Skip navigation

Minting technique

Since the first half of the 16th century, attempts were made to replace the outdated manual hammer-coinage by a machine-powered one. The reason for it certainly had to be seen in the abundant supply of silver following the newly discovered silver deposits in Europe and overseas. When the demand for new Thalers could only be covered by manual striking with the last effort and at the same time the expenses for minting rose higher and higher, intentions came up to rationalize and reduce coinage in price via application of machines. Interestingly enough, the first attempts proved to having taken place not in Hall, but in Trento, done by Bernhard von Cles.
The inventor Peter Luna of Augsburg was supposed to deliver minting machines resembling a device for hammering out metal, nevertheless, the project was never followed through.

The first approach to the application of minting machines in Hall is said to have come about in the year 1550/51. At that time, on the occasion of the Imperial Diet, Spanish inventors had offered Ferdinand their minting machines. The best experts of the Hall mint were ordered to Augsburg on investigation purposes; however, their verdict must have been devastating, considering that nothing has ever been heard of the Spanish invention again in the time after.

In this context it is worth mentioning an affair that occurred at the same time in Augsburg. The inventor Max Schwob of Augsburg had developed a water-powered minting machine which reached Paris by mediation of the French envoy and was put up there at the "Monnaie de Moulin". A French coin worker copied the system, sold it to the English crown and set up his machine in London. Being unable to make it work, however, he was accused of deception, sentenced to death and hung.

In a similar way, fate has been hard, even if not as severe, on the inventor Kaspar Seller who, in 1558, intended to show his minting machine to Ferdinand in Vienna. However, he wound up going to London, presenting his invention,
installing his machines and - like the French coin worker – experiencing nothing but setbacks. Out of desperation,
he jumped into the Thames in suicidal intention, however, was saved to spend the rest of his life in the Tower in London.

Finally, the fourth inventor was Jacob Stampfer who had been a coin master in Zurich since 1561 and there having used his machines with big success. One of these was brought to Hall in 1563, where it failed to convince the appointed officials. The machine was thought of as being too prone to failure. As a result Stampfer withdrew and managed to sell his machines to an Alsatian mining entrepreneur, named Egnolf von Rappoltstein.

The next inventor who contacted Ferdinand was Rudolf von Rohrdorf, coming from the Lake of Constance region.
Ferdinand had a contract presented to him by which, in case of successful introduction of machine-powered minting, he would have received a great reward and the privilege for sole distribution of such machines. Rohrdorf’s machine actually got to Tyrol in 1564 and was put up in the court mill in Innsbruck. In the end, however, the location had to be changed because of lacking water power. Best conditions were found in Mühlau, near Innsbruck. Since even there Rohrdorf’s employees couldn’t get the machine to work, Rohrdorf was asked to come to Tyrol personally,
which he rejected. In fact, in the meantime he had started negotiations with the king of France on the subject of new devices that he had been developing. Rohrdorf died in 1570 in Lyons.

In the midst of this situation, in 1564 another inventor from Zurich and former colleague of Jakob Stampfer, called Hans Vogler, announced his presence. Under his guidance, in a work of months, the Mühlau mint had been set up to a point of functioning that on May 31st 1566 the first test coinage was ready to be carried out in presence of high government officials.

The real initiator of machine coinage, emperor Ferdinand l., at this time had already been dead for nearly two years and Tyrol had been passed on to his son, archduke Ferdinand II. He was just as interested in the invention as his father. Of course Hans Vogler did not miss to report to his client in an effusive letter about the successful test coinage and to send some new Thalers along with it as "lucky pennies" - like he had pointed out. The officials saw right through Vogler’s intentions and reported almost at the same time that the test run, indeed, did go well, however, mass production, was not to be expected, and warned Ferdinand about , “that he praises your Royal Highness for himself and his employees to the highest or will do so in the future“. Even if the skepticism of the officials was still justified at that time, nevertheless, decent results were to be reckoned with in near future. Mühlau received an own coin order in 1567 and was able to start up an extensive coinage during the following years.

The new way of minting, also called roller-coinage, revolutionized for the coming decades not only the Tyrolean but also the European coin. If Hall had a capacity of striking approx. 600,000 coins annually, the output could be exceeded now many times over. After a few years these circumstances led also to hammer coinage being given up completely and a new mint was established to the west of Hasegg castle in Hall.

The new minting technique basically consisted of a system of wooden gearwheels powered by a waterwheel, causing to rotate two steel rollers whereon the coinage dies were engraved. On every roller either four wide double Thalers, five Thalers, six semi-Thalers or 7 quarter Thalers could be engraved. Depressions between the dies made sure that slipping through of the Zain, as the silver bullion was called,be avoided. With a good set of rollers about 50,000 marks (= approx. 14 t) could be minted, in extreme cases up to 100,000 marks (= approx. 28 t).

So, by using these roller-minting machines, for the first time waterpower had been made utilizable for coinage.
It was not only the minting machines that were water-powered, but also secondary devices involved in the process like lathe, bellows for furnaces, and blacksmith’s hammers that were adjusted to water-powering at this opportunity. The result of this work of years of development was an increase in production almost inconceivable at that time.
The circumstance of less required staff and at the same time higher productivity lowered costs substantially. Hans Vogler, to whom the final breakthrough was to be owed, experienced a typical Austrian inventor's fate. Indeed, he was granted the privilege once promised to Rohrdorf, however, he could not use it to make it a lasting benefit.
Vogler left Tyrol in 1568, further places of his work were Salzburg, Vienna, Alsace, Constance, Kremnitz and,
in the end, Warsaw where, become completely bitter and impoverished, he died in 1591.

Indeed, the principle of roller-minting was guarded as a big secret in Hall, however, it could not remain that for long.

For political reasons, Archduke Ferdinand II had to also make available the technological advantage of the Hall mint and the experience of the mint officials there to rulers allied or related with him. Therefore, for decades to come, the Hall mint officials were occupied with the establishment of numerous European mints. Already in 1577 Ferrara was given technical support in the modernization of its mint. Finally, in 1593 Mantua was helped in introducing modern minting technology - in either situation always trying not to give away too much technological Know-how.