Rich-in-Coins Arnstadt, Rich-in-Coins Gotha

Christian Sigismund Liebe, Gotha numaria, sistens thesauri Fridericiani numismata antiqua aurea, argentea, aerea ea ratione descripta

Published by R. and J. Westenios in Amsterdam, 1730

What do you do if you have ambitions, but not enough means to keep up with the standards? You put yourself in the balance by showing off with your striking physical appearance (provided you have one), with your intelligence (even more difficult) or with your vast knowledge. If you are a prince, you also have the advantage that you can purchase the latter, and this is exactly what Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg did when he acquired the famous coin collection of Count Anton Günther II of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen-Arnstadt in 1712.

Duke Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.

This latter prince – who ranked in the third league, at best – succeeded in winning Andreas Morell, a famous numismatist in his time, as the curator of his collection. Morell then organized the purchase of extremely rare and historically significant coins for Anton Günther, which proved much cheaper than the construction of a new castle or the holding of an elaborate festivity. In terms of numismatics, Count Anton Günther soon distinguished himself so much that people referred to his coin collection as an “adornment of Germany” and one of the “most perfect and most beautiful cabinets”. And that was important, because Anton Günther of course also wanted to gain promotion from the third league to the second league.

In 1709, he achieved his goal, when the emperor raised him to the rank of Imperial Prince. That was an expensive affair. Anton Günther had to dip into reserves. He sold his famous coin collection to Gotha for 100,000 talers. He did not need it anymore, for it had fulfilled its purpose, but still he sold the collection with a heavy heart, he was a passionate collector after all. And the disposal was not completely voluntary – the neighboring dukes from the branched Ernestine family were not very pleased with the ascent of Anton Günther into their league and wanted compensation.

That put Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in the position to lead the joker. To do so, it was vital to let the whole world know what a spectacular collection he possessed. He thus had a representative room built, for visitors to admire the treasure. He commissioned the publication of his collection. Of course, Latin was chosen as the language for the book. This way, all scholars at home and abroad could read about the treasures to be found in Gotha.

From then on, Gotha was an international hub for all enthusiasts of numismatics, of which the high nobility had plenty, for back then, like today’s golf, dressage riding or sailing, numismatics was considered the noblest occupation worthy of a ruler.

The Gotha Coin Cabinet. Image: Forschungsbibliothek Gotha CC BY SA 4.0.

During World War II, the famous collection was lost. And it was a real pleasure for the author of these lines to provide advice and support for the return of the collection in 2012. Described by Christian Sigismund Liebe in 1730, the collection is now safely coffered again at Friedenstein Castle in Gotha today.


You can browse through the book at the website of the Forschungsbibliothek Gotha.

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