minor coin


[fen-ig; Ger. pfen-ikh]

The Pfennig (abbreviation Pf) is an old German coin or note, which existed from the 9th century until the introduction of the euro in 2002.

While a valuable coin during the Middle Ages, it lost its value through the years and was the minor coin of the Mark in the German Reich, the FRG and the GDR.

A ligature of the letters 'p' and 'f' exists for the pfennig: . This ligature is written only by hand and has nearly fallen out of use since the 1950s, with the demise and eventual abolition of the Reichsmark.


The British Penny is etymologically related to the 'Pfennig', which was also model for the Finnish Penni (1860-2001), the Polish fenig (1917-1918) and the Fening of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1998-today).

The etymology of the Pfennig is not completely clear, but seems to rely on the way coins were minted during the Middle Ages: the base material were thin flat metal discs. The value was embossed from one side, creating a pan (German Pfanne) -like coin.

In some pre-German countries (like Prussia and Bavaria), coins had similar but different names, as Pfenning, Penning, Pending, Pfanding and Penny. This was for better handling due to different currencies (of different states within the Deutscher Bund) used simultaneously.


In the 9th century, Charlemagne declared that 240 Pfennigs should be minted from a pound of silver. A single coin thus contained 1.5 to 2 grams of silver. Until the 13th century, the pfennig was made from real silver, and thus of high value. From the 12th century on, the King was no longer able to enforce the regalia to mint coins, so many towns and local lords made their own coins, mostly using less valuable metals and less metal per coin, so different Pfennigs had different values. Some renowned coins are the Häller Pfennig, some centuries later called Heller and minted throughout the country, and the Kreuzer (from 'Kreuz', the cross minted on the coins). In the late 17th century the Pfennigs had lost most of their value. The last Pfennig coins containing traces of silver are rarities minted in 1805.

The Goldmark, introduced in 1873 as currency of the newly founded German Reich, was parted as 1 Mark = 100 Pfennigs. This partition was retained through all German currencies until 2001. The last West German one- and two-Pfennig coins were steel with a copper coating, the five- and ten-Pfennig coins were steel with a brass coating. The latter was called Groschen. All four coins had their value imprinted on the obverse and oak on the reverse.

The coins of the Mark of the DDR were made of aluminium, except for the 20 Pfennigs coin, which was made of an aluminium copper alloy.

Pfennig since the euro

After the introduction of the euro, some, mainly older, Germans tend to use the term Pfennig instead of cent for the copper-coloured coins (and the term Groschen for the 10-cent-coin).

See also

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