The Educated Mint Master: Reiner Budel

Renerus Budelius, De monetis et re numaria, libri duo

Cologne 1591, printed and published by Johann Gymnich


It all started with the Cologne printer and publisher Johann Gymnich (*1547, +1606) looking for a promising new manuscript. Well, coinage and money issues were quite a hot topic in the late 16th century. Princes and cities started to scrutinize their monetary policies and to substantiate their decisions with scholarly findings. Mint masters, money changers and bankers became sought-after advisors. And they too were in need of a stimulating read to acquire further knowledge. So, wouldn’t it be a great idea – Johann Gymnich probably thought – to republish the 1574 treatise by Matthäus Boyß, which had long been out of print? Reprinting the work would be very inexpensive, after all, copyright issues weren’t a thing yet. Or should the treatise be revised and updated? Gymnich knew a suitable author for the job: the controversial mint master of the Bishop of Cologne.

Cologne city view of 1531 by Anton Woensam.

Reiner Budel (*after 1540, +after 1602)

We have some information about the life of the mint master. He called himself Reiner Budel, Reynair Van Budel or – as a Latin author – Renerus Budelius. Budel was born at some point before 1540 in Roermond, a town in the Spanish Netherlands at the time. His father was earning his living as a mint master too. He made sure that all of his four sons found work in this profession; and he married his only daughter to a colleague.

Being a mint master was a profitable business back then. Therefore, father Budel could afford for his son Reiner to go to university. In 1563, the young man started to study law at the University of Cologne, the go-to subject for anyone who wanted to make a career in a princely administration at the time. Reiner Budel graduated with a licentiate, which was associated with a teaching license in the early modern era. Moreover, the licentiate was the ticket to make it to the top of the financial administration of some high lord.

As early as in 1572, Reiner Budel held the office of mint master of the Archbishop of Cologne at the Deutz mint. This was a promising office. After all, the Archbishop of Cologne was one of the most important princes in the empire. But Reiner Budel lived in troubled times. Some canons – who were responsible for the election of the archbishop – would have loved to appoint a protestant in order to include ecclesiastical territories in the territory of the city of Cologne or another secular principality, and their efforts were supported by the Cologne city council. We can no longer understand how the 1578 scandal, in which Budel was somehow involved, fits into this highly explosive situation: somehow and by highly dubious means, silver had been delivered from the Deutz mint to an illegal mint on Dutch territory. In any case, Budel was questioned and even imprisoned for a short time. The bitter result was Budel’s dismissal as mint master. For the time being, this was the end of his career.

And perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing. It meant that Budel didn’t have to decide if he wanted to continue working for the controversial Archbishop Gebhard von Waldburg, who married and converted to Calvinism. Anyhow, Reiner Budel was reinstated in office after the victory of the Catholic counter candidate for the office of the Bishop of Cologne. Thus, once again he had the prospect of making a career in the civil service.

And how can you make an important prince aware of your skills around 1600? You publish an erudite book! And this is why the business interests of the publisher Johann Gymnich aligned with the ambitions of Reiner Budel.

Two Books on Coins and Monetary Issues

Budel wrote a work that caused a sensation in the educated world. He gathered his knowledge, his experience, his research – and he did so in a form that an antiquary, a member of a princely advisory body and any educated politician expected from a scholarly work. Budel wrote his book in elegant Latin, i.e. the language that every European scholar AND every European politician knew at the time! In the late 16th century, only very few mint masters would have been able to use this language as skilfully as Budel did. And only very few of them had studied at a university and learned the language of the educated world. Budel thus demonstrated that he was much more than a simple mint master and a valuable asset to any princely administration.

In addition, Budel presented a knowledge that could well be compared to that of the best antiquaries of his time. Studying ancient numismatics and the old authors was a modern pastime of the early modern upper class. So there was definitely a goal behind Budel publishing a book on contemporary coinage presenting his historical knowledge and quoting ancient sources as well as ancient coins. Particularly telling is a page on which his Latin text presents a shekel with Hebrew inscription and quotes Greek sources. At the time, only the best scholars were proficient in the three canonical languages in addition to their native tongue: Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

A Practical Guide for Money Changers, Bankers and Tax Officials

After the author duly introduced himself as an expert on the matter, he deals with questions that concerned everyone at the time – and these weren’t numismatic issues. It was about the monetary business of the time. Budel dealt with questions concerning the precious metal content of individual coins, with their weight and how they were converted. Of course, he also talked about how to determine the precious metal content in a reliable and easy way; in addition, he addressed the monetary theories of the time. And, obviously, the lawyers also mentioned the legal basis of coin production and provided his readers with the original version of the most important imperial edicts.

His conversion tables were of crucial importance for daily use. In these tables, he listed the value of various coin types provided they were of correct weight and precious metal content. He chose the coins based on what Cologne money changes usually had to deal with. This means that the book tells us which coin types mainly circulated in the Rhine region in Budel’s time.

Interestingly enough, Budel did not write the tables in Latin but in German. Budel knew that average money changers, simple mint masters and tax officials in the lower service didn’t speak Latin as well as he did. But as soon as things got theoretical, Budel immediately switched to educated Latin.

The table of contents: this is where readers find a list of all the authors whose works are reprinted in the book.

A Body of Knowledge about the Monetary System

Those who carefully study Budel’s work will notice that there is a gap of almost 70 pages in the pagination. Therefore it is likely that the publisher Gymnich was already preparing and carrying out the printing of the second part of the book while Budel wrote the text. The previous book by Matthäus Boyß, which probably inspired Gymnich to publish this work, also contained texts by various authors that had commented in some way on monetary issues. Gymnich multiplied them, enabling the buyer of his book to learn about the insight of 25 different authors in addition to read Budel’s work. A good selling point!

A Major Success

Reiner Budel’s work really did become a major success and would be quoted for centuries to come. We have a very special source of a kind that one only encounters on rare occasions on the matter. In his remarkable autobiography, the Cologne patrician Hermann von Weinsberg wrote that he bought Budel’s book: “On 2 September, I had Reiner Budel’s book ‘De monetis et re numaria’ bought from the printer Johann Gymnich at Haus zum Einhorn. … This Budel is from Roermond, is a citizen of Cologne, a licentiate of the faculty of law and a mint master of the Archbishop of Cologne who lives with his wife behind the Franciscan monastery. He had the book published and printed in 1591.”

Reiner Budel actually created an excellent reputation for himself with his book. However, he was not able to use this reputation to be appointed for a higher office. When he died, probably shortly after 1602, he was still mint master of Deutz. He had not risen further in the hierarchy of the Archbishopric of Cologne.


Other Things You Might Be Interested in:

You can read a digitized version of the entire book.

If you want to learn more about the ways in which money functioned historically, we recommend our book feature “Fair Money in Unfair Times.”

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