13th Century


Gold price: £0.864 (17s.3½d) per troy ounce fine

Gold/silver ratio: 1:10 (Venice); 1:9 (London)

Annual production: ± 75,000 ounces


1200 Supplies of gold across the Sahara were increasing. Camel caravans (a camel carried upwards of 3,000 ounces, a Saharan donkey or mule around 2,000 ounces) travelled from West Africa to North African ports and thence to Spain, Sicily or the Italian cities of Pisa, Genoa and Florence. Although gold arrivals were still too limited for coin to be widely used for commerce in Europe, counterfeit Muslim coins were made in Seville, Barcelona, Sicily and Genoa and circulated back to North Africa and the Levant. Genoa is also thought to have minted genovino d'oro around 1200, although serious issue did not begin until 1252.
1201-04 The Fourth Crusade used Venice as its launching pad, paying for ships and supplies with silver. The capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, however, spelt the end of the Byzantine empire's gold nomisma or perpero coin and opened the way for a new era of gold coins in Florence, Genoa and Venice during this century. The fall of Constantinople also greatly enhanced the potential power of Venice as the trading crossroads of the Mediterranean and as the world's premier marketplace for gold and silver for the next five hundred years.
1231 Emperor Frederick II issued gold augustale coins at his mints in Messina (Sicily) and Brindisi (southern Italy) using gold from Africa, but the coins had little success.
Rise of the goldsmith

A clear sign of the new era in gold in the 13th century was the growth in Europe of goldsmiths' guilds closely regulating their membership and setting out basic standards. This reflected a shift in the goldsmiths' trade from being primarily concerned with making symbols of wealth and power for church and state to jewellery and tableware for a more prosperous Europe. In 1238 strict controls were put on London goldsmiths to conform to standards laid down by the King. In Paris after 1258 the Provost, Etienne Boileau, drew up regulations for goldsmiths, ordering "No goldsmith may work gold in Paris which is not of the Paris touch (i.e. 916 fine), which touch surpasses all the gold worked in any other country". Goldsmiths were not permitted to work on the feast day of any of the twelve Apostles, except one 'forge' taken in turn; proceeds taken that day had to be put in the poor box of the Confrérie of Goldsmiths. In 1282 London goldsmiths instituted their famous Trial of the Pyx at which they assayed coin of the realm.

1238 Strict controls on London goldsmiths (see box).
1250 Gold/silver ratio had narrowed to 1:8.5 in Venice, because silver coin had become so widely accepted and valued all around the Mediterranean, replacing Constantinople's former gold perpero, that silver was in short supply.
1252 Florence minted the gold florin and Genoa the gold genovino d'oro, each weighing 0.114oz (3.54 grams); the coins were as close to pure gold as then technically feasible. Both cities originated them because of their close trading links with Sicily, Spain and North Africa, where African gold arrived across the Sahara (always traded against salt). The florin became the more successful of the two coins because of Florence's growing role as an international banking centre; the coin circulated around the western Mediterranean and in western Europe, especially at the famous Fairs of Champagne in France, where merchants met from north and south.
1257 In England, Henry III issued a gold 'penny' of 0.093 oz (2.9 grams), billed as 'pure' gold, worth £0.08 (1s.8d) implying a gold price of £0.89 (17s.9½d), but it was not accepted and few were minted.
1265 Value of the English gold penny raised to £0.1 (2s.0d), equivalent to £1.07 (£1.1s.4d) per troy ounce fine, indicating this penny was undervalued at its launch in 1257. It still had little appeal.
1266 Louis IX of France issued the first gold ecu of 0.135 oz (4.2 grams) but, like the gold penny in England, it was not a success, probably being undervalued. In Venice, new regulations bound official assayers and weighers as employees of the government, with close inspection of their weights and scales. They worked from the Assay Office on the Rialto.
Venice regulates its gold market

Although Venice did not follow Florence or Genoa in minting its own gold coin until 1285, the government was determined to match or exceed their standards to attract more gold. In 1269 they ruled that gold was not to be re-exported by Venetians or foreigners unless it had been refined to at least 23 karatis (958 fine) and ideally 233/4 karatis (990 fine). All gold (and silver) imported had to be registered at the official Assay Office on the Rialto. Most gold arrived as dust (paglola) so it had to be cast before being assayed. It was illegal to sell more than two marks of paglola (15.3 oz/477 grams); it had to be cast and assayed first. Moreover, assay was necessary before any sale over half a mark (3.8 oz/119.2 grams). The gold was assayed by touch with an array of gold needles, one for each carat, which were scratched on a touchstone for comparison with the gold for sale. If the grade was too low (under 23 karatis) the metal had to be refined and re-assayed. In 1273 the refining of all imported gold was entrusted to two goldsmiths chosen and paid for by the Assay Office itself. After 1284, when Venice set up a separate gold mint to make the ducat, the mint itself would only buy gold that was already 23½ karatis, and then tried to refine out the last impurity in an attempt to get to 24 karatis (i.e. pure). The mint assumed increasing control of the Assay Office and, from 1298, required reports on buyers and quantities.

1269 The Grand Council in Venice imposed new controls on gold, which was arriving from Germany (along with much silver) and from North Africa (see box).
1274 In London, the goldsmith Gregory de Rokesley, was elected Mayor and later re-elected eight times over the next ten years.
1279 The royal mint moved inside the Tower of London, further evidence of the King's control. Gregory de Rokesley, besides being Mayor, was also made mint master.
1280 The gold/silver ratio, which had narrowed to 1:8.5 in 1250, had returned to 1:11 and continued to widen, because of significant new silver mines in Germany, Serbia and the Tyrol of northern Italy, and because gold coins were circulating more widely and were accepted for international trade. Gold was becoming more valued.
1284 Venice opened its gold mint (see box).
1285 Venice struck the first gold ducat of 0.114 oz (3.55 grams), which challenged the florin of Florence to become one of the most popular in Europe and the Levant. Initially made with gold from Germany or Africa and by melting the old perpero coins of Constantinople, the ducat became a symbol of the power and wealth of Venice and was minted, weight unchanged, for over five hundred years until the fall of the Venetian republic in 1797.
1296 Philip IV of France issued the Masse d'or coin as part of a general manipulation of French currency (and to raise revenue from his mints). Partly as a result, the Fairs of Champagne declined as a centre of south-north trading, and Bruges in Flanders became the exchange centre of north-west Europe and an important coin-minting centre.