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A Very Short History
The word thaler comes from its place of origin: the town of Saint/Sankt Joachimsthal/Joachimstal in West Bohemia [then Germany; today Jachymov in Czech Republic]. Joachimstal means, literally, "Joachim's Valley" [Tal means valley in german language]. Here, from locally mind silver, the Joachimsthaler, better known by its clipped form thaler or taler, was minted for the first time in 1519. This silver coin -made of a now unknown silver alloy that never tarnished- became one of the most successful coins in monetary history and was widely imitated not only in Germany but also in the Dutch provinces.
In the Dutch provinces, the leeuwendaalder [ie lion thaler] were first coined in 1575 during the struggle for independence. Soon thereafter leeuwendaalder were issued by six [of the seven] Dutch provinces, along with independent issues produced by some of the major imperial towns: Kampen, Deventer and Zwolle. The leeuwendaalder was authorized to contain 427,16 grains of 0,750 fine silver. It was lighter than the large denomination coins then in circulation [ie the ducatoon and the rijksdaalder]. Clearly it was more advantageous for a merchant to pay a foreign debt in leeuwendaalder and this became the coin of choice for foreign trade. The leeuwendaalder circulated throughout the Middle East and was imitated in several German and Italian cities.
The turkish ottoman government in matters concerning currency was notorious in the XVI-XVIII centuries, and, as commerce required a stable monetary standard, the european merchants had recourse to the expedient of introducing european currency into the commerce with Ottoman Empire. Coins were imported mainly from Venice, Spain, Austria, Germany, Poland, and Dutch provinces. During the XVII century there was a great increase of dutch commerce with the Ottoman Empire and therefore an increased demand for Dutch currency, and by the middle of the XVII century we find that the leeuwendaalder of the Dutch provinces of Netherlands Confederation / United Provinces had ousted the currency of other countries as money of account in the Balkans [also in the Moldova and Muntenia / Walahia / Tara Romaneasca], western and central Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and northwest Africa. Here the leeuwendaalder had quite a large circulation and it was known by the ottomans also as esedi qurush or aslanli qurush. The prevalence of this coin was such that in 1666 even the salaries of the Levant Company [firm founded in 1581 by british merchants with the object of exploiting the trade with Ottoman Empire; dissolved in 1825] were paid in this currency.
For over a hundred years they were struck without change of design and in the Ottoman Empire pieces are often met with which bear dates subsequent to the disuse of the type in Dutch provinces. These were sometimes struck from old dies in the official mints and, although roughly engraved seem to he on the whole of fair standard.
The leeuwendaalder were no longer minted after 1713 and during the XVIII century the lion thalers were eventually supplanted by the Maria Theresa's thalers [first minted in 1751 and known also as Qrosh France].
Example of leeuwendaalder minted in West Frisia in 1623:
-reverse [normal resolution / high resolution]
-obverse [normal resolution / high resolution]
Description of the Leeuwendaalder
The obverse of the coins depicts a standing knight, in front of his legs rests a shield bearing a lion [found both in Dutch and Belgian coats of arms] in the rampant position. According to Pimbley's Dictionary of Heraldry, "the lion is the most popular beast in heraldry. The lion is drawn in about 30 attitudes, but it is seldom he is seen in other than rampant or passant. He appears in the arms of Great Britian, Denmark, Spain, Holland, Bohemia, Saxony and numerous lesser countries. As early as 1127 the english king Henry I used the lion as an ornament on a shield. Of the 918 bannerettes of Edward II, 225 bore lions. The early English heralds seem to have confused the lion with the leopard. While never drawn spotted as the real leopard, he was described in most attitudes as leo-pardé, or a lion as a leopard".
Within two circles of beadwork around the rim is a version of the abbreviated Latin legend:
MO. ARG. PRO. CONFOE. BELG. followed by a location [such as WESTF].
Transcribed: MONETA ARGENTEA PROVINCIARUM CONFOEDERATUM BELGICARUM WESTFRISIA
[ie Silver money of the Province of the Netherland Confederation West Frisia].
The reverse displays the same heraldic lion in a larger size, with two circles of beadwork around the rim with the motto of the Netherland Confederation: CONFIDENS. DNO. NON. MOVETVR [ie Who trusts in the Lord is not moved] followed by the date.
The coins were usually produced from thin plackets that did not fully fill the thickness of the dies, thus they were often weakly struck.
The link between the US dollar and the romanian currency Leu
The word thaler is pronounced as taaler in English. In Dutch and Low German, the initial consonant softened to become daler. The English adopted this form and eventually changed its spelling to the modern dollar. Coins from Low Countries [ie Belgium/S of the region & Netherlands/N of the region] circulated in the American colonies, including the cross thaler of Brabant and the leeuwendaalder of the various provinces. The anglicized form dollar was later used for the Spanish peso and the Portuguese eight-real piece which circulate widely in North America both before and after the United States gains its independence.
The leeuwendaalder was also popular in the Dutch East Indies as well as in the Dutch New Netherlands Colony [ie New York]. This coins also circulated throughout the american English colonies [Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maine, etc.] during the XVII and early XVIII centuries and also was counterfeited. Examples circulating in the colonies were usually fairly well worn so that the design was not fully distinguishable, thus they were sometimes referred to as dog dollars.
So, the romanian LEU and the american DOLLAR had in leeuwendaalder [ie lion thaler] a common ancestor!
But the similarities stops here! :-)
Other Sources of Info:
-A Brief Outline of Dutch History and the Province of New Netherland
-Notes on Sixtieth-Century Ottoman economy If the link does not work for you, then click here
-Dutch Coinage Types Found in the American Colonies
-The Continental Currency "Dollar" of 1776: Introduction