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The Eight Reales Coinage of Oaxaca: 1861-1864

During this brief four-year period, the coinage of Oaxaca provides the numismatist with a wealth of variety, a large measure of confusion and numerous unanswered questions. Collectors and catalogers have long been confused over how to organize the coinage of this period. There are three different mintmarks and two assayers. Some have chosen to organize by date and then note the mintnark variety and assayer for each coin. Others have preferred to list the coins by mintmark and then by date and assayer under each mintmark.

For years Donigan and Parker wondered how and why any mint could produce coins so drastically different in style, fabric, and quality. Why would they use two mintnarks in some years and three in another?

There were the extremely crude issues of 1861 and 1862 with the a inside O rnintnark and the FR assayer. At the same time there was a nicely styled and much better executed issue that bad the O mintmark also with the FR initials. In 1863 the issue with the O mintmark and the FR initials continued in the same style of the two previous years, but there appeared three different coins with the assayer's initials AE. One was nicely styled and deeply engraved with the a inside O mintmark. Another, which was also nicely styled and bore some similarity to the preceding coin had the unusual mintmark of an a above the O. The two preceding coins are very rare and seldom encountered, but the third coin, which also bears the assayer's initials AE, has only the O mintmark. This last coin is nicely styled with good die workmanship. It is similar to, but better executed than the a above O mintmark issue of the same year.

In trying to organize this in a satisfactory way, Donigan and Parker kept running into a wall. When they tried to sort by date nothing made sense. When they tried sorting by mintmark the styles did not match up and overlapped. Sorting by assayer was equally fruitless. In short, nothing made any logical sense. Finally, out of frustration, they decided to practice what they preached and listen to the coins. To make a long story short, it became apparent that there were two mints working simultaneously in Oaxaca. Both of these mints were striking coins from 1861 through 1863 and operating under the same assayer in 1861 and 1862. Their equipment would have been very different, accounting for the major differences in quality and style.

The first of these mints produced the crude 1861 and 1862 issues with the a inside O mintmark and later the three 1863 AE issues. Donigan and Parker consider this the first mint because it is their theory, based on the mintmark (a inside O) and the fact that production seems to have continued uninterrupted, that this is the mint where the previous Oaxaca coinage was struck. They have no explanation for the marked deterioration in style between 1860 and 1861.

The second mint probably opened in the latter part of 1861, based on the relative rarity of the 1861 issue. The mintmark change to O (no a) was undoubtedly to identify the new mint. The mint operated, apparently continuously, from 1861 to 1864 maintaining the same Die Style and most likely using the same punches. All issues from this mint bear the assayer initials FR.