Exhibition | Frederick the Great through His Coins and Medals

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on May 24, 2012

From the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin:

It’s Enough for 8 Groschen … Frederick the Great Seen through His Coins and Medals
Bode-Museum, Berlin, 24 January — 14 October 2012

Ludwig Heinrich Barbiez, Medaille auf die Schlacht bei Kesselsdorf, 1745 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Münzkabinett

Coins and medals reflect the history of Prussia and its great king in an immediate way: quite literally in the palms of our hands. No other European monarch wrought such wide-reaching changes to his country’s coinage and monetary system as Frederick II of Prussia. With his coinage reforms of 1750 and 1764, he not only set Prussia on a new course, but also significantly paved the way for later monetary developments in the rest of Germany.

By radically debasing the currency, specifically of specie (by lowering the quantity of precious metals in newly minted coins), he managed to finance the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). He was just as radical in overhauling the Prussian currency after the war. The mints went from being half-private companies to efficient, state-run money factories. Under Frederick II, gold coins and larger silver coins were standardised across the country in a process that started in 1750. The diversity of territories under Prussian control and their various types of coins and monetary systems are reflected in the coins of the time. The coin portraits of Frederick II reveal a lot about the image of the ruler – from handsome young man in the year of his coronation in 1740 up to his death in 1786, by which time he was dubbed ‘Old Fritz’. Besides his great battles and victories, various other kinds of events that took place during his reign are captured on his medals.

The Numismatic Collection holds over 3500 coins from the time of Frederick the Great, thus making it not only the largest, but also the most complete collection of its kind in the world. This particular collection will be published for the first time in its entirety, in a combination of print and online catalogues to mark the celebrations surrounding Frederick II’s birth. The result means that the public now has unprecedented access to this historical source on the life of Frederick the Great.

The exhibition is being held as part of a wider series of events called Art – King – Enlightenment, coordinated by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in honour of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Frederick the Great on 24 January 2012.

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