Coin finds in Freiburg's Old Town suggest that coins were already being minted here when the free market town was founded 900 years ago. Although various privileges are mentioned among the rights that Duke Konrad of Zähringen granted the City in 1120, the right to mint coins was not one of them. The Duke had reserved this right for himself. The issue of coins was very profitable, on account of the fact that he had access to silver from mines in the southern Black Forest region and therefore did not have to buy it.
Since Charlemagne’s monetary reforms, there had only been one type of coin for normal circulation in the Holy Roman Empire, the silver Pfennig or penny. Up until the 12th century, many secular and ecclesiastical princes had been granted the right to mint coins by the King. The overall currency area was divided into regional coinage circles minting Pfennige of differing weights and design. The mint founded by the Zähringer in Freiburg came into being in competition with the old royal or episcopal mints in Basel and Breisach.
Most of the Pfennige from that period bore no inscription. An attribution to a mint owner, a mint or a date can therefore only be deduced from the coin's design or the context of the find. The numismatic collection at the Augustinermuseum contains Zähringer coins from the first mintages in the newly founded town.
Struck under Duke Bertold IV. (1152-1186), the coins feature a classically stylised bust in profile, which is partly depicted with a sword or with a sword and lance bearing a standard (gonfalon) as a symbol of dukedom, later with a cross and stars surrounded by a beaded circle.
When the house of the Dukes of Zähringer died out in 1218, the Counts of Urach took up their inheritance and, from 1230 onwards, called themselves the Counts of Freiburg. They continued to have four-pointed Pfennige with busts in profile or frontal representations and insignia, but without a sword as a ducal symbol.
An eagle's head appears on the coins from the late-13th century onwards. The change in the design of the coin could indicate a stronger influence of the citizenry. The Counts, who were deep in debt, were forced to gradually transfer the right of coinage to the City. Formally, however, it was not until 1368 that the Lord of the City, the Duke of Austria, granted the right of coinage. A new coin with a stylised eagle's head within a raised ring instead of a pearl circle, resembling a raven more than an eagle, had already been issued under municipal control. The first documentation of the name "Rappen" was in 1322. The "raven" would be retained as the symbol of the municipal coin in the following centuries.
The four-pointed Pfennige of the Counts of Freiburg show the dynast frontally or in profile, with a star and cross or cross-tipped sceptre and ring as accompanying symbols.
From the late-13th century onwards, an eagle's head replaced the representation of the dynast. The change of image is possibly related to the increasing influence of the City over the debt-ridden Counts.
Coins with a stylised eagle's head in a raised ring instead of a pearl circle had already been issued under municipal control, first with a cross or ring, later without an auxiliary symbol.
Written by Erik Roth (January 2021)