The Degussa Collection
Degussa will present selected pieces from its collection of precious metals artefacts at the LBMA/LPPM Precious Metals Conference in Rome. It will offer delegates a time journey through 4,000 years of history.
In the last 10 years, precious metals have experienced an astonishing comeback as a means of security and wealth preservation. One should keep in mind however that of all the eight precious metals, gold and silver in particular have been used for that purpose, not only in the last decade, but more or less for the past 4,000 years.
With a turnover of around €350 million in the last quarter, Degussa Goldhandel GmbH has become the largest German investment metal trader. We are not only involved in the buying and selling of modern precious metals products on a daily basis, but we are also committed to the preservation of the longstanding history of gold and silver. Most of the coins and bars that were produced during the last 4,000 years have been repeatedly melted down and reminted during the course of time. But a few of these precious historical examples have survived in their original form to the present day.
Expanding our business activities into numismatics was one possible way of delving into the history of gold and that is exactly what we did earlier this year. Additionally, Degussa has been involved in the collection of outstanding artifacts, which is a fascinating way of learning more about gold’s past, as these relics indeed witness to different eras in the history of mankind.
In our view, collecting these items and getting a deeper insight into the history of precious metals only makes sense if it is shared with others. For that reason and for the first time in this format, Degussa will present selected pieces from its collection representing four historical epochs at the LBMA Precious Metals Conference 2013 in Rome – offering delegates a time journey through 4,000 years of the history of coins and bars.
This time journey begins with the oldest bars discovered in Europe, which were produced during the Bronze Age in 2000 BC. During the whole of this period, people produced round bronze bars, similar in shape to lentils, with a diameter of up to 40 cms and a weight of between 5 and 10 kgs. The bars were transported in this “raw” state and either used as a form of payment or later transformed into jewellery or tools. Treasure finds often consist of several variations of these bars. One of these bars in the Degussa Collection has a weight of6.1 kg and a diameter slightly over 30 cm, and is still intact. Whether it was a sacrificial offering to the gods and/or simply deposited there by a trader, is difficult to say.
“In our view, collecting these items and getting a deeper insight into the history of precious metals only makes sense if it is shared with others.”
In the Bronze Age, people used metal objects not only as a method of payment but also as a kind of reinvestment, by storing and preserving valuable objects or metals, and thereby for the first time the function of money was attained. That one could quite easily separate the bars is evidenced by another piece in the collection. A cast bronze mould was split and a part thereof, in this case a quarter weighing 776.5 grams, was used as a payment method.
Bars were not only produced in bronze but also in gold. The Degussa Collection consists of two gold spirals (Picture 2: Gold spirals), one with a diameter of 34 mm and the other with a diameter of 43 mm, which weigh 6.9 grams and 8.5 grams respectively. These are virtually pure gold and probably originate from the middle Bronze Age, around 1500 BC. In specialist literature, these spirals are often described as finger or curly rings. These two gold spirals belong to the oldest gold bars in the world, and it is virtually inconceivable that they have managed to survive the past 3,500 years. How many of today’s present gold bars actually contain gold from the Bronze Age unfortunately cannot be estimated.
The Iron Age, whose ruling people were the Celts, followed the Bronze Age. A purse belonging to the Celts dating from around the 3rd century BC is also in the Degussa Collection.
It is assumed that the nine differently moulded and decorated gold rings with a total weight of 141.53 grams were openly worn around the waist. These were not only used as a payment method or means but were also a status symbol for rich merchants and noblemen. Eventually, the small rings were used as small change or one could split the larger rings and join them back together again.
The first coins used in Middle Europe had Celtic origins. According to legend, the so-called ‘Staters’ were supposed to represent raindrops falling from a rainbow and turning to gold as they hit the ground. In reality, however, the Celts got their gold from alpine rivers. Their role models were Roman and Greek coins that came to Europe via merchants around the 2nd century BC. Although the Celtic coins appear somewhat primitive, the Celts were a highly cultured people, who in 387 BC conquered the Roman Empire with the exception of the capital city.
The first Roman coins in the form of coin bars have been identified as dating from same the period in which the Celtic coins were minted. The AES GRAVE weighs 109.33 grams and was produced around 250 BC, and the value of this coin is confirmed by 4 points on each side.
“When Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, he had no idea of the huge amount of precious metals to be found there.”
While Roman bronze coins and coin bars have survived the test of time in greater numbers, Roman gold bars are extremely rare. An original from the 1st century AD is not known to exist; however, a marble mould was discovered in the early 1990s in anarcheological find on the Magdalensberg near Klagenfurt in Austria. (Picture 3: Roman bar) It is inscribed with the lettering C.CAESARIS.AVG. GERMANICI: IMP: EX: NORIC, which confirms that the gold in the bar would have belonged to the Roman Emperor Caligula. It further says that he was ruler over the Teutons and that the gold came out of the Noricum Province, which today is part of Austria. Caligula ruled over the Roman Empire from 37 to 41 AD, a date which would conform to the age and mould of the bar.
Degussa is also active scientifically in the area of experimental archeology and, together with specialists from the gold-producing industry and accompanied by a film team, produced a similar solid gold bar weighing 3.5kg. This was actually achieved in a two-day experiment. Naturally, the original Roman mould was not used; instead, a replica was manufactured for this purpose.
The Romans not only produced bars out of bronze and gold but also silver. A silver bar in the form of an axe dating from the 4th century AD probably came from the coin-producing town of Trier in Germany. It was produced in the ‘OFFICINA (of) SECVNDVS’. That these producers did not do their work carefully is evidenced by a silver clump or lump, which was later forged onto the bar. The original weight of the bar did not conform to Roman standard measurements, but instead of melting it down and recasting it, they simply forged a new piece of silver over the top of the bar. By using the latest techniques in scientific research and proof of authenticity of antique objects, Degussa Goldhandel was able to confirm that the piece of silver added later came from another mould and contained considerably more lead than the main bar.
Mainly coins were produced from these Roman bars. The gold coins, or so-called Aurei, were worth 25 silver Denarii. The Aurei weighed 7.5 grams and the Denarii 3.5 grams. From this, we can draw conclusions about the price of gold and silver in Roman times. The Aureus on exhibition shows the image of Emperor Nero, who ruled the Roman Empire from 54 to 68 AD. The Denarius was produced during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14 -37 AD). This type of coin is today termed ‘tribute penny’, because 30 of these silver coins were given to Judas as a reward for the betrayal of Jesus.
With a move forward in time of over 1,000 years, we now go to another continent and to the treasure of the Atocha.
When Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, he had no idea of the huge amount of precious metals to be found there. Subsequently, the Spanish crown sent a flotilla of around 20 ships each year from Cadiz in Spain to Central America. Upon arrival in the Caribbean, the flotilla was split in two: one part sailed to Veracruz in Mexico and the other to Portobelo in Panama. After they were loaded up with gold and silver, they met up once again in Havanna, Cuba for the return journey.
They wanted to take advantage of the Gulf Stream to the north along the Florida coast and then sail eastwards to Spain. The main problem for these flotillas was pirates and the unpredictable weather. The hurricane season begins at the end of July. In order to protect against pirates, the flotilla employed two heavily armed ships: the Capitana was the generic name referring to the ship at the front of the fleet, and the Almirata to the one at the rear. The ship Atocha, was built in 1620 in Havanna and was the Almirata of this particular fleet. Heavily armed and secure, it was therefore used by many private individuals as a means of transport.
The flotilla left Spain on 23 March 1622 and reached Portobelo the following day. Pack animals brought gold and silver from Potosi and Lima to Panama. It took nearly two months to load up the Atocha and for the cargo to be fully documented. On the 22 July, the Atocha sailed to Havanna via Cartagena, where even more gold was loaded onto the ship, along with the first produce from the new silver mine in Santa Fe De Bogota. At the end of August, the Atocha reached the harbour in Havanna. Eighty-two soldiers were supposed to protect the cargo and passengers from possible pirate attack.
On 4 September, it was decided due to the good weather to lift anchor and the flotilla of 28 ships headed out to sea. The Atocha, due to its heavy load, lay deep in the water and took its place at the end of the flotilla. In the evening, the wind grew stronger, and by morning, the waves were a metre high and all passengers were below decks, seasick and praying. While the first ships in the flotilla managed to escape the worst of the weather by reaching the shelter of the Gulf of Mexico, but those at the end of the convoy were less fortunate and suffered severe damage.
The Atocha, Santa Margarita and Rosario, plus five small ships, met the full force of the storm. With broken masts, they drifted helplessly towards the reef off the Florida Keys. The Atocha was hit by a huge wave, hitting the reef with full force due to its heavy load and immediately sinking. The next day, a passing trading ship saved five of the 265 passengers, who had managed to cling to the mizzen mast for safety.
The Spanish sent numerous teams to recover the lost treasure. The Atocha was found in 16 metres of water. Divers who were able to hold their breath for long enough managed to see the wreck, but they could not stay long enough under water to rescue the treasure. The scene of the accident was marked and other wrecks were investigated. The rescue team returned to Havanna along with the 20 flotilla ships that had withstood the storm. As they revisited the site of the wreck with better rescue equipment, a second hurricane erased all traces of the Atocha and the wreck could no longer be found.
It was only in the 1980s that the Atocha was rediscovered. She was found to have a cargo of 35 tons of silver (901 bars and 255,000 silver coins) and 161 gold objects. At the time, the treasure was estimated to be worth 1 million pesos, which in 1985 equated to $400 million.
The Degussa collection managed to purchase certain bars from the Atocha wreck. The heaviest exhibit is a silver bar weighing 33.1 kg and resembling our modern standard bars. It bears different custom stamps and seals of approval, plus a number under which it was listed in the manifest or cargo list of the Atocha. The bar also shows that it contains 23.8 carats.
Degussa is particularly proud to own the heaviest gold bar from the Atocha. Weighing 2,552 grams, it was originally the reward given to a cartographer who located the Atocha wreck. It has a fineness of 22 carats and, according to the stamp, was produced in ‘SARGOSA’, which is known today as Zaragoza in Colombia.
A third bar from the Santa Margarita weighing 578.49 grams (Picture 4: Wreck) has neither a customs stamp nor details of its precious metal content. It contains only about 50% gold, with the rest being silver and copper.
The simple manufacture of the bar in an ‘earth hollow’ also indicates that it was illegally produced and taken on the journey to the old world. It was not allowed for private individuals to transport bars over the ocean without a customs stamp, for which they paid 20% customs tax.
No part of the earth has produced more bars than Asia, and the Degussa collection houses many bars from this continent.
“Degussa is particularly proud to own the heaviest gold bar from the Atocha. Weighing 2,552 grams, it was originally the reward given to a cartographer who located the Atocha wreck.”
In the Kingdom of Laos during the 17th century, silver bars with a weight of 220 grams were manufactured, representing 4 Tamlung. The correct name for these bars is not mentioned, but they subsequently became known as ‘Tongue of the Tiger’ bars in modern literature. It is clear that these bars were processed in a special mould and were subjected to a ‘uniform size system’. What the surface area signifies however is not known.
In the year 1985, on the sea bed of the China Sea, the wreck of a ship named the Geldermalsen, which belonged to the East India Company, was found. The Geldermalsen sank on 3 January 1752 with 112 passengers, 150,000 pieces of china porcelain and 107 gold bars on board. In the spring of 1986, the treasure was auctioned by Christies in London. The Degussa collection was successful in purchasing a gold bar from the wreck weighing368.95 grams and corresponding to 10 Tael.
One of the latest bars in the Degussa collection comes from the early 20th century. It was produced in China and weighs 205.47 grams. This piece is particularly interesting because one can read much information from the bar.
It was produced between 1920 and 1930 in the Yunnan province. The manufacturing firm was Fu Xing Qing Ji and the manufacturer himself was named Fu Xing. More recently, the name Guan Gong She Kan was stamped over the original official stamp.
This is only a small sample of the Asian bars and shows clearly the variety that was available and also illustrates how exciting this research area really is.
It is also in the area of numismatics that Asia is an important source of relics. The Degussa collection houses different coins from many rulers. In this exhibition setting, we will show you pieces from the Ch´ing dynasty (1644 – 1911). (Picture 5: China coins). These were produced upon the orders of Emperor Kao Tsung Shun Huang Ti, who ruled between 1736 and 1795, the governing period known as Ch´ien-lung.The bronze coins were produced in different cities; for example, Kueilin in Kuangsi carried on the reverse side the name of the town and an inscription, whereby the head depicted that it was a valid method of payment of the governing period (Ch´ien-lung t´ung-pao).
Wolfgang Wrzesniok- Roßbach, Chief Executive Officer, Degussa Group
Wolfgang was hired as CEO for the newly founded Degussa Goldhandel GmbH in November 2011. Before setting up the new company under that well-known historic brand name, he worked for nearly seven years at Heraeus as Head of Sales and Marketing, and over 20 years at Dresdner Bank in Frankfurt, at the end as Head of Precious Metals and Commodities Trading.
Within 18 months, Degussa, which is owned by one of the wealthiest German families, has become one of the leading European precious metal trading companies for physical investment in metal. The company buys and sells investment products through a rapidly growing branch network in Germany and Switzerland, and through a very active online shop. During the course of this year, the company has also expanded into the purchase of gold scrap and the numismatics business.
The company has now more than 70 employees and, at the beginning of July 2013, took over the smaller German gold trading company SilviOr, a company that specialises in the storage of precious metals for customers.
Robert Eberlein, Department of Numismatics, Degussa Group
Robert started working for Degussa in July 2012 as an expert in Numismatics. Prior to joining Degussa, he spent one year as a specialist in coins of the modern era at Gorny and Mosch in Munich. In 2011, Robert finished university with a double master’s degree from the University of Augsburg, with emphasis on ancient, recent and most recent history, classical archaeology and philology.