Insights

Mexico’s rare 1988 gold 500-peso coin: the one that got away

Guest Commentary from the June 23, 2014, issue of Coin World
By David Fiero , a collector of Mexican coins for many years
Published : 06/11/14
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Regarding the article on the 1988 Nationalization of the Petroleum Industry gold 500-peso coin of Mexico offered by Steinberg’s (April 21 issue of Coin World), I must agree with almost everything said. 

I’ve been looking for this coin for over 20 years now, and have never found one for sale on eBay, despite running a constant search, and despite asking every dealer in Mexican coins I’ve ever met. Even in Mexico City’s largest and longest running downtown coin shop, “The World of Coins” (El mundo de la moneda) on Motolinia Street, they just smile when I mention this coin, only willing to admit they haven’t seen “many” over the years. 

I therefore largely believe the assertion, made both in the article and on Steinberg’s website, that no American collector or dealer can positively claim to have ever seen this coin. At least, not in the United States. 

The example pictured in Steinberg’s price list is an accurately graded Mint State 61 piece priced at nearly $5,000, a fair price for the only available example in over 20 years. Seeing it brought tears to my eyes, because it’s a coin I happen to have such a long history of looking for.

Although the Steinberg’s example may well be the first ever seen in the United States, my most thrilling, and saddest, moment in numismatics came back in 1992, in a medium-sized coin shop just around the corner from “Cinco de Mayo,” the downtown Mexico City street on which Duane Douglass’ shop — the current “World of Coins,” which is still alive and well — was then located.

I no longer recall the name or exact location of the shop, which is understandable when considering my disappointment at the time. It was there that I held this very coin in my hand. A choice, indeed flawless example to the naked eye, it was priced around $300, not much above bullion value at the time and in keeping with catalog values of the era. Even nearly 25 years ago, as a graduate student of modest means, studying Spanish literature, I immediately attempted to purchase the piece, with three $100 traveler’s checks. The dealer in question did not wish to accept them, however, and directed me across the street to a bank. When I returned some 20 minutes later with the cash, however, he said that he had just sold the coin. My disappointment was immense, since I found the piece beautiful and even back then sensed that I’d missed out on the opportunity of my life. 

Actually, three coins bear the exact same design, all dated 1988. A large, handsome copper-nickel 5,000-peso piece is often available at $10 or less, even in top condition. Then there is a silver 50-peso piece, which I have found several times at under $35. These latter are well-dispersed, since I have never found more than one at a time. They are also low-mintage items; some 20,000 were minted. I doubt if one could find a roll of them in a year of looking. 

What a set all three of these coins together would make! 

The lesson for me was driven home by the dealer; I should have “formally reserved” the coin before rushing off to convert traveler’s checks to cash. We exchanged a few sharp words, as I recall, but he calmly explained that if he had a peso for every coin someone had said they were going out to find the cash to buy, he would no longer have to work for a living, and so he made the sale to a “cash customer.” Even at the time I didn’t believe I would ever have a second chance, and the current price tag of nearly $5,000 is still beyond my reach. 

What a thrill to have held this coin, in gem condition, and nearly obtained it!

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