Shortly before the first gold ducats were minted, in 1252 the Florence and Genoa mints started minting florins. Subsequently, gold florins were also minted in 1256 by Lucca and Perrugia in 1259. However, in 1284 the first gold ducats, Venetian ducats (aka zecchinos), were approved to be minted. They were supposed to be heavier than florins (3.545 gm instead of 3.53 gm), but were also struck in pure gold. Minting of gold Venetian ducats started in March 1285. Due to wide acceptance of gold ducats in international trade, other countries also minted these coins. The most recognizable were Hungarian, Spanish and finally Dutch type ducats.
The first Dutch gold ducats were minted in 1586. Holland wanted to replace the minting of coins in a large number of cities with centralized minting in a limited number of mints. The mints were supposed to be under constant control. Also, given the great variety of denominations that was in circulation some guidance of accepted coins with their pictures, value, and weight was required by the merchants and money changers. The first Ordinance of Leicester (who was acting in the name of Elizabeth I of England as the commander of an English expedition (1585) to help the Netherlands against Spain; in December 1586 he accepted the title of governor of the Netherlands and was given great privileges), published on October 4, 1586, did not achieve the aforementioned targets, but introduced and ordered Dutch gold ducats, along with rijksdaalders, to be used in trade so as to help promote trade.
The title page of the Beeldenaer from October 4, 1586
The Beeldenaer from October 4, 1586, an excerpt of page 3 (of 52), with a picture of a gold ducat
The Dutch gold ducats were the successors of the well-known Hungarian ducats (with Madonna) and Spanish ducats (with Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain). Moreover, some of the first provincial undated Dutch ducats were minted in Hungarian or Spanish type. In the pre-provincial period of the Republic a large number of ducats were of Hungarian type.
The first Dutch gold ducats of the Republic (Hungarian type ducats), were minted in 1583 by the States of Holland province. However the first ducats of the Dutch type – those with a knight holding a bunch of arrows in his hand on the obverse and a square with inscription on the reverse – were minted in 1586. The legend says “Concordia res parvae crescent”, which is the Latin translation of “Union makes small things grow”.
Double ducats of the Spanish type were minted in various provinces a bit later (from about 1589) than single ducats were. All of them were minted without a date. Starting in 1606 double ducats of the Dutch type were minted in the provincial mints. Ducats minted in the 17th century were sent in large quantities to Eastern Europe (the Baltic Sea area) for use in trade, smaller numbers of them were sent to the VOC (East India). In the 18th century things changed and the most of the ducats were sent to the VOC, mainly due to problems with the import of gold in India.
According to the Ordinance from October 4, 1586 a number of 70 ducats of 3.515 gm each was supposed to be minted from one mark of gold alloy. The margin of error given was 2 engels 9 aces of one mark, or 1.971 gm per mark, so coins lighter than 3.487 gm were supposed to be melted down.
The fineness of minted ducats should be 23 karat and 8 greins, or .986. But according to the manuals for money changers, coins could be accepted with a minimum fineness of 23 karat and 6 ½ greins, or .981. If a coin was less than this fineness, money changers would declare it no good and such coins were supposed to be melted down. The remainder of the alloy, or .014, was usually silver or copper. In the pre-provincial period gold was mixed with silver. But due to the high content of silver in the alloy of debased ducats these coins had a light gold color, much lighter than that of genuine ducats of the correct fineness. In later years silver was replaced with much cheaper copper. This change is believed (by most people) responsible for the warm red toning of gold ducats.
All of the gold ducats produced in the Low Countries were supposed to have a weight of 3.515 gm and a fineness of .986. This was the same in all mints permitted to mint gold ducats. Unchanged weight and purity, in contrast to florins and gold guldens which circulated at the same time in various European countries, resulted in the worldwide acceptance of the Dutch gold ducats as being the most important gold coin in international trade for several centuries.