An apparently unique gold coin from Spanish colonial times is
helping to explain the transition from hand-struck to machine-made
coins in Colombia.
A unique milled gold 8-escudo coin from 1755, which was struck at
the Nuevo Reino Mint at Santa Fe (Bogota) under Ferdinand VI in
Colombia, highlights Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio’s Jan. 10 and 11
auction during the New York International Numismatic Convention.
The coin is the second known example of milled (machine-struck)
coins from the Nuevo Reino Mint, the first having been discovered
among the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection, which was sold in 2005.
That piece is denominated 4 escudos.
No provenance is given for the 8-escudo coin in the forthcoming
auction, nor is any information provided about the consignor or where
exactly this coin turned up.
The date is unlisted in standard references like Gold Coins of the
World by Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg and the Standard Catalog of
World Coins by Chester Krause and Clifford Mishler.
Prior to discovery of the Eliasberg 4-escudo coin, “milled” or
machine-made coinage from Colombia before 1756 was unknown. Combined
with the Eliasberg coin, the recently discovered 8-escudo coin
strengthens knowledge about the timeline for the transition between
technologies, according to a lot description provided by the firm.
Previous to the Eliasberg discovery, experts believed production
of crude, hand-struck “cob” coins continued until 1756, and
machine-struck coins were introduced some time during that year after
hand production had ended.
The discovery of the two machine-struck gold coins of 1755, and
the existence of hand-struck 1756 gold “cobs,” suggests that the mint
of Nuevo Reino underwent a longer transition than previously believed,
rather than a sudden changeover in minting methods, according to the firm.
Researchers like Sewall Menzel, in Cobs, Pieces of Eight and
Treasure Coins (published in 2004), detail the early workings of
Spanish colonial mints in depth.
Menzel wrote that a royal decree from Madrid allowing for a
transition to machine-struck coinage was issued June 9, 1728, but 25
years passed before the mint of Nuevo Reino began the steps leading to
mechanization, which was finally accomplished in 1755 with the
introduction of a screw press.
The milled gold coinage of 1755 was produced in the smallest
quantity of any Colombian gold coinage of this era, based on mintage
statistics in A.M. Barriga Villaba’s work about Colombian coinage,
Historia De Las Casa De Moneda, according to Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio.
How many were produced?
Both 4- and 8-escudo denominations are recorded in production
records, but an exact mintage is unavailable.
Records indicate that in 1755, just over 32 marks of gold were
manufactured into milled 4- and 8-escudo coins, while the production
of gold cob coinage in 1755 was equal to more than 8,393 marks of
gold, or 262 times the milled coinage production.
The mark was a unit the Spanish used in calculating mintage
figures, with one mark representing a half-pound silver bar (about 230
grams), according to Menzel. Each bar could produce 67 reales of about
3.4 grams each.
Gold escudos are also measured in weights of about 3.4 grams, so a
mark of gold was likewise equal to 67 escudos (at face value, though,
16 reales equaled one escudo).
Because the mark weight recorded for the gold coinage of 1755
combines both denominations of coins, the exact number for each
denomination may never be known.
“We did some theoretical math a month or so ago as to how many
pieces would be possible,” Kent Ponterio told Coin World Dec. 4.
The math suggests that no more than 268 gold 8-escudo coins could
have been produced from 32 marks.
“This of course is not correct as an unknown amount of these would
have been 4 escudos,” said Ponterio.
Accounting for a mintage of 4-escudo coins, the mintage of the
8-escudo pieces would necessarily have been lower, perhaps
significantly, than the calculated figure.
How many survived?
Today just four known examples of the 1755 8-escudo cobs are
known, while the milled 8-escudo coin is unique.
An important factor affecting the survival rate beyond the already
limited mintage was the gradual debasement of coinage within the
Gold Colombian coins in 1775 were struck from .917 fine gold, but
in 1772 the standard was reduced to .901 fine. That change (and other
periodic changes in fineness) saw earlier-dated coins pulled from
circulation to be melted for profit, or recalled and reminted.
Politics also may have played a role in the melting of coins.
“During the Republican era it is almost certain that earlier
Spanish issues were melted and re-coined either for simple profit or
as a show of resentment towards Spain,” according to the auction firm.
Appearance of the coins
The obverse of the 1755 gold 4- and 8-escudo coins features a
draped and armored portrait of King Ferdinand VI of Spain, with the
order of the Golden Fleece suspended from his neck.
The reverse design features the Bourbon shield surmounted by the
Spanish crown, encircled by the Order of the Golden Fleece.
The assayer mark S, at right on the reverse below the shield,
represents Sebastian de Rivera.
The 8-escudo coin in the forthcoming auction has a “small natural
mint made planchet flaw” on the reverse, minor deposits from
circulation and light orange toning in places, according to the firm.
Professional Coin Grading Service has graded the coin Extremely
Fine 45 in a Secure holder, and Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio estimates
it will sell for $100,000 to $150,000.
The auction offers a comparison for the historical nature of the
A gold 8-escudo cob from 1754, graded EF-45 by Numismatic Guaranty
Corp., is one of six examples known. It is estimated to realize
$10,000 to $15,000.
The Eliasberg gold 4-escudo coin, which was graded About
Uncirculated 53 by NGC, realized $103,500, including a 15 percent
buyer’s fee in the Eliasberg auction of 2005.
For information about the upcoming New York sale, visit www.stacksbowers.com. ■