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The Assayers of the Mexico City Mint during the 16th Century Pillars – Early Series: Assayers R, P, F and G

by Jorge A. Proctor

What can be considered the cornerstone for the creation of the first operational mint in America was laid on 30 March 1530, when Don García Fernández Manrique (simply named in the documents as Don García Manrique), the third Count of Osorno (Conde de Osorno) and President of the Council of the Indies and of the King’s Council of Military-Religious Orders (Consejo de Ordenes) was given the titles to the office of the treasury at the mints that Spain was planning to establish in Mexico City and Santo DomingoArchivo General de Indias (“AGI”): Patronato, 276, N. 4, R. 141; AGI: México, 1088, L. 1, F. 230r-231v. Both of these documents are dated at Bologna on 2 0 March 1530, and guarantee the title to both offices of the treasury for the mints that, as agreed, would be established in the cities of Mexico and Santo Domingo, to Don García Fernández Manrique.
José Toribio Medina. Las Monedas Coloniales Hispano-Americanas. Santiago de Chile, 1919, p. 119, footnote 9. I must acknowledge that the two documents above corroborate Antonio de Herrera’s account, as documented in his Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Océano, that the appointment given to the Count of Osorno had taken place in the year 1530. Medina also acknowledged this in his monumental work of 1919, stating that: “Según Herrera, la determinación de fundar las Casas de Moneda de México y Santo Domingo, databa de 1530.” But the accuracy of the date given by Herrera could not be established at the time of Medina’s work, which forced this account to be included only as a simple footnote, rather than be given a more prominent place. Medina quotes Herrera as saying: “En este mismo tiempo [hablando bajo el año 1530] habiendo el rey resuelto de poner Casa de Moneda en México y Santo Domingo, hizo merced de los oficios de tesorero dellas al Conde de Osorno, presidente del Consejo de Indias.”
. Despite this propitious beginning, Spain’s American colonies would have to wait a few more years before any further action was taken.

Antonio de MendozaOn 17 April 1535 Don Antonio de Mendoza was appointed by Charles I (Carlos I), King of Spain, as the first Viceroy of New SpainAGI: Contratación, 5787, N. 1, L. 4, 12r-13r. This Royal decree from King Charles I granting Antonio de Mendoza with the titles of Viceroy and Governor of New Spain was signed in Barcelona on 17 April 1535. . On this same day he starts to receive the instructions for the governance of his new territory, in preparations for his departure. On 25 April he receives additional instructions. One of them was to establish a mint for making coins of silver and copperAGI: Indiferente, 415, L. 2, 352r-358v; AGI: Patronato, 180, R. 63. These duplicate sets of orders signed by King Charles I in Barcelona on 25 April 1535 are composed of twenty-seven (numbered) paragraphs. The order for Mendoza to establish a mint in Mexico is included in the seventh of these paragraphs. . Mendoza’s directive to establish a mint in Mexico City (or Tenochtitlán- México, as the city was then referred to) actually preceded the Royal decree formally creating a Mexican mint. That order was not signed until 11 May 1535 by Queen Isabella (Isabel) of Portugal, serving for her husband King Charles I as the Spanish RegentArchivo General de Simancas (“AGS”): Patronato Real (“PTR”), Leg. 26, Docs. 36-42 and 44. In preparations for his departure from Spain in 1535, King Charles I of Spain (also known as Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) named his wife Queen Isabella of Portugal as his Spanish Regent under orders signed on 1 March 1535 in Madrid. She remained as Regent from 1 March 1535 until King Charles I’s return to Spain in late 1536. AGS: PTR, Leg. 30, Doc. 10. For a list of Isabella of Portugal’s royal titles, among which was that of Empress and Queen, this May 1527 copy of her last will and testament can be reviewed. Since Isabella of Portugal had been recognized as Queen in Spain, the documents she signed during her Regency were signed with the simple customary phrase of “Yo la Reina” (I the Queen). This has created some confusion among many numismatic scholars today, who have erroneously identified the decrees for the establishments of mints in Mexico and Santo Domingo, dated in 1535 and 1536, respectively, as being signed by Queen Joanna, the mother of King Charles I. Although Joanna did retain her title of Queen until her death in 1555, this remained mostly titular as she had actually been declared mentally unstable and unable to govern shortly after the death of her husband Philip “the Handsome” of Austria (first member of the house of Habsburg to be King of Castile) in 1506. .

The new Viceroy Mendoza traveled to New Spain with the decree, minting tools and equipment, arriving at the port city of Veracruz (originally spelled in Spanish la Vera-Cruz, literally meaning in English: “the True Cross”) on 2 October 1535, and entering the city of Mexico on 14 November 1535C. Pérez Bustamante, Los Orígenes del Gobierno Virreinal en las Indias Españolas. D. Antonio de Mendoza. Primer Virrey de la Nueva España. (1535-1550). Anales de la Universidad de Santiago. Vol. III. Santiago, 1928, p. 27 (and footnote 3). This information is said to come from the book of proceedings of the Town Hall of Mexico (Actas del Ayuntamiento). . There the Viceroy found Francisco del Rincón already holding a recommendation from the King to be given a job at the new mint to be established. Viceroy Mendoza decided to give him the office of assayer, as he said that Francisco del Rincón had the necessary skills to exercise this positionColección de Documentos Inéditos Relativos al Descubrimiento, Conquista, y Organización de las Antiguas Posesiones Españolas de Ultramar, Vol. II, 1864, p. 192. In this letter to the King, dated 10 December 1537, Viceroy Mendoza wrote: “Francisco del Rincon, questaba en esta tierra cuando yo á ella llegué, me presentó una carta de V. M., en que me mandaba le hubiese por encomendado para le nombrar á un oficio de los de la casa de la moneda; y por esto y por ser persona hábil yo le señalé por ensayador; y así mismo, entre los otros oficiales que para la casa se señalaron nombré por entallador á un Anton de Vides. Usan entramos sus oficios, que dudo hallarse otros en la tierra que mejor lo hagan; parescióme de hacer á V. M. relacion de ello, porque, á quitárseles á estos los cargos, no podria dejar la casa de rescibir quiebra. V M. haga lo que más sea servido.”
A. F. Pradeau, Don Antonio de Mendoza y la Casa de Moneda de México en 1543. Documentos inéditos publicados con prólogo y notas. Biblioteca Histórica Mexicana de Obras Inéditas No. 23, México, Antigua Librería Robredo, 1953, p. 63; AGI: Justicia, 277, N. 5. It is of interest that during the Tello de Sandoval investigation, on 5 June 1545, Francisco del Rincón, the cousin of the first assayer by the same name, revealed that when the mint was first established he had served as the mint’s smelter by appointment from its Treasurer (so basically at the same time that his cousin, Francisco, was the mint’s assayer). From the original, Francisco del Rincón’s testimony is as follows: “Preguntado q (ofiçios y Cargos ha tenído este que declara En la dicha casa / dixo queste declarante al prençipio q se fundo la dicha casa de moneda / fue fundidor En ella çierto tíempo por nonbramyento del thesorero de la dicha casa…

In 1536, coins of the so-called Early Series, better known as the pillars without waves design, began to be minted in MexicoSuperior Galleries, 1992. The Paul Karon Collection of 8 Escudos and other Classic Latin American Coinage, Public Auction Sale, 11 December. New York, NY, Lot 138. A few 3 reales coins from the early series are known with waves beneath the pillars – the only coin type from the early series known with that feature which seems to have been experimental. . These coins show an assayer mark of R for Francisco del Rincón, and a mint mark of M for Mexico. While the exact date when mint production began is not yet known, it is presumed that this took place sometime in April 1536Colección de Documentos Inéditos Relativos al Descubrimiento, Conquista, y Organización de las Antiguas Posesiones Españolas de Ultramar, Vol II (op. cit., n. 6.) The date of April 1536 is taken from the Viceroy’s letter of 10 December 1537, where he said that four months from this date it would be two years since the mint had started production. . In any case, it is certain that the mint was already in operation by May 1536, as the City Council made mention of this in a letter of 29 May 1536I. Bejarano, Cabildo de la Ciudad de México. De las Actas de Cabildo del Ayuntamiento de la Gran Cibdad de Tenuxtitan México de la Nueva España, paleografiado por el Lic. Manuel Orozco y Berra, Volumén 4, México, 1859, p. 20. .


Proctor image 1

2 reales coin minted in Mexico. As can be seen, this coin shows on the obverse the M, mintmark for Mexico, and on the reverse the R for assayer
Francisco del Rincón. The gothic legend of this entire coin identifies it as being from the first output of this mint - circa 1536
Coin images courtesy of Ponterio & Associates, Inc.

Soon after the new mint began operating with the officials he had appointed, Viceroy Mendoza learned that appointments were being made in Spain to these same offices. It did not take long for this to become a serious problem for the Viceroy, who wrote to the King about it on 10 December 1537Colección de Documentos Inéditos Relativos al Descubrimiento, Conquista, y Organización de las Antiguas Posesiones Españolas de Ultramar, Vol II, (op. cit., n. 6), pp. 193-194. . In his letter the Viceroy explained how in accordance with the instructions given to him he had filled the offices necessary to run the mint. Soon after the mint had commenced operations, however, he had begun to receive notifications that the King had made his own appointments to offices like that of weight-master and guard. This was causing him great concern, the Viceroy said, because the officials he had appointed had worked hard through a trying period of experimentation at the mint. They had become proficient at their jobs through trial and error, and now he did not think it was fair to displace them in favor of officials being sent from Spain.

Although in his December letter Mendoza did not mention it, the dual office of assayer and smelter would not prove immune to this problem. In fact, from Spain the King issued a decree on 21 December 1536 giving the ownership of this office to Pedro de la Membrilla, with the right to exercise the post himself, if he chose to, or to appoint a lieutenant of his choosingAGI: México: 169, N. 6. . As it turned out, this appointment did not cause a problem at the Mexico City mint. Pedro de la Membrilla opted to remain in Spain, appointing his father, Licentiate Gutiérre Velázquez, as his administrator, and in turn, his father agreed to retain Francisco del Rincón in office under the appointment that had previously been given to him by the Viceroy of Mexico.

Francisco del Rincón’s initial tenure seems to have been coming to an end in 1538, at which time he might have left this post to serve as Lieutenant TreasurerPradeau (op. cit., n. 6), p. 80; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6). During the Tello de Sandoval investigation, on 9 June 1545, the coiner (monedero) and foreman (capataz) of the mint, Alonso Ponce, testified that: “…fue francisco del Rincon . que a ydo a españa) Ensayador en la dicha Casa y thenyente de thesoro…” (Transcript from the original.) . Although the exact date when this took place is not known, it is certain that this took place after 22 March 1538, as this is the last confirmed date for his presence as assayer at the mintPradeau (op. cit., n. 6), p. 48; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6.) . Probably anticipating his departure, and with the need to have someone in Mexico that could now lease the office to new candidates on behalf of Pedro de la Membrilla, Gutiérre Velázquez on 31 July 1538 signed a power of attorney for Licentiate Francisco de Loaiza, OidorOidor: Title given to a royal judge appointed to serve as a member of one of the judicial tribunals known as Audiencias. Unlike in Spain, where the function of these judges was limited to judicial matters, in America they also held a wide range of executive and legislative powers. of the AudienciaAudiencia: A Judicial tribunal established to administer royal justice. In Spanish Colonial America, this was one of the most important governmental institutions, taking care of criminal, civil and ecclesiastical matters. of Mexico, so that he could be their representativePradeau (op. cit., n. 6), pp. 90-92; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6). The 1538 power of attorney given to Licentiate Francisco de Loaiza is included as part of a 1543 lease, only to show, textually, the power of attorney he was holding. This practice is pretty standard for the period. But, nonetheless, it has caused some to erroneously think that this document relates to an event from 1538, rather than 1543 (the year when it was being drafted.) . So who followed assayer R as the mint’s working assayer?

Proctor image 2At one time it was believed that Assayer G followed assayer R. But this belief has been dismissed by the physical evidence found on the coins, which exhibit clear confirmation that assayer P followed assayer R and then, in turn, assayer F followed assayer P, all before assayer G took officeK. Ponterio, The Coinage of Mexico Struck During the Reign of Charles and Johanna. Published in Ponterio and Associates Inc. Catalog, Public Auction Sale No. 150, Los Angeles, CA, 8 August 2009, pp. 144-146. . So, does the documentary evidence also support what is seen on the coins? The answer is yes. Since Juan Gutiérrez (assayer G) in the 1545 investigation of the Mint conducted by the visiting Counselor of the Council of the Indies, Licentiate Francisco Tello de Sandoval testified that he had been at the mint for six years, then, that would mean that he did not start working at the mint until 1539 (this is also something that Juan Gutiérrez alludes to again in 1554 where he says that he had held the rights to the office of smelter for 15 years by this date) for which he (Juan Gutiérrez) then could not have followed Francisco del Rincón as assayer in 1538Pradeau (op. cit., n. 6), p. 40; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6). During the Tello de Sandoval investigation Juan Gutiérrez mentioned on 27 May 1545 that by this date he h a d been residing at the mint for six years. Juan Gutiérrez’s statement from the original is as follows: “…despues q este q declara Resyde en esta Casa de moneda q es de seys años a esta parte…
AGI: Patronato, 284, N. 2, R. 1. Later, in 1554, Juan Gutiérrez made mention again of his 1539 mint involvement saying, while contemplating the possibility of losing his post as smelter in 1554, that he had been holding the rights to this office for 15 years up to now. Regarding this, Juan Gutiérrez said: “…no debieran mandarle quitar los derechos que por él le pertenecían y en que avía estado en costumbre de llevar de quinze años a esta parte…
. Furthermore, Gutiérrez’s lack of clarification as to what positions he might have served in before he became the assayer on record at the mintIt is possible that when Juan Gutiérrez first started working at the mint he might have started as assayer’s assistant or in the post of smelter, as Francisco del Rincón (the cousin of the first assayer) had done before him (for more on this see Pradeau endnote n. 6.) If the latter is the case, he would then have worked as smelter, starting in 1539, then, later, moving to the post of assayer. Although this is just a theory at the moment, it seems to be supported by Juan Gutiérrez, who in 1554, when discussing his rights to the post of smelter, said that he had been holding these for 15 years by this time (for more on this see AGI: Patronato, endnote n. 18, above.) is what has created further complications in establishing the beginning of his tenure, as it is now apparent that his tenure as the assayer on record at the mint most likely did not begin until late 1541 or early 1542, as will be discussed later.

Proctor image 3

The coins above are mostly as presented by numismatic scholar Kent Ponterio in his article The Coinage of Mexico Struck During the Reign of Charles and Johanna and in his description of lot 9096 (in Ponterio and Associates Inc., Public Auction Sale No. 150, Los Angeles, CA, August 8, 2009.) To Kent Ponterio goes full credit for this description and presentation and for the rediscovery of the correct sequence of the early assayers from Mexico, which we now know to be assayers: R, P, F and G.

Continuing with assayer P, mint records identify assayer P as Pedro de Espina, who had previously been appointed as assayer of the foundry of Mexico since 24 December 1531AGI: México, 1088, L. 1 BIS, F. 149r-150r. and also served as overseer (veedor) of silver for the city since 24 January 1533Bejarano, Cabildo de la Ciudad de México. (op. cit., n. 9), p. 16. . Studies of the coins by Kent Ponterio have shown that the coins of assayer P are, by far, the most frequently encountered of the early series, and that there are more die varieties for this assayer than from all the other assayers of this series combinedK. Ponterio (personal communication, 3 October 2013.) . This is indicative of a long tenure which is supported by the known documentation which shows that Pedro de Espina was still serving as assayer on 22 October 1541Pradeau (op. cit., n. 6), p. 48; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6.) . Although we do not know when Pedro de Espina’s tenure ended, it is clear that this happened around this date, or shortly thereafter, for which it seems that an unknown official followed as an interim assayer (assayer F), while a more suitable replacement could be selected, this last replacement being Juan Gutiérrez (assayer G). The extremely short tenure of assayer F is further confirmed by Kent Ponterio who noted that nearly all the dies used in minting the coins under assayer F, and even some of the initial dies used under assayer G, were reused dies from the former assayer PPonterio (op. cit., n. 22.) .

Now, as for the identity of assayer F, two names have been proposed in the past as possible candidates. The first person considered is Francisco de Loaiza, the Oidor of the Audiencia of Mexico, mentioned before, who held the power of attorney from Gutiérre Velázquez, administrator to Pedro de la Membrilla (the owner of the office). Since Francisco de Loaiza was responsible for finding suitable candidates and leasing the office to them, it is believed that while a suitable replacement could be found, he could have worked the office himself under the provisions of the agreement, especially if Pedro de Espina’s tenure ended abruptly. But unless clear indication is found that Francisco de Loaiza ever served as a silversmith, smelter or assayer, or that he even had the necessary skills to execute this office, it seems doubtful that he would have worked the office himself, since he had his own responsibilities as Oidor of the Audiencia.

The second person considered is Esteban Franco, an assayer from the foundry of Mexico who was brought to the mint during the 1545 investigation of the mint to perform the proper assays on the coinsPradeau (op. cit., n. 6), p. 37; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6.) . The fact that he seemed to have been brought in from the foundry as an outside source, impartial to the investigation, was thought to be a problem with respect to his name being suggested as a candidate. Since the 1545 investigation was examining the mint operations going all the way back to when it started striking coins in 1536, it was thought that if Esteban Franco had been involved in mint production at any point, then he should have been called to testify; which he was not. But new evidence seems to eliminate this concern, as not only do the records from the Tello de Sandoval investigation not show any previous mint officials testifying, but a document shows that at least one of these former officials was in the city, and he was not called eitherA. F. Pradeau: Casa de Moneda de México. Primeros Grabadores, Revista de la Sociedad Iberoamericana de Estudios Numismáticos (S.I.A.E.N.), Año VIII, Núm. 31, Marzo-Abril 1958, pp. 48-49; AGI, (op. cit., n. 6). The Guard of the mint, Juan de Santa Cruz, testified on 2 June 1545, during the Tello de Sandoval investigation, that Pedro de Salcedo had worked as die-sinker at the mint, prior to the arrival of Alonso del Rincón. Although Pedro de Salcedo was not called in the investigation to testify, he was in the city at the time of this investigation, for which he was commissioned on 12 January 1543 by the City of Council of Mexico to prepare a die with the letters MXO positioned vertically to stamp some textiles manufactured in Tenochtitlán Mexico, and later, on 20 June 1545, was named Examiner of the Weights and Scales (Veedor de los Pesos y Pesas) of the city of Mexico (these weights and scales were the ones used to weigh the gold and silver.) . So, it now seems that Tello de Sandoval, by choice or design, did not extend the call for witnesses beyond current employees, and if this is the case, then Esteban Franco could have been the official identified by the assayer-mark F seen on the coins. With this new information I will leave for now the name of this assayer as Esteban Franco(?), with a big question mark, awaiting further documentation that confirms his actual presence at the mint, or dismisses his possible involvement.

An interesting turn of events regarding this official is that a separate investigation was conducted on him by Tello de Sandoval between 1544-46, covering the period that he served as assayer and smelter at the foundry, for which he was found guilty of improprieties. The sentence announced in late 1546 as a result of this investigation was that he had to pay a fine in gold and the post of assayer and smelter at the foundry was taken away from him, for which he was banned from working as assayer or smelter anywhere in the Indies for a period of two yearsAGI: Justicia, 277, N. 4; A. M. Carreño, Un desconocido cedulario del siglo XVI perteneciente a la Catedral Metropolitana de México, Ediciones Victoria, 1944 -Mexico (Archdiocese.) .

The fourth assayer of the mint was Juan Gutiérrez. In 1537, the initial plan was for Juan Gutiérrez to travel to Mexico with his brother, Alonso Gutiérrez. But, after both obtained licensesAGI: Contratación, 5536, L. 5, F. 44r (4) (Juan Gutiérrez’s License – 19 May 1537) and AGI: Contratación, 5536, L. 5, F. 46v (1) (Alonso Gutiérrez License – 23 May 1537.) , there seems to have been a problem, and only Juan Gutiérrez was able to make the tripAGI: Indiferente, 2048, N. 16. Pedro Rodríguez Murero, godfather (saco de pila = to stand sponsor, to be a godparent) of Juan and Alonso Gutiérrez testified in Fuensalida, Spain, in 1548 that both of them had left with the intent of traveling to the Indies; but at the end only Juan Gutiérrez traveled (notice when Pedro Rodríguez said that they had left some eight or nine years, this must be an error in recollection as not only does the licenses date from 1537, but a later deposition indicated that Juan Gutiérrez had lived some 22 years in Mexico by the time of his death in 1559.) His statement is as follows: “el dicho pedro Rodríguez murero testigo presentado e aviendo Jurado en forma e seyendo preguntado por el tenor del dicho pedimiento dixo q Conoçe al Dicho alonso gutierrez y Juan gutierrez y q sabe q son hermanos por qste testigo conoçio a Sus padres y este testigo) saco de pila a los dichos alonso gutierrez y juan gutierrez…abra ocho /o nueve años pocos mas o menos q los dichos juan gutierrez y alonso gutierrez hermanos se partieron desta villa con proposito de pasar a las yndias…y se fueron con el dicho proposito y el dicho juan gutierrez paso y el dicho) alonso gutierrez se quedo …
AGI: México, 205, N. 27. This document from 1559 states: “…Juan gutierrez A mas de veynte y dos años que vino a esta nueva spaña…
. Juan Gutiérrez started working at the mint in 1539, as previously mentioned, and since we know that Assayer P was still in office as of 22 October 1541, before assayer G’s tenure started, and was then followed by assayer F for an extremely shortly period of time, then assayer G’s tenure most likely started sometime between late December 1541 and early February 1542. This timeline is supported by the coins, for which according to Kent Ponterio, “there are not that many dies in the early series for assayer G and you can basically die link the entire group in progression.”Ponterio (op. cit., n. 22.) The reason for this small number of dies is directly linked to the end of production of the coins of the early series, which stopped being minted around mid-1542, when new dies were prepared as a change to the coin’s design was instituted. The new coins that started to be minted in 1542 are today known as the Late Series or the pillars and waves design, as their most noticeable diff erence, when compared to the previous design, is the addition of waves underneath the pillarsSuperior Galleries (op. cit., n. 7.) .

Initial   Name Began on Left office on
R  Francisco del Rincón  Apr. 1536   Some time after 22 Mar. 1538
• Owner of the office: Pedro de la Membrilla (since 21 Nov. 1536).
• His father, Gutiérre Velasquez, councilman (consejero) of the Royal Council of the Indies, served as his administrative representative in Spain.
• On 31 July 1538 Francisco de Loaiza appointed as his representative in Mexico.   
P  Pedro de Espina  Succeeds assayer R in the spring or summer of 1538  Some time after 22 Oct. 1541
• Owner of the office: Pedro de la Membrilla.   
F  Esteban Franco (?) Very brief interim replacement for assayer P in late 1541 (?) Probably in late 1541 or early 1542 (?)
• Owner of the office: Pedro de la Membrilla
G Juan Gutiérrez Some time between Dec. 1541-Feb.1542 (?) Fall of 1548
• Owner of the office: Pedro de la Membrilla until 21 Mar. 1544, thereafter between 7 Feb. and 22 Feb. 1545.
His father, Gutiérre Velásquez, served as his administrative representative in Spain.
• Hernando Gómez de Santillán replaced Francisco de Loaiza as Pedro de la Membrilla’s representative in Mexico in 1543 (appointed on 29 Sep. 1543.)
• Succeeds Assayer F sometime between Dec. 1541 and Feb. 1542 (?).
• Office transferred to Francisco del Rincón on 21 Mar. 1544 (this sale was annulled on 7 Jan. 1545.)
• Office was transferred to Juan Gutiérrez in 1545, for which he was confirmed as the owner in Spain on Feb. 22, 1545.
• His brother, Alonso Gutiérrez, worked as his lieutenant since the Fall of 1548.
• As owner, renounces the office of assayer in favor of Luis Rodríguez in Nov. 1548, but keeps (illegally?) the office of smelter.