Maria Theresa thaler
The Maria Theresa thaler (MTT) is a silver bullion coin that has been used in world trade continuously since they were first minted in 1741, at that time using the then Reichsthaler standard of 9 thalers to the Vienna mark. In 1750 the thaler was debased to 10 thalers to the Vienna Mark (a weight approximating half a pound of fine silver). The following year the new standard was effectively adopted across the German-speaking world when that standard was accepted formally in the Bavarian monetary convention. It is owing to the date of the Bavarian Monetary convention that many writers erroneously state that the Maria Theresa Thaler was first struck in 1751. It was named after Empress Maria Theresa, who ruled Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia from 1740 to 1780. The word thaler gave rise to daalder and daler, which became dollar in English.
Since 1780, the coin has always been dated 1780. On 19 September 1857, Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria declared the Maria Theresa Taler to be an official trade coinage. A little over a year later, on 31 October 1858, the Maria Theresa Taler lost its status as currency in Austria.
The MTT could also be found throughout the Arab world, especially in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Muscat and Oman, and in India. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II, enough people preferred it to the money issued by the occupying forces that the American Office of Strategic Services created counterfeit MTTs for use by resistance forces.
In German-speaking countries, following a spelling reform dated 1901 which took effect two years later, "Thaler" is written "Taler" (the spelling of given names like "Theresia" was not affected). Hence 20th-century references to this coin in German and Austrian sources are found under "Maria-Theresien-Taler". The spelling in English-speaking countries was not affected.
The thaler is 39.5-41 mm in diameter and 2.5 mm thick, weighs 28.0668 grams and contains 23.3890 grams (0.752 troy ounces) of fine silver. It has a silver content of .833 and a copper content of .166 of its total millesimal fineness. Note: Rome mint struck MTTs are marginally lighter being produced in finer 835 standard instead of 833 standard silver.
The inscription on the obverse of this coin is in Latin: "M. THERESIA D. G. R. IMP. HU. BO. REG." The Reverse reads "ARCHID. AVST. DUX BURG. CO. TYR. 1780 X". It is an abbreviation of "Maria Theresia, Dei Gratia Romanorum Imperatrix, Hungariae Bohemiaeque Regina, Archidux Austriae, Dux Burgundiae, Comes Tyrolis. 1780 X", which means, "Maria Theresa, by the grace of God, Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Burgundy, Countess of Tyrol. 1780". The "X" is actually a saltire, and was added in 1750 indicating the new debased standard of the thaler. Around the rim of the coin is the motto of her reign: "Justitia et Clementia", meaning "Justice and Clemency".
Minting outside of Austria
The MTT quickly became a standard trade coin and several nations began striking Maria Theresa thalers. The following mints have struck MTTs: Birmingham, Bombay, Brussels, London, Paris, Rome and Utrecht, in addition to the Habsburg mints in Günzburg, Hall, Karlsburg, Kremnica, Milan, Prague, and Vienna. Between 1751 and 2000, some 389 million were minted. These different mints distinguished their issues by slight differences. In 1935 Mussolini gained a 25-year concession over production of the MTT. The Italians blocked non-Italian banks and bullion traders from obtaining the coin and so France, Belgium, and the UK started producing the coin so as to support their economic interests in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and East Coast of Africa. In 1961 the 25-year concession ended and Austria made diplomatic approaches to the relevant governments requesting they cease production of the coin. The UK was the last government to formally agree to the request in February 1962.
The MTT came to be used as currency in large parts of Africa until after World War II. It was common from North Africa to Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and down the coast of Tanzania to Mozambique. Its popularity in the Red Sea region was such that merchants would not accept any other type of currency. The Italian government produced a similar designed coin in the hope of replacing the Maria Theresa thaler, but it never gained acceptance.
The Maria Theresa thaler was also formerly the currency of Muscat and Oman. The coin remains popular in North Africa and the Middle East to this day in its original form: a silver coin with a portrait of the buxom Empress on the front and the Habsburg Double Eagle on the back.
The MTT is first recorded as circulated in Ethiopia from the reign of Emperor Iyasu II of Ethiopia (1730–1755). According to traveller James Bruce the coin, not debased as other currencies, dominated the areas he visited in 1768. Joseph Kalmer and Ludwig Hyun in the book Abessinien estimate that over 20% of 245 million coins minted until 1931 ended up in Ethiopia. In 1868, the British military expedition to Magdala, the capital of Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, under Field Marshal Robert Napier, took MTTs with them to pay local expenses. In 1890 the Italians introduced the Tallero Eritreo, styled after the MTT, in their new colony Eritrea, also hoping to impose it on the commerce with Ethiopia. They remained, however, largely unsuccessful. In the early 1900s Menelik II unsuccessfully attempted to mint Menilek thalers locally, with his effigy, but styled following the model of the MTT, and force their use. The newly established Bank of Abyssinia also issued banknotes denominated in thalers. Starting in 1935 the Italians minted the MTT at the mint in Rome for use in their conquest of Ethiopia. Then during World War II, the British minted some 18 million MTTs in Bombay to use in their campaign to drive the Italians out of Ethiopia.
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- Alan McRae, "A Famous Trade Coin," Australian Coin Review 356 [February 1994] p. 30.
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- Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1968), p. 468.
- Kalmer, Joseph; Hyun L. (1935). Abessinien (in German and Czech). Translated by Milena Jesenská.
Chapter 13 describes currencies used in pre-WWII Abyssinia.
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