Dr. Sol Taylor

The First Coin for the Americas

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, July 26, 2008

any coin collectors are aware of the coins produced in Mexico City's first mint, established in 1536. However, the first coins made specifically for the new Spanish territories in the New World were, namely, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Panama.
    These coins were basically the same coins as made in and for Spain were imprinted with a large "F" on the reverse indicating Ferdinand and were exported to the West Indies in 1505. The coins for export were minted in Seville. They struck coins of various denominations: 1, 1/2, and 1/4 reales in silver and 4, 2, and 1 maravedis in copper.
    As early as 1497, King Ferdinand authorized Christopher Columbus to establish a mint in Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola (today's Dominican Republic). In 1500, Johan Pestana was appointed treasurer of the proposed mint, but for various unknown reasons, no further action was ever taken.
    The first shipment of "F" marked coins arrived in Hispaniola in 1506. However, due to the rapid expansion of Spanish-held territories in the West Indies and Central America, this shipment did little to alleviate the coin shortage.
    Coins of Spain and other European countries found their way into commercial channels, and trade was also conducted on a barter system in many areas. It wasn't until 100 years later that the first English-made coins appeared for the island of Bermuda — often referred to as "Hogge Money" (featuring a hog on each denomination).
    The New World coins did not have the same exchange value as the coins of Spain of the same denominations. This caused some concern in the commercial channels and on ships' invoices and monetary entries.
    In July 1519, the local governor of Vera Cruz (Mexico) asked Spain to send silver and copper coins for commercial use in the colonies. In 1521, after the conquest of the Aztec empire, King Charles ordered the equivalent of one million maravedis in gold and silver coins of the same value as in Spain to be sent to Mexico to equal the amount previously sent to Hispaniola. At this time, there was no distinction between Spanish made coins and coins made for the New World.
    In 1521, the mint at Seville was ordered to ship 100,000 maravedis' worth of silver and 100,000 maravedis of copper coins to Panama, which had requested the coins to facilitate commerce in that area. Governor Pedrarias Davila requested the coins to be shipped directly rather than to Hispaniola first, to avoid any shortfall in the delivery. By 1525, Panama had requested an additional one million maravedis in new coinage for commerce and territorial expansion.
    In the period before 1535, many coins of the New World were hoarded by local merchants and administrators, who relied more on unstamped ingots of gold, silver bars and barter to do business. The coins were used mainly for paying taxes and for payments directly to Spain.
    Once the mint at Mexico City opened, the strain on the Seville (and Toledo) Mint was eased, and more coins entered the marketplace throughout the new Spanish colonial empire. It took several years, however, for the Mexico City Mint to catch up with the demand from the far-flung Spanish American empire, which spread from the West Indies to Central and South America and the southwest territories (which became part of the United States). Satellite mints opened throughout the region in the next century to meet local demand for coinage.
    In a detailed article on the subject in the October 2001 issue of "The Numismatist," Jorge A. Proctor points out from various archival documents of the early 1500s how coinage came to make its imprint in the New World.
    Many of these early coins are quite valuable in all grades and are important historical pieces, as well.