How Mexico’s Remarkable Peso Revolutionized the World

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

 

In honor of the holiday, let’s take a moment to learn about and celebrate Mexican coins.

 

Both pesos and dollars originated in the Spanish dollar of the 15th-19th centuries. The word “peso” was originally used to refer to pesos oro and pesos plata (gold and silver weights, respectively.) In fact, the literal translation of peso is “weight.”

 

Peso was the original name of the legendary Spanish “pieces of eight” coins issued in Mexico, sometimes called Spanish dollars. Each peso was valued at 8 reales; the escudo coin was worth 16 reales. These coins were widely circulated in the Americas through the mid 1800’s; America accepted them as legal tender prior to the Coinage Act in 1857, and Canada did the same until 1854. The first American dollar coins were not minted until 1792, and their value was set to approximately match the Spanish dollar.

 

The first decimation of the peso occurred in 1863, with the issue of centavo coins, each valued at one hundredth of a peso. The first peso denomination coins were issued in 1866, though reales denominated coins were still issued until 1897.

Peso_Mexicano_1921

 

The gold content of the peso was cut nearly in half in 1905, but the silver content was unchanged until 1918, while other coins were debased. Silver coins, except for the 1 peso, were limited to token issues, and several varieties of centavos were issued in bronze, nickel, and other metals.

 

CaballitoOne of the most striking of Mexican coins was created during this period: the Caballito. It bore the Mexican coat of arms on the obverse with its now-familiar eagle and snake motif, with the legends, “Un Peso” and “Estados Unidos Mexicanos.” The reverse showed a woman on horseback reaching out a hand as if in proclamation, and the date. These stunning coins, minted in .903 silver, were minted from 1910 through 1914. After 1918, all silver coins declined in both weight and fineness, culminating in the last minting of silver 100-peso coins in 1977.

 

In 1993, a new currency was introduced: the nuevo peso. The new peso, written as N$ and designated MXN, equaled 1000 of the original MXP pesos. The Bank of Mexico began introducing bimetallic coins in 2003. There are 32 coins in this series: one for each Mexican state, and one for the Federal District. Each coin bears Mexico’s coat of arms on the obverse, with the state’s coat of arms on the reverse. They are rare in circulation, but remain a popular novelty coin. Collectors have been encouraged to acquire full sets, but as the coins are high in price, this has not been as successful as hoped. The coins also have a bullion version, with a gold outer ring instead of the aluminium bronze of the standard coins.

 

AUPeso.jpgMexican bullion coins are available in several weights, in both .999 fine silver and fine gold. On one side, a winged Victoria strides across a landscape, with the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. The coat of arms of Mexico is shown on the other side. Newer versions show Victoria at a different angle, and the Mexican coat of arms on the reverse is surrounded by other coats of arms from Mexican history.

 

Today, the peso is third most-traded currency from the Americas, the most traded Latin American currency, and the eighth most traded currency in the world. It served as the model for multiple world currencies, including the Straits dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, largely due to the trade and influence of the Spanish empire. 19th century Siam briefly used the Mexican peso as legal tender, when an unexpected flood of foreign trade caught the government mints by surprise.

 

According to Collectors Weekly, “Of the coins from the early days of the Republica Mexicana, escudos and reales minted in the 1820s are in particularly high demand. […] Other Mexican coins of note include round lead centavos issued by the state of Durango in 1914 and rectangular copper Oaxacan centavos from 1915.”

 

Mexican coins are among the most popular in the world, and are an excellent starting point for beginners, as well as a good investment for more experienced collectors.

 

Image and share your Mexican coins with us through the Lookzee app to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us! Now available on Google Play Store and App Store.

A Look at Labor Day

 

 

Today we celebrate and honor all workers, especially those in manual labor.

 

 

Capture04In the late 19th century, support began to rise for a holiday to celebrate labor, and provide a time of rest and festivity for labor workers and their families. Though the origins of the holiday are somewhat in question, the generally accepted story is that Labor Day sprang from a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor in New York City, in September of 1882. The Secretary of the Central Labor Union, Matthew Maguire, proposed a national Labor Day holiday to be held in subsequent Septembers.

 

 

Capture02Oregon was the first state to officially celebrate Labor Day in 1887. Thirty states celebrated Labor Day by the time it was made a federal holiday in 1894. After workers were killed by the Army and Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, when factory workers who lived in a Pullman company town struck for better working and living conditions, Congress unanimously approved Labor Day as a national holiday, and it was signed into law by President Cleveland only 6 days after the Pullman Strike ended. While some favored the traditional European date of May 1 for a labor celebration, others were concerned that a May Day celebration would result in Haymarket-style incidents, and would support socialist and anarchist movements.

 

 

Capture03Labor Day became a day of rest for workers and their families, often complete with festivals, speeches, and parades. The tradition of Labor Day sales sprung out of this, as stores moved to take advantage of workers who now had a whole day to shop. However you celebrate, The Stamp & Coin Place wishes you a happy Labor Day!

 

 

The stereo cards shown here, along with other vintage collectibles, can be found in the Stamp & Coin Place store on eBay.

What Are Ancient Aliens Doing on This Silver Bar?

A fascinating numismatic item came into our offices the other day: a small bar of .999 fine silver from the Tennessee Silver Coin Exchange, dated 1974. That in itself is not so unusual, but the front of the bar is what holds real interest. The left side of the design shows an astronaut standing on the surface of the moon, holding an American flag. On the right is a drawing from a cave in Tassili N’Ajjer in the Algerian Sahara, depicting a bulbous-headed humanoid form wearing a shapeless suit. The inscription on the coin reads, “Moon, 1969 A.D. Sahara 4000 B.C. Astronauts of Two Ages.”

 

800px-Erich-von-Däniken_1610.jpg

©Sven Teschke via Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons License

As odd as this item may seem at first, it begins to make sense in historical context. In 1968, a Swiss hotelier named Erich von Däniken published a book titled, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. In his book (which later turned out to be plagiarized in many sections from other, less known works; Von Daniken also admitted to fabricating evidence), von Daniken muses on the possibility that aliens may have visited human beings in ancient times, and that ancient architecture and art held clues to these meetings. Although the idea was not new (blogger and researcher Jason Colavito traces the modern “ancient astronaut” concept back to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft), it became wildly popular. A filmed version of von Daniken’s book, renamed “In Search of Ancient Aliens” and narrated by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, gave way to its own TV series. Von Daniken went on to publish over two dozen books on the same theme, and continues to appear on shows like “Ancient Aliens,” though his popularity has waned several times over the decades.

 

 

The_Sirius_Mystery,_first_edition.jpgIn 1976, Robert K. G. Temple published The Sirius Mystery, which claimed that aliens from the system surrounding the star Sirius had visited earth and made contact with ancient peoples, significantly impacting their culture. The evidence in the book later turned out to be severely faulty, but it only added to the ancient alien craze when it was first released. Temple came to believe that the ancient site of Tiwanaku, an ancient structure in western Bolivia, could be dated to 15,000 B.C.E., while archaeological experts believe the site to be no older than 1500 B.C.E. Undeterred, Temple continues to promote ancient alien theories.

 

bar2.jpgThe 1970’s were the high point of the initial ancient aliens craze, so the existence of an “ancient astronaut” silver bar from 1973 should be no surprise. In fact, on researching this piece, several more silver bars with similar themes were discovered, all from the early 1970’s. This particular bar is one of 1500 minted by the World Wide Mint for the Tennessee Silver Coin Exchange, Inc.

 

How Mexico’s Remarkable Peso Revolutionized the World

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

 

In honor of the holiday, let’s take a moment to examine and celebrate Mexican coins.

 

Both pesos and dollars originated in the Spanish dollar of the 15th-19th centuries. The word “peso” was originally used to refer to pesos oro and pesos plata (gold and silver weights, respectively.) In fact, the literal translation of peso is “weight.”

 

7264793792_fd2a04aae4_o.jpgPeso was the original name of the legendary Spanish “pieces of eight” coins issued in Mexico, sometimes called Spanish dollars. Each peso was valued at 8 reales; the escudo coin was worth 16 reales. These coins were widely circulated in the Americas through the mid 1800’s; America accepted them as legal tender prior to the Coinage Act in 1857, and Canada did the same until 1854. The first American dollar coins were not minted until 1792, and their value was set to approximately match the Spanish dollar.

 

The first decimation of the peso occurred in 1863, with the issue of centavo coins, each valued at one hundredth of a peso. The first peso denomination coins were issued in 1866, though reales denominated coins were still issued until 1897.

Peso_Mexicano_1921

 

The gold content of the peso was cut nearly in half in 1905, but the silver content was unchanged until 1918, while other coins were debased. Silver coins, except for the 1 peso, were limited to token issues, and several varieties of centavos were issued in bronze, nickel, and other metals.

 

CaballitoOne of the most striking of Mexican coins was created during this period: the Caballito. It bore the Mexican coat of arms on the obverse with its now-familiar eagle and snake motif, with the legends, “Un Peso” and “Estados Unidos Mexicanos.” The reverse showed a woman on horseback reaching out a hand as if in proclamation, and the date. These stunning coins, minted in .903 silver, were minted from 1910 through 1914. After 1918, all silver coins declined in both weight and fineness, culminating in the last minting of silver 100-peso coins in 1977.

 

In 1993, a new currency was introduced: the nuevo peso. The new peso, written as N$ and designated MXN, equaled 1000 of the original MXP pesos. The Bank of Mexico began introducing bimetallic coins in 2003. There are 32 coins in this series: one for each Mexican state, and one for the Federal District. Each coin bears Mexico’s coat of arms on the obverse, with the state’s coat of arms on the reverse. They are rare in circulation, but remain a popular novelty coin. Collectors have been encouraged to acquire full sets, but as the coins are high in price, this has not been as successful as hoped. The coins also have a bullion version, with a gold outer ring instead of the aluminium bronze of the standard coins.

 

AUPeso.jpgMexican bullion coins are available in several weights, in both .999 fine silver and fine gold. On one side, a winged Victoria strides across a landscape, with the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. The coat of arms of Mexico is shown on the other side. Newer versions show Victoria at a different angle, and the Mexican coat of arms on the reverse is surrounded by other coats of arms from Mexican history.

 

Today, the peso is third most-traded currency from the Americas, the most traded Latin American currency, and the eighth most traded currency in the world. It served as the model for multiple world currencies, including the Straits dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, largely due to the trade and influence of the Spanish empire. 19th century Siam briefly used the Mexican peso as legal tender, when an unexpected flood of foreign trade caught the government mints by surprise.

 

According to Collectors Weekly, “Of the coins from the early days of the Republica Mexicana, escudos and reales minted in the 1820s are in particularly high demand. […] Other Mexican coins of note include round lead centavos issued by the state of Durango in 1914 and rectangular copper Oaxacan centavos from 1915.”

 

Mexican coins are among the most popular in the world, and are an excellent starting point for beginners, as well as a good investment for more experienced collectors.

 

Yes, we sell Mexican coins, bullion, and currency! See our selection here.

Exonumia

When you begin to pursue coin collecting (numismatics), you may find a lot of terms and expressions that are new to you. One of the first you’re likely to see is “exonumia.” What is that?

Exonumia is a branch of numismatics that is worthy of its own study and pursuit; in short, exonumia refers to currency-like items that are not currency. These can include tokens, badges, pressed/elongated coins, medallions, wooden nickels, and more.

The word “exonumia” itself is as recent as 1960, when Token and Medal Society founding member Russell Rulau coined the term; Webster’s accepted it to their dictionary in 1965. Exactly what constitutes exonumia is often up for debate, as are the lines between exonumismatic branches (if a token bears an advertisement, is it a token or a promotional piece?)

The Token and Medal Society states that “Strictly defined, a token is any substitute for the money issued by governments. The most common form of token is a metal disc, similar to a coin, on which is inscribed the value and the issuer. In theory, tokens were redeemable only by the issuer, but some were accepted widely and often circulated just as coins. In practice, many other items, such as advertising pieces, are also called tokens as opposed to medals… A medal is an object made to commemorate some person or event. Medals have been made by governments, organizations, or individuals.”

While the items classified as exonumia are practically endless, there are a few major areas that will interest both serious collectors and those with a passing interest in historical curiosities.

 

Wooden money: 

Wood is rarely used as currency, since it has no intrinsic value, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. In the financial crisis of the 1930’s, factories shut down, banks closed their doors, and people held on to as much money as they could. The result? A drop in the amount of money circulating. Local bank closures meant disaster for business in rural or rugged areas, as a trip to a neighboring town was simply not feasible.

wood-nickel

Blaine, Washington, found itself in this very predicament. Local businessman Albert Balch had been promoting slicewood, a pressed wood product made locally. (One thing Washington state has in abundance: trees!) He realized that this could also be used for printing emergency money, and the idea caught on. The Chamber of Commerce in nearby Tenino backed the money with non-interest bearing warrants, creating legitimate currency. Merchants could redeem these pieces for US currency or gold. The town of Blaine also adopted the idea, cutting pressed wood into circles to make wooden nickels. These “coins” featured an image of the Peace Arch Monument, and made Blaine nationally known.

After the Depression ended, wood was outlawed as currency, but wooden nickels remained popular as tokens for promotions, advertising, and souvenirs.

Pressed or elongated coins: 

Coin-pressing machines can be found at almost any national park or other attraction. For the cost of a dollar or two and a sacrificial penny, you can watch the machine press your coin into a long oval, printed with an image to remind you of your destination.

While many pennies get lost quickly, quite a few are the subject of serious collectors. Disney parks are known for their collectible penny designs, with aficionados scrambling to get every design available at every park.

1893_Columbia_Exposition_pennyThe oldest method of elongating coins is both dangerous and unreliable: just stick the penny on a railroad track and hope the passing train squashes it properly (note: this is DANGEROUS and should not be done, for the safety of all.) The first modern penny press machine debuted at the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893. These coins proved immensely popular, and spread across the country as travelers brought them back from the fair. Some can still be found today.

 

Hobo Nickels

hobo-nickel
“Buffalo nickels” by Danthomas – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buffalo_nickles.jpg#/media/File:Buffalo_nickles.jpg

The Buffalo Nickel that was in circulation from 1913 to 1938 sparked a surprising art form: the hobo nickel. The Buffalo Nickel was thicker than other coins, and the head on the obverse was larger, allowing for the creation of fine details.

During the 1930’s, thousands of unemployed men traveled to find what work they could; commonly referred to as “hobos,” these men took available work (usually manual labor), and created these coins as a means of artistic expression, as well as to trade for necessities. Since these men were on the road, without means of proper tools for metalworking, each altered coin could take up to 100 hours for a finished piece. The variety of artists, combined with the wide range of rough tools used, resulted in coins that are completely unique: no two hobo nickels look alike.

Encased Stamps

us-encased_postage-0-01Have you ever wondered how many stamps you have lying around your house, and how much value might be caught up in them? This proved to come in handy during a time of financial crisis!

In 1862, America faced an intense shortage of coins. The government eased the situation temporarily by declaring that postage stamps could be used to pay off debts to the government, providing the debt was less than $5. This proved to be more difficult than initially anticipated, due to the fragile nature of stamps. A businessman named John Gault came up with an ingenious solution: Gault created metal cases for the stamps to protect them from damage while they served as currency.

Gault’s encased stamps were only circulated for a about a year, until the government issued fractional currency. The use of stamps as currency also created a shortage of stamps! The encased stamp didn’t last long in its original usage, but they make excellent exonumismatic collector’s pieces. Very few are still in existence, as most cases were opened to remove the stamp as soon as the crisis had passed.

Read more! For more interesting stories of exonumia and collector’s items, see our blog series!

Vintage Yo-Yos

Did you play with yo-yos as a kid? They reached a resurgence of popularity in the 1960’s. There probably isn’t a kid in the world who hasn’t played with a yo-yo at one point or another. But did you know that some people collect vintage yo-yos?

It’s hard to say when yo-yos were invented. There are conflicting accounts. They may have been invented in ancient China, or perhaps by the Mayans.

Children in ancient Greece definitely played with yo-yos. These yo-yos were made of terra cotta and painted with beautiful patterns.

1791-Yo-Yo-Bandalore

In 16th century France, the elite would use yo-yos as a kind of stress ball. As they fleed from the guillotine, they used glass or ivory yo-yos to relieve stress.

The modern yo-yo came about in 1928, when Pedro Flores opened the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in California. The company quickly grew, expanding to other locations and trademarking the yo-yo.

In 1999, the yo-yo was included in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Collecting yo-yos means seeing the evolution of the toy from era to era. From wooden to glass to plastic, the popular material of the era makes itself known in the yo-yo. Some yo-yos have brands’ logos on them, or colorful designs for young children.

Do you collect yo-yos?

Collecting Vintage Hatpins

As some of the more obscure and intricate types of jewelry, hat pins have been all but lost in the memory of fashion.

Hats in history weren’t always made with practicality in mind. Many hats did not stick to their wearers’ heads without help. This is where hatpins came in.

Hatpins were invented in the 1850’s to pin down straw hats, and reached their popularity peak between the 1890’s and 1920’s. The stems of the pins reached as long as 12 inches at one point.

Hatpins are beauties of their own. Tiny, detailed ornaments on the end of the pins like flowers, leaves or jewels decorate the hatpins. They started out with simple designs and became more detailed over time. The most common was a black or white bead on a pin, a basic design that went with everything.

If you collect hatpins, it’s important to keep an eye out for fakes. Sellers will pass pins that are not genuine off as vintage or antique.

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Types of fake hatpins include (source):

Fantasies – hatpin styles that don’t come from any particular period, but are sold as if they are authentic historical pieces.

Reproductions – hatpins that resemble pins from a specific period, but are actually brand new.

Marriages – A melding of new and old, where either the stem or the top is an old piece combined with new.

If you’re wondering about a hatpin, check one of the best sources, The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders by Lillian Baker.

 

All About Christmas Crackers

Christmas crackers are a traditional Christmas treat in the UK – and they’ve been popular for over 100 years. Fans of vintage collectibles will get a kick out of them. Crackers take center stage at Christmas parties or Christmas dinner. One person grabs each end of the cracker and pull. It’s a literal bang; a tiny strip of chemicals reacts to pressure and gives off the sound of a snap when participants pull the cracker.

What do these crackers contain? Small toys, jokes or paper crowns are traditional.

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So how did these crackers start? How did flimsy paper products become so popular?

It all starts with Thomas J. Smith of England, who designed the cracker shape to wrap candy bonbons (sweetmeats) in. But the bonbons were not as big a hit as Smith hoped for, so he started brainstorming other marketing methods. He had already designed the twist candy wrapper we’re familiar with, so he figured he’d try putting something other than bonbons in the middle. At first he tried putting love notes in the wrappers; later he changed the contents to trinkets we’re familiar with today (one of his sons later added the paper crowns and cheaper toys). Australians still call them bonbons based on their original design!

Smith came up with the cracker’s “bang” based on the crackle of logs on a fire. It’s half the fun!

Smith and his family even got their own memorial fountain in London in honor of the invention of Christmas crackers. And over 150 years later, the crackers are still going strong.

Does your family use Christmas crackers? What’s your favorite prize?

The Prominent Americans Stamp Series

Between 1965 and 1978, as part of their regularly issued series the Postal Service issued the Prominent Americans series. You can probably guess the faces on the stamps based on the name of the series: famous Americans like Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Einstein, and John F. Kennedy are just a few examples of the well-known figures featured on the stamps.

The Prominent Americans Series came after the Liberty issue which featured prominent patriotic figures and locations. The Americans Series emerged from a desire for more modernity in stamp options.

Despite being one series, the stamps had a number of different font and image styles to keep things fresh.

Stamp_US_1966_5c_Washington

The original Washington stamp design with the “dirty face”.

The series was not without its own complications: the 5 cent Washington stamp had more shading than necessary on his face, making it look unshaven or dirty. Later issues of Washington had a lighter, cleaned up face.

But despite that the series was popular in emphasizing patriotic, American themes in the world of philately. Looking at each individual stamp emphasizes the individuality of each important character in American history…Even if that individuality meant having an unshaven face.

How Do Halftones Work?

If you look closely at old advertisements from vintage magazines, you will notice something interesting: the image is comprised of tiny dots of different colors. The tiny dots trick the eye into seeing varying tones of colors when really there are only limited colors of dots. For instance, cyan dots on top of yellow dots create the illusion of the color green.

This is not pointillism we’re talking about. The dots are much too fine for that. But before widespread use of computers, the artist involved could not possibly have sat down and dotted each and every dot to make the image; that’s simply impossible. So how, exactly, were halftones created?

It all comes down to a photography technique. The invention of photography led to many different printing techniques, but it took artists a while to figure out the most efficient techniques. At first, artists tried copying photos in pen and ink or through woodcutting, but as you can guess, this was a time-heavy project.

OldDesignShop_AtmoresMincemeatAdCard1

Soon, photographers and artists discovered better methods. In the 1830’s, William Fox Talbot thought up a technique using gauze; he suggested projecting the photo through a screen. Doing so created a pattern of dots that could be photoengraved onto a printing plate. Perfecting the process took trial and error and the breaking of some expensive glass screens, but it was worth it to reach the half toning effect.

Of course, once digital methods took over, the traditional method of half toning was no longer needed. Digital imaging made image processing much, much easier.

Next time you see genuine vintage advertisements, take a closer look at their colors. If they were made with half toning, you will see small dots – sometimes perfectly round, sometimes not – that create the bigger picture through small details.

 

Sources:

Graphic Design

Wikipedia