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National currency symbols end centuries-long history

Euro introduction much more than just a replacement of guilder

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

AMSTERDAM - The ‘euro’ has become an official currency on January 1, 1999 and already is being used in the banking and business world. However, the coinage and bank-notes are not yet available for another three years. How quick the physical exchange will be made to the new legal tender is still uncertain: some 70 billion coins need to be replaced! How well the euro will be accepted by the public is a matter of opinion.

Before the euro becomes a household commodity, it will need to overcome the national pride attached to existing currencies, symbols, and heritages of individual EU member countries. Well over 275 million EU citizens soon will have some adjusting to do, with more people to follow as other member countries join the euro concept.

All over Europe advertising and publicity campaigns are preparing people for the arrival of the euro, its impact on daily life and on the economy, and on the political future of the EU. The concerted efforts by far have not sunk in, as is confirmed by many surveys and opinion polls.

The reluctance of many to dive head-first into the monetary change likely strikes a familiar chord with many post-WW II European emigrants. Many of them probably went through some kind of currency reform or devaluation at home before immersing themselves in a society abroad which was dominated by far different national coins, banknotes, symbols and values.

Too costly

Yet, the euro is just another step in a long, ongoing process. Most contemporary Dutchmen have no recollection of the 2.5 and 0.5 cent coins which were common not that long ago. Equally, the Dutch 1 cent coin - like the 5 lire piece in Italy - was used extensively until the production cost and inflation drove them ‘out of business’ in recent decades.

Changes in currency have gone on for many centuries, ever since a more-or-less standardized currency was put into place. With the arrival of the euro, the terms ‘gulden’, its symbol ‘f’ or ‘fl’ and the various translations will be history. No more guilder’ gulden or gűne, no more florin or fiorino. Those last two words - the French and Italian translations - more closely matched the origin of the Dutch ‘gulden’.

In Europe, from Roman days to Charlemagne, there were ‘common currencies’ which were accepted in most states. Even after individual cities and states began minting their own coins (banknotes did not arrive until much later), they were universally accepted. The reason was quite simple. Coins were made of (precious) metals and thus had a ‘linkeage’ measured by weight - hence the handheld scales used by many Medieval merchants - and frequently updated catalogues of coins.

Florence gave name to currency

In the middle of the 13th century, the emerging power of the city of Florence, Italy, set the standard for modern-day coinage and as such was the origin of the guilder. Florence’s currency was widely accepted, even becoming the preferred coinage. Payments in florenus thus were entered into merchant account books in Italy, Spain, France, Western Germany and the Netherlands. These were identified in ‘fl’ or ‘f’ units.

When the ‘florenus’ was copied or adapted in other places, it assumed local characteristics such as names and soon also design. German gold coins minted in the town of Thal became known as Thaler which in Dutch soon sounded like daalder. Other German coins - also of gold - were thus named ‘Goldene’ or in Dutch ‘gulden’. In Germany and most other places these 14th century names disappeared over time. In the Netherlands the term ‘gulden’ became standard, while ‘daalder’ was also commonly used for a different denomination: 1.50 guilder or 30 stuivers (nickles). ‘Stuivers’ were - since 1521 - the sole division of the guilder. Only in the 17th century the quarters and dimes (kwartje and dubbeltje, a double-five) came about.

The Dutch term ‘daalder’ found its way - via the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam - into the American financial landscape as ‘dollar’. Concerns about the physical security of the euro are well-founded. The euro will have seven banknotes and eight coins. While the banknotes will be equal for each of the eleven initial euro-countries, the coins are not. Because of the unfamiliarity with the banknotes, unsuspecting merchants and individuals literally could be facing bogus euro’s or counterfeit ‘real’ ones.


Where counterfeiting is a concern with European banknotes, euro coins bring with them a different problem: confusion. Initially eleven countries are minting - they already have started - their own coins, fourteen if dwarf states San Marino, the Vatican and Monaco decide to have their own coins, and eighteen when the remaining EU-countries Great Britain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden join the common currency.

Although the shape, colour, substance and general design - on the back - for all coins are the same for each member state, the ‘heads’ are different for each country. There, some of the individual country’s tenacity for tradition can be expressed. In other words, although all coins look the same on the reverse, there are at least eleven different obverses, making for a minimum of 88 variations.

The Dutch euro coins will bear the likeness - in profile - of Queen Beatrix, similar to the current guilder denominations. Presently, coins bearing the portrait of former Queen Juliana - thus minted before 1980 - are still legal tender. The coins of 2 Euro’s of the Netherlands temporarily will be different from all others in one more way. The edge will continue to bear - ‘major’ Dutch coins have done so since 1816 - the legend God zij met ons (God is with us). Milled edges on coins have been common ever since the age when people began shaving coins for personal gain.