By Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC ……
Few coins muster the mystique of the “pillar dollar“, known to Spanish-speakers as columnario” – a truly beautiful coin that was ONLY struck at the Spanish colonial mints of Mexico, Lima, Potosí, Guatemala, Santiago, and Bogotá. Those from the last two mints are among the rarest crowns in the world, having been struck only in selective years.
And as the 1770 Bogotá issue pictured below demonstrates, sometimes all the specimens of a year’s mintage are found in one hoard.
What makes the “pillar dollar” so special is that it was a truly worldwide currency, freely traded on all the continents except Antarctica. A well-known fact is that it was legal tender in the United States until 1857. The design itself is also attractive to collectors, as it shows two globes (representing both the Old and New Worlds) between the Pillars of Hercules draped with PLVS VLTRA (“More Beyond”) under a crown and the legend VTRAQUE VNUM (“Both Are One”). The other side of the coin shows the Bourbon Spanish arms with denomination, assayers’ initials, mintmark and king’s name. This design was universal among the six mints.
The Colombian mint, at the city of Santa Fe de Bogotá in the Viceroyalty of Nuevo Reino (“New Kingdom”) de Granada, from which the mintmark NR is derived, was traditionally a gold-producing mint, and its silver output was always somewhat less than other mints in colonial days. But the pillar dollars were the least-produced type of all, with emissions known for only three years: 1759, 1762, and 1770. No more than a handful of specimens are known for each year.
Issues dated 1770 were unknown until 2006 or thereabouts, when 14 specimens were recovered from the original foundation of the Nuestra Señora del Pilar church in Bogotá. This church, which was also a convent and a school for girls, existed from the 1770s until 1948 when it was set on fire and eventually destroyed during the major riots known as the “Bogotazo“, triggered by the assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitán. The land where this historical building sat then became a parking lot until construction began on a new building in recent years.
When the construction crews dug up the parking lot, they found a group of over 100 coins in the old church’s foundation, including the 14 1770 Nuevo Reino pillar dollars, reflecting a Spanish tradition of placing coins inside a new building’s first cornerstone. In fact, a contemporary document by Dr. Pedro de Saráchaga records that on October 12, 1770, there were “monedas nuevas que llevaban (doce niñas ilustres) para ese fin” [“new coins that were carried by twelve illustrious girls for this purpose”] – namely the inauguration of the construction of the convent of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. This documentation supports a number of 12 1770 pillar dollars, to which two must have been added along the line (perhaps carried by the priests). Rumors of a larger census have all proven false but perhaps have triggered conservative grading and sales prices.
Shortly after their discovery, the 1770 pillar dollars were all sold to private collectors and museums in Colombia. Most of the coins, however, were purchased by one Colombian collector, who felt the specimen pictured above had the best strike.
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Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC
P.O. Box 1964
Winter Park, Florida 32790, USA
Phone: (407) 975-3325
Fax: (407) 975-3327
Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC / Licensed Florida Auctioneer #AU3635, AB2592 (since 2007)
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