Current Cabinet Activities (Winter 2006)

by Robert Wilson Hoge

Rambling South of the Border

We’ve seen much activity in the Coin Room this past year in connection with the American Numismatic Society’s fine collection of Hispanic-related coinages. For the cabinet as a whole, requests for information or for photographs of certain series are fairly routine (think “pieces of eight” or “doubloons”). But various other series are apparently becoming more popular all the time, as the world grows technologically closer—and as “Americans” become increasingly aware of the Spanish background and heritage that has infused the history of the United States. As I mentioned in the last edition of this column, we are obliged to the expertise of specialist dealer Mike Dunigan, of Fort Worth, Texas, for a suite of corrections and emendations concerning some of the Spanish-American colonial coins. These pieces had been added to the cabinet over many years, but had not yet benefited from more recent advances in knowledge or from such a discerning eye! As I worked on updating our records accordingly, I thought members might enjoy sharing in some of the resulting improvements. Other inquiries, research and photographic requests, and our own cataloguing efforts among the Hispanic and Latin American issues will complete our foray “South of the Border” in the great ANS cabinet!

A Singular Rarity

Undoubtedly the most important discovery made by Dunigan in the ANS trays is an odd silver 2-reales piece of Charles III (1759-1788), believed to be unique! (Fig. 1). Thanks to archival detective work conducted by Venezuelan numismatic researcher Tomás Stohr, it has been revealed that there was a special lightweight Mexican issue minted expressly for Venezuela and the neighboring islands in 1786 and 1787. The underweight issue was described in archival documentation as “la moneda Provincial que se está fabricando en esta Real Casa para Caracas, e Islas de Barlovento” (“Provincial coinage made in this royal mint for Caracas and the Barlovento Islands”; that is, the area at one time encompassing all the Spanish-occupied Windward Islands of the Caribbean) (Stohr, 61).

Fig. 1. Mexico (for Venezuela). Charles III. AR 2 reales, 1787, FM. Spanish colonial special issue, minted in Mexico City, the capital of the viceroyalty of New Spain, for provincial circulation in the Captaincy-general of Venezuela (Stohr, 46-66; cf. Cayon 10905). (ANS 1935.119.9, purchase) 26.2 mm.

In order to try to mitigate a dearth of circulating coinage in Caracas and its environs, toward the end of 1785 the governor of that city had petitioned for the minting of up to two million pesos-worth of coins to facilitate commercial transactions and to promote enterprise. So as to promote local circulation, however, he requested that the coins be intrinsically valued at about 40 percent below their notional denominations—in effect, that they be underweight replicas of the standard series, or, in other words, official counterfeits!

Initially, the idea seemed a feasible expedient, and the project progressed through the necessary stages of bureaucratic review and recommendation. Eventually, a Royal Ordinance of December 25, 1786, decreed the minting of 1/2-, 1-, and 2-reales pieces at 40 percent below standard weight, and a further ordinance of February 3, 1787, directed the immediate production of 200,000 pesos-worth of coins, which were reported shipped on April 16, 1787. Presumably to cut expenses and to protect their seigneurage profit margins, the Mexican mint appears to have utilized the same puncheons to cut the dies for these coins as employed for the regular series. Not surprisingly, some other royal officials, in particular Ignacio Peñalver y Cárdenas, the captain-general and governor of Cuba, became alarmed by the possibility of the damaging effects that this strange coinage could have on credit and commerce outside the immediate areas of concern. Upon further reflection, in an ordinance of August 20, 1787, the king commanded the cessation and refunding of the entire coinage, which was subsequently recalled and reported melted in 1788 (Stohr, 63-66).

Through painstaking research, Stohr identified forty-three official documents pertaining to this peculiar coinage while working in the archives of Seville, Mexico City, Bogotá, Popayán, and Caracas (56-57). But actual specimens of the Venezuelan provincial coinage remained unrecognized and thus unrepresented by surviving examples until only recently. After many years of searching, Stohr was able to find one example of a 1-real coin that matched the specifications of the Royal Ordinance of December 25, 1786. This piece, dated 1787 and weighing 2.02 g, was intermediate in diameter between the standard 1- and the half-real coins, which respectively weigh 3.38 and 1.01 g. A 40-percent-underweight 4-reales piece was mentioned in archival documentation, and a single 1786-dated 8-reales piece surfaced at auction not long ago—both evidently minted in contravention of the original authorization, which did not include these denominations—but no specimens of the medio-real or of the 2-reales have been reported heretofore.

At 4.063 g, the ANS coin, which is over two grams too light for the normal vice-regal series of 2-reales pieces (6.76 g.), perfectly demonstrates the nature of this enigmatic coinage. A note in the ANS database had recorded that this specimen “might be a contemporary counterfeit, but [is] more likely to be a mint error; the punches and the die work matches [sic]. The edge is excellent. The details are in very strong relief, as would happen when dies strike a thin planchet, e.g. a cliché.” In all respects save that of its weight, this coin equates with the standard issues minted under the supervision of Francisco Arance y Cobos (F) and Mariano Rodriquez (M), the two ensayadores (the official, die-signing “assayers”) responsible for both series. Stohr studied the collections in the museum cabinets in London, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Luxemburg, Rome, Vienna, Munich, Bogotá, and Caracas, but somehow overlooked the ANS holdings, so Dunigan’s identification of this piece constitutes a landmark discovery in Venezuelan numismatics.

Mexican Issues of Philip II

Philip II ruled from 1556 to 1598, at the height of the Spanish empire’s extent and glory. His coinage issues are large and interesting. In the ANS trays, Dunigan pointed out several reattributions and called my attention to some other pieces with noteworthy features minted during Philip’s reign over Mexico. Two pieces were 1-real issues, one of the assayer O (Bernardo de Oñate), who continued under Philip from the reign of Charles I, and the other of the joint assayers F and D (Francisco de Morales and Francisco de Quintana Dueñas), who may have been striking during the reign of Philip III. The first of these is of a seemingly unpublished variety, a coin struck from an obverse die that was perhaps recut with the intention of turning it into a die for 2-reales pieces; it is possible to discern, on the left of the royal arms on the obverse, o/M/o, while on the right, a “I” (or possibly a “II”) can be discerned as having been cut over an O, above which is a small o (Fig. 2). The second is a scarce issue that had not previously been noted as such (Fig. 3). An additional issue of Philip noted is another Oñate coin, a 4-reales that had lacked a full description (Fig. 4). A helpful reference for the identification and elucidation of early Spanish series and the varieties minted by the colonial assayers (ensayadores) is the new ANS publication Cobs, Pieces of Eight, and Treasure Coins: The Early Spanish-American Mints and Their Coinages, 1536-1773, by Sewall Menzel.

Fig. 2. Mexico. Philip II. AR real, assayer O, with recut I (or II) over O. (ANS 1938.26.25, purchase) 23.7 mm.

Fig. 3. Mexico. Philip II. AR real, assayers F and D. (ANS 0000.999.19767) 20.9 mm.

Fig. 4. Mexico. Philip II. AR 4 reales, assayer O. (ANS 1001.1.9580, collection of the Hispanic Society of America) 32.2 mm.

Philip III and Early Dated Mexican Coins

With the reign of Philip III (1598-1622), we encounter coins of more unkempt appearance, the so-called cobs or macuquinas. But this decline in general technical quality was somewhat offset by the concomitant introduction of well-struck, fully round coins often referred to by collectors and students as “royals.” Dates first appeared on Mexican coins of Francisco de Morales under Philip III, in 1607, but are not commonly seen, especially on the smaller denominations. Attributions remain difficult, so help like Dunigan’s is most welcome. Among the various issues in the ANS trays, he noted a couple of half-real issues of Philip III that had been assigned to Philip V (1700-1746) and a 1-real of assayer F that had been assigned to Philip II (Figs. 5, 6, 7). He also questioned a 2-reales in a box designated assayer P, assigned to Philip IV (1622-1665), identifying it as an earlier issue, of assayer D, Diego de Godoy (who minted for Philip III through 1621, but worked from 1618 to 1634, thus continuing into the reign of Philip IV) (Fig. 8). We may note for later reference that “P” has been classified as an unidentified individual who seems to have served as a lieutenant for chief assayer Sebastián Carrillo Maldonado and perhaps others between 1634 and 1665 (Menzel, 96). Cataloguing improvements of these kinds may seem insignificant, but can be crucial for research (Figs. 5, 6, 7, 9).

Fig. 5. Mexico. Philip II. AR half real, assayer F. (ANS 1992.1.29, gift of Mark and Lottie Salton, in memory of Felix Schlessinger) 17.7 mm.

Fig. 6. Mexico. Philip III. AR half real. (ANS 1934.1.669, purchase, ex Julius Guttag) 17.8 mm.

Fig. 7. Mexico. Philip. III. AR real, assayer F (ca. 1615). (ANS 1938.26.24, purchase) 22.6 mm.

Fig. 8. Mexico. Philip III. AR real, 1621, assayer D. (ANS 1918.169.117, gift of Howland Wood) 20.3 mm.

Fig. 9. Mexico. Philip III. AR 2 reales, assayer D. (c. 1618-1621). (ANS 0000.999.19777) 29.4 mm.

Two other coins of Philip III may be mentioned here as well. They are, first, a 1-real of Diego de Godoy, upon which Dunigan identified the date 1621 (Fig. 8). The second piece is a particularly interesting 2-reales of D’s colleague F, Francisco de Morales. On this latter coin, the “2” (rendered as “Z”) indicating the denomination appears to be cut over a “1” (rendered as “I”), so as to have turned a die for the 1-real into one for minting the 2-reales pieces (Fig. 10). Whereas the date range for this issue is known to run from 1614 to 1617, the 2-reales denominational designation is only known on a 1615-dated coin of assayer F. Dunigan considers this coin one of the best in the cabinet.

Fig. 10. Mexico. Philip III. AR 2 reales, assayer F (ca. 1615). (ANS 1918.169.118, gift of Howland Wood) 26.6 mm.

Mexican Issues of Philip IV, Philip V, and Louis I

Many of the coins of Philip IV are very difficult to distinguish from those of Philip III—particularly when the dates are lacking, as is often the case. Dunigan reclassified a number of pieces in the trays and added clarification on others. Four of these are the small, rude half-real pieces: two issues of assayer P dating to the 1660s, one lacking indication of both date and assayer and the other a nice circular piece, comparable to the “royals,” but formerly assigned to Philip V (Figs. 11, 12, 13, 14). Dunigan dated a 1-real of assayer P to 1636-1654, and also attributed to this issue a 2-reales of the same assayer (Figs. 15, 16).

Fig. 11. Mexico. Philip IV. AR half real, 1662, assayer P. (ANS 1918.169.122, gift of Howland Wood) 17.5 mm.

Fig. 12. Mexico. Philip IV. AR half real, 1664, assayer P (the unclear date is probably actually an over-date, possibly 1664/2 or 1662/3/4). (ANS 1939.116.37, purchase) 19.3 mm.

Fig. 13. Mexico. Philip IV. AR half real, date and assayer not present. (ANS 1918.169.121, gift of Howland Wood) 14.4 mm.

Fig. 14. Mexico. Philip IV. AR half real, assayer D (1622-1634), round “cob.” (ANS 1949.131.25, gift of G. C. Martin) 17.0 mm.

Fig. 15. Mexico. Philip IV. AR real, assayer P (1636-1665). (ANS 1919.48.10, purchase, Avery Fund) 20.0 mm.

Fig. 16. Mexico. Philip IV. AR 2 reales, assayer P; two holes. (ANS 0000.999.19778) 37.0 mm.

The coins of Philip V are generally easier to distinguish as long as the necessary details are visible. Specifically, a small escutcheon at the center of the Spanish coat of arms bears the three lilies—fleurs-de-lis—emblematic of the monarch’s descent from the Bourbon kings of France. Among the half-real pieces, Dunigan noted a coin of the assayer L (Martín López, 1702-1705) that had been erroneously attributed to Philip IV, and a 1701-dated issue on which the last “1” is seen to have been cut into the die over a “0” (Figs. 17, 18). He noted a “cob” 1-real with an unusually square-cut flan as well as an 8-reales of extraordinarily irregular shape, lacking both date and assayer’s mark, misattributed to Charles II (1665-1700) (Figs. 19, 20). Another issue of Philip, an 8-reales piece, might actually be a coin of his son Louis I (January-August 1724), although it had been misattributed as an issue of Philip IV; dated coins of this format range from 1724 to 1729, overlapping the brief reign of Louis (Fig. 21). Louis’ monogram was recut over that of Philip on the die used to strike a half-real piece on which the date and assayer are illegible, enabling us to identify it as a coin minted in 1724 (with the assayer having been either “J,” José Eustaquio de León y Losa (1705-1724), or “D,” Domingo García de Mendiola (1724-1729) (Fig. 22).

Fig. 17. Mexico. Philip V. AR half real, assayer L (1702-1705). (ANS 1949.131.11, gift of G. C. Martin) 16.7 mm.

Fig. 18. Mexico. Philip V. AR half real, 1731/0. (ANS 1949.131.23, gift of G. C. Martin) 13.9 mm.

Fig. 19. Mexico. Philip V. AR real, square flan. (ANS 1949.131.3, gift of G. C. Martin) 15.2 mm.

Fig. 20. Mexico. Philip V. AR 8 reales. (ANS 1964.198.2, purchase) 41.2 mm.

Fig. 21. Mexico. Philip V or Louis I. AR 8 reales, assayer D (1724-1729). (ANS 1969.222.1328, gift of P. K. Anderson) 43.5 mm.

Fig. 22. Mexico. Louis I. AR half real, monogram of Louis recut over monogram of Philip V (1724). (ANS 1951.135.3, gift of A. I. S. McNickle) 16 mm.

An outstanding example of a presentation strike of this era, a so-called royal, is a previously unpublished 1729-dated gold 8-escudos piece, which shows traces not only of an overdate, 1729 over 1727, but also a recut assayer’s initial, an “R” over a “D,” indicating Nicholas de Roxas (1729-1730) replacing Domingo García de Mendiola. This rare and impressive coin from the collection of the Hispanic Society was stolen in 1989 by ANS “benefactor” Dr. Juan B. Suros, but fortunately was recovered when the miscreant was apprehended! (Fig. 23). The first machine-made coins of Mexico appeared under Philip V, famously with the dos Mundos (or columnarios) issues of 1732, but earlier small silver issues were also minted by a “milling” process (called ingenio, in Spanish). A particularly noteworthy example is a half-real piece of 1714, produced by assayer J (José Eustaquio de León y Losa) (Fig. 24). Coins of this kind must presumably have been minted on some kind of small screw press. The dies are slightly out of alignment, with the axis at 11:00.

Fig. 23. Mexico. Philip V. AV 8 escudos “royal,” 1729/7, assayer R over D. (ANS 1001.1.25712, collection of the Hispanic Society of America) 35 mm.

Fig. 24. Mexico. Philip V. AR half real, 1714, assayer J. (ANS 1934.93.4, exchange) 19.2 mm.

Plus Ultra: Other Regions and Later Time Periods

While examining the ANS Mexican collection, Dunigan noticed a number of coins that were really minted elsewhere in the Spanish Empire. Along with these, and the corrections now offered, we may make note of additional pieces that have been a part of recent cabinet activities as well. Dunigan pointed out a Spanish homeland half-real of Philip II from Madrid (Fig. 25). He also noted a Lima-mint half-real of Philip V or possibly of Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and another Peruvian half-real he would attribute to Ferdinand although, here again, it might actually be a very similar issue of Philip V (Figs. 26, 27). Another useful observation made by Dunigan was his authentication of a Mexican Charles IV issue that had been donated by the infamous Dr. Juan B. Suros as a presumed fake. This felon had given to the ANS, among other items, what he believed to be a counterfeit 1760-dated Mexican 4-reales piece with the assayers’ initials MM (for Manuel de la Peña and Manuel Assorín). Happily, Dunigan is convinced that this specimen is in fact a genuine coin (Fig. 28).

Fig. 25. Spain. Philip II. AR half real, Madrid. (ANS 1001.1.27111, collection of the Hispanic Society of America) 14.8 mm.

Fig. 26. Perú. Philip V. AR half real, Lima, 1720s? (possibly an issue of Ferdinand VI?) (ANS 1918.169.114, gift of Howland Wood) 16.5 mm.

Fig. 27. Perú. Ferdinand VI. AR half real, Lima (possibly an issue of Philip V?) (ANS 1918.169.116, gift of Howland Wood) 16.7 mm.

Fig. 28. Mexico. Charles III. AR 4 reales, 1760, MM. (ANS 1989.69.18, gift of Juan Suros) 32.9 mm.

For his ongoing research on counterfeiting in colonial and pre-federal British America, 2005 Archer M. Huntington Medal winner Dr. Philip L. Mossman requested images of a number of the contemporary forgeries in the cabinet, as well as images of some of the comparable genuine specimens. His archival investigations have revealed some very specific accounts of the counterfeiters’ products, which may well correspond to actual surviving specimens. Some of the contemporary counterfeits were quite deceptive, while others were rather crude and readily detectible. The ANS collection includes numerous examples of these interesting coins, largely of Mexican 8-reales and 2-reales imitations, but also of some other issues, such as Portuguese “Joes” that were commonly found in eighteenth-century commerce.

Fig. 29. Brazil. Joseph I. AV 6400 reis, 1767, Rio de Janeiro; contemporary counterfeit. Cf. KM 172.2. (ANS 1924.242.2, purchase) 31 mm.

Fig. 30. Perú (Bolivia). Charles III. AR 2 reales, 1773?, JR, Potosí; contemporary counterfeit. Unlisted in Kleeberg; cf. KM 53. (ANS 1947.47.459, purchase) 27.5 mm.

Fig. 31. Mexico. Charles III. AR 8 reales, 1771-FM. Cayon 11209; KM 105. (ANS 0000.999.434) 39.8 mm.

A handsome 1760 Peruvian silver proclamation medal of Charles III (1759-1789) rounds out our selection of some examples of the pieces I have enjoyed tracking down in recent months. Images of this splendid piece were requested by Barbara Salomane for use by Harcourt School Publishers in a forthcoming text. This specimen is part of the splendid series of Spanish medals often referenced by C. Wyllys Betts’s American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals, which was the focus of the ANS Coinage of the Americas Conference in 2004. Along with other colonies, the Spanish viceroyalty of el Perú struck an extensive series of proclamations on the accession of Charles III, setting the stage for a considerable output—particularly from Potosí—of medallic issues thenceforward through the nineteenth century. At a weight of 13.846 g, this proclamation was in fact a version of a 4-reales piece or “commemorative half-dollar.” Its axis features the 12:00 “medal turn.” Its obverse bears the legend CAROLUS III HISPAN ET IND REX LIMA (in monogram) 1760 (“Charles III, king of Spain and the Indies”), with the bust of the king in a corded circle to right, wearing a peruke and a contemporary military uniform adorned with the order of the golden fleece. The reverse legend reads OPTIMO PRINC PUBL FIDELIT JURAM (“publicly we swear allegiance to the best prince”) around a double-headed eagle, crowned by a marquis’ coronet, with an oval shield on its breast bearing three crowns above a pomegranate flanked by K and I; to each side are the crowned pillars of Hercules garlanded with ribbons bearing the inscription PLUS VLTRA (“more beyond”); below, ocean waves (as on the contemporary colonial silver coins); just above the waves, below the eagle’s feet, are the words SUP VND (“over the waves”).

Fig. 32. Perú. Charles III. AR proclamation medal of broad 4-reales module, 1760, Lima mint. Betts 469; Fonrobert 8921. (ANS 1966.16.4, gift of R. Henry Norweb) 33 mm.

Bibliography for Further Reading

Betts, C. Wyllys. American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals. Glendale, N.Y.: Benchmark, 1970 (Repr., New York, 1894).

Cayón, Adolfo, et al. Las monedas españolas: del tremis al euro, del 411 a nuestros días. Madrid: Adolfo, Clemente and Juan Cayón Herrero, n.d.

Fonrobert, Jules. Die Jules Fonrobert’sche Sammlung überseeischer Münzen und Medaillen. Berlin: Adolph Weyl, 1878.

Grunthal, Henry, and Ernesto A. Sellschopp. The Coinage of Peru. Frankfurt: P. N. Schulten, 1978.

Kleeberg, John M. “Counterfeit 2-reales of the Bust Type: Charles III, Charles IV, Ferdinand VII, 1771-1821: A Survey and a Die Study.” In Coinage of the Americas Conference: Circulating Counterfeits of the Americas (COAC 14, 1998), edited by John M. Kleeberg, 137-191. New York: American Numismatic Society, 2000.

KM: Krause, Chester L., et al. Standard Catalog of World Coins: Spain, Portugal, and the New World. Iola, Wis.: Krause Publications, 2002.

Menzel, Sewall. Cobs, Pieces of Eight, and Treasure Coins: The Early Spanish-American Mints and Their Coinages, 1536-1773. New York: American Numismatic Society, 2004.

Sedwick, Daniel, and Frank Sedwick. The Practical Book of Cobs: History, Identification, Shipwrecks, Values, Market, Coin Photos. Winter Park, Fla.: D. Sedwick and F. Sedwick, 1995.

Stohr, Tomás. El circulante en la Capitanía General de Venezuela. Caracas: Banco Central de Venezuela, 2000.