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Mexican Coins

Collectible Mexican Coin Value Guide

Viceroyalty of New Spain Coins

During the first stages of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521 coinage was relatively scarce, being supplemented by local mediums of exchange such as cocoa, jade and cotton blankets. Soon after the colony became officially cemented as a viceroyalty in 1535, the crown ordered that a new mint be founded in Mexico City, and in April 1536 the first “Mexican” coins were struck bearing the names of Queen Joanna I and her son Carlos I. To make change, silver coins could be cut into denominations of ½ to 4 Reales. 

A famed piece of this early period is the Rincon 8 Reales produced in 1538 – previously considered to be a purely conjectural piece, three specimens were recovered from the Golden Fleece shipwreck in 1990. 

With the influx of precious metals in Bolivia in 1545, and the growing demands of the Spanish Empire, the quality of colonial coins rapidly declined. Beginning in the reign of Philip II (1556-1598) new pieces, known as Cobs for their rough appearance, were struck for efficiency rather than eye-appeal: containing the prescribed amount of silver regardless of their irregular shape and thickness. It was not until the second reign of Philip V (1724-1746) that the coins of the viceroyalty were standardized and transformed into the major international currency. 

Coins of the Mexican War of Independence

The reigns of Charles IV (1788-1808) and Ferdinand VII (March-May 1808) witnessed the severe decline of the Spanish Empire relative to other European powers. Centuries of authoritative Spanish rule and the ideals of the American and French Revolutions encouraged insurgents in Mexico to launch a formal rebellion after the arrival of the news of Charles’ and Ferdinand’s deposition by Napoleon in 1808.

While the royalists continued to issue 8 Reales in Ferdinand VII’s name together with their own copper pieces, much of the early insurgency coinage followed the designs of insurgent movement leader José María Morelos. The copper pieces struck under Morelos were effectively promises of payment, redeemable for their face value in gold or silver once the rebellion triumphed, and thus were the first fiduciary currency used in Mexico. Royalists and insurgents also proceeded to counterstamp the coins already in circulation, both as a means of revaluing and controlling the currency stock, and of, once again, expanding the scarce amount of specie available even further. 

Empire of Iturbide Coins

Originally an officer in the royalist army, Agustín de Iturbide was a principal rival to Morelos. In 1821, after ten years of royalist service, Iturbide proposed the ‘Plan of Iguala’ detailing three principles designed to guide the rebellion: Independence, Religion, and Union. Iturbide negotiated a peace treaty, known as the Treaty of Cordoba, which established a guarantee that Mexico would be governed by an independent monarchy under the Bourbon dynasty. Ferdinand VII was to be invited to rule as emperor, or, in the case of his refusal, a suitable European monarch would be chosen. Meanwhile, Iturbide was elected as President of the Regency. 

Having recovered some measure of its power following the defeat of Napoleon, the Spanish crown refused to recognize either the Plan of Iguala or the Treaty of Cordoba—a decision which, coupled with Ferdinand VII’s restoration, dissuaded any European royal house from making a claim to the Mexican throne. Accordingly, Iturbide was proclaimed Constitutional Emperor of Mexico. The coinage of the First Mexican Empire bear the bust of the new emperor surrounded by his titles on the obverse.

First Republic of Mexico Coins

The Empire of Iturbide was short-lived. Amidst accusations of corruption and cruelty, Agustín de Iturbide abdicated rather than risking a civil war against the forces of Santa Anna and the insurgent hero Guadalupe Victoria. In 1822, after a reinstated Constituent Congress chose to formally abolish the Plan of Iguala and the Treaty of Cordoba, the two generals signed the Plan of Casa Mata—dismantling the monarchy and replacing it with a republic, Guadalupe being elected president in 1824. 

Mexico Second Empire Coins - Empire of Maximilian

Despite initial signs of stability under Guadalupe’s regime, conflicts between him and Santa Anna created a rift in the Mexican political landscape, the government split between conservatives in Mexico City and liberals in Veracruz. Hoping to gain access to South American markets, Napoleon III of France proposed that Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg restore monarchy in Mexico. In 1863 an Assembly of Notables declared a hereditary monarchy with Maximilian I as emperor. Although President Juárez had first proposed the transition to a decimal system in 1861, it was not until the accession of Maximilian that the first minting of decimalized currency was ordered and the first Peso coins struck. Characterized by their relative beauty and simplicity, the precious metal issues of Maximilian carry the new emperor’s bust.

Coins of the Restored Second Republic and the Mexican Revolution

Facing Mexican resistance and US opposition under the auspices of Monroe Doctrine, in 1866, Napoleon III ordered that French forces withdraw from Mexico. Maximilian refused the French emperor’s request that he leave and abandon his followers, and was captured and executed in 1867. Restored to the office of President together with the Second Republic, Benito Juárez ordered minting of coins that again carried symbols representative of the country’s status as a federal republic. Juárez’s new issues retained the decimal system enacted by Maximilian, whilst 8 Reales bearing the Cap and Rays and gold Escudos continued to be struck as well.

Estados Unidos Mexicanos Coins

Around 1892 an effort was made to scale back coin production to just the Mexico City mint. Further monetary reforms followed; in 1897 an end was finally put to the coining of 8 Reales, and in 1905, it was decreed that all coins should be struck with the legend ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS (“United Mexican States”). President Porfirio Díaz also commissioned the first Mexican commemoratives in 1910, celebrating the War of Independence Centenary. 

Modern Mexican Coins

Coinage since the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1917 has featured a wide variety of designs and themes, although the central motif of the republican eagle-on-cactus and the Estados Unidos legend have remained fairly constant. 

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