España, home to such celebrated coins as the Real, the Maravedi, the Escudo and the Peseta, with an unparalleled numismatic past. Michael Alexander of the London Banknote and Monetary Research Centre speaks with José Miguel Liencres, Commercial Director of the Real Casa de la Moneda, and examines the legacy left by some of the most important Spanish silver coins ever produced and what’s in store for the Real Casa.
One of Spain’s most famous and beautiful coins, the Real, played an important chapter in American Numismatic history. Minted in Spain and their empire from 1497, it eventually saw competition from the German Thaler coin in Europe. But, the Real or piece of eight was the coin upon which the original United States dollar was based and remained legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857 discontinued it’s legal tender status. As this extraordinary coin was so widely used in Europe, the Americas, and China, Japan and the Middle East, it was unarguably the first world currency by the middle of the 18th century.
Fast forward to 1868, the mint in Madrid had become the primary facility for national coinage initiated by the provisional government. Amalgamating the Mint facilities and the state printing works in 1893, the Fabrica Nacional Moneda y Timbre was created, the current building of the FNMT being completed in 1964. The premises of the FNMT are huge! The headquarters which house their minting and printing facilities, main reception, administration and their impressive museum (which is a must-see for coin enthusiasts visiting Madrid) takes up an entire block near the fashionable district of Salamanca. A similar setting would be having the US Mint complex adjacent to Macy’s in Manhattan.
In Madrid, you’re guaranteed warm sunny days, a genuine friendliness of Madrileños, amazing architecture and an exceptional numismatic museum, that’s what I encountered on my recent visit. If you find yourself in Spain’s capital city by all means, soak up the history through their coinage and pass by the FNMT, you will not be disappointed.
Spain is a extraordinary country whose eventful history is so well documented in its coinage. The Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon came together in 1479 leading to the Modern Spanish state, but the national Mint is much more recent. Prior to the FNMT’s establishment in 1893, where were the national coins produced?
Under the reign of Isabel and Fernando, who are historically known as “the Catholic Kings”, the kingdom of Castile and Leon and the realms ruled by the Crown of Aragon maintained independent political and financial institutions. They also kept separate circulating coinage and mints. Seville, Segovia, Toledo, La Corunna, Cuenca and Granada struck coins for Castile. Barcelona, Valencia and Saragossa struck coins for Aragon. But in 1730, King Philip V ordered the closure of all mints in the Spanish peninsula except for Seville and Madrid (for gold and silver), and Segovia (for copper). These mints thereafter produced the coinage known as “provincial” that is, currency for the peninsular territory, as opposed to the “national” coinage, which were struck in the American mints. Eventually, the Provisional Government of 1868-1870 centralized the entire production of coinage in a single location, the Mint of Madrid and in 1893, after a merging the Madrid Mint with the Stamp Factory, it came to be known as the Fabrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre.
Dedicated world coin collectors know these facilities as the Fabrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre but, it has recently been referred to as the Real Casa de la Moneda, can you tell us what the correct name is?
Yes, of course. In 1999 the name “Real Casa de la Moneda” was officially adopted, while still keeping the traditional name of Fabrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre, leading to the utilization of the shortened form FNMT-RCM. The full name is included on some of the packaging for the collector coins along with our logo of the crowned “M”.
I’d like to speak about some of the previous currencies in Spain. With the Provisional Government in 1868 came the first use of the peseta, why was the real and the shorter-lived silver escudo replaced, what was the reason behind the new currency at such a crucial time?
The creation of the Peseta in 1868 brought to a close a long process of failed attempts to reorganize the Spanish currency. Traditional denominations were abandoned once and for all, such as the real, the maravedi and the escudo. They were key players in a currency in which modern and early pieces coexisted with similar names but with different values and characteristics. This situation brought about continuous confusion and complaints from the public. So, the Decree dated October 19, 1868 announced that the objective was to establish a new monetary system bearing no relation to the previous ones and hopefully bring order to the difficulty of the money by adapting it to the European model and the Latin Monetary Union created in 1865. This was the first serious attempt to establish a common European currency.
I’m a big fan of early Spanish coins, my own collection spans from the late 1700’s and until 1980 I can’t think of one commemorative coin in all of that time. I’m sure a lot of national events and anniversaries were missed during that time, can you explain why this was?
Quite simply, in the past Spain’s Royal Treasury did not consider it appropriate to mint commemorative coins, and though we may have our suspicions regarding the monetary use of certain types of medals prior to the reign of Carlos III, we can confirm that it wasn’t until the end of the 18th century upon the accession of his son Carlos IV, that the so called Medalla de Proclamacion y Jura would clearly assume, even without an expressed denomination, the function of a commemorative coin as it appears they were accepted as money. These medals matched the coins in circulation at the time in diameter, metal and weight and moreover, they are usually found today with evident signs of wear, indicating their having been circulated along with the legal tender coinage.
So, these Medalla de Proclamacion pieces were in fact the closest we can come to having had commemorative coins issued at the time?
Yes, and with the accession of Ferdinand VII to the throne, proclamation medals were minted again, and face values were actually included on those issued in Queretaro, Mexico, Quesaltenango and La Plata. Any medals without face values were struck to match the monetary weight and diameter as in the Madrid case. Medals such as these, with a monetary function as circulating legal tender, were minted for the last time to mark the succession of Isabella II in 1833. They were struck in silver with values of 4 & 2 reales, 1 real and a ½ real. In succeeding reigns, proclamation medals would go back to being just commemorative pieces. Now, in 1951, to mark the year in which Madrid hosted the “Second National Numismatics and International Medals Exhibition”, the FNMT struck a special series of three coins (5 pesetas, 1 peseta, and 50 cents), on which “E” and “51” were engraved inside the six-pointed stars making reference to this event. This coin series, of which only 5,000 sets were minted, was totally innovative as far as our numismatic history is concerned, as it was the first time that the FNMT-RCM paid attention to the coin-collecting world by manufacturing a special product with a short mint run. We describe this coin set as a “souvenir” rather than commemorative, since the only reference to the Exhibition is the “E” in the first star.
I know a lot of collectors would like to know just why the years on Spanish coins were embedded in those stars, can you explain to our readers when & how this started and why the practice was finally discontinued?
This is quite interesting. In 1850 the traditional Spanish mint marks were replaced with stars having varying numbers of points, depending on the location of the mint. For example, Seville had a seven-pointed star, Barcelona an eight-pointed star and Segovia a three-pointed star. The Provisional Government, which centralized coin production in Madrid introduced a digit placed inside the six-pointed star, and began the distinction between the year of issue, appearing in full in the legend and the year on which the coin in question was minted (the date inscribed in the stars) which may coincide or not. Also, due to the difficulty associated in engraving and minting year numbers within the stars, this practice evolved into a security measure against forgeries. Coinciding with the substitution on the coinage of the Francoist coat of arms with the current one which took place in 1982, the decision was made by the FNMT-RCM to reinstate the traditional Madrid mint mark and to eliminate the six-pointed star and its functions. Since then the year displayed on the coins were changed each year.
Regarding the Francoist years, 1975 was such a pivotal year for Spain with the restoration of democracy and the accession of King Juan Carlos. Was there ever a concerted effort on the part of the new government to completely remove Franco’s coins from circulation when the Spanish State emblems were also replaced?
Actually, at the time, the Treasury and the FNMT-RCM limited themselves to just minting a new series of coins with the image of Juan Carlos I while maintaining the same denominations, metals and weights as the coins in existence up to that point. It would not be until January 1, 1997, when all coins of General Franco and the first series of coins of Juan Carlos I were no longer in line with the new specifications for the last coins of the Peseta, so they were officially demonetized and withdrawn from circulation.
I remember 1989 saw the launch of the FNMT issuing several collector coins to the market with the Quinto (V) Centenario celebrations and the wonderful Olympics and Seville Expo coins in 1992. Was this when the FNMT saw the potential for Spanish coins to collectors?
Yes, that’s exactly how it was for us! These three large programs launched the FNMT-RCM onto the numismatic market both nationally and internationally as had never been done before, and we discovered the huge interest that was being sparked by Spanish collector coins all over the world. On a national level there had been a couple of precedents two years earlier. In 1987 a special series of a 200-peseta coin, 1-peseta coin, and 500-peseta coin in a presentation case which were given a magnificent welcome by collectors and hobbyists. This led us to believe that it would be of great interest for the FNMT-RCM to develop Collector Coin Programs which had already been the practice in many other countries.
Are your collector coin programs aimed at a domestic market or, since there is such a substantial Spanish Diaspora and many Spanish speaking countries, do the FNMT coins try to appeal to this wider audience?
I think they are designed to appeal to both the Spanish and the international markets. The introduction of the euro gave rise to a great deal of interest throughout the euro area and in Europe as a whole in collecting coins from all the countries that were minting the new currency. So initiatives sprang up like the Europa Program in which Spain has taken part since its conception. The Asian market also gives our coins a warm welcome. We are also the coordinators of the Ibero-American Series of commemorative coins in silver that we develop every two years together with a large group of Ibero-American countries (up to 14 countries have participated in these releases). The subject matters are decided on by a consensus among all the participating countries and reflect aspects, anniversaries and significant events of the important history and culture that we share.
I’m often asked by collectors of Spanish coins, when the changeover to the EURO was completed, why were the new €12 coins smaller than the €10 coins and, new €50 coins are similar to the current €10’s, isn’t this all a bit confusing?
No, it’s all quite simple, the €12 coins are the successors to the former silver 2000-peseta coins, which were first minted in 1994 and the €12 denomination was equal to their value. These coins are distributed to commercial banks and are bought by the public for their face value. Now, due to significant increases in recent silver prices, that face value has been increased to €20. However, the original specifications of this coin remains unchanged at 18 grams of .925 silver, 33 mm in diameter. The maximum mintage over the last few years has remained steady at two million pieces. The other collector coins (gold and silver), including the silver coin with a €10 face value, are minted in Proof quality. These are sold at a premium over their face value. The €10 coin also has similar specifications to those of the old Spanish Piece-of-Eight, which is 27 grams of silver and 40 mm in diameter. With regard to the 50-euro coins, these are much larger than the 10 or 20 euro coins because they follow the classic metric equivalent of the silver “Cincuentin” (169 grams of silver, 73 mm in diameter) and they represent the second type of euro collector coins.
I’m sure our readers will be interested in what important events or anniversaries are going to be marked with collector coins this or next year…
This year, the main feature of our numismatic program will be the Second and Third issues in the series dedicated to Spain’s Provincial Capitals and Autonomous Cities. This program will be completed in 2012 and will comprise 52 silver coins representing each of the cities. One side of these coins reproduces the Coat-of-Arms of each City and the other side features a monument or similar city-related subject matter. We’re participating in the EUROPA Program dedicated to Explorers, with gold and silver coins featuring Francisco de Orellana, the discoverer of the Amazon, and we will be launching the Fourth in the “Spanish Painters” series. We are also working on two dual-national projects with Portugal and with Russia. The projects to be undertaken for 2012 have not yet been decided on or made public, but among other events and anniversaries we are working on is the Bicentenary of the Constitution of Cadiz.
As we come to the close of our interview, I usually end by asking my hosts if they are collectors of coins themselves so, if I may ask this of you and if so, what coins are in your collection?
Actually yes I do, I am a collector of modern Spanish silver coins, particularly those with similar dimensions as the 8 Reales. I collect the ones I think are the loveliest or most interesting based on the design. I especially like the coins in the Europa Program since the First Edition (we are currently in the eighth) because they feature such interesting subject matter and also due to the multicultural nature of the series.
It’s reassuring to know that someone in your position is also a client of the FNMT-RCM and I have to agree with you, the successors to the Eight Reales coins are big favorites of mine too. Sr. Jose Miguel Liencres, commercial director of the Real Casa de la Moneda, thank you very much for your time today.
It has been my pleasure to welcome you to the FNMT-RCM.
I would like to express my gratitude to Sr. Raphael Feria, Curator of the Real Casa’s Museum, to Ms. Julia Agenjo, Marketing manager of the Commercial department and to Sr. Jose Orozco, Sales representative of the commemorative coins department for all of their kind assistance with the preparation of this article, it is greatly appreciated.