All over the world there are small states whose ancient
treaties have survived the centuries intact and maintained their traditional
national independence. Brunei is one of these, and San Marino, and
so is Luxembourg. Among the tiny states the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
is a powerhouse, with a highly industrialized economy and a diplomatic
presence. It has extensively worked iron mines and is a major European
steel producer. Many institutions of the European Union are based
There is also history there; scions of the ruling family became Holy Roman Emperors and kings of Bohemia and Hungary, and in modern times the country suffered the third highest civilian casualty rate in Europe during World War II.
Luxembourg is tucked between France, Germany, and Belgium. More than half of the traditional territory is now a Belgian province of the same name. The land and climate are kind to agricultural pursuits. Neanderthal relics have been found, so that puts human habitation back at least about 50,000 BCE. It was home to
the Celtic Treveri in late BCE times. These people struck coins, mostly base gold things fancifully derived from the coins of Philip of Macedon.
The Treveri were among the tribes conquered for Rome by Julius Caesar, and in succeeding centuries the provincial capital, unsurprisingly called Treveri, became a center of Roman culture in northern Gaul, Gallica Belgica as they called it. This capital, now the German city of Trier, lies about 6 miles from the Luxembourg border. A mint was opened in that town during the reign of Diocletian, 284-305 CE. Treveri thereafter struck gold, silver, and bronze Roman style coins through the mid-5th century. It's by no means an uncommon mint, and there can be no doubt that these Roman coins saw use within the territory of the modern duchy.
By the fall of the western Roman Empire in the late 5th century CE Civitas Trevirorum, the land of the Teveri, had been overrun by the Germanic Franks. These peoples evolved a political system of kings and sub-kings that we have come to know as feudalism. The paramount kings of the 6-9th centuries were of the Merovingian line. Coins were issued in this realm, primarily imitations of Roman gold tremmises, which over time debased to silver and became known as deniers or denars depending on whether you're speaking Franch or German. Most Merovingian coins are impossible to attribute to mint, but some are known from Trier. All
Merovingian coins are very rare.
Trier was an important city in the Carolingian period, and coins were struck there by his father, himself, and his immediate descendants. Of course these are very rare too.
Luxembourg emerged as an identifiable political entity in 963, when one Sigefroid, or Siegfried, or Sigefroi, a descendant of Charlemagne and Count of Ardennes, either built or purchased a small castle from the archbishop of Trier and named it the "Little Fortress," which in his tongue was Lucilinburhc, or, as they would say today, Luxembourg. A town grew around the castle, and the fortifications were improved over 9 centuries until Luxembourg City developed a reputation for impregnability, acquiring the nickname "the Gibraltar of the North.
The owners of the castle were considered great warriors in the middle ages, and in the 11th century one Conrad of Luxembourg was raised to the rank of count. Subsequent counts achieved further honors, four of them being elected to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire during the course of the 14th century. One of them, Charles IV, raised his home from county to duchy in 1354.
A few very rare coins are known from Luxembourg of the 12th century, after which there is nothing until the first part of the 14th, when the region became the source for the great coinage of imitation English pennies that became known as Lushbournes. These coins were widely circulated in the Low Countries and in England itself, and specimens are not impossible to find today in the low three figure range - the earliest obtainable Luxembourger coins.
In 1309 John the Blind succeeded his father as count. By chance his father-in-law, king Wenceslaus of Bohemia, died that same year, so John succeeded him as well. John reformed the Bohemian coinage, and his large silver Pragergroschen are well known. He struck coins in Luxembourg as well. These pieces, known as esterlins and struck to the English penny module, are very hard to find.
John died in 1346, and after an interregnum the county passed to his brother Wenceslaus, known as 'the First" in Luxembourg. He struck rare sterlings and a double gros the size of the Pragergroshen.
Wenceslaus II, son of the Luxembourger emperor Charles IV succeeded in Luxembourg in 1383, having previously become king of Bohemia in 1363, king of the Romans in 1376, and emperor 1378. His coins, double gros in two different styles, are just as rare as any other 14th century Luxembourger coins.
You'll notice that a lot of detail is missing from my Luxembourg history. My references, including the Luxembourg web site, are quite sketchy. There are gaps in the stories. The general trends are clear though. In the 14th century the Luxembourg family was busy elsewhere, a central player in the European political scene. it would seem they did not neglect their homeland, but they didn't spend much time there either.
Josse of Moravia is recorded as ruling in Luxembourg during 1388-1402 and 1407-1411. He struck a double gros, and I can confidently state that this scarce coin is more common than the other medieval Luxembourg coins, on account of having by good fortune obtained one from Allen Berman recently. It is a neat coin, with tiny medieval faces peaking out from the Os and the Cs of the legend, I don't know why.
In 1437 the duchy passed by marriage to the the Habsburgs, and in 1443 it was conquered by Burgundy, then independent of France and a contending power in
norwestern Europe. The Habsburgs regained Luxembourg in 1477. The duke's fealty passed by inheritance to Philip II of Spain in 1555. There are a vanishing few specimens of Luxembourgoise coins of the 16th century. Davenport has two crowns listed but not illustrated in his book. I've never actually seen them.
The duchy was a front-line region during the 17th century wars between France and Spain. The 1659 Treaty of the Pyrennees awarded part of the southern border regions to Louis XIV, and in 1684, during another war, the French took Luxembourg City itself and held it for 13 years. There are a few coins listed in the references, but I've never seen these either.
By the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 the duchy passed to the Austrian Habsburgs, and under this regime things quieted down for a while. Under Austria something of a regular coinage began to evolve, a series of copper and billon minors based partly on that of the Low Countries and partly on the French system. All of these coins are scarce, but you can find some of them if you look. I know that because I did (thanks again, Allen).
The next episode of Luxembourg's history was the French Revolution. Beseiged by Republican troops during 1794-95, the Austrian defenders made some
emergency coins, a copper sol existing in cast and struck versions, which are findable at constantly higher prices, and a silver siege crown that is a rare auction item. The Austrians lost the engagement, and the region was governed as an integral part of France until the final defeat of Napoleon.
At the Congress of Vienna, 1814-15, Luxembourg was recognized as a "Grand Duchy," with King William III of the Netherlands as grand duke. To keep things
balanced and simple, the duchy was included in the German Confederation, dominated by Prussia, and Prussian troops were garrisoned in the fortress of Luxembourg City. There are no coins of this period.
This arrangement began to come undone when Belgium revolted against Dutch rule in 1830. Luxembourg joined the rebels, though the Prussian troops in the
capital maintained order there. This conflict was finally resolved by the Treaty of London nine years later. By the terms of this agreement the western portion of the country was awarded to the new nation of Belgium, while the rump duchy continued to be held by the Dutch king.
The ducal title was however, the only tie holding Luxembourg to the Netherlands. The duchy ruled itself, and in 1842 it joined the German Customs Union. It was during the Customs Union period that the first of the modern Luxembourger coins were struck, but they were denominated in French francs. It's all so confusing!
These coins, all in bronze, were first issued in 1854 by the Utrecht mint, with repeats in 1855, 1860, 1865, and 1870, most being struck at Paris. They are not hard to find in reasonable condition, though strong uncirculated examples are scarce. There are also some rare patterns, of more or less the same design except for the treatment of the arms, of 1889.
The German Confederation dissolved in 1866, at which point the presence of the Prussian garrison became a sore point with France. At that time king William wanted to sell the duchy to the French Emperor, Napoleon III, but the tension between France and Prussia over that and other issues escalated into a crisis. Another conference was called in London, and another treaty hammered out by the terms of which the Prussian garrison was evacuated, the fortress demolished, the Luxembourger army disbanded, and the neutrality and independence of the duchy guaranteed by the Great Powers. A constitution was promulgated in 1868. Revised in 1919 and again in 1948, the basic document remains in force today. Finally, with the death of king William in 1890 the personal tie with the Netherlands was broken, and another scion of the House of Nassau, Adolphe, became grand duke. Luxembourg had finally become fully independent.
In the 20th century Luxembourg has been tied economically to Belgium. The Luxembourg franc is pegged to that of Belgium, and the two currencies mingle
freely within the borders of the grand duchy. Most of the coins have been minted in Brussels as well. Pretty much all 20th century types can be found, though, as usual, there are a few wrinkles.
For instance, of the coins issued before, say, 1925, strong uncirculated is a very rare grade. That doesn't mean the coins are worth thousands of dollars, of course, but rather that the question of cost is usually moot. Brussels mint copper-nickel of the period, which is what most of the coins are, tends to have low-relief engraving and a soft looking surface that looks dull even when the coins are BU, which they usually aren't. Then there are the zinc coins of the World War I German occupation, and the iron coins of the immediate post-war period. Everyone knows that the concept of gem zinc and iron is practically an oxymoron, right? They almost always come with, respectively, white spots or rust, though I must state that the Luxembourg zincs I've seen have been, overall, better in that regard than the contemporary Germans, or Belgians.
I should state at this point that there is some purchase pressure on pre-World War II Luxembourger coins, and I find it difficult to maintain an inventory. This is true at all price levels, and the obvious result of this situation is that prices are up.
One sees plenty of copper-nickel 5 and 10 centime coins for the first quarter of the 20th century, rather fewer of the 25 centimes, not all that many of the "miner" type francs, and very few of the 2 francs. Zinc coins are not as common, and iron is scarce.
25 centimes of 1927, francs of 1928, and the pretty silver 5 and 10 francs of 1929 are all, in my experience, scarce coins. The 1930 bronze 5 centimes is the most common prewar coin, distantly followed by its partner, the bronze 10c. The 1938 25c and the 1935 and 1939 francs are, generally speaking, no-see-ums at the tables of the world's numismatic dealers, never mind the odd-ball and high priced medal rotation 25c. The regular one is hard enough to find.
The second time the Germans invaded Luxembourg they didn't get very well established. It's a small country, but armed resistance started almost immediately and continued throughout the occupation, resulting in the steep casualties mentioned at the beginning of this article. In World War II the Germans never got around to producing occupation money for Luxembourg.
Post-war coinage tends to be easily available and not very appreciated. There has been a steady stream of artistically undistinguished minor coins struck to the current Belgian module. I sense little collector demand for these coins.
Like Belgium, Luxembourg has issued a relatively small number of commemorative coins, all celebrating themes of purely local significance. All of these coins are obtainable, though sometimes you have to wait a little while for the 1946 100 franc marking the 600th anniversary of the death of John the Blind.
Also following the Belgian practice, the Luxembourgers have not hesitated to strike, in generally small quantities, coin-like items without denominations for various commemorative or marketing purposes. The prettiest, in my opinion, is the 1963 silver coin, struck to the module of the 19th century French 5 franc, commemorative of countess Ermesinde, who granted a charter of liberties to the burghers of Luxembourg City in 1244. It's not common, others in the series can be seen from time to time in the lavish catalogs of high-bore European dealers, where their scarcity is usually worth a photograph. I imagine they sell too, those guys don't publish those expensive catalogs for the public record. But generally speaking the medallic issues are not often seen on this side of the Atlantic. Neither are the essaies, patterns, piedforts, nor even the theoretically low-priced late date mint and proof sets. They are just not around.