In 1237 Florence set up a mint and struck the silver florin. Until then the town had been using the denaro of the declining Holy Roman Empire, but the coin was now so debased that it had to be supplemented with more valuable coins from the then larger centres of Siena and Lucca. It was becoming more important to monetise all transactions, to be able to transform all wealth into money and redistribute or invest it as one liked. The silver florin was worth one soldo, that is, 12 denari. It would buy a few eggs, a loaf of bread, a litre of wine. This wasn’t enough. In 1252 the Florence mint struck the gold florin, 3.53 grams of 24-carat gold which today would cost you around £110. This was a coin for serious trade, and the Florentines made sure that its weight and purity remained absolutely unchanged for the almost three hundred years it was minted, keeping meticulous records of alterations in design and instituting a system of quality control that saw each superintendent serving only six months in order to prevent corruption. By the end of the 13th century, the florin was being used in commercial transactions all over Western Europe and where not physically present was widely adopted as a currency of account. It was a major coup for what was then a small commercial centre.
LRB 22 September 2011 | PDF Download