The United Dutch East India Company-Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) was established in 1602 with the aim of sending ships to Asia to buy pepper and spices. The VOC developed into a multinational entity with branches in a dozen Asian countries. By the mid-18th century the company employed 36,000 people. It built its own ships, some 1,500, which in total made over 5,000 journeys to Asia, where a network of trading posts were founded from the Persian Gulf to the China Sea. The company was granted sovereign powers: it minted currency, occupied territories and maintained an armada of warships and a small army, 10,000 strong, to
defend its territories, facilities, and ships. It was the first company ever to sell stock shares, and was arguably the most powerful enterprise of its kind in all of history. However, emerging British domination of the sea eventually took its toll. By 1794, the VOC was bankrupt and its assets dissolved. It took a Dutch ship three to six months to travel from Holland to Batavia. Pirates, storms, treacherous waters, and warfare took their toll on these tall ships. More than 250 were lost during the two centuries the VOC operated, scattering countless treasure to the bottom of the shipping lanes from East Asia to northern Europe. This fact prompted curiosity about the origins of the specific group of copper duit coins from which these were selected. Where and when these coins were found is in fact shrouded in mystery. The elderly merchant of Ceylonese origin who supplied them claimed to have possessed this hoard in his family for decades. Upon close inspection, the raw coins showed clear signs of exposure to a marine environment. While we cannot know the actual origins, it is speculated that these genuine coins spent time in the sea before they were later recovered and expertly conserved. We may never know the stories these coins could tell if they could speak.
To fulfill a shortage of currency in its expanding territories, from 1726 to 1794, copper duits were struck at provincial mints in The Netherlands. Coins showing the VOC monogram and the coats of arms of Holland, West Friesland, Zeeland, and Utrecht were minted for circulation in The Dutch East Indies, India, Ceylon, and Malacca.
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