AskDefine | Define taler

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  1. Germanic unit of currency used between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Extensive Definition

The Thaler (or Taler or Tolar) was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. Its name lives on in various currencies as the dollar or tolar. Etymologically, "Thaler" is an abbreviation of "Joachimsthaler", a coin type from the city of Joachimsthal in Bohemia, where some of the first such coins were minted in 1518.


The roots and development of the Thaler-sized silver coin date back to the mid-1400s. As the fifteenth century drew to a close the state of much of Europe's coinage was quite poor because of repeated debasement induced by the costs of continual warfare, and by the incessant centuries-long loss of silver and gold in indirect one-sided trades importing spices and porcelain and silk and other fine cloths and exotic goods from India, Indonesia and the Far East. This continual debasement had reached a point that silver content in Groschen-type coins had dropped, in some cases, to less than five percent, making the coins of much less individual value than they had in the beginning.
Countering this trend, with the discovery and mining of silver deposits in Europe, Italy began the first tentative steps toward a large silver coinage with the introduction in 1472 of the lira tron in excess of six grams, a substantial increase over the, roughly, four-gram gros tournois of France.
In 1474 a nine gram lira was issued but it was in 1484 that Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol issued the first truly revolutionary silver coin, the half Guldengroschen of roughly 15½ grams. This was a very rare coin, almost a trial piece, but it did circulate so successfully that demand could not be met.
Finally, with the silver deposits—being mined at Schwaz—to work with and his mint at Hall, Sigismund issued, in 1486, large numbers of the first true Thaler-sized coin, the Guldengroschen (great gulden, being of silver but equal in value to a Goldgulden).
The Guldengroschen, nicknamed the guldiner, was an instant and unqualified success. Soon it was being copied widely by many states who had the necessary silver. The engravers, no less affected by the Renaissance than were other artists, began creating intricate and elaborate designs featuring the heraldic arms and standards of the minting state as well as brutally realistic, sometimes unflattering, depictions of the ruler (monarch).

The Joachimsthaler

By 1518 guldiners were popping up everywhere in central Europe. In Bohemia, a part of the Holy Roman Empire then controlled by the Jagellonian monarchs, a guldiner was minted—of similar physical size but slightly less fineness—that was named the Joachimsthaler from the silver mined by the Counts of Schlick at a rich source near Joachimsthal (St. Joachim's Valley, Czech: Jáchymov) (now in the Czech Republic) where Thal (Tal) means "valley" in German. Joachim, the father of the Virgin Mary, was portrayed on the coin. Similar coins began to be minted in neighbouring valleys rich in silver deposits, each named after the particular 'thal' or valley from which the silver was extracted. There were soon so many of them that these silver coins began to be known more widely as 'thaler'. From these earliest 'thalaer' developed the new Thaler - the coin that Europe had been looking for to create a standard for commerce.

Later German Thaler

The zenith of Thaler minting occurred in the late 16th and 17th centuries with the so-called "multiple Thalers", often called Lösers in Germany. The first were minted in Brunswick, and indeed the majority were struck there. Some of these coins reached colossal size, as much as sixteen normal thalers. The original reason for minting these colossal coins, some of which exceeded a full pound (over 450g) of silver and being over 12 cm in diameter, is uncertain. The name "löser" most likely was derived from a large gold coin minted in Hamburg called the Portugalöser, worth 10 ducats. Some of the silver löser reached this value, but not all. Eventually the term was applied to numerous similar coins worth more than a single Thaler. These coins are very rare, the larger ones often costing tens of thousands of dollars, and are highly sought after by serious collectors of Thalers. Few circulated in any real sense so they often remain in well-preserved condition.
In the Holy Roman Empire, the Thaler was used as the standard against which the various states' currencies could be valued. One standard was the Reichsthaler, which contained one ninth of a Cologne mark of silver. In 1754, the Conventionsthaler was introduced, containing one tenth of a Cologne mark of silver.
Prussia used a Thaler containing one fourteenth of a Cologne mark of silver. In 1837, the Prussian Thaler became part of a new currency used in southern Germany and the Rhineland, with the Gulden (equal to 4/7 Thaler) as the standard unit of account. By 1850, nearly all German states used this standard of Thaler, though with various different subdivisions.
In 1857, the Vereinsthaler was adopted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and through most of Germany. Vereinsthalers continued to be issued until 1872 in Germany and 1867 in Austria-Hungary. Maria Theresa thaler was still used during 20th century in Abyssinia and throughout Middle East.

Dutch daalder

In the Netherlands, the daalder and rijksdaalder circulated alongside the gulden at values of 1½ and 2½ gulden. The rijksdaalder depicted a lion; hence its Dutch name was leeuwendaler (German löwenthaler). These coins circulated in Romania and gave their name to the currencies of both Romania and Moldova, the leu. In the Netherlands, the name rijksdaalder lived on until the gulden was replaced by the euro in 2002. However, minting of the silver ducat recommenced in 1989 and continues to this day.

Scandinavian taler

The Thaler was introduced and became the most widespread currency in Scandinavia under the name daler during the early 17th century. Various daler circulated, including the Danish rigsdaler, the Swedish riksdaler and the Norwegian speciedaler. These daler circulated in Denmark and Sweden until 1873 when they were replaced by the Danish krone and Swedish krona, the new currencies introduced by the Scandinavian Monetary Union. Norway joined the Monetary Union and introduced the Norwegian krone in 1876.

Other "Thaler"

As silver flooded into the European economy from domestic and overseas sources, Thalers and Thaler-sized coins were minted all over with equivalent coins such as the crown, daalder from which the English word dollar is derived, krona, and from 1497, the Spanish 8 reales piece was minted - a coin which would later become known in some parts of the world as the peso. Indeed, in England the word dollar was in use for the Thaler for 200 years before the issue of the United States dollar, and until the half crown ceased to be used following decimalisation in 1971, the term "half a dollar" could be heard for "half a crown".


No currency currently in circulation is named thaler. Several, however, are acknowledging its legacy with their names: twenty-three currencies named dollar, used in countries including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and United States of America, as well as tolar, used in Slovenia until the end of 2006. Between 1992 and 1995, Belorussia planned to introduce Belorussian taler as a national currency.

Chronology of Thaler development

  • 1486: Sigismund of Tirol issues his 31.93g Guldengroschen of 60 Kreuzers and 937.5 fineness.
  • 1493: Switzerland issues its first Guldengroschen at Bern
  • 1500: The first German Guldengroschen is issued from Saxony, with a value of 24 Groschen. In Bremen it circulates equivalent to 36 Groten. These Guldengroschen are reduced in weight to 29.2g so as to be minted at eight coins to the Cologne mark.
  • 1518: The first coin actually called a "Thaler" is minted in Joachimsthal, Bohemia,H.R.E.. Its weight is as the standard of 1500.
  • 1524: In an attempt to standardize the guldiner, a money ordinance (Reichsmünzordnung) is issued at Esslingen, Germany reaffirming the fineness of the coin at 937.5, and its weight to 29.2g
  • 1534: Saxony and Bohemia alter the fineness of their guldiners down from 937.5 purity to 903.0 while maintaining the same coin weight, thus lowering the actual amount of pure silver in the coin. This begins a separation of the Thaler from its guldiner ancestry.
  • 1551: A new money ordinance is decreed in Augsburg that lowers the guldiner's purity to 882.0, but raises the weight of the coin to 31.18g. This returns the coin to being the equal value of a Goldgulden. The Thaler is now equivalent to 72 Kreuzer.
  • 1559: After the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, yet another money ordinance is decreed at Augsburg, this time radically altering the coin (now to be called a Reichsguldiner) down to a mass of just 24.62g, but returning the coin to 931.0 fineness. This sets the Guldiner to be equivalent to 60 Kreuzer once again.
  • 1566: The guldiner as a denomination is more or less eliminated by a Saxon money edict that establishes the Reichsthaler (known later as the Speciesthaler) with a fineness of 889.0 and a weight of 29.2g
  • 1667: An agreement made at the Abbey of Zinna between Saxony, Brandenburg, and Brunswick-Lüneburg to help make the minting of small coins more economical than could be done under the old Augsburg ordinances led to the Thaler being reduced in weight to 28.1g but retaining the same 889.0 fineness.
  • 1690: The Leipzig Money Convention met to deal with the poor quality of coinage in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Brunswick. The agreement of 1667 had not solved the problem so the Thaler was again reduced in weight down to 25.9g. At this point 12 Thaler are being minted to provide one Cologne Mark of silver, up from nine in 1500.
  • 1750: This year saw yet another reduction in weight in the areas controlled by Prussia, Hesse, and Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel down to just 22.2g and a fineness of 750.0. 14 Thaler are minted to contain one Cologne Mark of silver.
  • 1754: The monetary agreement between Austria and Bavaria in 1753 began the period of the Conventionsthaler, a Thaler set at 10 to equal one Cologne Mark of silver. Its weight was 28.0g with a fineness of 833.0. Over time this coin spread into a large portion of central and southern Germany.
  • 1755: The Kronenthaler is first issued in areas controlled by the Habsburgs, especially in the Netherlands and southern Germany. It had a weight of 29.44g and a fineness of 873.0.
  • 1857: The Vienna monetary contract finally eliminates the Cologne Mark as a standard against which the silver coinage of Austria and Germany are reckoned, replacing it with a simple tariff of 500g. Thirty Vereinsthalers are set to be minted from this 500g standard. The coins weighed 18.5g and had a fineness of 900.0. They are set to equal 90 Austrian Kreuzer, 105 Bavarian Kreuzer, 30 Groschen, or 48 Schilling depending on the minting region.
  • 1872: The last Thaler are minted in a few states, notably Saxony.
  • Early years of 20th century: unsuccessful attempt to mint Maria Theresa thaler in Abyssinia. Starting in 1935 Italians mint the coin still popular in the area.


taler in Amharic: Thaler
taler in Arabic: ثيلر
taler in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Талер
taler in Bulgarian: Талер
taler in Czech: Tolar
taler in Danish: Daler
taler in German: Taler
taler in Spanish: Tálero
taler in Esperanto: Talero
taler in French: Thaler
taler in Italian: Tallero
taler in Hebrew: טאלר
taler in Hungarian: Tallér
taler in Dutch: Daalder
taler in Japanese: ターラー (通貨)
taler in Norwegian: Daler
taler in Norwegian Nynorsk: Dalar
taler in Polish: Talar
taler in Romanian: Taler
taler in Russian: Талер
taler in Slovenian: Tolar
taler in Finnish: Taaleri
taler in Swedish: Daler
taler in Ukrainian: Талер
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