The taler was originally a German coin equal to three German marks, but the word taler became a common name for currency that, in various guises, appeared in other languages and countries. The English word dollar evolved from taler, as did the Italian tallero, the Dutch daalder, and the Swedish and Danish dalers.
The first talers came from Jachymov, now a small village in the Ore Mountains in the western part of the Czech Republic. At the opening of the sixteenth century Jachymov fell within the Holy Roman Empire and was administered under German authority. In 1516 the local ruler, Count Hieronymus Schlick, found a silver deposit close to his home. As early as 1519 Count Schlick, without official sanction, began minting silver coins in his castle, and on 1 January 1520 he received official approval to operate a mint. Minting silver into coins was probably more profitable than merely selling silver. Between 1534 and 1536 King Ferdinand I ordered the construction of an imperial mint in Jachymov. The building housing the imperial mint served as a museum as late as 1976.
The coins were first called Joachimstalergulden or Joachimstalergroschen after the German name for the valley, Joachimsthal, where they were minted. The names were shortened to talergroschen, and later to thalers, or talers.
With the stimulus of silver mining, Jachymov blossomed into a bustling community of 18,000 inhabitants. In 1568 a plague left its mark on this mining community, but the most severe devastation was wrought by religious intolerance. Jachymov became strongly Protestant, but the Bohemian monarchy was Catholic. Religious persecution killed the community, which could only boast of 529 inhabitants in 1613, and in 1651 the government moved the official mint to Prague.
In the first year of operation Count Schlick’s mint
struck about 250,000 talers. During the years of peak production, between 1529 and 1545, the mines produced enough silver to mint 5 million talers. By the end of the century, Count Schlick’s mint had sent about 12 million talers into circulation.
The coinage of talers spread throughout the German-speaking world. During the sixteenth century alone as many as 1,500 different types of talers found their way into circulation from various German states and municipalities. By 1900 as many as 10,000 different types of talers had been minted for metal currency and commemoration medals.
Maria Theresa, a famous Austrian empress of the eighteenth century, gave her name to the best known, longest circulating of all talers. In 1773 the Gunzburg mint first struck a taler bearing the image of Maria Theresa. After her death in 1780 subsequent talers were always dated 1780. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire early in the nineteenth century the Austro-Hungarian Empire continued to mint the Maria Theresa talers with the 1780 date. Following the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I the Austrian Republic minted talers until Hitler invaded in 1937. Mussolini found Maria Theresa talers the favored coin in Ethiopia, causing Italy to mint its own talers between 1935 and 1937 in order to facilitate trade with Ethiopia. After World War II the Republic of Austria resumed the coinage of talers, still bearing the date of 1780. Austria continued to mint talers until 1975.
Nussbaum, Arthur. 1957. A History of the Dollar.
Weatherford, Jack. 1997. The History of Money.