Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #355
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
The CAR gold coins of the independent societies of Costa Rica and Guatemala were first minted while these nations were part of a loose federation called the Central American Republic (CAR for short). A type set of CAR gold coins is not difficult to assemble.
Given their rarity, attractiveness and historical significance, CAR gold coins are not very expensive in the context of 19th-century gold rarities. The information and commentary provided here is aimed primarily at beginners who may seek circulated coins for a type set, though it is hoped that intermediate and advanced collectors will learn from or at least enjoy this discussion, too.
In July 2016, I covered CAR silver coins for beginners. The purpose of the CAR was then discussed. A point to keep in mind is that the CAR existed mostly for military and security purposes; the societies within were very much independent.
CAR coins were intended to circulate throughout Central America and be accepted elsewhere. Although it is practical to seek most CAR gold “by date” (including mint locations), it is best for those beginning in this area to focus upon a type set.
Collectors who may wish to specialize in a particular denomination or in the coins of one Latin American society should assemble a type set first while learning more about the subject matter. In the realm of coin collecting, type sets are considered to be sensible, logical and productive to assemble. Type sets are recognized by collectors throughout the world.
Coins of Latin America tend to not only have mintmarks that refer to the location of the respective mint, but initials of assayers also were typically incorporated into the designs and were apparent in the dies. I suggest that type collectors and beginners ignore the assayer initials. For most CAR gold issues, there was just one assayer per mint and year, anyway.
“Collecting these coins by type is a good solid project that can be completed in one to five years, depending” on the plan, asserts Andy Lustig, a dealer and a collector of CAR gold coins himself. “But, you should not even think about a complete Date/Mint/Assayer set unless you want to spend the rest of your life working at it.”
It is not clear now as to whether the CAR became an actual federation in 1821 or in 1823. Furthermore, it is debatable as to whether the CAR ceased in 1838 or in 1840. Coins with the CAR design that were minted in Costa Rica and Guatemala during the 1840s, after the CAR had certainly dissolved, are considered parts of series of CAR coins, additional representatives of series with already established design types. Bona fide coin issues sometimes did not truthfully reveal political realities.
The CAR included the regions that now constitute the nations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. For a few years, the CAR included a sixth state, Los Altos.
“Its capital was Quetzaltenango. Los Altos occupied eight departments in the west of present-day Guatemala as well as the Soconusco region in the Mexican state of Chiapas,” according to the Wikipedia.
CAR coins were not minted in Los Altos. CAR coins struck in San Jose, Costa Rica, typically have a “CR” mintmark. Those minted in Guatemala feature a “NG” or a “G” mintmark.
Although CAR silver coins were minted in Honduras, it does not seem that any gold coins were struck there (at least none that I’ve seen). There are none listed in the “Standard” Krause reference. In response to my inquiries, Andy Lustig remarks that there is “no record” of a CAR gold coin being struck in Honduras.
Collectors worldwide may find a One Escudo gold coin is easy to understand if it is thought of as having the approximate value of two silver dollars when it was struck; 16 reales equaled one escudo. The U.S. silver dollar in 1794 and later the Japanese Yen in 1871 were based upon the Eight Reales coins of the Spanish Empire, which faded fast during and shortly after the Peninsular War (1807-14).
In terms of economic development, there is a close relationship between the Eight Reales silver coins of Spanish-speaking societies and the talers of German-speaking societies, spanning a time period from the 1500s to the 1800s. The Dutch Lion Dollar is pertinent. Though not precisely equivalent to each other in size and silver content, all such large silver coins were very similar in this regard for centuries, amazingly so.
The largest, widely circulating gold denomination of the Spanish Empire is the Eight Escudos gold coin, which was, for a long time, worth around 16 dollars (128 reales in silver coinage). During the first quarter of the 19th century and even later in the case of the CAR, it was economically efficient for newly independent societies in Latin America to continue to employ the monetary system of the Spanish Empire.
Spanish coins were first minted in Latin America during the 1530s in Mexico City. The same monetary system, with some modifications over time, was dominant for centuries.
Even as late as the 1830s, more than half of the silver coins circulating in the U.S. were produced by the Spanish Empire or by the recently independent societies of Latin America. Although no longer legal tender in the U.S. after 1857, such Spanish system coins continued to circulate to a significant extent in the Western United States until the 1870s.
The U.S. started a new trend by introducing a decimal system of coinage during the 1790s. The few earlier decimal-based coinage denominations that had existed over the last thousand years never gained traction. The Spanish system was based upon eighths and multiples of eight. A strong majority of U.S. citizens thought about coins in terms of eights until some point during the first third of the 19th century.
During the 18th century, the number of British coins that circulated in North America was minimal in contrast to the number of Spanish coins. Even in British colonies that later became members of the United States, Spanish coins far outnumbered British coins. British terminology was often used by colonies and later U.S. States to refer to Spanish coins or to monetary amounts that were typically computed in terms of Spanish coins.
So, there are close relationships between the coins of the Spanish Empire, the history of the Americas (the Western Hemisphere), and the coins of Central America that were minted during the first half of the 19th century. Most of these historically important coins are not very expensive now.
In my earlier piece, I explained that CAR silver coins are moderately priced. Collecting gold coins, even small ones, is often more expensive than collecting relevant silver coins. Even so, there are many CAR Half-Escudo, One Escudo and Two Escudos gold coins that cost less than $1,000 each. Indeed, CAR Half-Escudo and One Escudo coins can often be found for less than $500; below $200 on occasion.
An ample number of CAR Four Escudos coins may be acquired for under $5,000 each. A few may be priced under $2,000. Coins of the largest denomination, Eight Escudos, tend to be much costlier.
A complete type set of CAR gold requires just six coins:
- Half-Escudo (1824-26, ’43) “FEC.” and ‘21Q’ Reverse
- Half-Escudo (1828, ’43, ’46-49) “FECUNDO” Spelled Out
- One Escudo (1824-25, ’28, ’33, 1844-49)
- Two Escudos (1825-28, ’30/29, ’30, 1834-37, 1842-47, ’50)
- Four Escudos (1824-25, ’28, ’35, ’37, ’49)
- Eight Escudos (1824-25, ’28, ’33, ’37)
Each CAR Half-Escudo coin weighs almost as much as a U.S. One Dollar Gold piece (1849-89). U.S. gold coins minted after a particular day in 1837 are 90% gold and CAR gold coins were specified to be 87.5% (7/8) gold.
Essentially, the Half-Escudo is the Latin American equivalent of a One Dollar Gold coin.
The two design types of Half-Escudo coins differ in terms of the layout of design elements on the reverse. The fraction bar on the the Half-Escudo coins of the first type is horizontal. It is diagonal or ‘slanted’ on the coins of the second type. If this were the only difference, however, they would be classified as die varieties, not as multiple design types.
More importantly, on the first Half-Escudo coins, the fineness is specified as it is on all other CAR gold types; “21 Q” means 21 carats (21/24), which is equivalent to 87.5% (7/8). The ’21 Q’ design element is omitted from the second type of CAR Half-Escudo coins.
On Half-Escudo coins of the first type, to accommodate the numerals of ‘21’ on such a small coin, the word ‘fecundo’ is abbreviated with just three letters (“FEC.”). Fecundo is a Spanish word that means fertile, fruitful or rich in particular resources. Although abbreviated on this one type, the term ‘fecundo’ appears in its entirety on all other types of CAR gold coins that I have seen. There are controversial reports of additional and unusual varieties of CAR gold coins, which are the concern of specialists, not of beginners assembling type sets.
Circulated and somewhat rough, Guatemalan CAR Half-Escudo coins could be found for less than $200 each. In September 2013, the Goldbergs auctioned a lot of three, uncertified 1825-NG Half-Escudo coins, which realized $604, a little more than $200 each.
In January 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-58 1825-NG Half-Escudo for $458.25. Earlier, in August 2011, the same firm sold an NGC-graded AU-58 1824-NG coin for $1,035.
Half-Escudo coins of the second type, with ‘fecundo’ entirely spelled, are less expensive. A heavily circulated coin, with some notable imperfections, could be found for less than $150.
In August 2012, Stack’s-Bowers sold a NGC-graded AU-55 1847 Half-Escudo for $460. In August 2015, Stack’s-Bowers sold the Eliasberg representative of this type, which American Numismatic Rarities (ANR) had auctioned in April 2005. While many collectors know that Louis Eliasberg formed the all-time greatest collection of classic U.S. coins, most collectors are unaware that Eliasberg had an epic collection of world gold coins. In 2015, this NGC-graded EF-45 1847 brought $440.63.
In November 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a non-gradable 1847 Half-Escudo that had earlier been used in jewelry. It was in an NGC holder that indicated “AU Details.” This 1847 went for $176.25.
In September 2013, the Goldbergs auctioned a lot of three 1847 Half-Escudo coins, one of which was reported to be “damaged.” These three brought $529, about $176 each.
Additionally, at small to medium size coin shows, circulated Half-Escudo and One Escudo coins may occasionally be purchased for modest prices. Many of these would not be consigned to auctions.
One Escudo Coins
Although there are minor differences among dies, all CAR One Escudo coins are of the same design type. ‘Fecundo’ is never abbreviated and the fineness of “21 Q” (21 carats = 21/24) is always featured in the reverse design.
The early Guatemalan One Escudo coins are relatively expensive and are historically interesting. For several CAR gold and silver issues, coins were minted in Guatemala during the mid-1820s and not in Costa Rica until 1828 or later.
Back in January 2010, Heritage auctioned a NGC-graded AU-55 1824 for $2,415. Three months later, this same firm auctioned a NGC-graded EF-40 coin of the same date for $1,150.
More recently, in August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a NGC-graded EF-45 1847, which was struck in Costa Rica, for $564. Certainly, there are more than a few Very Fine-20 to -35 grade and non-gradable Costa Rican CAR One Escudo coins that could be purchased for less than $500 each.
Two Escudos (2E)
All CAR Two Escudos (2E) coins are of the same design type. There are noticeable die varieties.
Only a single 2E is needed for a type set. It is easy, though, to acquire both Costa Rican and Guatemalan pieces. They are little costlier than Half-Escudo and One Escudo coins, as a price of $1,000 for an average circulated 2E would not be unusual.
In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold an 1830/29 overdate 2E. It was earlier used in jewelry and was in a NGC holder that indicates ‘AU Details.’ The price realized of $763.75 was reasonable.
In November 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a raw, “Very Fine” grade 1835, with a large pre-striking crack in the piece of metal that was used to make this coin (planchet). It brought $747.50.
In September 2013, the Goldbergs auctioned two 1850 CAR 2E coins. The first was in an NGC holder, which noted that the first 1850 has the ‘details’ of an AU grade coin and “scratches” on the reverse. This coin went for $920. The second 1850 was raw. A cataloguer stated, “Repaired in Field. Very Fine.” It garnered $719.
In August 2012, Stack’s-Bowers also sold a non-gradable 1850. It was said by experts at NGC to have “VF details” and to have suffered as a consequence of the removal of a mount. The $747.50 price seems consistent with market levels for non-gradable, VF to EF level ‘details’ 2E coins.
For a CAR coin, 1850 is a neat date and is historically odd. The CAR had ceased to exist for a decade or longer, yet old designs were still being employed in coin production.
Four Escudos (4E) & Eight Escudos (8E)
The 1824 and ’25 4E coins were minted in Guatemala. The 1828, ’35, ’37 and ’49 4E pieces were struck in Costa Rica. As with other CAR types, there are noticeable minor differences in engravings of dies. Artistically and conceptually, there is nevertheless just one design of CAR Four Escudos (4E) coins. Therefore, only one 4E is needed for a type set. These are rarer than CAR Two Escudos coins.
Most of the CAR 4E coins that I have seen cost more than $2,000, often more than $4,000. It may be a good idea to budget at least $2,500 for a CAR Four Escudos coin.
Among 1824 and 1825 4E coins that have failed to receive numerical grades at NGC or PCGS, there are many 4E coins that have sold for less than $5,000 each. In January 2016, Heritage auctioned a NGC-certified ‘AU Details’ 1824 for $4,112.50, though Heritage auctioned the exact same coin for $7,050 just two years earlier. Fresh coins tend to fare better at auction, on average, than coins that are re-offered within five years.
Also in January 2016, a NGC-certified ‘Extremely Fine’ level ‘details’ 1825 4E, with “scratches” and a “filed” rim, brought $2,820. During the same NY International Convention in January, a NGC-graded VF-30 1828 4E realized $2,585, a PCGS-graded EF-45 1835 garnered $3,290, and an NGC-certified 1837 with ‘VF Details’ sold for $1,997.50.
The Eight Escudos (8E) CAR coins were minted in Guatemala in 1824 and 1825, and then in Costa Rica in 1828, 1833, 1837 and 1838. For 1837 issues, varieties are known with different assayer’s initials, ‘E’ and ‘F.’ Despite low mintages for standard large gold coins, many survive. A set ‘by date’ can be completed without spending a vast fortune, though a lot of money would be required. For a type set, it is sensible to budget an amount between $5,000 and $10,000 for one CAR 8E.
In August 2015, a PCGS-graded VF-35 1828 was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers for $7,637.50. In January 2015, a non-gradable, NGC-certified 1828 with ‘EF Details’ realized the exact same price. In this same Stack’s-Bowers auction in January 2015, an NGC-certified 1828 that was ‘removed from jewelry’ and said to be “damaged,” with ‘EF Details,’ went for $5,287.50.
A clearly gradable and particularly attractive CAR 8E coin would probably cost more than $15,000. For 19th-century Latin American series, there are many coins that U.S. coin experts would regard as non-gradable that have received numerical grades from NGC or PCGS. It is important for collectors to discuss the precise physical characteristics of coins with experts. An expert should honestly point out both positive and negative factors so that informed collectors can make sensible decisions and not be unpleasantly surprised at a later time.
In April 2016, a PCGS-graded EF-40 1828 brought $11,162 at the CICF Convention. I did not see it. If this coin is attractive and does not have any noteworthy problems, this was an especially good deal.
EF-45 to MS-63 CAR 4E coins tend to cost far more than $5,000, and such high grade CAR 8E coins are much more expensive than their 4E counterparts. Even so, these tend to be available every year.
A high-grade CAR type set is a realistic quest for a collector who has an ample budget. For some other types of Latin American coinage, the finest-known pieces might be heavily circulated and/or non-gradable. Some whole design types are prohibitively rare in all states of preservation. Collectors of CAR coins are fortunate that coins, of all design types, in a range of grades appear for sale fairly often.
Pleasing, uncirculated Half-Escudo, One Escudo and 2E coins are offered every year as well. Some are NGC-graded in the range of MS-63 to -66.
Overall, for rare gold coins from the first half of the 19th century, CAR type coins are reasonably priced and not too difficult to locate. A type set of of six coins could be complete, historically significant and exciting.
© 2016 Greg Reynolds
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