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Collecting Spanish-American Coins
( Article orginally published January 1963 )
Historic and romantic associations make the collecting of Spanish-American coins one of the most interesting series.
When one thinks of their close association with our Colonial days, the days of our Republic even as late as 1857, the romantic relationship with piracy, and the early colonizing days of Mexico and the West, one cannot help but appreciate Spanish-American coins.
Commencing with some of the earliest coins, we find those coined by Charles and Johanna of Spain, at their Mexico City mint, around 1516.
Crude pieces were struck in 1 real, 2 real, and 4 real denominations. They were some of the earliest to appear with a simulated "Pillars of Hercules" upon them, indicating Spain's claim to all lands west of Gibralter.
Johanna was Ferdinand's daughter, and became queen. As she was mentally incompetent, Charles, his eldest son, became co-ruler. An able statesman and military leader, Charles was the one who first started coinage in the New World.
Until Philip V became King of Spain, in the early part of the 18th century, the coins struck in Mexico, and Central and South America were degraded to the crude cob type, both in gold and silver.
If you have seen any of these you will agree to their ugliness. They were poorly struck, often on lumpy planchets upon which designs rarely filled the entire space, and they were uneven in shape. They nevertheless, were of good metallic content and were much used.
Philip V was the first of the Spanish-Bourbon Dynasty. His reign was disturbed by the 12 year War of Spanish Succession. Under his reign however, he introduced to his Colonies improved coinage machinery and commenced the famous Pillar series of coins, discontinuing the crude cob pieces.
The denominations then in use were the 8 escudos (Spanish Doubloons), 4 escudos, 2 escudos, 1 escudo, and in some series one-half escudo, all of gold.
The silver pieces were the 8 reales (Pieces of Eight, 4 reales, 2 reales (of quarter dollar size and called "two bits"), 1 reale, one-half reale, and in some series one-quarter reale. Ferdinand VI succeeded Philip and devoted much of his time to internal reforms in his Kingdom. When his wife died, his delicate health broke and he lost his reason. He died at the Monastery of Villa Viciosa in 1759. There was little or no change in his coinage designs.
Charles III, second son of Philip V, was a man of ability and liberal ideas. He allied Spain with France in the Seven Years War. He discontinued the Pillar type coins and replaced them with the Bust type series.
Charles IV was the son of Charles III. For two years his Colonial coinage bore the portrait of his predecessor. This was authorized by royal order as new dies could not be prepared in time, for news and articles took considerable time to travel from Spain to her Colonies. Charles IV, under political duress, renounced the throne in favor of his son, Ferdinand VII. Probably the most ineffectual ruler Spain had up to that time.
Ferdinand intrigued with Napoleon, and ultimately was compelled to give up the throne to Joseph Napoleon. Ferdinand's loss of Spain's Colonies ends the series of Spanish-American coins.
Numismatics in Mexico, today, are not nearly so advanced as they are in the United States. There are no "coin stores" although coins can be found in odd places such as the "thieves market," a Sunday public peddling place where most anything unusual can be found.
Here the peddlers have their coins, among thousands of other items, laid out on cloths on the ground. Prices upon coins are quite reasonable, but none are rare, merely of the lowest grade.
There are a few coin collectors and dealers. They seem to have contacts throughout Mexico to acquire any coins that turn up which are valuable, either through archaeological or financial sources. Mexico City is the center of all this activity.
Mexico's history has been very unsettled, with revolutions, wars, and poverty. This caused many Mexicans to bury or hide their valuables. Today, there are being found, with modern tools, many of these hidden treasures.
Skuba diving prospectors have also uncovered many of the pirate and shipwreck hoards that have laid hidden beneath the waves for centuries. Many silver pieces of eight and golden doubloons are being brought back to us.
If one were to go to a bank anywhere in Mexico, one could see stacked up at tellers' windows, quantities of gold coins, from 2 pesos to 50 peso denominations, for there are no restrictions against owning gold coins.
They are available to all at a specified rate. However, there are rules restricting the taking of gold coins out of Mexico.
Recent rules in the United States require that a license must be gotten to enable you to import any gold coins into the United States.