. In fact, Augustus the Younger had to wait several years for the emperor to officially recognize him as Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
Augustus the Younger, who is known today as the founder of the famous Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, celebrated his elevation in status on the occasion of his birthday in 1638 with a great festival. The celebrations were attended by princes and diplomates from near and far. The exchange of gifts during the reception and the farewell ceremonies was of crucial importance for the ceremonial procedure of the festival. It is very likely that this löser coin type was minted for this purpose. Our specimen weighing 10 reichstalers was certainly reserved for the highest-ranking guests or their diplomatic representatives.
Outside the Competition:
You do not need to pay prices in the six-digit range to acquire high-ranking testimonies of history – this fact was illustrated in this auction by a testone that jumped from an estimate of 150 euros to a hammer price of 300 euros. The name of this Italian denomination is related to the fact that Italian rulers started to feature their head (It. la testa) on the coin’s obverse during the Renaissance.
This testone was minted on behalf of Cosimo de Medici, a great-grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent on his mother’s side. He was the Duke of Florence and – as we learn from the coin’s inscription – the Duke of Siena. That was a new combination. Florence had been the rival of the Republic of Siena for centuries. But in 1559, when this testone was minted, Siena officially became the property of Cosimo and came thus under Florentine control.
This had been preceded by a military conflict. Cosimo I had marched an army against the city of Siena with Spanish support. After a surprise attack in the night of 26 January 1554 had failed, the siege began. It ended after more than a year with the surrender of Siena on 17 April 1555.
Charles V laid claim to Siena, as did Cosimo. An agreement was only reached in 1559 in the context of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis: Philip II ceded the Duchy of Siena to Cosimo in exchange for the remission of debts amounting to 200,000 ducats. Since that year, Cosimo called himself Duke of Florence and Siena.
After all, you do not only collect coins but also the stories and the history attached to them – and for this it does not matter whether you invest 300 euros or 240,000 euros.
All results can be found on the Künker website.
Künker’s fall auction sales will take place from 27 September to 1 October 2021. The corresponding catalogue can be ordered at Künker, Nobbenburgerstr. 4a, 49 076 Osnabrück; phone: +49 541 / 96 20 20; fax: +49 541 / 96 20 222; or via e-mail. By calling this number you can also arrange a meeting if you are interested in a consignment.
If you are interested in the lösers offered in this auction we recommend the film “Lösers: The Supreme Discipline of Coin Collecting”.