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The Charles and Joanna Silver Coinage of Santo Domingo, 1542-1552

2 Feb

Originally published By Cori Sedwick Downing – October 30, 2013

The earliest Spanish colonial silver coins struck under Charles and Joanna in Santo Domingo are much rarer than their counterparts from the Mexico City mint, and while their designs are fundamentally the same, the execution of design on Santo Domingo’s products is generally much cruder. Treasure Auction #14[1] featured an offering of ten shipwreck[2] Charles and Joanna Santo Domingo coins—more coins of this type than have ever been offered in one place. The last major auction of these coins was Coins, Token and Medals from the West Indies, the 1975 Jess Peters, Inc., auction of the Ray Byrne collection, which presented nine specimens, two of each known denomination—½ real, 1 real, 2 reales, 4 reales—plus a controversial 10 reales.[3] The sale featured one ½ real, one 1 real, five 2 reales and three 4 reales, a distribution of denominations that mirrors the total population of known examples, which so far number less than a hundred in all.

The Santo Domingo mint began operating about six years after the start of the Mexico City mint and produced silver coins from 1542 to 1552. The paucity of coins compared to the thousands known from the Mexico City mint over the same time period may be due to lack of native silver and/or demand. The design of the coins was based on those used in Mexico City and followed the same royal decree: On one side was a simple crowned castles-and-lions shield with a pomegranate at the bottom of the shield, assayer and denomination to the right and left of the shield, legend lettering with stops to separate the words; and on the other side were two crowned pillars of Hercules with a banner running between the pillars, inside of which was some form of the word PLVS, mintmark on either side of the pillars, and legend lettering with stops to separate the words.

Unlike the coins from the Mexico City mint, there seems to be no consistency in placement of devices such as assayer, denomination, or mintmarks on the Santo Domingo coins; placement of castles and lions in the quadrants (“proper” being castles top-left and bottom-right, “transposed” being lions top-left and bottom-right); style of lettering (Gothic, modified Gothic, Latin); or even what the lettering spelled out. For example, of the twenty-seven known 2 reales, there are fifteen different legends on the pillars side of the coins. And, curiously, the Santo Domingo mint chose to spell the co-regent’s name as IHOANA or IYOANA (or variants thereof) instead of IOHANA, as was the convention in Mexico City. Even the predominant stop of M used in Santo Domingo was unknown in Mexico City.[4] Apparently the mint was given some leeway in its creation and use of design features not spelled out in the royal decree.

Assayer F, for Francisco Rodríguez, was the only assayer of Santo Domingo Charles and Joanna coinage. His initial does not appear on the ½ reales, is sometimes missing from the 1 and 2 reales, and always appears on the 4 reales. The denomination on the opposite side of the shield from his initial follows the same pattern. On the other hand, S and P, the mintmarks for Santo Domingo, almost always appear on the pillars side of the coins, either as S-P or P-S (and often with retrograde S). Why S-P for Santo Domingo? No one knows for sure, the leading theories being that the original name of the city was Santo Domingo del Puerto and also bore the nickname Santo Domingo Ciudad Primada; but in any case the theory that Spain didn’t send a D punch is certainly not valid, as the letter D properly appears in the legends.

The following is a summary of variations on the coins by denomination:

½ Real (Treasure Auction #14, lot 332) – October 30, 2013


There are two die varieties for the eleven ½ real coins studied, and Lot 332 falls into the much less common variety of the two (of which there are three coins). The differences between the two varieties are the type of stop between the lettering in the legends and the legends themselves. The more common stop is M, which is typical of other denominations, while the much less common stop is o (unknown on any other denomination).

The legends of the more common variety read MC/\RMOLVSMETMIHO/\N/\RIX on the shield side and MC/\RMOLVSMETMIHO/\N/\RX on the pill.ars side. The legends of the less common variety read MC/\ROLVSoEToIHoo/\N/\oREISIP/\ on the shield side and MC/\ROLVSoEToIHO/\N/\oREISIP on the pillars side.

In general, both varieties are characterized by Latin lettering in the legends with the use of a makeshift A created by inverting the letter V (here represented as /\); crowned pillars containing a horizontal banner with only a P inside, flanked on the outside by mintmark P-S; and a crowned Gothic KY (although the initials more resemble modern RV) for the regents’ initials on the interior of the other side.

Lot 332 has a variation seen on only one other coin (from the same shipwreck but not in the auction): beneath the KY on the interior of the shield side is a flower with petals. All other varieties have MM (two clovers, one on top of the other, stem-to-stem), a device seen again as a stop on the 2 reales.

1 Real (Treasure Auction #14, lot 331) – October 30, 2013


Nineteen 1 reales were studied, one being Lot 331. These coins are characterized by hybridized lettering in the legends—partly Gothic and partly Latin. On the shield side, the legend reads CAROLVS ET IOHANA in some manner, and the only device used as a stop is the M. There are five varieties of legend lettering (fewer than with 2 and 4 reales), with eight coins falling into a single variety. There are ten varieties of legend lettering on the pillars side (more in line with the amount of variety with 2 and 4 reales), two of which are the most common (five coins each) and the others unique or almost unique. Some legends bear a makeshift A by inverting the letter V.

The shields contain castles and lions in proper or transposed quadrants, beneath which is a pomegranate whose compartment is either wide or narrow. Most of the time there is no assayer or denomination to the left and right of the shield (eight coins). There is a 3-dot variety in which the dots are aligned vertically to the left and the right of the shield (six coins) or just to the left of the shield (one coin). It is unknown why this convention was adopted and it certainly doesn’t fit with the type of denomination marks found on the 2 and 4 reales.

The pillars-side legends contain nine variations, most of them spelling out some form of CAROLVS ET IHOANA RE, preceded by the cross ornament X (note the 2 and 4 reales have two types of cross ornament), while the others show some form of REGIS ISPANIARVM INDIARVN. Misspellings abound. Retrograde S’s in REGIS and ISPANIARVM are found on a few coins. Two coins bear a makeshift A made by inverting a V.

Crowned pillars contain a banner with initials P or S (or retrograde S) to the left, P or S to the right, and PL, PLV or LV within the banner. Sometimes the S and P are larger than the other letters, and sometimes they are positioned above the banner. There are eight crown styles, with two the most common and the others unique or almost unique. This is similar to the number of crown styles on 2 and 4 reales.

There are two types of stops used in the legends on either or both sides of the coin to separate words: the predominant stop, M, and :, which is found on only three coins, one of which is Lot 331, which is the only specimen to show : on both sides. Also unique on this coin is the mistaken spelling CRAOLVS instead of CAROLVS in the pillars side legend.

2 Reales (Treasure Auction #14, lots 326, 327, 328, 329 and 330) – October 30, 2013


There are twenty-seven 2 reales in the population census, five of which are included in this auction. These and the 4 reales are the most common denominations of Santo Domingo silver coinage. They also have the largest variety of lettering styles, stops used between words in the legends, and pillar crown types. Some of the legends contain primarily Gothic lettering while others are a mix of Gothic and Latin lettering and all spell out CAROLVS ET IOHANA in some manner on the shield side. The types of devices used for stops on both sides include M, MM (two clovers, one on top of the other, stem-to-stem), F, *, :, l, a triangle made of o’s, and a cross made of four o’s (a unique variety). By far, the most common shield-side stops are the MM (seven coins). The mixture of Gothic and Latin lettering reads CAROLVSMMETMM IYOANA. Lot 328 bears this legend while the other four have four different legends. There are also coins bearing the lettering CHAROLVS on either the shield side or pillars side or both, and these are probably earlier types since they also have Gothic lettering. While several coins bear a retrograde S in CAROLVS, none bear the makeshift A made from an inverted V on the shield side. Only one coin bears a different style of E from the norm, more like a modified Gothic letter. One auction coin, Lot 330, is probably an early type given that the lettering on both sides is Gothic.

The shield contains castles and lions in proper or transposed quadrants, beneath which is a pomegranate whose compartment is either wide or narrow. The assayer’s F is either to the left or right of the shield and the denomination (ii) is on the opposite side. Two of the coins bear neither F nor ii. Of the two predominant styles, four out of five of the auction coins fall into one or the other. The fifth, Lot 328, contains a unique combination.

Pillars-side legends are quite variable with fifteen different legends recorded. None is a clear favorite. Even what the legend says is capricious, with nine legends containing some form of CAROLVS ET IHOANA REIS and six containing some form of REGIS ISPANIA INDIARVN. Two cross types appear before CAROLVS or REGIS, X or Q. There are misspellings and omitted letters on several. The unusual E appears on a few coins, including two of the auction coins, Lot 329 and Lot 328, as does the retrograde S in REGIS and ISPANIARVM. A few coins bear the makeshift A.

There are ten crown-style variations above the Pillars of Hercules, the only clear favorite being a style shown by five coins, three of which are in the auction: Lot 327, Lot 328, and Lot 329. The mintmarks and banner mottos begin with S or retrograde S, P, oPo, *P* or *P followed by PLVS, PLV, LVS, PL, LV or PV within the banner. To the right of the banner is P, S, oSo, *S*, *S, or oP. Sometimes the S and P are much larger than the other lettering, and sometimes they are positioned above the height of the banner. The auction coins fall within three crown styles, the most common of which is what the three coins mentioned above fall into. Curiously, one pillars-side die shows an arch linking the tops of the crowns, with *-P to left, *-S to right and a row of three *’s at bottom (see census below).

4 Reales (Treasure Auction #14, lots 323, 324 and 325) – October 30, 2013


As with the 1 and 2 reales, the execution of design on the 4 reales is widely variable. Legend lettering can be Gothic, a mixture of Gothic and Latin, or Latin. Spelling errors are similar to 2 reales coins with instances of CHAROLVS and YOHANA. None of the ten lettering styles predominate on the twenty-seven coins studied, three of which are in the auction. Stops between words on the shield side are M, F and a cross made of four o’s. The legends read CAROLVS ET IHOANA RE with several variations. Some legends bear a retrograde S at the end of CAROLVS and some bear the makeshift A.

Just as with the 1 and 2 reales, the shield is composed of either proper or transposed castles and lions, with a pomegranate inside either a wide or narrow compartment below, and the assayer F and denomination to either the left or right of the shield. There is also a probable early type of assayer-F mark on three coins—an F with an elongated tail. The denomination invariably appears as oiiii. The predominant two designs are: F-oiiii, proper castles and lions, wide pomegranate (Lot 323 and Lot 325); and F-oiiii, transposed castles and lions, narrow pomegranate.

Eleven lettering variations are found on the pillars side of the coins. Some form of C(H)AROLVS ET IHOANA RE or REGIS ISPANIA ET INDIARVN is spelled out with three different variations of stops between words: M, : and a cross made with four o’s.  Lettering is Gothic, a mixture of Gothic and Latin, or Latin. The cross before the lettering is either X or Q. No one style predominates and some of the coins bearing Gothic lettering are unique. These coins, combined with the elements on the shield side, were clearly made early in the minting process. These are also the coins that bear the early style of assayer mark.

Nine crown style variations are found with one style found on eight coins. As with the other denominations, the mintmark can be S or retrograde S to the left and P to the right of the pillars, or the opposite. In some cases, the S and P are elevated above the banner between the pillars. In the earliest coins, there are three o’s in a triangle above and below the S and P. Within the banner are PL, PLV, LV, PLVS or PLVSV. Somewhat confusingly, three coins (including two auction coins, Lot 324 and Lot 325) show P and S within the banner (motto) and to the left and right of the pillars (mintmark). Lot 325 is probably a die match with two other coins studied: VQR #6831 (which is also Burzio #824)[5] and Lot 1547 from our Treasure Auction #8. Lot 324 is a probable die match with Estrella #2 (which is also Calicó #92).[6]

Census of Charles and Joanna Santo Domingo Silver Coins Sold at Auction, prior to Sedwick’s Auction 14 (October 2013)

½ Real
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1108
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1109
April 2010: Treasure Auction #7, Lot 1134
April 2012: Treasure Auction #11, Lot 872

1 Real
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1106
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1107

2 Reales
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1104
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1105
March 1998: Ponterio Auction #93, Lot 2335 (also Lot 1133 of Treasure Auction #7 of April 2010)
January 2004: Ponterio Auction #129, Lot 2139
January 2006: Ponterio Auction #137, Lot 2101
June 2006: Heritage #410, Lot 16860 (also Lot 728 of Ponterio Auction #147 of September 2008 and Lot 8230 of Ponterio Auction #152 of January 2010; note also this is the specimen with an arch connecting the crowns, a die-match with another example in the Isaac Rudman collection)

4 Reales
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1102
June 1975: Jess Peters (Ray Byrne), Lot 1103 (also Plate Coin in Estrella and Calicó and currently in the collection of Isaac Rudman)
September 1991: Swiss Bank Corporation Auction #27, Lot 12 (also Lot 1162 of Ponterio Auction #92 of February 1998, and the Plate Coin in Burzio, Calicó and the 4th edition of our Practical Book of Cobs)



The author would like to thank the following experts for their assistance: Freeman Craig, Carlos Jara, Jorge Proctor and Isaac Rudman.

[1] For conciseness we refer to each Sedwick auction as “Treasure Auction #X,” even though the actual titles might include U.S. and World Coins.

[2] The shipwreck has not been positively identified but for now is known as the mid-1500s “Pewter Wreck” for the large cargo of English pewter yielded to salvagers with Anchor Research and Salvage in 2011. All but one of the Santo Domingo coins offered in Treasure Auction #14 were recovered together in one small conglomerate.

[3] There is one more rare “silver” denomination known, the billon (copper-silver mix) 11 maravedís, an example of which appeared in our Treasure Auction #7 (lot 1135). A contemporary series of pure copper coins from Santo Domingo is common and not considered worthy of advanced research. The one-of-a-kind 10 reales is almost conjectural, as the Byrne specimen is believed to be counterfeit and no genuine specimens have appeared on the market for several lifetimes; at least three specimens exist, however, proven genuine by their appearance in publications dating back as far as 1576. See the article “Paper Chase: The 10 Reales of Santo Domingo” by John M. Kleeberg in Money of the Caribbean (ed. by Richard Doty, ANS, 2006). Also, there are reports of ¼ reales, particularly in the Isaac Rudman collection, but we have not seen them to confirm.

[4] For convenience, the Treasure Auction #14 catalog lot listings refer to the ornaments verbally and not symbolically, hence “cloverlike ornament” instead of M.

[5] VQR refers to Vidal Quadras y Ramón, Manuel, Catálogo de la colección de monedas y medallas de Manuel Vidal Quadras y Ramón de Barcelona (1892). Burzio refers to Burzio, Humberto F., Diccionario de la moneda hispanoamericana (1958).

[6] Estrella refers to Estrella Gómez, Miguel, Monedas dominicanas (1979). Calicó refers to Calicó, X., Numismática española (2008).

[7] Paoletti, Emilio, 8 Reales Cobs of Potosí (2006).

Making a Bank Note: A Study of El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua Bromide Proofs

20 Dec

by Connor Falk


The history of El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua (the Bank of the State of Chihuahua) is brief and steeped in the turbulent times of the Mexican Revolution. It was founded on December 12, 1913, as decreed by General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, military governor of the state of Chihuahua and commander of the División del Norte, an armed revolutionary faction. The bank’s stated purpose, in addition to issuing currency, was to “facilitate loans on properties that fully guarantee capital, especially poor farmers who need pecuniary elements to tillage their lands.” The bank’s capital was 10 million pesos, to be distributed in bank notes backed by gold.


Work began quickly to locate a designer and printer for the bank’s notes, and after several unsuccessful forays, El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua contracted with the American Bank Note Company (ABNCo). Design work began in September 1914 with bank representatives choosing the vignettes to be used.

The accompanying lot, #1397, represents an interesting look at the bank note design process. The lot is a unique set of fourteen photographic proofs (also known as bromide proofs) made in 1914 by the ABNCo when designing notes for El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua. These prototypes consist of both obverses and reverses of all seven denominations issued by the bank, including the rare 1 peso denomination.

A variety of obverse vignettes were used for the notes; the reverse vignettes, with minor variations, feature the seal of Mexico. The obverse of the 500 pesos features an allegorical design of two women, “Work” and “Knowledge,” with two young boys and El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua’s monogram in the center. The obverse of the 100 pesos depicts an armored Ceres seated with two men representing agriculture and industry in front.

The obverse vignettes on the lower denominations depict scenes rather than allegorical designs. The 50 pesos features a train pulling into a station, the 20 pesos illustrates a harvesting scene, the 10 pesos shows a rancher driving cattle, and the 5 pesos displays a miner using a pneumatic drill.

Of interest is the 1 peso obverse, which features a logging scene as the central vignette. The same scene is found on the Canadian Bank of Ottawa 5 dollars note from 1906 (Charlton 565-20-06). The later issues from 1913 (Charlton 565-22-02 and 565-26-02) feature a similar scene with the bottom row of logs removed, possibly to avoid cluttering a smaller vignette space than the 1906 issue. However, for the Chihuahua peso, ABNCo designers removed six loggers that were standing on the log pile. On the bromide, this was achieved by pasting the reworked scene directly over the original vignette. Why this change was made is unknown, though it’s possible the six loggers, who are white, looked out of place on what was to become a Mexican bank note.


The central vignette of the 1 peso (note the whiter paper pasted over the original design)

Other examples of “vignette sharing” were commonplace for ABNCo notes. The following issues share vignettes with El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua notes:

  • Canada, Union Bank of Canada, 5 dollars, 1903-1912, SCWPM-S1493 and S1495, same obverse vignette (harvest scene) as the Chihuahua 20 pesos
  • Haiti, Republique d’Haiti, 1 gourde, 1914, SCWPM-131, same reverse vignette (harvest scene) as on the obverse of the Chihuahua 20 pesos (an example of an overprinted provisional issue, SCWPM-140a is in this auction as lot 2305)
  • Venezuela, Banco de Venezuela, 20 bolívares, SCWPM-S286, S291, S301, and S311, 1910-1936, same obverse vignette (rancher scene) as the Chihuahua 10 pesos

This is not an exhaustive list and I encourage others to provide more examples.

The other interesting aspect about the 1 peso note is its rarity. Although initial plans called for printing one million 1 peso notes, bank officials put the denomination on hold. Instead, an additional two thousand of the 500 pesos note were printed to cover the one million peso shortfall. Although ABNCo received word that plates should be prepared for the denomination, none were ever printed. Just three proofs as well as the bromide in this set are known. What should have been the most common note in the series became the rarest one instead.


The greyed out “L” on the 500 pesos

The other denominations are more common, and this bromide set provides insight into their design process. Edits were made on the notes throughout production. The 500 pesos obverse bromide displays this best. Above the central vignette, a banner with the decree date reads PAGARA AL PORTADOR EN EFECTIVO SEGÚN DECRETO DEL 12 DE DICIEMBRE DEL MIL NOVECIENTOS TRECE. The second “DEL” should be “DE”; the ABNCo designers realized this and greyed out the erroneous “L.” On the printed notes, the sentence reads correctly and the letters are slightly shifted to fill in the space.

Another design change on the 500 pesos is the change in signatories. Spaces are available for the interventor del gobierno (government controller), the cajero (cashier), and the presidente (president of the bank); however, presidente is crossed out and gerente (manager) is written below. All printed notes display gerente printed in place of presidente.1397_500pesogerente


Changes were made to both the signatories and the gold backing clause.

A major change between the working copies and the printed notes is the valuation. On September 14, 1914, the valuation of the 10 pesos read ORO MEXICANO. The 5 pesos bromide displays a similar valuation stating VALOR ORO MEXICANO, but by October 1, 1914, this was changed to VALOR ORO NACIONAL, as seen on the rest of the bromides as well as the finished printed notes.

Although the notes were printed and delivered in early 1915, El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua would not exist much longer. Prendergast notes that “because of the depreciation of Villa’s currency after his defeat at Celaya (April 6-15, 1915), within a year the bank found it could no longer operate.” By November 23, the bank had closed, having never issued the notes both the ABNCo and bank officials had worked hard on. Instead, the series found new life first as advertising and novelty items, and now as numismatic pieces to be bought, sold and researched.


A full history of El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua written by Simon Prendergast can be found online at His work has been invaluable to my interest and research on this bank note series.

Mexican Paper Money by Cory Frampton, Duane Douglas, Alberto Hidalgo, and Elmer Powell is an invaluable tool for both El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua specialists as well as Mexican bank notes in general.

Notes can be seen and purchased following these links:

Mexico, Banco del Estado de Chihuahua, Bromide “Photographic” Proofs Set, 1914  

 The “Mesuno Hoard” Revisited 

19 Nov
(First Published April 7, 2009) by Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC.

Shipwreck gold cobs are valuable and exciting items today, but in 1959 you could not give them away for much more than melt value. They had very little public interest until massive quantities of them from the 1715 Fleet off the east coast of Florida started to hit the market in the 1960s. But there was a small warm-up act before that big show, and its name was the “Mesuno Hoard” of 1636.


Aerial view of the Magdalena River, taken during a flight to Medellin n 2014. (source: AGB)

The first Mesuno coin to hit the market was in 1939, offered by Spink of London as a Bogotá two escudos cob “found at the shores of the Magdalena river” (for the whopping price of about £15), but sales of these coins did not begin in earnest until 20 years later, with public offerings by Schulman and Stack’s Coin Galleries in New York (for about $50 to $75 each), backed up by hundreds of specimens that went directly into jewelry. These were all Bogotá two escudos cobs of 1628-35* (mostly 1635, but usually without the date visible), with mintmark NR (for Nuevo Reino) and assayer A (for Alonso de Anuncibay) or P (for Miguel Pinto Camargo) when visible, and usually in choice UNC grade (what we would call Mint State today) as from a hoard originating in Colombia. It was known that the hoard was found in 1936 at a bend known as “El Mesuno” in the Magdalena River near the town of Honda in Colombia. Also called the Yuma River, the Magdalena is the longest river in Colombia, flowing northward about 950 miles through the western half of the country, navigable by ship through much of its lower reaches but plagued by shifting sand bars at the mouth of its delta. There was a short article about the “Mesuno Hoard” by C.S. Wilcox in 1943 in Stack’s Numismatic Review, republished by that firm in 1959, but little else was said about the hoard, and still in 1959 no one but hardcore numismatists cared about these lumpy cob coins.

The 1960s changed everything, however, with the introduction of thousands of 1715-Fleet coins to the general public and the publication of important studies by X.F. Calicó and A.M. Barriga-Villalba finally establishing a knowledge base about the early Colombian cob coinage. It soon became clear that the 1636 “Mesuno Hoard” had compelling numismatic significance, since it had provided virtually the only known specimens from the first decade of production at the Bogotá mint. When properly researched by Leopoldo Cancio starting in 1959 (culminating in a series of articles in the 1970s), the discovery of the hoard was shown to have been sloppily reported in the 1930s, mostly due to intentional obfuscation by the finders. In addition to studying hundreds of the coins from the hoard personally at the Banco de La República in Bogotá, Cancio conducted some general interest research and ferreted out the names of the finders and distributors of the coins in Colombia, among other things. But as we shall see, there was much more to the story.

In November of 2007 the Colombian newspaper El Nuevo Día published an article about the “Mesuno Hoard” with some interesting and rather dramatic revelations, which we summarize here. Entitled “Así se despilfarró el tesoro de El Mesuno,” meaning “This is how the Mesuno treasure was squandered,” the article tells how three fishermen brothers by the name of Guzmán found the hoard and rapidly depleted their profits from sales of the coins. It is basically an interview with 89-year-old Don Alfredo Gutiérrez, who in the 1930s was the best friend of the youngest of the three brothers, and it reads like a Latin American novela.


“Tesoro del Mesuno” exhibit: Casa de Moneda – Coleccion Numismatica del Banco de la Republica. Bogota, Colombia. 2014. (source: AGB)

Gutiérrez relates that on August 22, 1936, at about noon, his friend Domingo Guzmán went down to the river to check on fishing lines. While there, he noticed something bright in the water, like the sun reflecting off a metallic surface, and jumped into the river to investigate. There he found the remains of a small iron box, inside which were more than 1600 gold cobs as well as gold chains and diadems (ornamental headbands). Domingo immediately grabbed some of the coins and then buried the treasure box on land and placed a rock to mark the location (hence the enduring myth that this was a “land hoard”). Screaming something like “We are saved! God sent us these coins!,” Domingo ran to inform his two older brothers (identified by Cancio as Aristóbulo and Jorge), who apparently thought he had been eaten by a caimán (big alligator), since he had taken so long to return from the river.


Bogota, Colombia, cob 2 escudos, (16)28 assayerA, from the “Mesuno Hoard”

The three brothers then rushed down to the river to the place where Domingo had buried the treasure. They divided the coins into three even parts and put them into metal cans of a type used for butter. Then they also divided the chains and diadems three ways. Gutiérrez made a comment that back then greed and jealousy were not an issue; nevertheless, before telling the news to his brothers, Domingo had secretly set aside a few cobs that he later gave to their mother.

 The first thing the Guzmán brothers did with their new-found wealth was to start frequenting a casa de citas, literally translated as a “dating house,” a euphemism for brothel. One of the most famous brothels in an area of Honda known as the zona tolerancia (“tolerance zone”) was located on Quebrada Seca street and was owned by Tulia Manzanares (the “madam”). Every time the brothers visited the brothel, the madam called out something like: “Girls, the coin doctors are here!” As the girls sat with the brothers drinking and dancing, the brothers paid for the favors with their gold cobs, up to five per girl—about a $10,000 value to collectors today!

As the main river port in its time, and the only means of transportation between the Caribbean coast and the inland capital city of Bogotá, Honda was very prosperous and was an obligatory stop for merchants distributing goods. Englishmen, for example, could always be found there trying to negotiate the price of tobacco that was cultivated in the Department (State) of Tolima (which contained the town and municipality of Honda). The substantial foreign presence there attracted the most beautiful prostitutes from all over Colombia and around the world (particularly Italy and Cuba) to work in Honda.

 So it seems most of the gold-cob fortune was wasted on luxuries, girls and liquor. But the article also relates a couple more subtle tales about the brothers and their gold. For one, in the middle of town the Guzmáns opened a puesto de carne (butcher shop), which at first sounds like a legitimate and prudent use of the money; but the truth was that, according to Gutiérrez, they sold libra y media por el precio de una libra, meaning 1½ pounds of meat for the price of one pound, with the presumed intention of attracting their female friends. The second “new rich” tale involved the requisition of a dozen custom-made suits for each of them to use on—wink wink—special occasions.

 Of course not everything was drunken, carnal fun for the Guzmán brothers. The last story we hear is that they bought a car, probably with their final few Mint State “bogeys,” and drove to Medellín for more fun. Domingo eventually returned to Honda penniless and so desperate that he stole some chickens, got caught, and landed in jail for a few weeks. Still despondent after his release in the first week of February 1937, Domingo Guzmán committed suicide in dramatic fashion during the celebration of Santa Lucía by blowing himself up with a stick of dynamite in the center of town. Nobody seems to know whatever happened to his older brothers.


Bogota, Colombia, cob 2 escudos, 1635 assayer A, from the “Mesuno hoard”

For this article the newspaper also contacted the Banco de La República in Bogotá, which had eventually acquired most of the gold cobs, presumably from the people who had been paid with them by the Guzmán brothers, but also from other lucky fishermen who had found some loose coins that had spilled from the original chest. (The ones found by the Guzmáns, it should be noted, were in choice condition compared to some of the loose coins.) Cancio identified two of the fisherman as José Ardila and Manuel Valdés, who sold hundreds of coins to wealthy locals Victor Guillén and David Londoño, with the bank’s permission, as it was not otherwise legal to sell the coins within the country. The Bank confirmed that today its numismatic collection still publicly displays some 500 of these gold cobs. The other 1100 or so cobs went out of the country, with the majority of the coins ending up in New York, as we have seen.

 As for why the hoard was in the river in the first place, Angélica Araújo, vice director of the numismatic collection of the Banco de la República, commented that archives mention the loss of a champán (a large boat used in river navigation) in the Magdalena River at the time, and she believes these coins may have been a shipment to Cartagena to finance the construction of the castle of San Felipe. Since that would mean a whole ship, and not just one chest of coins, it is believed that the bulk of the treasure is still in the river, yet to be found. Perhaps of more importance to collectors now is that we can and should refer to the coins as true “shipwreck treasure,” in the sense of Spanish doubloons from a Spanish ship, and not just a “hoard” with no specific record of loss or intent. Even if we do not have a name for the ship that yielded these coins, the “Mesuno hoard” will always be important as one of the world’s largest single sources of gold cobs, and practically the only source for early Bogota two escudos.


* The dates 1627 and 1636 are also possible from this hoard. Prior to the revelation of stylistic differences (particularly the size of the fleurs in the quadrants of the cross) between the early 1630s and the mid-1630s, it is likely that coins formerly attributed to 1630 were actually 1636, as in so many cases just the bottoms of the digits of the date are visible. And while no 1627 specimens are officially recorded for this hoard (or known so far),[2009] that date is clearly possible, as there is record of the Bogotá mint having received enough gold in December of that inaugural year to make about 750 two escudos, and also Calicó mentions the existence of an assayer-P specimen with overdate 1628/7.

The Admiral Vernon Medals of 1739 and 1741

10 Oct

by Daniel Frank Sedwick

If the heart of collecting is visual and intellectual stimulation mixed with historical study, then the “Admiral Vernon” medals crafted in England in the period 1739-1741 are the perfect collectibles. The sheer number of different varieties of these medals makes collecting them both challenging and feasible. Fascination with these historic pieces has spawned more than a dozen studies over the past 180+ years, culminating in the book Medallic Portraits of Admiral Vernon (2010), by John Adams and Fernando Chao (the “AC” reference we quote in our lot descriptions). With this well-illustrated book alone, one can spend many enjoyable hours attributing each piece down to exact die details. The biggest challenge with these medals is condition, as they were heavily used and abused, which makes the present offering comprising the collection of Richard Stuart an exceptional opportunity.

The conflict began with the capture and torture of the British merchant ship captain Robert Jenkins by the Spanish off Havana, Cuba, in 1731. His alleged punishment for smuggling was the removal of one of his ears, which he physically produced for British Parliament in 1739, setting off what became known as the “War of Jenkins’ Ear” starting that year, effectively “Great Britain’s first protracted naval war in the Americas.”[1] In a burst of vengeful braggadocio, the experienced British admiral Edward Vernon reportedly said he could take the Spanish port of Portobelo, Panama, “with six ships only,” the larger goal being to disrupt the flow of Spanish shipping of treasure from the New World. It is easy in retrospect to see why the Spanish viewed this as simple piracy under the guise of war. While the British lauded Vernon as a hero and the Spanish vilified him as a pirate, the truth is somewhere in between.

Using Jamaica as a base of operations, Vernon made good on his boast in December of 1739 (with Commodore Charles Brown), but from there things went south. While news of his victory at Portobelo was reaching England, Vernon’s squadrons were battling storms and the threat of a French fleet. Vernon’s subsequent attack on Cartagena, Colombia, in March of 1740 was unsuccessful and resulted in his taking a sort of consolation prize: Fort Chagre in Panama (near Portobelo). More than a year went by, as both sides beefed up forces, the British side (including ships under Rear Admiral Chaloner Ogle) eventually becoming “the largest force yet deployed in the West Indies.”[2] A renewed assault on Cartagena utilizing over 100 ships and 12,600 troops (almost a third of which were colonial Americans, thus representing “the first deployment of Americans abroad”[3]) began in the spring of 1741 and delivered Vernon’s ships and foot-soldiers into the harbor before yellow fever and miscommunication between Vernon and Brigadier-General Thomas Wentworth forced a retreat. Most interestingly for us numismatists, upon breaching the harbor the boastful Vernon had already sent word back to England of his “victory” at Cartagena against his Spanish counterpart, Admiral Blas de Lezo, spawning a new round of medals dated 1741. Vernon’s final attempt was against Cuba that same year, initially planned for Havana (and, once again, reported back to England as a victory there) but instead visited upon Santiago on the south coast and successfully repelled by the Spanish and their mosquito-borne partner, yellow fever, as in Cartagena. In sum, Vernon’s only victories were in relatively quiet and unimportant Panama.

The medals themselves depict all these events in the most favorable light possible for Vernon, to the point of comical misrepresentation. Beyond the basic organization based on location (Portobelo, Fort Chagre, Cartagena and Havana), these medals are grouped according to legends (on both sides, often with errors) and figures of Vernon and the other players in the events (often almost cartoon-like in quality), in addition to icons like cannons and ships and scenery like forts and cities (most depicted without regard to perspective or scale). Minute details like where Vernon’s finger points and where a church steeple sticks up are integral to pinpointing exact dies. Since so many of these medals are well worn, it is not always to make attributions right away, but almost always one small, visible detail can make the difference.

Besides a few examples in silver and tin (plus a unique specimen in gold), the primary metal used to make these pieces was copper alloyed with a variety of other metals, like zinc and tin. Often the generic term used is brass or bronze, but more specific references mention “pinchbeck,” referring to a proprietary alloy invented by a family of clock and watchmakers in London named Pinchbeck, who advertised their metal as resembling gold in color and ductility. Presumably the Pinchbecks were the makers and purveyors of the Vernon medals. Relatively few of the medals are signed by engravers, most of whom are unknown. Overall it is clear these medals were made in haste to satisfy and capitalize on demand from a brief hysteria.

While every collector seeks a reason or connection to collect a certain thing (like Richard Stuart’s connection with Panama for these medals), the Admiral Vernon medals can and should be collected simply for their “collectibility” as a well-studied series that has been appreciated by top numismatists for over 180 years.

Link To Admiral Vernon Medal Collection

[1] Adams-Chao, page 21

[2] Adams-Chao, page 22

[3] Adams-Chao, page 159

Chop Chop: Quick Guide to Chopmarks, Countermarks and Counterstamps

2 Mar

Last week, a reader asked about chopmarks on cobs and how they impact their value. That’s a field unto itself, isn’t it? But I thought it would provide a good platform to discuss the types of markings you might see on cobs and coins, namely counterstamps and countermarks (as well as chopmarks).

What’s a chopmark?

Chopmark coin, Lot 1040, TA 9

Chopmark coin, Lot 1040, Auction #9

This is a small mark or marks, sometimes recognizable as a Chinese character, that can appear on either or both sides of a coin. Typically these were made by Chinese bankers when Spanish-American coins circulated in the Orient to ensure that the composition of the coin was genuine. The coin may even have passed from one banker to another who verified its authenticity with a different mark and hence some coins bear several unrelated markings. And, chopmarks may have been added in other areas of southeast Asia such as Vietnam, so while we might say that a coin bears a Chinese chopmark, that chopmark might not necessarily have been put on the coin in China. As you might expect, there are collector groups (the Chopmark Collectors Club, for example) and books (Chopmarked Coins, A History, by Colin Gullberg) that are devoted to the topic. While chopmarks are interesting, they generally do not add value to the coin.

What’s a countermark?

Puerto Rico countermark

Puero Rico countermark, Lot 1459 Treasure Auction #15

Unlike chopmarks which were added to coins by a banker or merchant verifying the genuineness of a coin, countermarks were put on coins by a government or by official permission to a merchant to allow a coin to be circulated in the country where the mark originated. It was a way to use another country’s currency. Sometimes countermarks are more valuable than the host coin: for example, the Puerto Rican fleur-de-lis mark on a coin increases its value because there are very few Puerto Rican coins for collectors to collect. The countermark is the next best thing! Also, with countermarks, you’re adding another layer to the value of the coin since without the mark, you have one country’s coin to examine and with the countermark you have another country or merchant to add to the mix. Hence, countermarks can add numismatic value. If you want to learn something about merchant countermarks, Merchant Countermarks on World Coins by Gregory G. Brunk is a good place to start.

What’s a counterstamp?

Counterstamp coin, Lot 842, Treasure Auction #16

Counterstamp coin, Lot 842, Treasure Auction #16

These odd creatures are double-sided countermarks, sort of like using an incomplete hole puncher to punch both sides of a coin. Like countermarks, a counterstamp can add numismatic value since there are now two countries or an important merchant that are represented on one coin. Unlike countermarks, the stamp on each side of the coin is different.

We will feature a few coins from each category (chopmarked, countermarked, counterstamped) in our upcoming auction, Sedwick Treasure Auction #17, in April.

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