Coin guide: Franz Joseph I ducats


02 November 2023
The ducat was a coin and currency used and minted frequently and over long periods in various parts of Europe, from the 13th until the early-20th century. Find out more about the coin, the varieties to look out for, and the values, in this special guide.

Numismatic sources report that international traders in western Europe shifted from the florin to the ducat as their preferred currency in the 15th and 16th centuries, with ducats often co-circulating with locally minted gold coins like the Rhenish guilder, French écu and Spanish escudo.

In Austria, Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, initiated his own currency reform, minting gold ducats from 1511.

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Standards retained by German territories until the 19th century for a ducat were a weight of 3.49g that was 23⅔ carats fine, giving 3.442g of pure gold in total.

In 1858, the ducat lost its function as an official means of payment in Austria. The year before, however, Emperor Franz Joseph I had authorised the minting of further gold coins as trade coins.

The beautiful 1 ducat coins from his reign were officially produced until 1915, with a continuous, annually changing minting date. An ‘original Austrian ducat’ denotes those gold coins with a minting date between 1852 and 1914.

Imperial eagle and beard

On the obverse, the ducats feature the head of Emperor Franz Joseph I in profile facing right with a laurel wreath. During his reign, the minting of his face was redrawn several times, which can be distinguished by his growing beard.

The reverse represents the double-headed Imperial Eagle with miniature crowns on each head, while above, the imperial crown floats above the Habsburg coat of arms in the centre. 

The last version, by engraver Friedrich Leisek, shows the laureate head of Franz Joseph I with thick whiskers; the reverse lettering was extended to ‘HUNGAR BOHEM GAL LOD ILL REX A A’ (‘King of Hungary, Bohemia, Galicia and Lodomeria, Illyria, Archduke of Austria’).

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Restrikes of 1915 and a 1951 error

This version of the Imperial head was kept without major changes from 1872 until 1915 – yet it is still minted today!

World War I and the death of the emperor in 1916 stopped the minting of ducat coinage. Since the republic was established, further ducats have been produced from 1920 until today – all with the same design, year indication ‘1915’ and metal content of the last original minting (3.4909g of .9860-fine gold, giving an actual gold content of 3.44g).

However, not all ‘Restrike Ducats’ bear the year 1915. An unknown small number was discovered with the wrong year indication of ‘1951’.

There is much speculation about the origin of this mistake. But Austria’s National Bank clearly stated that: ‘The year 1951 is an error in the engraving.’

Prices of these pieces can exceed $2000 in auction, according to Numista. Recent auction results include €1800 and €2100 (without buyer’s premium). The probably over 60 million normal 1915 restrikes trade at a fraction, with few above their gold value.

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