The strong-willed Queen Wilhelmina depicted on the 10 guilder gold coin
In 1890, at the tender age of ten, Wilhelmina, daughter and only heir to King William III, was proclaimed queen of the Netherlands. Regarded as very intelligent, charming and tactful, her strong-willed personality earned her the reputation as one of the Netherlands’ most influential rulers of all time. Her reign saw two major world wars, a severe economic depression and the shifting tide of colonial rule. Looking out for the best interest of her country, she kept the Netherlands neutral in World War I, maintaining relatively good political relations with all the major powers of the time. Queen Wilhelmina was certainly a skilled politician, earning worldwide respect and prominence when, at the age of 20, she defied the English naval blockade of South Africa and sent a warship of the Royal Netherlands Navy to rescue Paul Kruger, a leading figure of the Boers (descendants of Dutch settlers) who sought to win independence from British colonial rule.
The queen’s competence went beyond affairs of state, as she was also adept in business matters, becoming the world’s richest woman through her wise investments. In spite of her immense wealth, she lived a frugal life, and, as she epitomised Dutch virtues throughout her fifty-eight year rule, she enjoyed great popularity with the Dutch people, making her the Netherlands’ most beloved and longest serving monarch.
Throughout history, nations that successfully used their comparative advantages would expand in terms of both wealth and territory. And although the Netherlands was no different in this regard, its founding history as a maritime and colonial power began with a rather unusual, though tasty, resource: fish.
As the North Sea contained vast amounts of this resource, the Dutch became effective fishermen. In order to capitalise as much as possible on the plentiful supply, they perfected their shipbuilding techniques, leading them to build fast and sturdy freight carriers. The Dutch fluyts could carry more cargo with less crew than those of their rivals, and yet they were still cheaper to produce – a consequence of a 16th century technological breakthrough: the wind-powered sawmills which the Dutch had invented. This invention turned timber into lumber more efficiently, thus greatly reducing the cost of shipbuilding.
By 1670, the Dutch had amassed a huge merchant shipping fleet; they had more ships than Britain, France, Germany and Spain combined. As the Dutch were traders at heart, they established shipping routes to the Americas and the Far East, creating multiple colonies in the process (from which they profited immensely), whilst cementing the reputation of the Dutch Republic, as one of the world’s key commercial hubs.
Naturally, to facilitate this trade, a medium of exchange was required, prompting the Dutch to issue a large variety of gold and silver coins. Dutch ducats, stuivers, cavaliers and ducatons, to name just a few, became popular trade coinage that was spread throughout the world by the Dutch merchant fleet. The guilder, on the other hand, had a slightly different role to fulfil.
Following the establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, which incorporated all the previous Dutch provinces under one rule, the guilder was introduced to serve as the new kingdom’s official currency, a role it held until 1933. The guilder, or gulden in Dutch, meaning “golden”, was struck in denominations of 5, 10 and 20 gulden, with 10 gulden proving the most popular. In fact, besides minor tweaks made to its design (in general the same design was applied throughout its lifetime), the coin’s purity of 21.6 karats and its dimensions stayed the same for 115 years, a definite testimony to its popularity. The most issued guilders were those that depicted King William III and Queen Wilhelmina.