Review: Las Primeras acuñaciones de la casa de moneda de Santiago de Chile

Carlos León Jara Moreno and Alan K. Luedeking. Las Primeras acuñaciones de la casa de moneda de Santiago de Chile, 1749-1772. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Medinensis, 2005. 694 pp.; b/w illus., including examples of all types and denominations, and every year of each issue described; facsimiles of original documents and period engravings, tables of the production data of the mint, a glossary of Spanish terminology, index, and bibliography (two color plates, showing period paintings of Charles III). ISBN: 956-299-845-2.

Carlos Jara’s reference work (with English translation and extensive research assistance and editing by Alan Luedeking) on the earliest coinages of the mint of Santiago is a scholarly production of the first magnitude, yet it is also a book that will be of great interest to all collectors and historians in the field of Early American numismatics. It effectively utilizes previously unpublished documentation to reconstruct the actual mintage figures of this important but little understood eighteenth-century colonial coinage. Completely bilingual, the book is organized into a Spanish section of an eighteen-page introduction followed by six chapters, beginning on page 19, and an English section, which includes corresponding introductory material and the same chapter organization, beginning on page 167 [clxvii]. Both the introductory portions of each section—​including a table of contents, acknowledgments, foreward [sic] by Prof. León Burstyn (mislabeled as the following), a prologue by Carlos Jara and one by Alan Luedeking, and a brief introduction to the methodology of presentation—​are paginated in Roman numerals. The English-language version of the six Spanish chapters and glossary extends from pp. 185 to 329.

The respective chapters of the English and Spanish sections cover (1) the historical antecedents, the origins, and establishment of the mint; (2) the mint under Philip V; (3) the mint under Ferdinand VI; (4) the mint under Charles III; (5) construction of the mintage tables of the mint of Santiago de Chile under the administration of Don Francisco García de Huidobro, 1749-1772 (including processing of the metal that entered the mint to be coined, documents and sources of information, construction of the mintage tables on the basis of the documentation, and correspondence between the quantities indicated and the coins themselves); and (6) coinage by date. The book is attractively (and apparently strongly) hardbound on glossy boards—important for its size and weight—and printed on heavy, coated stock. There is no dust jacket.

Bilingual mintage tables follow, and then the actual catalog—completely bilingual—from pages 343 to 373, including a listing of known forgeries at the end. On page 381 commences the amazing appendix of this work, a registry of all the important archival mint records for the coinage of the period, including photo-reproductions of actual documents with their transcriptions. To find this kind of information made available to the public is truly outstanding, and much appreciated! The bibliography starts on page 679 and the index—again, fully bilingual—on page 687.

Jara has made sure that the images of the coins used as illustrations are fully credited, unlike the unfortunate practice found in too many numismatic references. Most of these coins are sourced to the major dealers in the field: Calicó, Dunigan, Ponterio, Superior, etc. Others were derived from cited references, such as the great Las monedas coloniales de Chile, by José Toribio Medina. In-text images are acceptable, although they are more heavily effected by screening than one would wish to see, especially those drawn from some older works, which show a definite moiré pattern. Regrettably, images do not exist—or even extant coins, for that matter—of every recorded issue.

By means of his painstaking work, Jara has been able to present a substantial array of data, much of it for the first time, providing many important determinations. Foremost, of course, is his computation of the actual mintage figures on a year-by-year basis. By means of his extensive analyses, he has also made other valuable observations. As an example, he shows that the dating that appears on the coin dies actually corresponds to the mint’s methodology in handling shipments of silver. That is, that the year indicated was intended to correspond to that of the receipt of the metal, when the king’s royal tax (the quintado, or “fifth”) was paid, rather than to the date when the cons were actually struck for emission by the mint. For rare pieces, a listing of the recorded specimens and their pedigrees is provided. The coinage lists are followed by the glossary of terms.

Las Primeras Acuñaciones is satisfying both as an historical monograph and as a collectors’ guide. It is a magnificent tome and clearly a labor of love. While the output of the Chilean mint was not so large in comparison to that of contemporary Mexico, for instance, nevertheless its issues during this formative period played an important role on the world stage. All the Spanish colonial coins of the time—the silver columnarios (the 8-real “pillar dollar” pesos and their fractional denominations) of the famous “two worlds” (dos mundos) design, as well as the gold pieces (the 16-peso “doubloons” of 8 escudos denomination and their fractional divisions) known as peluconas (“bewigged ones”), due to the appearance of the portraits of the peruke-wearing Borbón kings of the era on their obverses—were among the best known and most popular coins in circulation. The 8-reales coins, familiarly called Spanish dollars, later lent their nickname to the official unit of value formally adopted by the government of the new United States of America in 1792.

The noted Spanish numismatist Adolfo Cayon has stated

Carlos Jara and Alan Luedeking have written…an extraordinary book, a superb work. Being a member of the academic world, I obtain utmost satisfaction in reading a work of such scientific rigor which abounds in data, historical accounts and even anecdotes related to the studied period.

If we add to this rigorous scientific and researching methodology the pure numismatic knowledge of someone who has seen coins…in public and private collections, dealers and conventions from all over the world, we obtain a result which is extraordinary in its quality and magnitude, since the work is almost 700 pages long and yet quite agreeable to read.

In his preparation of the book, Jara consulted the ANS cabinet and made use of the extensive holdings of the ANS library. He was able, as mentioned in a previous number of the ANS Magazine, to study the rare 1767-dated 8-reales piece in the collection and pronounce it authentic (the coin having been considered suspicious by previous examiners). It is in fact one of only four extant examples; through his research, Jara was able to die-link this piece to a known genuine 1765-date coin.

This reference is one that demonstrates the importance of archival work and the valuable discoveries that can still be accomplished in what some may regard as a relatively well-known series. Had this book been divided into two, the bilingual numismatic part (379 pages) in one and the appendix, the archival documents (293 pages), in another, the first would have undoubtedly been a popular numismatic reference and the latter would have sold very few copies. It was probably a brave decision to incorporate the two, but the second section will undoubtedly receive less use on the part of typical numismatists. One typographical error should here be noted: coins referenced as having come from the Ordoñez Pumarino collection are cited as emanating from the “ANA’s 1975 Auction,” when ANE (Asociación Numismática Española) would have been intended.

Las Primeras acuñaciones de la casa de moneda de Santiago de Chile, 1749-1772, by Carlos León Jara M. and Alan K. Luedeking, is a superb numismatic book, one that, it is to be hoped, may serve as a model for future publications along the same lines. While not everyone might want obtain a personal copy, it is certainly a work that should be recommended for libraries.

—Robert Wilson Hoge