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Weight: 28.030 g
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Maria Theresa thaler
Minted at Günzburg, Austria, AD 1780
A successful silver coin, used in international trade
Large silver coins known as thalers had been struck from the sixteenth century. In the mid-eighteenth century the Austrian empire's powerful position within Europe and its geographical location resulted in high levels of trade with Mediterranean and near eastern countries. Austria's rich silver deposits enabled her to increase production of the thaler to meet this new demand. As well as being struck in Vienna and Hall, production of the coins was extended to the mint of Günzburg. The coin was particularly popular with the countries of the Middle East and north-eastern Africa, where it was used for trade with such countries as India and China, where silver was a long established measure of value.
When the Habsburg empress Maria Theresa died in 1780, the coin remained in production for trade purposes. In the first half of the nineteenth century, it was produced in the Austrian mints of Kremnitz, Karlsburg, Prague, Milan and Venice, but production was subsequently restricted to Vienna. In 1935 the dies were transferred to Italy, so that supplies could be made for Abyssinia, which had been conquered by Mussolini's forces. The coin was also produced in London, for use by British traders in the area, and during the Second World War (1939-45), it was made in India, which was then still a British colony. Following the war, production reverted to Vienna.
Twentieth-century examples of the coin retain the same design: the portrait of the empress, the double-headed imperial eagle, the initials of the eighteenth-century mint officials Schobel and Fabi, and the date 1780. The long life of this thaler testifies to the important part a readily recognized design can play in inspiring confidence in a coin.
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)