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The Missing Link of José María Morelos y Pavon: In search of the elusive 4 reales coin

by A.J. Behul

The 4 Reales coin, also known as the tostón (tostones pl.), was thought to have been part of the coins known as SUDtype, minted in Mexico by the insurgent leader José María Morelos y Pavon, between 1811 and 1814. During the period, this denomination was commonly-known and accepted, having been coined by the Royalists before, during, and after the War of Independence. Nonetheless, the notion of the 4 Reales coin of Morelos, eventually gave rise to a historical dichotomy, as to whether the coin had actually been minted or not; inadvertently converting it into a numismatic missing link of sorts.

Those in favor of the coin’s existence principally refer to the edict issued by Morelos on 13 July 1811 in Tixtla, concerning the minting of a provisional copper coin. Historically-speaking, the most frequently cited transcription of the edict, is found in the book Morelos. Documentos Ineditos y poco conocidos, published in Mexico, by the Secretary of Public Education in 1927Decreto mandando se acuñe moneda in Morelos. Documentos inéditos y poco conocidos (primera edición), Tomo I, Colección de Documentos del Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia y Etnografía, Editorial Publicaciones de la Secretaria de Educación Pública, 1927, pp. 124-125.. As pertaining to the 4 Reales coin, the document states:

… And above it the value of the currency, whether it be a peso, Toston. Peseta, Real or Half-Real.”

While the naysayers reference the letter written by Morelos to José Ignacio López Rayón, Commander of the Insurgent Army, on 12 August 1811, wherein Morelos expressly rejects the inclusion of the denomination as follows:

“... I have authorized in copper from a half-real to a peso, [excluding] tostones, a useless currency ...Nicolás León, La Moneda del General Insurgente Don José María Morelos, 1897, p. 4.

This of course gives rise to an apparent contradiction that was created by Morelos having initially included the tostones in the edict of 13 July 1811, then rescinding the denomination decisively, almost one month later on 12 August; a most significant and critical point, that will be discussed further on.

In 1899, Dr. Nicolas León published a work entitled Supplement Nº1 as an addendum to his previous work The Coin of the Insurgent General Don Jose Maria Morelos, A Numismatic Essay, which had been published in 1897. On page 5 of the supplement, he presents the illustrations of two 4 Reales coins, both obverse and reverse sides, apparently found by his brother, Mr. Francisco León, in the state of Oaxaca. Dr. León affirms:
“It is [evident] with this that the primitive idea of Mr. Morelos, communicated to Lic. Rayón in a letter dated in Tuxtla [sic] on August 12th, 1811, did not subsist.”Nicolás León, Suplemento Nº1, 1899, p. 5. Note: Lic. (short-form for Licenciado) is an academic title of courtesy utilized in Spanish for someone with a Bachelor’s Degree.

In essence, Dr. León’s affirmation attempted to establish that with the discovery of the two 4 Reales coins, what Morelos had stated in the letter to Rayón concerning the tostón being excluded, was rendered null and void.

Coincidentally, that same year (1899), Mr. Lyman Haynes Low, renowned American numismatist, held a public auction in New York, where five silver 4 Reales coins were up for sale; listed as the property of Mr. Francisco León y Calderón, the brother of Dr. León, who as per commented, had been attributed with finding the two previously mentioned 4 Reales coins, that were illustrated in Supplement Nº1Auction Sale of Coins and Medals. Collections: Bartlett-Warner, Francisco Leon y Calderon, Samuel McCalla. On Monday, February 20, 1899, At Two P.M., At the Collector´s Club, 351 Fourth Avenue, New York City. Catalogued by Lyman H. Low, United Charities Building, Fourth Avenue And 22d Street, New York, N.Y..

It is interesting to note, that the photographs of the obverse and reverse sides of the five silver 4 Reales coins represented in the auction catalog, are the first of their kind, that would later become the primary source of all future references and/ or reproductions of the images, including and not limited to, the work of acclaimed numismatist and historian, Alberto Francisco Pradeau{Pradeau, footnote}, a number of reputable coin catalogues from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s, in addition to various publications by prominent numismatic organizations and scholars alike.

In terms of the aforementioned seeming contradiction between what Morelos had declared in the edict and the letter to Rayón, as a result of the findings of the present historical investigation, it can be irrevocably stated that no contradiction had in fact occurred. Specifically, with the serendipitous discovery of the original edict, issued by Morelos on 13 July 1811, and the subsequent scrutiny of said document, it is evident that there is no mention of the tostones in the edict.

That is to say, the denomination is not listed in between the other denominations to be coined. The original edict states:

And below it the value of the currency, whether it be a Peso, Peceta, Real or Half-Real...” Edict for the issue of a national copper coin, dated 13 July 1811, signed by José María Morelos y Pavón, written in ink, on a sheet measuring 44x31cm: original document from a private collection..

Note that the original edict also correctly indicates the location of the value of the currency - below the monogram.

One may then ask, how is it possible that the transcription of the edict published in 1927, did in fact mention the tostones? Prior to providing an answer to this valid question, it is important to comment on the authenticity of the original edict, that was encountered during the course of the investigation. The document was subject to three impartial, third-party studies carried out by the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), on 12 August 1992, Banco de México), on 12 February 1993, and an art and antiquities appraiser and authenticator, on 17 October 2012, respectively; all unanimously declaring the document to be authentic and genuineIt should be noted that the studies in question were comprehensive in every aspect, including and not limited to: the analysis of documental and historical content, microscopic ink and paper composition, and signature authentication..

As to the question, it must first be acknowledged that at the time, no one, singular, physical document (in this case Morelos’ edict), would have sufficed to reach the majority of the population in the newly created province of Tecpan, and the surrounding areas (Morelos actually refers to this in the content of the edict, ordering multiple publications of the document). Therefore, it would be logical to deduce that there would have to have been at least ‘x’ number of edicts that were issued. Coupled with the customary practice of utilizing the services of a public notary to transcribe the words and ideas of the author, and the fact that said document would then have to be replicated many times over, sets the precedent for human error to occur.

This is evident upon reading the results of the AGN study of the original edict previously referred to, in relation to the transcription of the document published in 1927, in which sixty-two inconsistencies were clearly identified, ranging from simple grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, to significant oversights, converse meanings, and add-ons, which would subsequently explain the inclusion of the tostones in the 1927 transcription.

The fact that Morelos wrote an official letter to Rayón, less than a month after the issuance of the edict, in which he was so insistent about clarifying that the provisional coins to be minted would not include the tostones, in addition to directly stating that the denomination was useless, would suggest that some time between the issue of the edict and the letter itself, it most likely came to the attention of Morelos, that a number of the transcriptions of the edict had in truth, included mention of the tostones. Knowing full well that he would not be able to recover the documents in question, the only viable alternative would have been to write the letter to Rayón, affirming that the tostones were not to be minted.

It is perhaps at this point, that the full significance of the discovery of the original edict, comes into context; that the document not only serves as the single piece of authentic, historical evidence that abrogates the notion of any contradiction having existed between what was established in Morelos’ edict and the letter to Rayón, but it also confirms that Morelos never had the intention of minting the 4 Reales coin.

How does one then elucidate the previously cited coins that curiously appeared in 1899, all of which shared common provenance in Dr. León’s brother, Mr. Francisco León?

As a precursor to the question, it would be most relevant to ask, how many 4 Reales coins were found between 1811 and 1899? Oddly enough, only the seven coins that had pertained to Dr. León’s brother. Not one coin was documented in any historical registry or official count between 1811 and 1814. No listing of the denomination was recorded in the finding of insurgent coins in a cache discovered in a cave, located in the San Cristobal mountains, as reported in an official document sent to the Viceroy on 15 July 1814. None among the 428 SUD coins found by an American archaeologist, close to Tlacochahuaya, in the state of Oaxaca, in August 1885. No mention of 4 Reales in Low’s work A Sketch of the Coinage of Morelos, in June of 1886, nor any of them discovered between the 570 SUD coins found in a hacienda, the property of General Nicolas Bravo in Chilpancingo, in July 1886.

This would then signify that the first 4 Reales coins only became publicly-known after more than eighty years; all of them intertwined with, or connected to Dr. León, his brother, and Mr. Low, in some way or another.

The next batch of 4 Reales SUD coins, so to speak, began to emerge in the numismatic market in the 1960s. The term batch referred to here, has been utilized only to establish a demarcation between the coins that were represented in Dr. Leon’s Supplement Nº1 and Low’s auction catalog, and the latter coins. Simply put, they were not the same coins.

morelos 4r obversemorelos 4r reverse

One such specimen was a cast silver 4 Reales coin, dated 1814, with the following characteristics:

Metal Alloy Content: Silver (Ag) 876.60 / Copper (Cu) 123.40
Edge: Plain (Smooth)
Shape: Round
Alignment: Medal ↑↑
Weight: 15.90 g
Diameter: 31.0 mm
Thickness: 2.44 mm
Obverse Description: Monogram of Morelos with the denomination below it, written with the Arabic numeral ‘4’ followed by a form of the letter “L” composed of four points and flipped upwards and a capital letter “R”. Below the denomination, the year 1814 in Arabic numerals.
Reverse Description: SUD OXA, with bow and arrow above. Uncommon design.

Through the present investigation, it was possible to track the same coin to three auction catalogs, which included photographs of the obverse and reverse sides: the Coin Auction of Howard Gibbs held in New York in 1966, the Rare Coin Auction in Los Angeles of 1972, and the Calico Coin Auction in Spain, 1994. As per the Gibbs’ catalog, the coin was listed as follows:

182 4 Reales. Odd bow/arrow/SUD/OXA. Rev: Monogram/4 R/1814. Not in Pradeau.
cff. XVII.2 Extremely rare. V.F. PHOTO (250.00)

It is important to note that the coin that appeared in the preceding catalogs, was unequivocally one and the same, based on a meticulous study of the images in comparison to the original specimen. Furthermore, the fact that the coin, as listed in the description, portrayed an uncommon design, in terms of the characteristic bow and arrow found on the reverse side of the SUD coins, made it that much more straightforward to identify, particularly when comparing it to the known varieties that were represented in Low’s Sketch in 1886, and later reprinted in the work of Dr. León in 1897. As such, the specimen in question is to be considered a modern, fantasy coin, that was most likely fabricated to entice collectors’ interests.

The findings of the present investigation demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt, that Morelos never had any inclination whatsoever of minting the 4 Reales coin; a conclusion substantiated by the documentary evidence that has been presented in the form of the original edict issued on 13 July 1811, and the subsequent letter to Rayón, written on 12 August that same year, in addition to the exceedingly limited number of specimens that have been found, considered to be spurious and/or questionable in terms of origin.

Suffice it to say, after more than two hundred years of speculation, the notion of Morelos’ missing link can finally be laid to rest.
Content extract from the book El eslabón perdido de José María Morelos y Pavón: En búsqueda de la elusiva moneda de 4 reales, by. A. J. Behul, published July 2020 by HOLA Publishing Internacional,