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The Errors in the Minting of 8 Reales of 1824 in the Mint of Durango

by Lic. José Antonio Juárez Muñoz

In the history of the Durango mint we have found many facets of interesting issues for there is a rich variety in the coins that were minted in its 84 years of existence, both for their designs, legends and variety of metals. We have found varieties that are not recorded in the different catalogs that have been published by great national and international numismatists.

On this occasion we refer to some truly fascinating, extremely collectible and valuable coins, namely the 8 reales of the year 1824 with the Breast Profile or Hookneck Eagle. Thanks to the records that are kept in the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), we have been able to solve many unknowns and are thus able to disseminate this information for all those interested in this issue of the coins produced by the Durango mint.

On 9 April 1823, the Congress agreed how the nation’s coat of arms should look:
1.- That the national shield is the Mexican eagle standing on its left foot, on a cactus arising from a rock between the waters of the lagoon, and grabbing with its right a snake in the act of tearing it apart with its beak, and that this coat of arms has as a border two branches, one of laurel and another of holm oak, according to the design used by the government of the first defenders of independence.
2.- That as for the national flag, it is the one adopted up to now, with the only difference of placing the eagle without a crown, the same thing that should be done on the shield.

On 14 April 1823 the sovereign Constituent Mexican Congress decreed:
1.- The government will order that new matrices be produced, as soon as possible and by the best engravers, to replace those that until now serve for minting currency.
2.- The gold, silver and copper coins will have a common obverse, stamping on them the coat of arms of the Mexican nation with on the circumference the inscription REPUBLICA MEXICANA (MEXICAN REPUBLIC).
3.- On the obverse of the silver coins will be placed a cap on which is diagonally written LIBERTAD (FREEDOM), from whose center several bursts of light will emanate. They will also express their respective value, the place and year of their manufacture, the initials of the names of the assayers and their fineness.
4.- On the reverse of the gold coins will be a hand with a rod, at the upper end of which the cap of liberty will be placed, resting everything on an open book, with the inscription on the circumference LIBERTAD EN LEY (FREEDOM UNDER THE LAW), with the marks or signs that in the previous article are designated for the silver coins.
5.- On the obverse of the copper coins palms will be placed to form a border, and in the center (except for the fineness and the names of the assayers) the marks laid out in the preceding articles.
6.- The government will take care, at the time of publishing this decree, to make known to the public, that the fineness of gold and silver coins is the same as those of the Spanish government for the past forty years.

The designer was José Mariano Torreblanca. Therefore, we realize why there were problems with the designs of the coins minted in 1824 in Durango.

What I will transcribe below is from a file of that same year in which six pieces minted in Durango were sent to Mexico City for examination, since there was an office called Gravado (of Engraving), which was responsible for giving approval for pieces to the foreign mints that existed since the time of the War of Independence. A very important one was the provisional mint in Durango that was opened in 1811.

The file, consisting of several pieces of correspondence, reads as follows:


I send to you six coins of eight reales produced in the mint of Durango so that you can weigh, test and assess their fineness, giving me an account of the results to put to the consideration of the supreme executive power.
God keep you for many years, Mexico City. 22 March 1824. Frallaga, Superintendent of the Mint.

Mexico City Mint, 22 March 1824 - For the punctual fulfillment of this higher request, immediately send the six eight reales coins that accompany it to the chief engraver, judge of weights (juez de balanza) and assayers (ensayadores) so that each one proceeds with all the superiority attached to recognize their stamp, weight and fineness reporting what happens after the aforementioned examination. … Lardizábal – (to) José de la Santa Cruz.

Dear Superintendent –To take charge of what you ordered in your previous order about evaluating the coins that you said regarding the engraving, it is seen that they are chiseled, and not in the manner that the order says it is to be done, having so acted to the detriment of the public. This consideration can be proved if you think it worthy of being brought to the knowledge of his serene highness, the supreme executive power. – God guard your excellency for many years,
Mexico City, 27 March 1824. Rafael Lardizábal. (to the) Most excellent Minister of State of Finance.

I attach an original that is sent to the intendant with the coins for forwarding to the supreme government, and is by command of the same superintendent and presented on sheets of official paper, stamped with the current dues, 27 March 1824. José de la Santa Cruz.

The report by Francisco Gordillo, from the engraving office, states:

Without the quality of making several dies it is not possible to get the same results both with the eagle and with the sunburst (Resplandores). They are not made with punches. As regards the design the eagle is imperfect, the right leg, if it extends, will be longer than the left, the left foot that sits appears on the ground should be on the cactus, the stalks of the cactus appear out of center, the olive branches seem better as an ornament of laurel, the oak cannot give that symmetry as a bouquet of two leaves and two acorns. The posture of the eagle is loaded to the left, not in the center, on the letter is uneven because its talons are not arranged, and there are still some engraved with a chisel, not engraved with a punch, the posture of these do not acknowledge the circle because they fall in different directions This is what I can tell you about the matter. ---- Office of Engraving. Mexico City, 24 March 1824. - Francisco Gordillo.

The report by Miguel Gaitan Villasenor on the coins’ weight was:

Report.-Dear Superintendent. In accordance with what you instructed in the decree, I proceeded to assess the weight of the six coins of Durango and the result is as follows.

(i.e. Shortage)
(i.e. Excess)
No. 1  3 gs (granos)  
No. 2 2 gs  
No. 3   2 %
No. 4   7½ %
No. 5   3 %
No. 6  5 gs  

I have found all the six coins defective, because although number two is (only) two granos short, this is outside the permitted limits. If they were all like this, there would be a mark with sixteen granos, which should not have more than eight and a half. So I have to point out to you that the six coins are completely defective in terms of their weight – Office of the Mexico City Mint, 24 March 1824. Gaitan.

Finally, the report of the three assayers on their fineness states:

Dear Superintendent.-The six silver coins of the Durango mint under test have resulted in the following fineness:

No. 1 18%
No. 2 18%
No. 3 19% 
No. 4  18¾%
No. 5 17½% 
No. 6 18%

Assayers of Mexico City mint, 26 March 1824. - García Felada, - Cuevas, - Reyes.

So the summary was:

Your Excellency, to give punctual fulfillment to what you suggested in your letter of 22 March for the six eight reales coins produced in the provisional mint of Durango that were sent to the mint officials, the chief engraver, the judge of weights and the assayers in order that each should consider and examine them as to type, weight and fineness, and having evaluated these operations I attach to the original the file on this matter with the six coins numbered from one to six, in which is the information of the defects that each of these ministers has noticed in them. The first, the engraver Francisco Gordillo, notes what he wrote in his reports of 23 March, according to the regulations of his art. - The second, Miguel Gaitán Villaseñor the judge of weights, notes defects to be considered, such that if all the coins produced in Durango were like them they could not be issued to the public, because the coins numbered one, two and six have shortages in their weight that are greater than that permitted: the first of three granos, the second of two granos, and the third of five. The coins numbered three, four and five are found to be overweight, the first by two granos, the second by seven and a half and the third by three, as account of the note of the same Villaseñor, all being defective as explained in my report of 24 March. The assayers José García, Manuel Felada and José María Cuevas, in their report of 26 March, set out in detail the considerable defects of fineness of these coins, that does not allow the ordinary dispersal to the public in these two matters, particularly in that of fineness. Coin number one is 1½ granos short, number two two, number three one, number four one and a half, number five two and a half and number six two, defects so serious that before they are allowed in public each coin must be given a new increase, retested as to fineness, so that considered and examined by each one they might report what happened to them as to type, weight and fineness.

So far we have transcribed what this file tells us and we realize that not only these pieces of 8 reales had all the errors but also all those one and two reales of that same year that were also of the eagle in profile design. This is why in 1825 new designs in dies were sent from Mexico City to mint the new pieces and the earlier pieces that we have been studying were retired from circulation. This helps us to know why these pieces came out in only a single year, as we see today that they were disapproved of by the experts of the Mint and the design office.

It should be noted that the assayer of these coins was Ramón Luelmo who worked that year, and that in the proclamation number 38 of 11 August 1824 published in Mexico City by the Minister of Finance José Ignacio Esteva, the public were informed of the change in the designs of the national shield in relation to the position of the eagle. The first coinages showed the eagle in profile: from then on they showed it from the front.

The mint of Durango began its Republican issue in 1824, the year after the proclamation of the Republic, along with those of Guanajuato and Mexico City, but with different eagles and sunbursts and we have already seen the consequences of not having the appropriate designs or the weight or fineness so that in the studies that were carried out the determination was made to suggest that they no longer be produced or distributed to the public.