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Silver Coins of the Central American Republic

GUATEMALA. 8 Reales, 1826 silver coins
Silver Coins of the Central American Republic – GUATEMALA. 8 Reales, 1826
News and Analysis of scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #341

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …….
The present topic is the CAR silver coins of the independent societies of Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras, those minted under the banner of the Central American Republic (CAR). The designs are very attractive. It is easy to assemble a type set, and collecting particular denominations ‘by date’ (and Mint location) is mildly practical. Although there are some extreme rarities, most CAR coins are very much affordable in the context of rare or very scarce 19th century silver coins.

After the attacks on Portugal and Spain by the forces of Napoleon in the early 1800s, various societies in Latin America became independent, in some cases independence followed defeats of royalist factions by revolutionaries. Those in charge of the newly independent societies were understandably concerned about being invaded or manipulated by powerful nations elsewhere. After all, Mexico, Central America and South America are rich in natural resources.

From a military perspective, the region of Central America is strategically important as a narrow piece of land connecting North America and South America while bordering both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The main purpose of the CAR was security.

car2The Central American Republic (CAR) was a loose federation, rather than a true republic. It was generally known, to English speaking people, as the Federal Republic of Central America. The CAR was a strategic alliance with minimal governmental and law enforcement functions.

Historians disagree as to whether the CAR became viable in 1821 or 1823 and as to whether the CAR ended in 1838 or 1840. Pertinent historical events are unusually ambiguous and important documents from the time period are now scarce.

For some time, all of Central America between Panama and Mexico was part of this ‘federation,’ including the regions that now constitute the nations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Briefly, the CAR included a sixth state, Los Altos, which was later sliced into two parts. One part of Los Altos was incorporated into Guatemala and the other became part of Mexico.

CAR coins are known for their very distinctive and unusually appealing design, with the sun overlooking mountains on the obverse and a memorable tree on the reverse. Many post-1840 Costa Rican and Guatemalan coins continued to feature the designs of the CAR coins, as if the federation still existed. These are collected as CAR coins and/or as coins of the respective societies. Essentially, CAR coins continued to be minted for many years after the CAR dissolved.

For reasons relating to economic efficiency, newly independent societies in Latin America tended to continue to employ the monetary system of the Spanish Empire. During the 1600s and 1700s, such Spanish coins were the common denominators underlying much international trade throughout the world. A “piece of eight” and a “Spanish Milled Dollar” are the same thing, an Eight Reales silver coin of the Spanish Empire.

During the 1700s and early 1800s, the Spanish Eight Reales coins were the main medium of exchange in most all of North America. Although British terms, especially “shillings” and “pounds,” were used by British colonies before 1776 and independent States in the U.S. from 1776 to 1789, the monetary units and systems were really based upon the coins of the Spanish Empire.

The U.S. silver dollar was based upon the Eight Reales silver coin. It was assumed that Eight Reales coins would continue to circulate in the U.S. for decades after 1794, and they did so. During the 1830s, more than two-thirds of all coins called “silver dollars” in circulation in the U.S. were Eight Reales pieces, not U.S. silver dollars.

Two Reales coins are equivalent to U.S. quarters. A One Real coin is more like a half-quarter than a dime.

In the Spanish monetary system, the plural of ‘real’ is ‘reales.’ It is incorrect to refer to a “reals” or a “reale.”

One of the reasons why U.S. Three Cent Silvers were introduced in 1851 is that Quarter-Real coins of the Spanish Empire had been fading from circulation. A U.S Three Cent Silver and a Spanish Quarter-Real do not contain exactly the same amount of silver, though they are roughly equivalent.

Although the CAR did not exist at all after 1840, CAR Quarter-Real coins were minted from 1824 to 1851. A very large percentage of CAR Quarter-Real coins were minted in Guatemala.

The “CR” mark refers to Costa Rica, unsurprisingly. The “NG” mintmark indicates that a coin was minted in Guatemala, as does a “G.” The “T” mintmark refers to Tegucigalpa, which continues to be the capital and largest city in Honduras.

A basic type set of CAR silver would include the following nine coins:

  1. Quarter-Real (1824-51)
  2. Half-Real (1824-45) 90.3% silver
  3. Half-Real (1846-49) 75% silver
  4. One Real (1824, 1828, 1830-31) 90.3% silver
  5. One Real (1848-49) 75% silver & Different Reverse
  6. Two Reales (1825) Small Tree & Abbreviated Reverse
  7. Two Reales (1831-32) Standard CAR Design
  8. Two Reales (1849) 75% silver & Different Reverse
  9. Eight Reales (1824-46)

The editors of the standard Krause reference list far more types, though they are separately categorizing coins with minor distinctions. If the same design is engraved slightly differently on different dies, then the resulting coins are multiple die varieties, not additional design types. As with U.S. Reich (“Lettered Edge”) Capped Bust half dollars (1807-36), dies of the same design type may have noticeable artistic differences.

It is surprising that the Krause reference has listed the 1845-CR Quarter-Real as a type that is different from the long run of Guatemala Quarter-Real issues. It seems clear that the Costa Rica and Guatemala Quarter-Real coins are all of the same design.

The 1824-NG Half-Real likewise is of the same design as the Costa Rican Half-Real pieces of 1831, 1843 and 1845. These are all of the same design type, despite separate listings in some guides. The 1846-49 Half-Real coins are different in that they are specified to be 75% silver, rather than the 90.3% standard of the earlier issues.

As for the 1830-T Half-Real coins, my research is woefully incomplete. These are likely to be ignored by beginning and intermediate-level collectors, anyhow, as they are so rare.

The 1824-NG, 1828-NG and 1830-T and 1831-CR One Real coins are all of the same design type. The 1824-T One Real is controversial and mysterious. It is ignored in this discussion, though may be the topic of a future inquiry.

For multiple reasons, the 1848-49 One Real coins constitute their own design type. These are 75% silver and the arrangement of the letters on the reverse is very different from the outer design elements on previous CAR One Real coins.

The 1825-T Two Reales of the “AMERIC” (KM #9.1) and “FECUND” (KM #9.2) varieties are very likely to fall into the category of patterns, die trials and experimental pieces. These have assayer initial ‘M.’

The 1825-T Two Reales coins with other assayer initials seem to be regular issues. These and the 1830-T are of a type that is significantly different from the design type of 1831-32. The 1849 Costa Rican issues are a third design type of regular issue CAR Two Reales coins.

There is just one design type of CAR Eight Reales pieces. The Krause reference categorizes separately those minted in Guatemala and CAR Eight Reales pieces struck in Costa Rica. While different engravers were probably involved, these really are of the same design type.

Eight Reales Coins

The Eight Reales pieces are, by far, the most popular CAR coins. Quarter-Real and One Real coins might be better values for budget-minded collectors.

Eight Reales coins of Latin America are approximately equivalent to U.S. silver dollars. In terms of weight, diameter and fineness, they are similar.

silver coins 8 reales

The Krause reference indicates that CAR Eight Reales coins were minted from 1824 to 1849, all in Guatemala except for 1831-CR coins, which were struck in San Jose, Costa Rica. The 1830-NG, 1831-NG, 1834-NG and 1841/37-NG overdate are relatively expensive rare dates. The other CAR Eight Reales coins are not prohibitively expensive.

The 1831-CR with assayer’s initial “E” is much rarer than the 1831-CR with initial “F,” though most collectors are satisfied with one or the other. A set of CAR Eight Reales coins could almost be completed without spending a fortune.

Most dates in Fine grade may be obtained for less than $200. Very Good to Very Fine grade Eight Reales coins are usually sold privately by dealers, rather than offered in public auctions or Internet sales. These may be found at medium to large size coin shows, or acquired directly from dealers who specialize in Latin American coins. Some CAR Eight Reales coins may occasionally be obtained for less than US$100 each.

Auction companies often offer CAR Eight Reales coins that are certified as grading from EF-45 to MS-63. It is easy to obtain a few.

On April 19, 2016, Heritage sold more than a few. Four were NGC-graded as AU-55: an 1829-NG Eight Reales coin brought $493.50. An 1840/37-NG realized $470, and an 1841/37-NG went for $446.50. An 1847-NG garnered $493.50. Among coins that have the same certified grades from the same service, some CAR coins are much more original than others.

In January 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold an NGC-graded AU-58 1824-NG for $400 and a PCGS-graded MS-61 1824-NG for $1,057.50. An NGC-certified ‘MS-64 Prooflike’ 1847-NG then realized $4,230. In this same event, a naturally-toned, NGC-graded AU-50 1826-NG coin brought $376. That was perhaps a good deal!

Last month, the Goldbergs auctioned an NGC-graded AU-53 1829-NG coin for $423 and an NGC-graded AU-50 1846/2 Eight Reales for $353. A collector seeking a type coin may be very selective when considering CAR Eight Reales coins.

Quarter-Real Coins

Of the Quarter-Real coins minted in Guatemala from 1824 to 1851, several dates can be found in uncirculated grades for less than $150 each. Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded MS-65 1844-G Quarter-Real in November 2015 for $94.

Some dates in Very Fine grade might be obtained for less than $20 each. There are, however, rarities. Someone assembling a set ‘by date’ would face obstacles.

On CAR coins and literally millions of other coins produced in Latin America, there are varieties identified by assayer’s letters on the respective coins. Most collectors ignore these. After years of experience in collecting coins from Latin America, a collector who wishes to delve deeper into the subject matter may learn about the assayers and subtle varieties.

The standard Krause reference reports just one CAR Quarter-Real issue in Costa Rica, in 1845 long after the CAR folded. In April 2016, Heritage auctioned the Webster piece for $1292.50. It was NGC-graded as AU-55.

An 1845-CR Quarter-Real in Very Fine grade, would be likely to cost less than $300. The 1845-CR is an extreme condition rarity in grades above EF-45, as are many Latin American coins from the first half of the 19th century.

Half-Real Coins

CAR Half-Real coins date from 1824 to 1849, though they were minted just occasionally from 1824 to 1843. Many CAR coins of this denomination were produced after the CAC unraveled.

Fortunately for budget-minded buyers, the first issue, the 1824-NG, is not very expensive. In January 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded AU-58 1824-NG for $193.88.

In April 2016, Heritage auctioned a non-gradable 1824-NG in an NGC holder, with the “details” of an AU grade coin. It brought $129.25. Many collectors, though, would rather own a lower ‘grade’ 1824-NG with a more natural appearance.

In 2015, an especially pleasing, NGC-graded AU-58 1824-NG Half-Real brought $352.50. There is no need, however, to spend this much. There are plenty of naturally-toned, VF to EF grade coins that survive, and cost less than $75 each.

On April 18, 2016, Heritage sold two Almost Uncirculated, 1831 Half-Real coins. An NGC-graded AU-53 piece, with an assayer ‘E’ mark, brought $423. An NGC-graded AU-50 piece, with an assayer ‘F’ mark, sold for $376.

A VF-20 grade 1831-CR Half-Real would probably sell for less than $60. Although CAR Half-Real coins are scarcer than Quarter-Real coins, they can be found for modest prices by collectors who have patience.

One Real Coins

GUATEMALA. Real, 1824-MFor collectors who desire to select uncirculated coins for type sets, a significant number of relatively choice CAR One Real coins survive.

Recently, on July 7, Heritage sold an NGC-graded MS-64 1824-NG One Real for $1,527.50. Another with the same certification brought $1,468.75 in January 2016. An NGC-graded MS-63 1824-NG was auctioned for $881.25 a year earlier, in January 2015.

A PCGS-graded MS-63 1824-NG that features toning, rather than a very dipped appearance, went for $940 in September 2014. In November 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-63 1824-NG One Real for $1,116.25.

The 1830-T One Real is an early Tegucigalpa Mint coin that is relatively obtainable. In January 2015, Heritage sold an NGC-graded MS-63 1830-T for $822.50. Published images suggest the possibility that an NGC-graded AU-58 1830-T in the same event is more original. It brought $199.75.

On December 11, 2014, Heritage sold two 1830-T One Real coins. An NGC-graded EF-45 coin brought $111.63 and an NGC-graded AU-55 piece went for $158.63.

The 1848-CR and 1849-CR One Real coins are of the same artistry as the 1831-CR One Real coins. The silver content, however was changed. The 1831 coins were specified to be more than 90% silver, while the 1848-49 One Real coins are 75% silver. Fortunately for collectors, coins that are 75% silver and 25% copper tend to tone really well. Russet and orange hues on these are often very attractive.

Two Reales Coins

There was a parallel reduction in fineness for Two Reales coins. The CAR Two Reales coins of 1825 and 1831 were specified to be 90.3% silver and those of 1849 are 75% silver. On the whole, not many CAR Two Reales coins were minted, and production occurred in just in a handful of years.

Honduras: Central American Republic 2 Reales 1831It might very well be true that large quantities of Two Reales coins that had earlier been produced under Spanish rule were still circulating in Central America. A major reason why pre-1830 U.S. quarters tend to be scarce is that many Spanish Two Reales coins were then circulating in the U.S. Indeed, it is known that Two Reales coins of the Spanish Empire continued to significantly circulate in the Western United States until the 1870s.

The 1825-T issues (Krause-Mishler Type #10) with legends that are different from other CAR issues are a little mysterious, especially since the dies were so crude. The central design elements are oddly smaller than those on other CAR issues, and the abbreviations are non-standard.

These 1825-T Two Reales pieces are not that rare. On January 14, 2015, Heritage auctioned two of them. The first was NGC-graded VF-30 and realized $1,292.50. The second was NGC-graded VF-25 and brought $1,410.

The 1831-T issues may be the first regular issue Two Reales coins of the CAR. The 1831-T and the 1832-T are the only two dates of that design type. In January 2015, a polished 1831-T with the details of a Very Fine grade went for just $79.00.

In December 2014, an NGC-graded AU-55 1831-T sold for $193.88. In September of that year, an NGC-graded AU-50 1831-T brought $164.50. As these are very scarce coins that may be rare, these amounts are not large, from a logical perspective. An NGC-graded VF-20 1831-T with green toning [above] went for just $146.88 in June 2014.

A Great Rarity: 1849-CR Two Reales

The 1849-CR Two Reales coin is the only issue of a whole design type. “AMERICA” is spelled out and this type is different in other ways from the types of 1825 and 1831-32. An important difference is that 1849 Two Reales coins are 75% silver, less than the 90.3% silver content that was specified for earlier issues.

The 1849-CR is one of the Great Rarities of Costa Rican coinage. There are probably fewer than dozen extant, of a whole design type!

In April 2016, Heritage auctioned an NGC-graded Fine-12 1849-CR for $3,525. If there was a commensurable rarity in the realm of U.S. coinage, it would be worth at least $705,000, two hundred times as much!

In April 2011, Heritage auctioned another, an NGC-graded VF-30 1849-CR from the Dana Roberts Collection. It went for $5750.

Concluding Remarks

Generally, the coins of the CAR are extremely scarce to extremely rare. As it would not be practical to accurately conceptualize the number of AG-03 to VG-10 grade coins, and the number of non-gradable survivors, it is difficult to estimate the rarity of CAR coins overall.

For CAR coins that grade above VG-10, I theorize that NGC has assigned numerical grades to at least one-sixth of them (16.67%). NGC reports having graded 359 Quarter-Real coins, just 38 Half-Real coins, 50 One Real coins, 32 Two Reales coins and 651 Eight Reales coins, a total of 1,130.  Perhaps more than 30 of these are coins that grade below Fine-12 or are resubmissions of some of the same coins.

I am thus theorizing that there are less than 6,600 silver coins of the CAR that grade from Fine-12 to MS-67, including all denominations and types. In contrast, NGC has graded 3,140,782 Morgan silver dollars. Although this number includes plenty of repeat submissions, many Morgans have never been certified.

It is likely that more than four million Morgan dollars survive. Furthermore, there are millions of Lincoln cents, Buffalo nickels, and Walking Liberty half dollars. Given their rarity, historical significance, and attractiveness, coins of the CAR seem to be sound values, from a logical perspective.
©2016 Greg Reynolds

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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  1. I have a original 8R.Z.1882.J.S.10D.20G. LIBERTED. REPUBLICAMEXICANA. 20 grams silver coin and would like to sell for the right price .I can only research it on y tube as there is not much information. So could you please, help me find a buyer.mr croston. United Kingdom .

  2. Greg. I enjoyed your article regarding Central American coinage very much. I agree that the series is both challenging and, yet, achievable. FYI, On June 25, 1834, the US Congress passed legislation making dollars of Mexico, Chile, Peru and Central America legal tender in the United States at 100 cents on the dollar.

    For more information on the coinage of Central America, including a detailed account of the formation and demise of the Central American Republic/Federation (officially known as the United Provinces of Central America) I direct your attention to my recently published (American Numismatic Society) book: A Monetary History of Central America. Chapter three deals with the Republic/Federation/Provinces per se, including a translation of their coinage legislation. I will send you that chapter (late draft) as an attachment if you send me your email address. Best Regards, Brian


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