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The Hermosillo mint

By Alberto Francisco Pradeau

Alberto Francisco Pradeau, The Mexican Mints of Alamos and Hermosillo, NNM, No 63, American Numismatic Society, New York, 1934

In the annual report of the Secretary of the Treasury to Congress dated February of 1844, page 28, he says: "The federal government in order to prevent the constant smuggling of gold and silver that was taking place from the States of Sonora and Sinaloa through the seaports of Guaymas and Mazatlán, issued an order whereby the export duty on metals was considerably reduced , but the miners complained of the enormous distance from their mines to the existent mints, the risk involved in transportation and the subsequent delay at the mint, and as no gold or silver was allowed to be exported unless coined, smuggling continued. In order to stop this leakage, the federal government by Presidential Proclamation dated 16 February 1842, ordered the resumption of the mint at Hermosillo (closed since 1835), and encouraged the state government to promote the establishment of this mint, authorizing the state to levy a forced loan, or to enter into an agreement with private interests or individuals, to bring about the desired results, notifying the federal government about the conclusions reached, for its official endorsement." (Free translation.) This order has reference to the private coining operations of Mr. Santoyo during the years 1832 to 1837, which were carried on in a most primitive manner by means of hand punches. The central government considered this establishment a true mint, but realizing that it might not be an efficient one, authorized the state to negotiate a loan or to enter into an agreement with private parties, whereby an adequately equipped mint could be operated in Hermosillo. However, nothing was done about the re-establishing of the mint in that city until 1851, and the State of Sonora did not coin money in any metal from the year 1837 until the mint was re -opened in Hermosillo in 1851.

The mint in Hermosillo was established in 1851 by Mr. Robert R. Symon and his co -workers, Mr. Sebastian Camacho and Mr. Quintin Douglas. The mint was leased for a period of twenty years beginning in 1851 and ending 1871. All my efforts to obtain a copy of this lease have been futile, but it was my good fortune to discover a piece of information given by Mr. Antonio Peñafiel who found that the mint at Hermosillo began operations in 1852. The existence of such operations was unknown to the treasury department at Mexico City until 1861, as no reports were sent to the federal government previous to that time. This is not strange; at that particular period of Mexican history the states functioned as sovereign and independent units and had the right to legislate and issue their own coinage. It is also not surprising that the records of mintage of both Alamos and Hermosillo are not found in the archives of the State of Sonora , because from 1830 to 1885 the state was in a constant turmoil, having to combat the Apache Indians on the nort , the Yaqui Indians on the south, and having besides to put up with constant strife of warring political parties, certain of which burned priceless records in order to escape prosecution. At any rate, the mint of Hermosillo was leased to private individuals until 1871 or 187 , and neither the state nor the federal government derived any revenue for the first ten years, nor, so far as is known, for the second ten years .

From reports sent to Congress, 28 September 1868, by Mr. Matias Romero, then Secretary of the Treasury, we learn the following:
1. That the State of Sonora entered into a contract with Mr. Robert R. Symon, leasing the mints of Hermosillo and Alamos for a period of twenty years beginning 3 January 1851.
2. The state guaranteed the lessee that no federal, state, or municipal taxes were to be assessed against the lessee for the first ten years, and only one per cent for the second ten years.
3. The state was to allow the importation free of duty of the machinery, implements, reagents, etc. needed in the erection and to be used in the operation of the proposed mints.
4. The state was to permit the unlimited coinage of gold, silver and copper.
5. The lessee promised to purchase at his own expense the necessary machinery, implements, reagents, etc. for the establishment and the successful operation of a mint at each one of the cities mentioned (Alamos and Hermosillo.)
6. At the termination of the contract the lessee promised to turn over to the state the mint machinery, implements, reagents, etc. which from then on would become state property.
During the French intervention in Mexico (1864-1867) the State of Sonora was in part occupied by the Imperialist forces (chiefly the cities of Hermosillo and Alamos) and as the Imperial Government, with Maximilian at its head, did not approve of the terms formerly agreed upon by the Republican State Government, it became necessary for the lessee to go to Mexico City and make new arrangements with the sub-Secretary of the Imperial Treasury, Don Esteban Villalba. No copy of this document is obtainable. At the expiration of the original lease made by the State of Sonora with Mr. Robert R. Symon, and which I believe ended in 1871, Mr. Symon turned over the mints of Hermosillo and Alamos to the federal government. This act was in compliance with the terms of the original lease, in which it was stipulated that after twenty years the machinery, implements, chemicals, etc. would become the property of the nation. But the federal government, for reasons unknown to me, was unable to operate these mints at a profit, and it showed an operating loss each year . This peculiar circumstance, was the chief reason for leasing the mints anew (1876 ) to a company headed by Mr. Symon , as can be seen by the following Presidential Proclamation:

Sebastian Lerdo de Tejeda, Constitutional President of the United States of Mexico , to his constituents, be it known:
that by virtue of the prerogative extended by the Law of April 28th, of the present year, the Executive decrees the following:
Article one: The contract of this same date, made by the minister of Finance with the firm Robert R. Symon & Company, leasing to the latter the mints of Hermosillo, Alamos and Culiacan, is hereby approved.
Therefore this order shall be printed, published and circulated to be complied with in due manner.
Given at the National Governmental Palace at the City of Mexico, this twenty -ninth day of August of the year 1876.
Signed -Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada.

Shortly after this contract was made known to the public, the newspapers of Sonora and Sinaloa engaged in a bitter controversy opposing the leasing of the mints to private individuals, claiming that the mining interests of the two states would suffer; also, that the federal treasury would sustain a heavy loss, as the three mints had been leased for a period of three and a half years for only twenty thousand dollars. Foremost among the oppositionists was the newspaper El Occidental edited at Mazatlán, Sinaloa, which in its number of 7 October 1876, had a scorching article criticizing the leasing of the mints to private individuals. This attack was not left unanswered by the men in power, and in the Boletin Oficial of the State of Sonora, published in the city of Ures, then capital of the state, in its edition of 27 October 1876, there appeared the following counter-attack under the heading of "Casas de Moneda" (Mints ): "The opposition newspaper 'El Occidental' published in Mazatlán, in its number of the 7th instant charges that the federal government has made a grave mistake in leasing the mints of Hermosillo, Alamos, and Culiacan , and that this act will create a hardship to the miners and mining industry.
"We believe that there is no basis to this charge, and we are positive that in leasing the said establishments, the federal government has taken into consideration and consulted the economic side of the problem as well as the public welfare.
"Since the last lease expired the government took over the aforementioned mints and from that time an ever increasing operating expense and loss has been reported in connection with these mints. So the government in leasing them for twenty thousand dollars for a three and a half year period, will not only be saving itself additional expenses and losses, but in reality will be that much money ahead.
"On the other hand, the taxes on the mining industry will continue the same as before; so, where is this terrific blow, that according to the newspaper 'El Occidental' the Mexican miner will receive ?
"Frankly, we are unable to understand the marked opposition of the last few days to every act of the National Executive, creating imaginary wrong doings for which there is no foundation. The object cannot be other than to mislead the unsuspecting public, and to bring about dissension among the gullible, and thus start a war of personalities. In short, this seems to be the motive impelling the press of the opposition which usually is against the legitimate aspirations of the Mexican people ."
The above information was obtained from the archives of the State of Sonora through the courtesy of Mr. Rodolfo Tapia in charge of the "Tesoreria General del Estado " (State Treasury) and of Mr. Ramon E. Corral, clerk in charge of the archives. It was transmitted to the Secretaria de Hacienda y Crédito Público , Departmento de Biblioteca, Archivos y Publicaciones (Treasury Department ) of the Republic, with which the author has been in constant correspondence for a period of over two years. The treasury department in turn transcribed the information given to the Hon. Director of the Mint at Mexico City, and on 2 June 1933, the following response was sent: "In reference to the copy of the contracts asked for, allow us to inform you that they do not exist in this office. It may appear strange that these documents are not to be found in the archives of the government, but from unofficial sources the Director of the Mint has learned that when the government rescinded the contracts in 1893, the lessees were allowed to take the contracts pertaining to each mint." (Free translation.) It is hardly credible that the contract entered into for a period of three and a half years and expiring in 1879 or 1880 would have been given back to the lessee in 1893 unless extended in the meantime. However, after two and a half years of effort one must accept this answer as final. Perhaps in a not distant future these documents will come to light, as it is my belief that these documents exist.

Let us at this time engage in an estimate that might give us an idea of the possible profit obtained by the leasing firm. The Hon. Matias Romero, Secretary of the Treasury in 1868 and who published his "Geographical and Statistical Notes on Mexico" while in Washington (1898) has this to say about mints and duties on silver, page 27: "Under the Spanish laws all silver paid a duty; and as most of it was coined, that duty was levied on coinage, and the exportation of bullion was prohibited; but of course a great deal was smuggled, both during the Spanish rule and still more when Mexico was opened to foreign trade after our independence. When I occupied for the first time the Treasury Department of Mexico in 1868, it seemed to me an outrage against the mining industry of the country to require the miners, especially those who were far removed from the mints, to take their bullion to the mints, and from there to the ports to be exported to London, where it was often again turned into bullion; and as the contracts made with the lessees of the mints did not allow the free exportation of bullion, I proposed and succeeded in having enacted a law for the purpose of allowing bullion to be exported, provided that it paid the coinage duty at the respective customs houses for the benefit of the mint's lessees; and this condition of things, extraordinary as it may seem, was a great relief to the silver producers, and continued until the Mexican government could recover all the mints and be free to legislate on the "subject." There were thirteen mints in the country to coin the silver extracted from our mines, which, in the precarious condition of the Mexican treasury , were sometimes rented to private parties who advanced a sum that seemed large enough at that time , although it was a trifle in comparison to their profits, as they collected. a duty of nearly four and a half per cent upon the amount of bullion coined, and they credited to the government only one and a half per cent of the same."

From the above statements (which one must consider authoritative because of their source) and the fact that Mexico is one of the largest producers of silver in the world (having produced up to 1900 about half of the world's supply) one can readily see that three per cent of the silver mined went to the lessees of the min as net profit, as the law that Mr. Romero caused to be enacted, permitted them to collect on the strength of their contracts, without even seeing the metal, without the expenses of minting, collecting, vigilance, and risks . We are entirely in accord with the newspaper 'El Occidental' when it complained of the leasing of the mints for a period of three and a half years for only twenty thousand dollars, when the profit in any one year was nearly double this amount, as follows:

Total coinage of the mint of Hermosillo for the years 1877, 1878 and 1879 $ 2,127,810.50
Total coinage in Alamos during the above mentioned period  2,822,038.20
Total coined in the mint of Culiacan for the same period 2,782,136.00
Total coined in the three mints during a period of only three and not three and a half 7,731,984.70
Judging that 4½% was charged for coining or duty as allowed by their contracts the amount collected was 347,939.31
If from this amount the one and a half per cent had been paid to the government , it would have been 115,979.77
As the government only received 20,000.00
There was a loss to the national treasury of 95,979.77

and this was for a period of three years only. No doubt the loss was much greater because the contract was for three and a half years.

Once before, another Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Bonifacio Gutierrez in 1849 had shown the fallacy in the government's leasing the mints to private individuals. The national treasury lost nearly a million dollars in revenue by leasing three fully equipped mints as is shown by the following:

The mint of Guadalupe y Calvo, was leased for a period of ten years to the Compañia Mexicana de Guadalupe y Calvo and exempted of all taxation. It would have paid the government for the first four years of operation the sum of $227,563.96
The mint of Guanajuato was under lease to the Compañia Anglo -Mexicana for a period of fourteen years. During the first five years and eight months, due to the onerous terms of the lease, the government sustained a loss of revenue totaling  $360,071.18
The 19th of September, 1842 the government leased the mint of Zacatecas to the firm Manning and Marshall for a period of fourteen years. During the first five years and two months the operation of this mint resulted in a loss of revenue to the state amounting to the sum of $332,036.61

From 1842 to 1893 practically all the mints of Mexico were leased, and in every instance the terms of the various contracts were extremely advantageous to the lessees and detrimental to the government. Looking back , all one can see is a total disregard of the country's interests.

The statement made by the official Bulletin of the State of Sonora in defending the action of the government, in leasing the mints of Alamos, Hermosillo and Culiacan - because from 1871 to 1876 there had been an ever increasing operating expense and loss - can be explained only by the incompetency or dishonesty of the political appointees in charge of these mints. Either alternative is a reflection upon the favorites in charge of their operation.

From the records of the Secretary of the Treasury, Francisco Mejia , presented to Congress 16 September 1875, covering the fiscal year of 1874-75, page 169, the author has obtained the following: "As I stated a year ago , the government has resumed the operation of ten of the eleven mints, and the only one not taken over by the government is the one at Mexico City, the lease of which will not expire until April 1st, 1877. Since the government took over the operation of the mints there has been a constant increase of revenue derived from this source as can be seen by the following comparative statement:
Revenue obtained by the operation of the mints during

the fiscal year of 1872-73 $259,431.58
the fiscal year of 1873-74 410,361.03
the fiscal year of 1874-75 942,054.19

The revenue obtained by the government during the fiscal year of 1874-75 is $682,622.61 more than the government would have received had the mints continued to be leased to private individuals, and when the mint of Mexico City is taken over by the government, the total revenue received from the operation of the mints will by far exceed a million dollars."

In the same report quoted above, page 170, is found a table giving the net profit for the ten mints of the Republic for the fiscal year of 1874-75 as follows:

For the mint of Alamos $41,454.70
For the mint of Culiacan 59,721.06
For the mint of Hermosillo 7,553.81

Where, then, is the "ever increasing operating expense and loss referred to by the 'Boletin Oficial'? According to this information , the Treasury Department received during one single year a net profit of $108,729.57 for the above mentioned mints, and the statement made by the Official Bulletin seems very suspicious. It is unbelievable that with this information on hand, the President of the Republic, Hon . Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, would have given his official endorsement to a contract by which for the mere trifle of $20,000 the Government leased three profitable mints for a period of three and a half years, and it is far less excusable for the Secretary of the Treasury, Mejia, to submit the contract of 9 August 1876, for Presidential approval, knowing well that its terms were unjust to the Republic, and on the face of his own statements of eleven months before, it becomes criminal.

The lesson so clearly pointed out by the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Bonifacio Gutierrez, and so costly to the country, was never learned by the rulers of Mexico.

Among the numerous compilers of Mexican numismatics, four stand foremost: Don Manuel Orozco y Berra; Don José M. Garmendia; Don Javier Stavoli and Don Antonio Peñafiel. The four have been accepted by the Mexican Government as authorities on the subject, and the only records in the national archives about coinage are those compiled by these men.
Orozco y Berra has the most complete numismatic history up to 1868; Garmendia from 1874 to 1883; Stavoli from 1883 to 1895; and Peñafiel until 1900. However, the figures quoted by these men show an enormous variance and as an example we shall take the years of 1877-78 and 79 for the mints of Hermosillo, Alamos and Culiacan, and compare just two of them.
Figures given by Don José M. Garmendia

Year Hermosillo Alamos Culiacan
1877 $ 789,980.58 $ 925,634.00  $ 824,202.00
1878 877,998.00 1,055,818.75  886,362.00
1879 557,010.00 770,298.15  941,181.00
Totals 2,224,988.58 2,751,750.90 2,651,745.00
Total amount coined     $7,628,484.48

As compared with the figures given by Don Antonio Peñafiel , we have :

Year Hermosillo Alamos Culiacan
1877 $ 814,519.50 $ 1,084,186.50 $ 933,837.00
1878 737,176.00 956,295.40 912,015.00
1879 576,125.00 781,556.30 936,284.00
Totals $2,127,820.50 $2,822,038.20 $2,782,136.00
Total amount coined     .$7,731,994.70

showing a difference between the two of $ 103,510.22 for the three years. This being the case , to which shall the student of Mexican numismatics turn in search of reliable information? As each man worked at different periods it is reasonable to suppose that he was correct on the figures obtained during his term of office. I have used in this monograph the figures of all four, and I have accepted the figures given by Messrs . Garmendia and Stavoli as the most dependable for their particular period because they were at the head of the department of coinage at the time.

Let us go a step further and consider the approximate cost of the mint in Hermosillo. The mint building and machinery of Culiacan had cost the government in the neighborhood of $40,000.00 and judging by the total yearly coinage which is so similar in these three houses, the plant at Hermosillo cost the lessees that much. Not having available the amount of coinage for the first nine years we shall take the coinage of 1861-62 as typical of the coinage in the previous years and multiplied by nine we obtain the total approximate coinage for the period 1851-1861 of $1,959,109.83.

And had the lessee paid the customary 14 % duty assignable to the government, it would have been  $29,386.65
And as the coinage of copper for the years of 1861 and 1862, amounted to $73,449.84, and having in my possession coins of this mint of 1859 and 1860 it is justifiable to assume that at least an equal amount was coined in the two previous years $73,449.84
Deducting from this amount 10 % for the metal and cost of coinage $7,344.98
One can assume that the net profit on this coinage was not less than  $66,104.86
Which gives an approximate net profit to the lessee of 95,491.51
Deducting the original cost of the machinery , etc 40,000.00
Leaving a net gain on what the lessee would have paid to the government had the one and a half per cent been imposed upon him as was customary in the other mints $ 55,491.51

As I said previously this is only an estimate and for this reason I have exaggerated the expense side of the account considerably, and on the other hand, I have taken the minimum production. It is very probable that the machinery did not cost over $ 20,000.00 and while it was propelled by steam engines, it was quite rudimentary and not at all expensive. In this connection, it is well to bring before readers the fact just related to me by Don Julio Bouchet, an old resident of Hermosillo , that the first time the machinery was placed in operation, they blew the whistle, and as the people of the town had never heard anything like it, itcreated considerable commotion.

Mint owners or lessees and their tenures

from to  
1851Different sources disagree on the date of this "opening" and those in charge of its administration, thus:
25 August 1860 by Quentin Douglas and associates.
3 January 1861 by Quintin Douglas and William Miller.
20 August 1860 by William Miller, Quintin Douglas, and Robert Symon.
28 April 1876 1895 Robert R. Symon & Compañía



The assayerslist updated of the mint were:

Initials Name Began on Left office on
PP Pedro Peimbert 1835 1836
CE   1862  
MP Manuel Onofre Parodi 1866  
PR Pablo Rubio 1866 1875
FM Florencio Monteverde 1871 1876
AF or F Alejandro Fourcade 1876 1877
JA or A Jesús Acosta 1877 1883
FM or M Fernando Mendez 1883 1886
FG or G Fausto Gaxiola 1886 1895



Among the directors of the mint were Don Florencio Monteverde; Don Felizardo Torres; Guillermo Parrodi and Don Gustavo Torres. They were really federal auditors, but I have not been able to find the year or years in which each one served in that capacity.