Spain: The most valuable Spanish coins in history | Culture
On October 22, 2009 at noon, the main hall of the Hotel Arts in Barcelona was packed. There had been over 1,200 requests to attend the event, but only 200 people had been selected to see the Áureo & Calicó auction house offer collectors around the world a chance to purchase a gold coin. made in Segovia in 1609, during the reign of Philip III of Spain. The coin was denominated in escudos – a coin used until the beginning of the 19th century – and was part of the Caballero de Yndias collection, a collection of over 2,000 coins that belonged to a Spaniard who had settled in Cuba.
The starting price for this unique piece – measuring 71 millimeters and weighing 339 grams – was € 800,000 and that was without counting an additional 18%. Only one individual at the auction, a Swiss identified simply as number 74, rose to the challenge: he paid € 944,000 for the 100 escudo coin, making it the most valuable coin in Spanish history. .
The Spanish government, then headed by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Socialist Party (PSOE), was unable to exercise preferential acquisition rights because the coin had been “a temporary import”, meaning it had been imported into Spain from abroad exclusively. for sale at auction.
“A coin is worth precisely what someone is willing to pay for it at any given time, but as an investment it’s not safe. It is governed by the laws of supply and demand to a superlative degree, ”notes expert Jesús Losada in his book Las monedas españolas más valiosas (or, the most valuable Spanish coins), which explores the largest global auctions until 2021 involving these wanted items.
In his book, Losada explains that the coin purchased by the unknown Swiss collector was originally made at the Royal Mint in Segovia, the only facility with the machinery to make it. To do this, gold leaf had to be inserted “through two cylinders activated by a large water wheel as many times as necessary, until a leaf of the required thickness was obtained”. This thinner sheet would then pass through two more cylinders to strike both sides of the coin with the appropriate design. There are only seven other known installations in the world with this kind of machines.
The second most valuable Spanish coin ever sold at auction was minted in Pamplona in 1652 during the reign of Philip IV. It is an eight escudo coin that once belonged to the Archer Huntington collection, a 19th century philanthropist from New York who donated it to the Hispanic Society of America. When the museum found itself in dire financial straits, it was forced to sell its collection of 38,000 people. The sale took place at Sotheby’s in March 2012 and raised $ 30 million (€ 26 million). The Spanish coin was purchased for € 614,250 and put up for auction again in November of the same year.
As for the third most valuable Spanish coin ever sold at auction – another 100 escudos coin made in 1633 under Philip IV – only four of them are known: one is kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain , another belonged to the Prince de Ligne (a Belgian lineage) who sold it in London in 1968, and a third was in the hands of a Milan collector known only as LB who sold it at auction in 2019 for € 590,000.
On July 31, 1715, a large fleet of Spanish galleons laden with wealth sank off the coast of Florida after leaving Havana for Spain. A hurricane destroyed 11 of the 12 ships and more than 100,000 pieces ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of them have since been found by treasure hunters who offer them to auction houses, despite being legally owned by the Spanish state as they were part of an expedition on ships owned by the state. One of these coins went on sale in 2009. Minted in Mexico in 1695, during the reign of Charles II, the buyer paid € 448,000 for the eight escudo gold coin.
But not all of the most valuable coins sold at auction are gold. Seventh place is taken by an eight-real silver coin minted in 1538 in Mexico during the reign of Queen Joan I. It was sold by auction house Daniel Frank Sedwick for € 469,400 in November 2014, becoming thus the most expensive Spanish silver coin. in history. This coin was legal tender in the United States until 1857, “meaning those real eight coins were the real first dollars” in America, according to Losada. We know of two other pieces of this type, both torn from wrecks.
Losada also notes that there are other old pieces that have never been sold at auction, making it difficult to know their market value, but that he estimates at over a million euros. He mentions 50 examples from the time of the Catholic monarchs at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, including “a real gem weighing 176 grams for a diameter of 66 millimeters, struck in Seville between 1497 and 1504”. Until 2012, this also belonged to the Hispanic Society of America in New York.
The Cortes de Monzón, one of the first parliamentary bodies, gave Charles I of Aragon “the largest coin of all time”, a 100 ducat coin weighing 349 grams with a diameter of 83 millimeters. It was a gift of thanks for having supported the construction of the Imperial Canal of Aragon, a project to divert water from the Ebro to supply the agricultural lands of present-day Zaragoza. The coin shows the faces of Joanna I and her son Charles with the caption in Latin “Iona and Karolus reges aragorum trunfatores and katolicis”(Or, Joanna and Charles triumphant and Catholic monarchs of Aragon). During the Spanish War of Independence against Napoleon, it was stolen by the latter’s troops and is now exhibited in Paris, at the National Library.
Losada’s favorite, however, appears to be a large coin made under Ferdinand IV of Castile, an “impressive and unique” gold coin weighing 45 grams with a diameter of 67 millimeters, which is undated but is believed to have been made between 1304 and 1308. This piece is now at the Valencian Institute of Don Juan in Madrid.
Losada seems surprised that no Spanish coin, despite its rarity, technical quality and good condition, has ever reached a selling price of $ 1 million (€ 880,000) at auction, whether in Spain. or abroad. The most expensive coin ever sold is a Double Eagle, a gold coin made in the United States in 1933 with a face value of $ 20 (€ 18). Last June, a collector paid 15.4 million euros for it while there are 12 others of the same kind. “But that’s a whole different story,” says Losada.