Featured Flimsy, Thin & Delicate: Medieval Bracteates

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Orielensis, Oct 22, 2019.

  1. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    One of my main collecting interests is medieval bracteates. Since bracteates are not shown in this forum too often, I thought it a good idea to post pictures of a couple of pieces from my collection along with short answers to some frequently asked questions on these coins.

    Please feel free to post your own bracteates or other medieval favorites!

    This is my current favorite:
    MA – Halberstadt, Gero von Schermbke, Brakteat, Hlg. Stephan.png
    Bishopric of Halberstadt, under Gerno von Schembke, AR bracteate penny, 1169–1177 AD. Obv: + S–STEPHANVSPROTOMARTI; bust of St. Stephen facing between three stones and star. Rev: negative design. 25mm, 0.83g. Ref: Berger 1324; Slg. Bonhoff 483.

    What are bracteates?
    Bracteates are thin, uni-faced coins struck with a single die. They were usually produced by placing a sheet of silver on an engraved bottom die and striking it with a tool covered in a soft material such as leather or lead. As a result, the reverse of a bracteate is an incuse mirror image of its obverse. With very few early modern exceptions, bracteates were made exclusively from silver.
    Though struck to a variety of different regional weight standards, about all medieval bracteates have to be considered pennies (Pfennige), the dominant coin denomination of medieval central Europe. Yet, distinctive regional types of bracteate pennies are sometimes referred to by specific names (e.g. Rappen, Angster, Stabler) in numismatic literature.
    The term bracteate, derived from Latin bractea (meaning “thin sheet of metal”), is also used for migration period pieces of jewelry produced in a similar fashion. These were not currency, though, and thus should not be confused with bracteate coins.

    When and where were bracteates struck?
    The production of bracteate coins probably began around 1115–1120 AD in Thuringia. Until the 1300s, bracteates were the dominant local coin type in large parts of northern and eastern Germany, Poland, and Scandinavia. Additionally, bracteates were also struck in what today is Switzerland and the neighbouring southern German-speaking regions.
    After the practice renovatio monetae (see below) was largely given up in the 14th century, bracteate production nonetheless continued. Yet, these later bracteates tend to be smaller in size and show simpler designs. Such late medieval and early modern bracteates are also referred to as “hollow pennies” (Hohlpfennige).

    Who issued bracteates?
    Minting was highly decentralized in most of the regions where bracteates were produced. Most mints striking these coins were run by ecclesiastical, feudal, or civic authorities who were granted the privilege to mint coins by the Holy Roman emperor. Yet, bracteates from imperial mints exist, too. For mints outside of the Holy Roman Empire, the situation differed significantly. In Scandinavia, for example, coinage was, with only a few exceptions, a royal monopoly.

    Why are there so many types of bracteates?
    Although neither the earliest nor the later bracteates constituted “short-lived money,” high medieval bracteates are often associated with the practice of renovatio monetae. In many central and northern European medieval towns and regions, old coins were declared invalid by the local authorities in intervals ranging from every couple of years to twice a year. In what effectively constituted a type of tax, now-invalid coins had to be exchanged for new ones at a premium. This system required constant changes of the local coinage’s design to distinguish valid from invalid coins. The coins of the episcopal mint at Magdeburg, which ‘renewed’ its coins very frequently and hence produced an abundance of bracteate designs, are a good example for this.
    Renovatio monetae prevented the use of money as a means of storing wealth (much like negative interest rates do today), keep currency in circulation, and produce revenue for the mint. Apparently it worked only imperfectly, though, since these coins were still hoarded. The social and economical changes of the later 13th century, including the increase in long distance trade, a more strongly monetarized economy, and the emergence of a powerful urban patriciate, lead to the gradual abandonment of this practice.

    Here are some Magdeburg bracteates:
    MA – Magdeburg, Moritzpfennig 1586, Reliquie.png

    Archbishopric of Magdeburg, under Albrecht von Käfernburg, bracteate penny, ca. 1220–1232. Obv: OICI – IVSDV; St. Maurice, nimbate and wearing armour, standing facing, holding cross and lance flag; below, church building with two towers and an arch; inside, cranium relic. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 23mm, 0.68g. Ref: Berger 1586; Slg. Hauswaldt 167; Slg. Bonhoff 712.

    MA – Magdeburg, Moritzpfennig, Albrecht von Käfernburg, Reliquie, Berger 1584. .png
    Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg, under Albrecht von Käfernburg, AR bracteate penny, ca. 1220–1232 AD. Obv: St Maurice facing, holding two crosses, flanked by two towers; below, cranium relic. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 24 mm, 0.62g. Ref: Berger 1584; Slg. Bonhoff 731.

    MA – Magdeburg, Moritzpfennig, Wilbrand von Käfernburg, Heiliger in Achtpass, Berger 1592. .png
    Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg, under Wilbrand von Käfernburg, AR bracteate penny, ca. 1235–1254 AD. Obv: St Maurice facing, holding cross and flag; in tressure; below, cross. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 22.5 mm, 0.74g. Ref: Berger 1592; Slg Bonhoff 757.

    MA – Magdeburg, Bischofspfennig, Wilbrand von Käfernburg, Berger 1649..png
    Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg, under Wilbrand von Käfernburg, AR bracteate penny, ca. 1235–1254 AD. Obv: bishop standing facing, wearing mitre, holding crosier and flag, flangeg by two towers. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 20 mm, 0.75g. Ref: Berger 1649, Slg. Bonhoff 703.

    MA – Magdeburg, Bischofpfennig, Rudolf von Dingelstedt, Berger 1644.png
    Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg, under Rudolf von Dingelstedt, AR bracteate penny, ca. 1254–1260 AD. Obv: + RODOLPHVS DEI G; bishop facing, wearing mitre, holding crosier and ferula. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 22 mm, 0.69g. Ref: Berger 1644; Slg. Bonhoff 774.

    MA – Magdeburg, Moritzpfennig, 1603ff .png
    Archbishopric of Magdeburg, anonymous, AR bracteate penny, ca. 1270–1280. Obv: St. Maurice, wearing armour, standing facing, holding lance and lance flag; ringlets r. and l.. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 20mm, 0.73g. Ref: Berger 1603–1605; Slg. Bonhoff 719.

    A nice episcopal bracteate from Augsburg:

    MA – Augsburg, Brakteat, Wolfhard von Roth-Wackernitz, Berger 2656–2661.png
    Prince-Bishopric of Augsburg, under Wolfhard von Roth-Wackernitz, AR bracteate penny, ca. 1290–1330. Obv: bust of bishop facing, wearing mitre, holding crosier and book. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 20.5mm, 0.66g. Ref: Berger 2656–2661; Slg Bonhoff 1919; Steinhilber 94.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
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  3. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Here are some bracteates from Switzerland and the Breisgau. Note the characteristic square shape:
    MA – Freiburg im Breisgau, Lindwurmpfennig.png
    Freiburg im Breisgau, civic issue, AR bracteate penny ("vierzipfliger Pfennig"), ca. 1250 AD. Obv: dragon ("Lindwurm") r. Rev: negative design. 18mm, 0.37g. Ref: Berger 2432–3; Slg. Wüthrich 54; Wielandt, Breisgau 44.

    MA – Freiburg im Breisgau, Rappenbrakteat (neu).png
    Freiburg im Breisgau, civic issue, AR bracteate penny ("Rappen"), ca. 1368–1390 AD. Obv: eagle's head l. Rev: negative design. 18mm, 0.30g. Ref: Wielandt: Breisgau 48b; Slg. Wüthrich 63; Slg. Ulmer 249; Berger –.

    MA – Basel, Vierzipfliger, Joahnn Senn von Münsingen.png
    Prince-Bishopric of Basel, under Johann II Senn von Münsingen, AR bracteate penny ("vierzipfliger Pfennig"), 1335–1365 AD. Obv: head of a bishop wearing mitre (three pellets at each side) left, between B-A, ring above. Rev: negative design. 17–20mm, 0.33g. Ref: Wielandt: Basler Münzprägung (1971), no. 117; HMZ 255; Wüthrich 31; Berger 2415–2416.

    MA – Zürich, Abtei Fraumünster, Vierzipfliger, Nonnenkopf .png
    Zurich, Imperial Abbey of Fraumünster, AR bracteate penny ("vierzipfliger Pfennig"), ca. 1300–1320. Obv: ZVRICh; veiled head of nun facing. Rev: negative design. 18mm, 0.40g. Ref: Berger 2472–2475; Schwarz 30; Hürlimann 38; Slg. Wütherich 209.

    And finally, here are some late bracteates or "hollow pennies:"
    MA – Brandenburg, Frankfurter Helmpfennig (neu).png
    Margraviate of Brandenburg, under House Hohenzollern, Frederick II "the Iron", AR bracteate penny ("Hohlpfennig"), ca. 1440–1470, Frankfurt/Oder mint. Obv: helmet with crest of six feathers l. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 16.5mm, 0.40g. Ref: Bahrfeldt II, 16a–c.

    MA – Braunschweig, Stadt, Löwe, Brakteat.png
    Braunschweig, civic issue, AR bracteate penny ("Ewiger Pfennig"), after 1412 AD. Obv: lion walking l. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 21 mm, 0.45g. Ref: Berger 993–1001.

    MA – Basel, Stadt, Rappen mit Baselstab.png
    Basel, City and Canton, AR bracteate penny ("Rappen"), 17th c. Obv: crosier ("Baselstab") in shield with three v-shaped ornaments; all in dotted border. Rev: negative design (bracteate). 17.5 mm, 0.27g. Ref: HMZ 2–89a.
    Edessa, +VGO.DVCKS, EWC3 and 31 others like this.
  4. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    Sharing what is left of this bracteate :oops:- have not measured or weighted it because I am afraid of braking it while handling it:

    Friedrich I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa
    Imperial mint Altenburg, 1152 - 1190
    Ref.: Slg. Löbbecke 697; F. Erfurt 58 var; Gotha 329; Belfort 1173

    Emperor on throne holding lis-headed scepter and imperial orb. Crescent left of the head; (FRIDERICVS•) IMPERATOR•ET•SEMP•AV

    upload_2019-10-22_1-50-37.png upload_2019-10-22_1-51-20.png
  5. tibor

    tibor Well-Known Member

    While these are VERY fragile and delicate they are some of the
    most artistic coins of the time. Imagine having to create a die,
    usually the hammer die and engrave a design on it. The examples
    shown here are really top of the line for art and condition. I hope
    @Orielensis will take time and share the experience of the "hunt"
    for these treasures. Most of the these are no larger than a U.S.
    dime. Thanks for sharing these beauties.
    +VGO.DVCKS, Pellinore and Orielensis like this.
  6. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    @Orielensis, thanks for your well-illustrated exposé of a fascinating numismatical type. A smart system, renovatio monetae, that was used in many centuries and places. Naturally, it wouldn't work for internationally oriented economies (Hanze!), and naturally, coins wouldn't need to be sturdy like other medieval pennies or denarii when they were going to be drawn in after a short time.

    A bracteate is on my list, but I haven't come across one yet. And I think it is more an eastern German art, there are no bracteates from the Netherlands, I believe.
    But I have an issue of a German 19th century coin magazine, Archiv für Bracteatenkunde, with this plate (part of) that you might like:


    Illustration (1885) of some examples from a hoard of 684 bracteates found in Ilmersdorf near Jüterbog (50 miles south of Berlin).
    I can read 'Mauricius' on the top three coins, and yes, they are from Magdeburg.

    Not surprising, the Dom of Magdeburg was dedicated to St. Maurice (and Catharina). It was the first Gothic church of Germany, founded in 1207 by the very same Albrecht von Käfernburg ('Albert of Bugs Castle' in translation).
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
    Edessa, +VGO.DVCKS, wcg and 7 others like this.
  7. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Thanks for the succinct lesson! Very nicely presented :).

    Stellar assortment of bracteates, too! :wideyed:
    +VGO.DVCKS, Orielensis and galba68 like this.
  8. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Supporter! Supporter

    Awesome! Fabulous specimens! :happy::singing:;)
    Orielensis likes this.
  9. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Very nice writeup and great coins.
    Orielensis likes this.
  10. ancient times

    ancient times Legatus Legionis

    Very nice write up
    Orielensis likes this.
  11. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    That's actually a good type and not in too bad condition. Most that I have seen have, apart from chipped edges, much more damage to the design than yours. Nice!

    If I may recommend a way of safely storing and handling your coin: what I like to do is to put bracteates in a clear round plastic coin capsule (like this) and place a small piece of a cotton pad (like you use for removing makeup) underneath the bracteate. This way, the bracteate, gently tucked between the capsule and the cotton pad, stays safely in place and doesn't rattle around in the capsule, which can lead to serious damage.

    Thanks for the compliment! And yes, collecting bracteates is sometimes a bit more difficult than collecting more common medieval and ancient coins. Neither demand nor supply is very high for these coins, and there are only few auction houses and dealers with expertise in bracteates. I have made good experiences with Olding, Teutoburger Münzauktionen, and WAG (all in Germany, shipping to California never was a problem). In the US, Allen Berman is a very knowledgeable and strongly recommended dealer specializing in medieval coins. The two Freiburg coins I posted above came from him, for example.

    When scarcer or unusually well-preserved bracteates are offered at auction, there often is a chance that you'd have to wait at least a couple of years until a comparable coin is up for sale again. This is different from, let's say, Athenian tetradrachms or most Roman denarii, where collectors can compare multiple examples on the market and usually somewhat agree on what constitutes a good price for a specific type. With bracteates, on the other hand, it all depends on how much you want a specific coin and whether there is someone with deeper pockets who wants it more. Unfortunately, the latter happens to me astonishingly often.

    That said, it's still possible to collect bracteates on a budget. Many of the more common but very attractive Magdeburg types, for example, can with some luck be found for about $50–$100. About the same is true for the square-ish types from Switzerland and the Breisgau. One only needs to look out for these and have some patience.

    That's a beautiful historic publication with great illustrations of Magdeburg bracteates. In many ways, these copper plates are superior to the photographs in Berger's standard catalogue from the 1990s!

    There is a coin-related story connected to the construction of Magdeburg cathedral you mentioned. To promote and finance the reconstruction of the church, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1207, Albrecht von Käfernburg in 1220 acquired the supposed cranium of St. Maurice, the patron saint of the city. The new relic was also meant to raise income by attracting pilgrims and donations. Albrecht minted a series of three bracteates showing the recently acquired relic, two of which I have posted above. These coins constituted an early form of advertising: they were meant to spread the news about the skull relic and promote a pilgrimage to Magdeburg. There is a third relic type that I am actively looking for – unfortunately, it's quite rare, though.

    And you are right, there apparently are no bracteates from the Low Countries. As far as I know, the westernmost bracteates were struck in Oldenburg, about 40 miles from today's Dutch border. Here is a little map showing the spread of bracteates (taken from Svensson: The Bracteate as Economic Idea and Monetary Instrument, 2013):

    Bildschirmfoto 2019-10-22 um 09.31.38.png
    Thanks for the kind words! :)
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  12. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    None to share but I really enjoyed your write up and bracteates, thank you for posting!
    Orielensis likes this.
  13. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Great presentation!

    I had owned an example just like your Basel bracteate pfennig, but sold it some time ago to a member of another forum who actively collected the series.

    I do own one bracteate coin which is neither medieval, silver, nor European.

    Post-Gupta India
    Sharabhapuriya kingdom
    Prasannamitra, ca 500 AD
    AV quarter dinar? 17mm, 1.31g
    Obv: Garuda flanked by Chakra wheel, Sankh shell, moon and sun, legend "SriPraSaNaMiTra", Kalasha below
    Rev: Incuse of same
    Post gupta prasannamitra.jpg

    Also from India, there is a series of bracteate copies in gold of other gold coins, ranging from Roman/Byzantine solidii, Sassanian, Kushan, and Hunnic coins. They do not seem to be coins however, and some think they were associated with burial practices.

    I bought this thinking I was getting a bracteate copy of a Kanishka II dinar (Oesho and Nandi) but in hand I see the Latin letters KE. I have no idea what this is, what it's made of, or if it's even old.
    Maybe AE, or extremely dilute AV?
    23mm, 0.38g
    Unknown bracteate KE.jpg
  14. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    That's fascinating – I had heard that there are Indian and silk road gold bracteates but never looked into it. Probably I should do so!

    By pure and unrelated chance I recognize your second "coin." It is a 19th century token from the church of St. Gregory of Nazianzus at Gelveri in Cappadocia, today known as Güzelyurt. As far as I understand, these tokens (see some similar examples here) served as a sort of pilgrimage souvenir but could also be used to buy votive candles etc.

    St. Gregory church, built in the 4th century AD and restored in the 1800s, is still standing and can be visited. After the forceful expulsion of the Cappadocian Greeks in the 1920s, it was turned into a mosque. Sadly, the frescoes once adorning the church's interior have been covered up with whitewash when this was done.

  15. AnYangMan

    AnYangMan Well-Known Member

    Excellent topic, @Orielensis. Very informative and your collection is simply stunning! I very much agree with your favourite; that Gerno is an absolute winner! I remember reading somewhere that certain bracteates were struck in batches: a dozen or so flans would be placed in a metal tube, with a soft piece of lead or leather on the bottom , they would then be struck, causing the difference in the ‘sharpness’ of the design transferred to each coin.

    Indeed a shame none were struck in the Netherlands. At least, no true bracteates. We do have some late 15th century Holpenningen from Deventer, Nijmegen (and I believe Groningen?). These were produced from copper and formed the lowest denomination in circulation at the time. They were mostly used as donations to the poor during church!

    I have shown my Bracteate before, but I’ll gladly show some new images I made that perfectly bring out the toning:


    Lüneburg, Ducal/Welfic coinage, Heinrich der Löwe (the Lion). AR Bracteate (1142 – 1195).
  16. Collect89

    Collect89 Coin Collector

    Thank you for the AR Bracteate info!!!

    Here is my boring example for the type. I believe that it is from Salzwedel Germany, 14th Century. Is that right?
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
  17. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks. Also, that's a terrific, beautifully toned lion you have there!

    (Also, did I write Gerno again? That's what happens when you type too fast... it should be Gero. Bishop Gero von Schermbke or von Schochwitz. His family background is a bit unclear.)

    My pleasure! And your bracteate is not boring at all. The attribution seems about right to me: Margraviate of Brandenburg, Salzwedel, mid-15th century, showing eagle with wings spread, Bahrfeldt 2–6; similar to these here.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  18. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    @orielensis first of all thank you so much for your excellent description of Bracteates and for sharing with us your knowledge. It is very much appreciated :)

    Thank you so much also for your recommendation, that is a great idea. I have it in a box between two cotton layers, however, your recommendations is definitely much better. Will do it; maybe it will thus survive a couple of decades more.
    +VGO.DVCKS and Orielensis like this.
  19. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Excellent post @Orielensis! Unfortunately I have no bracteates to share
    Orielensis likes this.
  20. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    Excellent post with an equally excellent set of coins! I have a few bracteates from various areas, but nothing like yours!

    Augsburg: Udalschak von Eschenlohe (1184-1202) AR Bracteate (Bonhoff 1897; Löbbecke 975)

    Obv: Half-length bust facing, wearing miter; all within border of alternating stars-in-crescents and lis-between-two-stars
    Rev: Incuse and reverse of obverse


    Bohemia: Premysl Otakar II (1253-1278) AR Bracteate (Cach 921; Frynas BM.8.20)

    Obv: Crowned half-length facing bust, raising hands; rosettes flanking head
    Rev: Incuse of obverse


    Hungary: Béla IV (1235-1270) Bracteate Denár (Huszár-200)

    Bracteate: Conjoined three-headed face; Legend around - BELA REX


    Moravia, Holy Roman Empire: Premysl Otakar II (1253-1278) AR Bracteate (Cach-958; Donabauer-615)

    Obv: Anthropomorphic figure of bird standing right, holding sword and shield
    Rev: Incuse of obverse


    Sarabhapuriyas of Maha Kosala: Prasannamitra (ca. 525-550 CE) AV 12 Rattis (ATEC 5207; ACR 904; Friedberg 120)

    Obv: Garuda standing facing with wings outstretched, flanked by discus and sankh shell; crescent and pellet flanking head; in lower region, Brahmi legend: śri prasannamitra, kalasa below
    Rev: Incuse image of obverse design


    Medieval Denmark: Erik of Pommerania (1396-1439) AE Hulpenning, Næstved (G:5)

    Last edited: Oct 23, 2019
  21. NormW

    NormW Student Of Coinology Supporter

    Has anyone ever found any period references to the "short lived money"/renovatio monetae concept? It would be interesting to know who thought of this new idea.
    cmezner likes this.
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