A genealogist working with Norwegian records frequently comes upon references to currency in probate records, tax assessments, and censuses. Official documents were sometimes issued for a fee. Norway, like other countries, has gone through several monetary systems in its history. Most of us are familiar with the present decimal system, that of a krone divided into 100 øre, but that is only one of a series of monetary systems with which our ancestors were familiar.
Although very few of us will find written records for ancestors before 1600, perhaps some background information on early currency is not superfluous; some of the terms are found i later usage.
The oldest coins found i Norway are Roman denarii (from which the English word penny and Norwegian penning are derived) from the first century B.C. and before the Viking Age. These plus Byzantine and Frankish coins were the only ones used. During the Viking exploration, however, importation increased and Arabian, German and English coins were introduced.
The oldest coins struck in Norway are those struck just before the year 1000 and embossed with Olav Tryggvasson's name.
Imports and local coins, as well as hacksilver (broken up silver objects), were used as means of payment according to weight.
The establishment of a national currency occurred under Harald Hardråde (1047-1066). He circulated a coin called a mark, originally meaning one "pound" of "markete" (marked) silver. The poorest had less than 10 per cent silver while the best 90 per cent, but it appears that the marks were accepted at face value, indicating a strong central authority.
From Harald Hardråde up to the 1500s, the mark system was in full force with 1 mark equal to 8 øre equal to 24 ertug (or ørtung) equal to 240 penning.
But the value of the mark came to fluctuate. In the 1400s the mark was worth 192 penning in East and North Norway, while in West Norway, 216. At the close of the Middle Ages the skilling was in use instead of the øre and the ertug, so that 1 mark was equal to 16 skilling, each of which was equal to 3 hvidd. One hvidd was equal to 4 penning, or 1 mark equal 16 skilling equals 48 hvidd.
The term for the "hvidd," a very small silver coin, still occurs in the language--worth "ikke en hvidd" as "not worth a red cent."
In the 1500s the mark was also divided into 16 lodd (a lodd was a weight of silver equal to 14.6246 grams, or, in gold, 15,566 grams). In the second half of the century, the Cologne mark was equals to a half skalpund equals 16 lodd equals 64 kvintin.
In the very unsettled medieval period, king employed mintmasters to debase the coinage to finance their armies. Under the Danish Union the Norwegian coinage should have followed the Danish system according to the ordinances of 1514 and 1524, but the Norwegian archbishops had regained their mint privileges in 1478 and exercised them rather often, especially in the early sixteenth century.
In the system of weighing coins for their precious metal content, foreign coins were often used, even until the middle of the nineteenth century. In the fourteen and fifteenth centries, for example, coins struck by merchants of Lübeck, Germany, were in common use.
During Christian II's reign the skilling was introduced based on the Lübeck model with 16 skilling to 1 mark and 1 skilling equal to 3 hvidd equal to 6 blaffert (a blaffert was a 2 penning piece) equal to 12 penning.
The monetary reform, introduced by Christian III (1503-1559), brought a modern system of coinage to Norway and Denmark. From 1537 the unit of currency was the riksdaler species equal to 3 mark, each of which was equal to 16 (official Danish) skilling, or 1 riksdaler equals 3 mark equals 48 skilling. At the same time the riksdaler was equal to 2 lodd in silver.
After the war which raged between 1563-1570, the riksdaler was equal to 4 mark and equal to 64 skilling (Danish) and by the ordince of June 16, 1572, the riksdaler was devalued by half: 1 riksdaler equals 2 marks equals 32 (Danish) skilling. Therafter for almost a century the value of the riksdaler varied in value frequently from a low value of 66 Danish skilling in1602 to a high of 100 Danish skilling in1624, but from 1625 to 1794 the value stood firm at 96.
The terms specie and courant need to be explained here. Specie, in short, is money in coin form and indicates the value in true metal, while courant, the face value of a coin or note. In a time of inflation and rapidly rising and falling prices it would naturally be to the advantage of one pary to demand specie, i.e.coined money with a value in gold or silver in order not to lose the value due The abbreviations in use reflect failry closely the coins, for example, sp (specidaler), rd (fiksdaler) etc. The term "sølv verdi" (silver worth) was abbreviated "S.V." "The use of "Skyld" as a prefix with daler, ort and skilling indicated money owed, as for taxes.
During the inflation of 1794-1813, reflecting the effect of the Napoleonic wars, the Kurantdaler (paper, copper, or bullion) sank from 4/5 to 1/6 Rigsspecidaler.
By 1813 the Danish State was bankrupt and a new monetry system was establised introducing the riksbankdaler. One riksbankdaler equaled 6 marks equals 96 skilling. Or the riksbankdaler was equal to a half riksdaler.
After Norway was separated from Denmark in 1814, the old skillemynt was used up to 1816 when the specidaler replaced the riksbankdaler. The Specidaler was given the value of 5 riksbanksdaler in silver, or 1 specidaler equals 5 ort (mark) equals 120 skilling. The new speciadaler had the same silver content as the old riksdaler specie.
The Danish coins, the riksbankdaler equaled to 96 skilling, were used in Denmark to 1873 and circulated in Norway in part of this period.
Although Norway had is own currency during the union with Sweden (1814-1905), the question of what Swedish currency was like arises: to 1855, 48 skilling equals 1 Riksdaler Specie (Specidaler); and from 1855-1875, 4 Riksdaler Riksmont equals 1 Specidaler.
Because the value of money fluctuated, any price quoted should be set down in the value at that time. Andreas Mørk, in his bygdebok, "Sigdal og Eggedal," (volumes IV-V, cites several examples: A "pund" of butter was wotrh 1 riksdaler in this Buskerud valley in 1624, while ten years earlier the price was 3/4 of a riksdaler. Grain prices for 1614, 1624, and 1634 stabilized at 3 riksdaler for a "skippund," but in 1650 the same amount was 6, due to a shortage of grain. For the same dates one would have thought a tanned cowhide would also have increased, but a hide stayed at 2 riksdaler throughout.
In Medalen a cow was valued at 4 riksdaler in 1640 while in 1677 a cow was valued at 3 and in 1691 (in a probate case at Jokstad) only 2 1/2 to 3.
One way of measuring the value of money is by figuring how many working days it would require to earn a "tønne" (barrel or cask; about four bushels) of barley. In 1830 twelve days, in 1876, ten days, and in 1900 seven days; in 1968 two days.
A day's wage for manual labor in 1876 was 80 øre, in 1968 6000 øre, about 75 times as much: while a loaf of rye bread in 1876 cost 18 øre and in 1968 140, less than 8 times as much.
Any genealogical records can be greatly enriched by adding information about an ancestor's economic status gleaned from the local court records, but an understanding of the current monetary system and what buying power the money had is essential.