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While many Islamic coins have earlier dates, they are virtually always in the Islamic Hegira calendar and not anno domini. Probably the earliest European dated coins of all are Spanish coins minted by Alfonso VIII in imitation of the Moorish coins whose issuers were slowly being driven out of the Iberian peninsula. However, they are dated using the contemporary system in place in Spain at the time called the Es-Safar, or Spanish Era, which dates 38 BC as its year 1. A couple of types are known. One is a series of gold dinars dated from 1223 through 1255 Es-Safar (1183-1217 AD), the other is a single obolus of 1204 Es-Safar (1166 AD). This is probably the first coin on the European continent to have ANY date written with Roman numerals [MCCIIII], the dinars have the date written out as Arabic words rather than numerals (such as writing "Two Thousand Five" on a modern coin instead of 2005).
The earliest known Christian era dated coin is a denier from 1234 minted in Roskilde, Denmark. There is some debate as to whether this coin really should be considered a genuine dated coin in the traditional sense along with the others described below. For one reason, it has no legend as such, just [ANNO DOMINI] on the obverse and [MCCXXXIIII] on the reverse. Secondly, there are no other coins with a date minted for another 138 years anywhere in Europe and even then it was not in Denmark. For the story behind the coin, you can refer to Albert Frey's book described below, or if you can read Danish, you can read about and see the coin online here.
In spite of the early start that parts of Austria (1450s Graz), Germany (1372 Aachen), Switzerland (1424 St. Gallen) and the Low Countries (1372 Schoonvorst) got in dating, it would be quite some time before all of Europe joined in. France issued a double gros from Lorraine in 1491. The first dated coins of England are of Edward VI's reign on his first shilling in 1548. Spain had continued issuing coins in the style of its convoluted Habsburg territories throughout Western Europe, some as early as 1500. Spain itself began dating coins in the mid 1550's but didn't make it a habit until 1588. Hungary was dating its coinage by 1499, Poland by 1507.
While many previous books on medieval coinage listed issues with dates prior to 1501, a comprehensive listing of the coins was first compiled in Dated European Coinage prior to 1501 by Albert Frey in 1914. It lists 540 coins from 1372 to 1500, Aachen to Zwolle. Reprints in 1973 and 2000 added over a hundred more and still others are being discovered sporadically. The total number of such coins in the wild and not locked up in museums and old personal collections is of course impossible to know. Given the extreme rarity of most types it is my opinion that the number is not much over ten thousand, if that. A census in 1973 of the world's major numismatic museum holdings by David Cervin, who likely had the largest personal collection of early dated coins at the time of his death, yielded only 3290 pre-1501 coins. His estimate at the time was that no more than six thousand exist worldwide in total. Bob Levinson, another early dated enthusiast with a large collection, points out that the number was not arrived at by a survey of private holdings, however, and is therefore likely too low an estimate. Having examined older auction catalogues, it is clear that thousands of examples are held in private hands, common enough that they have avoided special attention until recently.
Mr. Cervin's passing was a great loss to the small community dedicated to this specialized branch of collecting. In June 2003, the auction house A.G. Basel (Sale #29) sold the Cervin Collection. 233 lots were available, some as multiple coins, and every lot sold. A rough estimate of the total sale value based on the prices realized is in the neighborhood of $80,000, a testament to the popularity of these coins even among non-dedicated collectors. Their appeal appears to be rooted in both their scarcity and simple curiosity about the unusual and "pioneering".
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MEDIEVAL COIN BOOKS AND CATALOGUES
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