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The Assayers of the Mint of Mexico during the 16th Century Pillars Coinage, - Late Series, Assayers L and O

by Jorge A. Proctor

Alonso Gutiérrez, who had been serving the post of smelter for his brother at the mint for some time now, had received the renunciation to his brother’s post on 13 June 1558 This was well within the requirements of the Spanish laws, which required that for a transfer to be considered, a title holder must cede his post to a capable individual more than 20 days prior to his death.. But this was just the first step of the transfer, which still needed to be presented before the Audiencia of Mexico and the Royal Council of the Indies in Spain, for their consideration.

After his brother’s death, Alonso went before the Town Council of Querétaro where Juan Sánchez Alanís, Deputy Mayor (Teniente de Alcalde Mayor) of the town and provinces of Querétaro and Jilotepec (“Xilotepeque”), conducted proceedings and gathered information from witnesses to record this event. This testimonial was probably gathered for the Viceroy, Don Luis de Velasco, who later provided Alonso Gutiérrez with a commission and temporary appointment, so that he could continue working the post of smelter while the matter was presented to the courts Archivo General de Indias (AGI): México, 205, N. 27.

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Don Luis de Velasco y Ruíz de Alarcón, 2nd Viceroy of New Spain
Oil on canvas, attributed to Simón Pereyns © Museo Nacional de Historia (Mexico)

On 4 April 1559, by advice of his attorney, Alonso Gutiérrez appeared before the President and Oidores of the Audiencia of Mexico in a public audience, bringing with him the copies of the proceedings and information gathered in Querétaro. With this information, Alonso also provided a list of character witnesses that could attest to him having the skill and competence to exercise the post ceded to him by his brother; these witnesses were: Gabriel Díaz, Lieutenant Treasurer of the Mint; Francisco de Salazar and Juan Ramírez de Alarcón, both merchants; and Juan González de Arenas, a silver merchant of the Mint.

Following the public audience, on the same day, Alonso de Zorita, the Mexican Oidor who was given the responsibility to gather the needed information, appointed Juan Caro as the scribe who would record it. Then, Juan Caro, in turn, called Attorney General Maldonado to assist.

On 17 May 1559, all four witnesses were able to appear in Mexico before Oidor Zorita and Alonso Gutiérrez, where they provided testimony in response to nine questions asked in relation to a previous deposition provided by Alonso Gutiérrez. Nine days later, on 26 May, Pedro de Requena, Scribe of the Chamber (Cámara) of the Audiencia of Mexico, upon request of the President and Oidores, brought out the original of the testimonies gathered, and after being corrected and discussed, this was then remitted to the Council of the Indies. It is probably around the time that these papers were being prepared for shipment that news arrived from Spain, informing the officials from Mexico of the 1558 ruling in favor of Luis Rodríguez, a ruling which would have displaced Alonso Gutiérrez whom we know to have then traveled to Spain at the time of this trial L. Romera Iruela, and M. del C. Galbis Díez, Catálogo de Pasajeros a Indias-Siglos XVI, XVII, XVIII. Vol. IV (1560-1566), Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Archivos; Archivo General de Indias, 1980. p. 198, No. 1590 and p. 287, No. 2354. AGI: Contratación, 5537, L. 2, F. 184v and F. 253v. Although we do not know the date that Alonso Gutiérrez travelled from Mexico to Spain, we do know that he was in Spain at the same time this trial took place through the book of passengers to the Indies, which shows him attempting to return to Mexico in November of 1561 (his license is recorded on 3 November, 1561). Not able to make this trip in 1561, his license was then reinstated on 12 March 1562..

On 19 February 1561, through a decree signed by King Philip II in Toledo, Luis Rodríguez was subpoenaed once again by the Council of the Indies. It seems that new questions had arisen about the provision that had granted the office of smelter to Luis Rodríguez in 1558, and now that Alonso Gutiérrez was attempting to claim this same office which had been left to him by his brother Juan, Luis was being asked to respond to Alonso’s new protest AGI: Patronato, 286, R. 33..

As we remember, the initial ruling in Luis Rodríguez’s favor had been based on the argument that since the posts of assayer and smelter had always been together, then he should be given the appointment to the office of smelter, as he already had that of assayer. As part of this ruling it had been said that the office of smelter would not carry any additional rights, as it was part of the joint office of assayer and smelter.

But now this ruling was being disputed by Alonso Gutiérrez, who said that Luis Rodríguez had been given the previous provision without it being understood that although the offices of assayer and smelter had always been together, in this case these had been purposely separated. The separation of these offices was said to have occurred to prevent notorious grievances on Alonso Gutiérrez, who at the time was already working the post of smelter under an appointment given to him by his brother, Juan. It was also said, as part of this complaint, that it was necessary that the post of smelter be held by a person who did not occupy himself with any other office, and who should carry the rights as had been held by the predecessors of his brother Juan, as well as him, as not doing so would cause for the King’s fifths and tenths (the Royal taxes) to be defrauded.

With the new arguments it was now said that the only reason why Juan Gutiérrez had ceded the office of assayer to Luis Rodríguez had been because in Juan Gutiérrez’s conscience it was understood that he could not serve those two offices well, for which he then implored that by such renunciation, he be given the office of smelter, as otherwise it would be left empty, or to do as they saw fit.

Now, as it was done before, Luis Rodríguez was once again provided with a period of eight months in which to appear before the Council of the Indies, in person or by proxy, to present any argument he wanted considered. But, unlike last time, where it was only said that the eight months were to start from the moment that this order was presented to him, this time the decree was specific in saying that the period would begin from the day that the letter was notified to him, in person if possible, and if not, to the doorsteps of his house where it would be said or made known to his wife and children, if there were any, and if not, to one of his servants or neighbors, or to other neighbors nearby, so that they could know it and notify him, and with this, ignorance on his part would be prevented.

It is conceivable that this new order arrived in Mexico sometime in late 1561, and that this coincides with the appearance of a new assayer-mark, which was first identified by Mr. Francisco de Paula Pérez Sindreu as that of Bernardo de Oñate, J. Pellicer i Bru, Glosario de Maestros de Ceca y Ensayadores (Siglos XIII-XX). 2nd Edition. Madrid, 1997, p. 285; AGI, México, 210, N. 30. The identity of this assayer has been known since the discovery of a reference from 4 June 1564 by Mr. Francisco de Paula Pérez Sindreu (AGI: Escribanía, 272A). This has now been further confirmed by the author through a later document where he was providing testimony as assayer of the mint on 22 December 1578 (AGI: México, 210, N. 30). The earlier reference from June 1564 identifies Bernardo de Oñate as the assayer on record at the mint by this date. serving as lieutenant of Luis Rodríguez (this assayer chose as his assayer-mark the letter O). Although the earliest reference to date for Bernardo de Oñate working as the assayer on record at the mint during this time dates from 1564, it is likely that his participation as Luis Rodríguez’s lieutenant began much earlier, as he had been working as his assistant since as early as 1550. AGI, (op. cit., n. 5). Enquiry by request of the Treasurer of the Mint, Francisco de Quintana Dueñas, regarding the convenience of having black workers in charge of beating the metal for coining at the mint (“ynformacion hecha a pedimiento del thesorero de la casa dela moneda de mexico antel Virrey en diziembre 1578 sobre q conviene q haya negros braçajeros en la casa y que no se quiten/”.) As part of this enquiry, Bernardo de Oñate was called upon to testify on 22 December 1578, where he said that he had been assaying silver at the mint for some 28 or 29 years prior to this date. Since no assayer-mark O specimens were recovered from the 1554 Fleet off Padre Island, Texas, then we have a clear indication that Bernado de Oñate must have first started as an apprentice and/or assistant of Luis Rodríguez, then being promoted to the status of lieutenant at a later date. Bernardo’s testimony is as follows: “…en la dicha. çiudad de mexico en este dicho dia Veinte y dos de deçienbre del dicho .año (1578)…presento por testigo a bernardo de oñate ensayador de ladicha Casa…(referente a los dichos negros) se ha entendido ser neçesario bolber a la dicha .casa para que trabajen y ayuden al despacho como de presente lo haçen y esto es muy notorio en la dicha Casa y entre las personas que dello tienen .notiçias como este testigo que ha sido ensayador y ha ensayado plata en la dicha casa del dicho tiempo de veinte y ocho) /o veinte y nuebe .años aesta parte y es la verdad para el Juramento q ffecho tiene y firmolo de su nonbre que es de hedad de çinquenta y cinco años antes mas que menos… This new impending legal proceeding might have been what prompted Luis Rodríguez finally to promote Bernardo to the status of lieutenant assayer, where he would have then been allowed to use his own identifying mark, while Luis could have then taken the necessary time to formulate a response to the new deposition.

The scarcity of information on this new trial prevents a further study. But Alonso Gutiérrez’s return to Mexico in 1562 seems to indicate that the deliberations were fairly quick. Romera Iruela, and Galbis Díez, (op. cit., n. 3), p. 198, No. 1590 and p. 287, No. 2354; AGI: Contratación, 5537, L. 2, F. 253v. At the end it appears that Luis Rodríguez won the argument once again, as not only was there a presentation of his title, yet again, on 10 September 1565, Archivo General de Simancas (AGS): Consejo y Juntas de Hacienda (C.J.H.), leg. 76,; AGS: C.J.H., leg. 89, fol. 80. (Documents discovered by Glenn Murray.) but we are told later that he was holding both posts by the time the office was sold, following Luis Rodríguez’s death in 1569. AGI: México, 19, N. 58 (Mexico, 6 April 1571). This document states: “El offiçio densayador se vendío en veynte y nueve mil y cien ensayador ducados como lo tenía Luys Rodriguez que Juntamente usava del officio de fundidor sin derechos…

Proctor image 17Image A: - 4 reales coin - Assayer L over O                                         Image B; - 2 reales coin - Assayer O over L
(images courtesy of Kent Ponterio)

The existence of over assayers coins, L/O and O/L, indicate that Bernardo de Oñate and Luis Rodríguez alternated back and forth during the last years of the pillars and waves coinage. This occurrence is explained by a portion of a testimony provided by Esteban Franco, the former assayer of the foundry, on 14 January 1568, which states that although Luis Rodríguez had previously served as the Mint’s assayer himself, he was now serving this office through a lieutenant due to his ailments AGI: México, 209, N. 58. A portion of Esteban Franco’s testimony, dated 14 January 1568, states that Luis Rodríguez held the office of assayer at the mint which he had worked, but was now exercising through a lieutenant due to his ailments. On this same date Martín de Gaona also alluded to the fact that by now Luis Rodríguez was no longer working the post of assayer himself, as he says that he had seen him exercising the office “at the time he was healthy”. Gaona’s testimony reads: “…en el oficio de ensayador dela Real casa . dela moneda desta çiudad de mexico en el tiempo que estuvo sano el dicho luis Rodriguez el a visto este testigo serbir bien y fielmente…. It seems that Bernardo de Oñate, having shown that he was a capable assayer, was called upon to take on the post of assayer as Luis Rodríguez’s lieutenant, while Luis’ health deteriorated L. Romera Iruela and M. del C. Galbis Díez, Catálogo de Pasajeros a Indias-Siglos XVI, XVII, XVIII. Vol. V (1567-1577). Tomo I (1567-1574), Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Archivos; Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain, 1980. p. 95, No. 612. AGI: Contratación, 5537, L. 3, F. 242v. News of Luis Rodríguez’ decline in health might have prompted another one of Luis Rodríguez sons, Antonio Rodríguez del Padrón, to travel to Mexico in June of 1567 (his license to travel is dated 19 June 1567). The connection of this individual to the mint’s assayer is certain. His license includes that he was an inhabitant of Mexico, son of Luis Rodríguez and Ana de Toledo.
AGI, (ibid, n. 10.). This document confirms that Ana de Toledo was the wife of Luis Rodríguez, the assayer. We further know that by December of 1567 Luis Rodríguez was already sick, as he mentions this in a document from AGS: C.J.H. leg. 92, fol. 255 and that Antonio Rodríguez del Padrón was brother of Cristóbal Rodríguez, the pretender to the post of assayer after Luis Rodríguez’s death, as this is mentioned in AGS: C.J.H. leg. 92, fol. 257. (The last two documents from AGS mentioned here were discovered by Glenn Murray.))

Luis Rodríguez’s health continued to decline, prompting him by the end of 1567 to present a renunciation of his office of assayer in favor of his 28-year-old son (his eldest), Cristóbal Rodríguez. Being presented before the President and Oidores of the Audiencia, this was read on 22 December 1567, AGI, (op. cit. n. 10. and shortly after, as was customary, one of its Oidores, Doctor Pedro de Villalobos, was tasked with interviewing witnesses that could attest to the merits and demerits of both Luis Rodríguez and his son Cristóbal; to Cristóbal’s legitimacy as son of the legal marriage of Luis Rodríguez and Ana de Toledo; to Cristóbal’s skill and competence to exercise the post of assayer being ceded to him by his father; and, if they could, to provide information on the current value of this office.

The Scribe, Juan López Tavera documented the statements from the witnesses testifying before Oidor Villalobos between 14 and 16 January 1568, and recorded the inquiry as concluded on 26 January. Later, on 28 March 1568, Gordian Casasano, Scribe of the Chamber of the Audiencia of Mexico, upon request of the President and Oidores, brought out the original of the testimonies gathered, and after being corrected and discussed before the witnesses present, this was then remitted to the Council of the Indies in Spain.

On 26 November 1569, with Luis Rodríguez now sick in bed and nearing the end of his life, the Scribe, Pedro Sánchez de la Fuente, went to his house where, again, he recorded Luis Rodríguez’s renunciation of the office of assayer to his son Cristóbal Rodríguez, a renunciation first presented to the Audiencia of Mexico in December 1567, asking that this be ratified so that with it Cristóbal could continue taking care of his mother and siblings AGS: C.J.H. leg. 92, fol. 255..

Luis Rodríguez died shortly after AGS: C.J.H. leg. 92, fol. 257; AGS: C.J.H. leg. 109, núm. 1 (sin folio) – These two documents were found by Glenn Murray. Although it has been previously published that Luis Rodríguez died on 14 January 1570, this is not correct. On AGS: C.J.H. leg. 109, núm. 1, the Scribe, Juan de Cueva, informs the King that the office of assayer had been vacated by the death of Luis Rodríguez (Juan de Cueva dates this portion of his letter on 15 December 1569). In addition to this, on 19 December 1569, Cristóbal Rodríguez also tells us that Luis Rodríguez had already passed away by this date: “…Xpobal Rodríguez, vezino que soy desta gran çiudad de México desta Nueba España, hijo ligítimo de Luys Rrodríguez, difunto, que esté en gloria, ensayador que fue por Su Magestad de la Casa de la Moneda desta dicha çiudad… whereupon, under a new Royal decree from 21 August 1565 Las Casas de Moneda de los Reinos de Indias. Vol. 2: “Cecas de Fundación Temprana”. Directed by Anes y Alvarez de Castillón, Gonzalo and Céspedes del Castillo, Guillermo. Chapter entitled “La Época de Gestión Delegada, 1535-1572”, by Agustín Pineda Aguilar, Madrid, Spain, 1997, p. 54. This book states: “Treinta años después de fundada la casa mexicana y de haberse creado sus oficios, una R.C. de 21 de Agosto de 1565, mandó que los mayores y menores pudieran venderse, según fueran vacando los titulares en turno (lo eran hasta su muerte), beneficiándose la Corona con el producto total de aquellas ventas.” With this new decree of 1565, the Crown now needed to establish the price of the office, as the person who the office was ceded to, if approved, was responsible for paying the Crown the price specified, if agreed upon. If no agreement was made, then the office could be put up for sale to the highest bidder at public auction., a direct transfer to Cristóbal Rodríguez was no longer guaranteed. Spain now had the right to determine the value of this office and then Cristóbal, if approved, would have to commit to pay this amount to the Spanish Crown. In addition to this, the Viceroy of Mexico, following what he saw as Spain’s prerogative, decided to test the market, advertising the offices of assayer and smelter individually, to see if separating them would bring more money AGI, (op. cit. n. 9.).

The Scribe, Juan de Cueva, wrote on 15 December 1569, that the office of assayer, about which he had previously sent information to the King, with the intent that it be passed on to Luis Rodríguez’s son through the renunciation, had now been vacated by the death of Luis Rodríguez. The King had already sent correspondence to Juan de Cueva to let him know that this was already being discussed AGS: C.J.H. leg. 109, (op. cit. n. 14.). But now, with the death of the owner, Juan de Cueva was suggesting to the King several choices of what he could do with this office, including giving it to Cristóbal Rodríguez through the renunciation, after paying a healthy sum for it; renting it; talking to his friend Don Ruy Gómez de Silva, the Prince of Éboli, Don Ruy Gómes de Silva, the 1st Prince of Éboli, was born on 27 October 1516 in Chamusca, Portugal, the son of Portuguese nobility. He came to Castile in 1526 as part of the entourage of the Infanta Isabella (Isabel) of Portugal, who traveled to Castile for her marriage to King Charles I of Spain (also known since 1519 as Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire). He served as a page to the infant Prince Philip (the future King Philip II), becoming Philip’s friend and one of his main advisers. Although Philip did not bestow him with the office of assayer of the Mexican Mint, he did elevate him to grandee status as Duke of Pastrana in 1572. Ruy Gómes died in Madrid, Spain, on 29 July 1573. so that he could request it, retain it, and benefit himself from its rents; or, if he chose, to sell it, for which Juan de Cueva said it to be worth as much as 15,000 ducats in Mexico It can be presumed that when Juan de Cueva quoted the value of the office of assayer at 15,000 ducats, this was for the office of assayer alone, without taking into consideration the added value brought to this by the post of smelter. Not only was this something later explained in 1571 by the Viceroy to the King (for the textual Spanish explanation from the Viceroy see endnote 29), but it is important to know that this is the same Juan de Cueva who ended up buying the joint office of assayer and smelter later for almost double this amount (for more on this see endnote 31.). Sending this notice, Juan de Cueva was sure the King would do what he liked most.

On 19 December 1569, Cristóbal Rodríguez, still seeking to procure the office of assayer, prepared a document of authority to ensure representation in Spain, assigning as his representatives: Alonso Puente de Herrera, Solicitor of Lawsuits (Solicitador de Pleitos) of the Council of the Indies; Alonso de Vides, neighbor of the city of Seville; and Antonio Rodríguez del Padrón, his brother AGS: C.J.H. leg. 92, (op. cit. n. 14.). As early as 14 January 1570 we start hearing from possible buyers, AGS: C.J.H. leg. 106, núm. 9 (sin folio). (Document discovered by Glenn Murray.) while back in Spain, in 1570, King Philip II signed a decree on 8 March for the change in design of all coin dies for the New World T. Dasí, Estudio de los Reales de a Ocho (Valencia, Spain, 1950), Vol. II, pp. IX and XVIII, No. 370 and 391. The shield-type coins were authorized by decrees of 23 November 1566 (for Peninsular Spain) and 8 March 1570 (for the Americas. and on 31 May the Council of Indies officially notified the King of the passing of Luis Rodríguez through a letter written by the Mexican Viceroy, Martín Enríquez de Almansa, on 20 January 1570 José Toribio Medina. Las Monedas Coloniales Hispano-Americanas. Santiago de Chile, 1919, p. 43; AGI: Indiferente, 738, N. 121. Although José Toribio Medina does include the information from this document in his monumental work, the date is incorrectly reported to be 30 May 1570 (the correct date is 31 May)..

From the guidelines of the new decree, the new coins were now to bear as their new design on all 4, 2, and 1 realesThe 8 reales denomination was not currently being minted in the New World at the time of this decree. But when this denomination was later added, this followed the same design as used on the 4, 2, and 1 reales on one side a crowned Habsburg Shield (the Arms of the reigning monarch), and on the other side castles and lions (the symbols of the kingdoms whose union was considered the building blocks for what later became known as the Kingdom of Spain.) Where the shield would have been, the half real incorporates the name of the king in the form of a monogram, with the same reverse as that of the other denominations.

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By decree of 8 March 1570, the design of the coinage of the Americas was changed to what is today referred to as the Habsburg Shield design.
Pictured here are enlarged images of a 4 Reales of Mexico (Coin A), showing the new design used on the 8, 4, 2 and 1 reales denominations of Mexican coins, and a half real (Coin B) with the design of the monogram of the King’s name (in place of the shield used on the larger denominations).
((Image of coin A courtesy of Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC, and coin B by the author)

Between 18 March and 28 June 1570, the sculptor Juan Paulo Poxini received payments for the new punches he was now ordered to prepare for the mints of Lima and Mexico AGI: Indiferente: 426, L. 25, F. 55r (18 March), F. 62r (20 May), F. 64r (7 June), and F. 68v (28 June). All four of these documents from the year 1570 include payments made to a Juan Paulo Poxini for the punches made for the mints of New Spain (Mexico) and the City of Kings (Lima); R. I. Nesmith, The Coinage of the First Mint of the Americas at Mexico City 1536 - 1572, Reprint of original published in 1955 by the American Numismatic Society as Numismatic Notes and Monographs #131, Rockville Centre, NY, 2001, p. 39. Only the document dated 28 June 1570 was known when Nesmith documented this information, taking the name from José Toribio Medina’s work as ROXINI, but he indicates that Adolfo Herrera in the book El Duro, Vol. 1, writes this name as PROXINI. The discovery of the other three documents helped to clarify the correct spelling of the name for this sculptor as POXINI.. On 13 January 1571, the President and Oidores of the Audiencia of Mexico acknowledge receipt of the order for the changeover of the Charles and Johanna coinage, to that of the Habsburg shield design J. A. Proctor, Plvs Vltra Newsletter, “The Start of Production of the Habsburg Shield Coinage in Mexico in 1571 Confirmed!” (West Palm Beach, Florida, 2016), Vol. 34, No. 4, 4th Quarter, p. 11.
Archivo General de la Nación de México, Instituciones Coloniales, Gobierno Virreinal, Reales Cédulas Originales y Duplicados (100), Reales Cédulas Duplicadas, Volumen D47, Título Expediente 247, Volumen y Fojas 150v, Royal decree from Cordoba, Spain from 8 March 1570, and its acknowledgment of receipt in Mexico on 13 January 1571. From the original: “Nuestro bisorrey . presidente y oidores. dela nuestra audiencia..rreal que rreside en La çiudad de mexico . de la nueva spaña. y’ a sabeis. como. por las ordenanças de la casa. de la moneda de Esa çiudad. mandamos q’ los rreales y otra moneda . de plata .que en ella se labrare fuese con ciertos. cunos macas. y armas que en ellas. se os declara y porque Agora en las casas. de moneda. destos. nuestros. rreynos Avemos hordenado y mandado. q la moneda .de oro. y pláta .que en ellas se labrare. De aqui adelante Sea con otros. nuevos cuños. punzones. y armas. de las con tramj . que asta Aqui Se abia hecho .y hazia .y mi boluntad es . q’ lo mismo se haga .En las casas .de moneda. de Las . nuestras yndias. en La moneda de plata . que en ellas. se labrare bos mando . q’ luego .que ésta beais . deis orden .como que se quiten .quiebren y rremachen todos .Los. punçones. cuños marcas .y armas.con que en La dicha casa. de moneda . de Esa dicha ciudad. se obiere labrado .y labrare . al presente .La dicha. moneda . de plata de ma- nera .q’ con ellos. no se pueda Labrar. mas. y probeais. como . de aqui adelante la dicha .moneda. de plata. que se obiere. de labrar .y labrare. En esa. dicha casa. Sea com punçones.marcas. y armas conforme A los q’ con esta .se os enbiaran .los . cuales. son .como. los con que .se labra .en Las dichas casas. de moneda. destos dichos. nuestros .rreynos. y los admitireis. y admitid. En esa tierra. Lo q Lansi hazed E’ cumplid . sin dilaçion alguna y de como. ansi se cumple .nos dareis abiso. Fecho En cordoba .a/ocho .de março de mill .E quinientos y Setenta años. yo el rrey, por mandado. de su magestad. francisco de heraso/ Va raydo o diz traminobala en La zibdad. de Mexico. treze dias. del mes. de henero. de mill E quinientos E setenta y un años. los . señores . presidente y oidores . del audiencia. rreal. de la nueva españa rre- cibieron. esta çedula .rreal de su magestad. la qual por ellos vista la obede- çieron con el acatamiento .y rreberencia debido . y en quanto. Al cumplimiento della dixeron q haran y cumpliran lo q’ por ella su magestad. Les enbia a mandar. paso por Ante mi Sancho Lopez de agurto
. As part of this document the Charles and Johanna dies were ordered to be taken off production and broken-up immediately and replaced with the new dies sent from Spain (the dies with the new Habsburg shield design).

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Transcript from the original document (above):
“Para q En la casa de moneda .de mexico. se labre y marque . de aqui adelante . la moneda . de plata .q’ En Ella . se labrare .con los . cuños . nuebos . que se labra .En estos rreynos q’ se les enbian y se quiten y quiebren. los que hasta agora se a labrado . ______”
From the margin of the important document from Mexico, dated 13 January 1571, one can read where the mint of Mexico is being ordered, from this day forward, to mint and stamp their silver coinage with the new dies (the ones with the Habsburg shield design), and that the previous dies used until now (the Charles and Johanna dies), be removed and broken.

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Don Martín Enríquez de Almansa, Fourth Viceroy of New Spain
Oil on canvas, artist unknown © Museo Nacional de Historia (Mexico)

By 1571, the office of assayer had sold in Mexico. Now Viceroy Martín Enríquez de Almansa writes to the King on 4 April 1571 with a summary of how things had gone with the sale of this office AGI, (op. cit. n. 9.). According to this letter, their attempt to split the office of assayer and smelter, and sell them as two separate offices, had been a failure. When Luis Rodríguez had previously won the argument that the post of smelter was part of that of assayer, it was agreed that this being the case, he should work the post of smelter without receiving any salary for it, as he was already getting a salary for the office of assayer. But now, splitting these two posts also meant that the post of smelter had to be given its own separate salary, which was said to amount to four maravedis per Mark of silver.

For this new salary to be justified, the salary of the assayer would now have to be lowered and this was creating serious problems with the sale of the office of assayer, estimated to be worth some 25,000 ducats (when retained as assayer and smelter together). After the split, the most that anyone was willing to offer for the post of assayer alone was only 16,000 ducats; AGI, (ibid, n. 27). This document states: “…teniendo puesto el officio densayador en veynte y cinco mil ducados visto q’ se dividia bolvieron a dar diez y seis y no pasaba nadie de alli y asi se ovieron de vender entrambos Juntos como los tenía Luys Rodriguez que usava en hambos offiçios y el de fundidor sín derechos…) this being the offer made by the merchant Diego Alonso Larios on 14 January 1570, who wanted to purchase the office for his son with the same name AGS, (op. cit. n. 21.). At the end, not only was the office of assayer and smelter kept as one, but it was also agreed by the Viceroy that whoever did purchase it did not need to have the skill to work it himself and could exercise the post through a skilled lieutenant, further opening the pool of prospective buyers. With this in place, the office was now sold in 1571 to the Scribe, Juan de Cueva, for 29,100 ducats AGI, (op. cit. n. 9); AGI: México, 217, N. 17. On 6 April and 4 May 1571 Viceroy Enríquez de Almansa notified the King that the office of assayer and smelter had been sold for 29,100 ducats, without mentioning the name of the buyer. For an example of one of his statements, the document from 4 May 1571 reads: “El offício densayador ya escrivi a .Vuestra. magestad como se avia vendido officio ensayador en veynte y nueve mil y cien ducados y por esa secutoria vera Vuestra magestad como el ensayador es obligado a aZer officio de fundidor sin llevar derechos por ello.” We finally discover the name of the buyer, this being Juan de Cueva, through a document dated 22 December 1583, which reads: “…abra doze años poco mas /o menos que por mandado de su magestad se vendio En publica almoneda El ofiçio de Ensayador y fundidor de la casa de la moneda desta çiudad y se rremato en el dicho juan de cueva En veynte E nueve mill y çien ducados quel dicho scrivano es publico pago con ayuda de algunos amigos . E se puso En cabeça de joan de cueva . su hijo. que a la sazon . hera muchacho . de siete u ocho años…, who in turn kept Bernardo de Oñate as his lieutenant, where he became the assayer in office at the time of the change to the coins with the new design decreed for the Indies in 1570. Bernardo de Oñate remained as the mint’s working assayer until sometime after 22 December 1578 AGI, (op. cit. n. 5.)., when he was replaced by Luis de Oñate F. de P. Pérez Sindreu. “Ensayadores de la Ceca de México, Siglos XVI y XVII,” in Gaceta Numismática de la Asociación Numismática Española, No. 135 (Barcelona, Spain, December, 1999), p. 33. Luis de Oñate’s involvement is known from a reference discovered by Mr. Francisco de Paula Pérez Sindreu in the General Archive of the Indies (AGI: Escribanía, 273A).
According to Pérez Sindreu, the reference to Luis de Oñate, dated on 9 July 1608, states that he had been working for “more than 30 years in this post of assayer” (“más de 30 años en este puesto de ensayador”.) It is more than likely that Luis de Oñate, as Bernardo had done before him, started as an apprentice or assistant, later being promoted to the status of lieutenant.
, possibly his son Some have stated that Luis de Oñate was the son of Bernardo de Oñate. But the family relationship between these two assayers has not yet been established through documentary sources, for which this assumption, although likely, is currently only hypothetical., who continued using the same assayer-mark O that his predecessor had used.

Initial Name Began on Left office on
O Bernardo de Oñate Possibly in 1561 (?) only and then starting again in 1564 (?) Some time after 22 December 1578
• Owner of the office: Luis Rodríguez until sometime in late 1569.
• Oñate is best known for the replacing ailing Luis Rodríguez. He started working as an apprentice or assistant of Luis Rodríguez around 1550. It is possible that he served an early tenure as lieutenant of Luis Rodríguez in 1561 (?), and then worked again as lieutenant of Luis from 1564 (?) to 1569. After the death of Luis Rodríguez he was retained in office as the mint’s working assayer. The ownership of this office remained vacant between 1569-1571. During this time the office was up for sale and the rents were collected by the Royal officials.
• In early 1571, Juan de Cueva becomes the owner, and retains Bernardo de Oñate as his working assayer (his lieutenant.)
• To date, the earliest documentary reference of Bernardo de Oñate the assayer on record at the mint is dated 4 June 1564 and his latest 22 December 1578.
• Mexico started minting coins with the Habsburg Shield design under this assayer (possibly as early as 1571.)
• His latest tenure ended around 1580, when he was replaced by Luis de Oñate, who continued using the same assayer-mark O. Luis de Oñate is presumed to be the son of Bernardo.