Ten silver coins from the Santo Domingo Mint in what is now the Dominican Republic were found in a shipwreck off that nation’s coast. The coins will be offered in an Oct. 30 auction. The highlight is the finest of three 4-real pieces found in the wreck. It has an estimate of $7,000 to $10,000.
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Silver coins from Santo Domingo Mint make rare appearance
Few American coin series are comprised of coins that are so rare that a collection of 10 pieces is considered landmark.
Ten silver coins struck at the Santo Domingo Mint in Spanish colonial Hispaniola, found in a shipwreck off the coast of modern-day Dominican Republic, are one such accumulation.
The Charles and Joanna coins, struck circa 1542 to 1552, highlight Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC’s Oct. 30 auction No. 14 in Orlando, Fla. This is the firm’s first live public floor auction.
The coins were recovered off the east coast of the Dominican Republic in an area known as Punta Cana. They were found by Anchor Research and Salvage SRL, the Dominican extension of Global Marine Exploration, a treasure salvage firm based in Tampa, Fla.
The ship that held the coins has not yet been identified but the mid-1500s wreck is known as the Pewter Wreck, so named for the large cargo of English pewter found in 2011.
Anchor Research and Salvage SRL began operations on two lease sites, including the Pewter Wreck, in 2011, and expects to conclude operations there this year.
The sale represents the largest number of silver coins of Charles and Joanna struck at the Santo Domingo Mint ever offered at auction, with the last major auction of similar coins in 1975, when Jess Peters Inc. sold Ray Byrne’s coins, tokens and medals from the West Indies, including nine from Santo Domingo. One of those coins, a 10-real piece, is today suspected as not genuine, according to Augi Garcia of the Sedwick auction firm.
The Sedwick auction features three 4-real coins, five 2-real coins, a single 1-real piece and one half real, an offering that almost matches the distribution of denominations of the estimated 90 or fewer known Charles and Joanna coins from Santo Domingo, Garcia said.
All of the coins in the auction are undated.
All but one of the coins in the Sedwick auction were found in a small conglomerate, indicating the coins represent the contents of one personal pouch of a single passenger, according to Bobby Pritchett of Global Marine, which conserved the coins before placing them with Sedwick, where Garcia restored some of their toning.
Santo Domingo coins
Santo Domingo Mint coins of Charles and Joanna are much rarer than those struck at the Mexico City Mint, although they are often more crude in their construction, according to Cori Sedwick Downing, who cataloged the Santo Domingo coins. She also authored an essay about the coins of Santo Domingo and compiled a census of auction appearances, both of which are included in the auction catalog.
Downing had identified 91 coins across four denominations (not counting the suspect 10-real piece) as of Sept. 24.
The Santo Domingo Mint began operating about six years after 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 demand, according to Downing.
Sewall Menzel, writing in Cobs, Pieces of Eight and Treasure Coins, notes that just as the years-long fight to open a mint in Santo Domingo was successful, the viceroy favored Havana and its harbor, rather than Santo Domingo, from which to base the fleet of “treasure-laden galleons now plying the trade routes back to Spain. It was a blow from which Santo Domingo never recovered.”
Exacerbating the short window of operation was that the silver coinage produced on the island was exported “to defray import costs, rather than remain in support of the local economy,” Menzel wrote.
In about 1771, Spain recalled all old cob-style coins circulating in Santo Domingo so they could be replaced by the milled coins being produced in Mexico and Guatemala, according to Menzel, another reason for the scarcity of Santo Domingo coinage today.
Designs and devices
The design of the coins was based on the same designs used at the Mexico City Mint and followed the royal decree. One side displays a simple crowned castles-and-lions shield with a pomegranate at the bottom of the shield, the assayer and denomination to the right and left of the shield, and legend lettering with stops to separate words.
The other side bears two crowned pillars of Hercules with a banner running between the pillars inside of which is some form of the word PLVS, the Mint mark on either side of the pillars, and legend lettering with stops to separate words.
According to Downing, unlike coins from the Mexico City Mint, there seems to be no standardization for placement of devices such as assayer’s mark, denomination, or Mint marks; style of lettering (Gothic, modified Gothic, Latin); or even what the lettering spelled out.
Downing notes that more than 25 examples of the 2-real coin are known, and among those are pieces featuring 15 different legends on the Pillars side.
The only assayer of the Santo Domingo Mint’s Charles and Joanna coinage was Francisco Rodriguez. His initial F does not appear on the half real, is sometimes missing from the 1- and 2-real pieces, and always appears on the 4-real coins, Downing writes.
The denomination on the opposite side of the shield from Rodriguez’s initial follows the same pattern of appearance.
The S and P Mint marks for Santo Domingo always appear on the pillars side of the coins, either as S-P or P-S (with some pieces showing a retrograde S).
It is unclear why S and P were chosen as the Mint marks, but the leading theories are that the original name of the city was Santo Domingo del Puerto and also bore the nickname Santo Domingo Ciudad Primada. The theory that Spain didn’t send a D punch is certainly not valid, as the letter D properly appears in the legends, according to Downing.
Each of the coins is a different variety and in nearly fully readable condition despite generally light corrosion from being submerged in the Atlantic Ocean for centuries.
None of the Santo Domingo coins in the Sedwick auction is estimated at more than $10,000, with eight of them estimated at $5,000 or less.
All are accompanied by a Global Marine Exploration photo-certificate and media packet.
The Downing census for Sedwick of known examples tallies at more than 25 4-real coins, three of which are offered in the auction.
The top lot of the collection is lot 323, which Downing calls “clearly the most solid and attractive of the [4-real coins] from this find.”
It has a backward S Mint mark at left and P Mint mark to the right. Struck on a large round planchet with full details (including legends), it exhibits light corrosion and weighs 12.74 grams. It is estimated at $7,000 to $10,000.
Of the 2-real coins in Downing’s census, five of them are offered in the auction.
Perhaps the nicest 2-real coin in the sale, lot 326, features the S Mint mark to left and the P Mint mark at the right. Struck on a “very broad, thin flan with bold full legends and crown,” the coin shows double-clover ornaments on the Shield side and triangle ornaments on the Pillars side. Exhibiting “minimal corrosion but some weak spots,” according to the auction form, the 5.91-gram coin is estimated at $3,000 to $4,500.
Downing’s census found approximately 20 1-real coins, including the example being offered as Lot 331.
This is the first real of Santo Domingo that the auction firm has handled.
“It is a very illustrative example despite the surface corrosion, for the pillars side is full and choice, with a mix of Gothic and Latin lettering, double-ringlet ornaments, motto as PL (only) with mintmark letters higher up, [and] king and queen’s names on both sides.”
“Attractively toned all over, the coin weighs 2.88 grams and features the P Mint Mark to the upper left, with the S Mint Mark to the upper right. It is estimated at $2,500 to $3,750.”
The final Santo Domingo coin in the auction is a half real, with the P Mint mark at left and the S Mint mark at right.
Downing tallied 11 half-real coins in the census accompanying the catalog.
“Lightly corroded all over but still with mostly readable details, showing Latin lettering, ringlet ornaments, king and queen’s name on both sides, [with] contrasting toning,” the coin weighs 1.07 grams and is estimated at $1,750 to $2,500.
A full catalog of all lots in auction No. 14 will be posted at the firm’s website soon.
For more details or to bid, contact the firm at 407-975-3325 or visit www.sedwickcoins.com.