Specialists in the colonial coinage of Spanish America as well as shipwreck coins and artifacts of all nations. In addition to publishing several catalogs per year, Mr. Sedwick is a regular vendor at major international coin shows, including FUN, CICF, and ANA.

 Numismatic comments on the São Jose (1622) shipwreck coin collection

M.Sc. Alejandro Mirabal Marine archaeologist

(Published in Estoril, Portugal, 24th of June 2011)


From the total volume of coins excavated from the „nau‟ Almiranta São José, estimated at 23.211, a group of 7525 have been studied, divided into 4390 (58,34%) of 8 reales, 3120 (41,46%) of 4 reales and 15 (0,2%) of 2 reales. All are Hispanic coins, hammer-struck during the kingdom of Felipe II (1556-1598) and Felipe III (1598-1621) and follow the design established by the so-called Pragmáticas de la Nueva Estampa (New Engraving Orders), as determined by Felipe II in 1566 and put into practice in the Spanish colonies from 1572. 


According to the design of the New Engraving, the obverse side of the coin includes the shield of the House of Habsburg, which contains the arms of the territories under the Spanish crown. The arms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Naples-Sicily appear in the top half, whilst the arms of Austria, modern Burgundy, old Burgundy and Brabant appear on the bottom half and the arms of Flanders and Tyrol in a small shield in the centre. A small pomegranate centred in the upper and lower half symbolises the Kingdom of Granada, the last Moorish possession in Spain re-conquered by the Catholic Kings in 1492. The reverse side of the coin displays the quartered cross with the alternating arms of Castile and Leon, encircled by a double border with 8 lobes. 


According to the same royal statute, the external inscription, which starts on the obverse and finishes on the reverse, generally reads PHILIPVS II (or III, depending on the case) DEI GRATIA HISPANIARVM REX, and D.G. HISPANIARUM ET INDIARUM REX.  


The geographical distribution includes 3 groups: 

 - coins minted in Mexico, Viceroyalty of the New Spain: 2974 coins (39,52%)   

- coins made in mints of metropolis Spain: 2537 (33,71%) 

- coins from Lima and Potosí, Viceroyalty of Perú: 2014 (26,77%).    

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The Mexican mint, founded by Charles I in 1535, was the first to be established by the colonizers of the new world. Amongst those coins from Mexico only 7 correspond to the assayer with the initial O (Bernardo de Oñate, 1564-1580?).  He had been working in the Mexican mint since the times of Charles I and his mother Iohana and still had the same position when coins of the new Habsburg shield design started to be struck in the mint in 1572.  Some references indicate that in the mid-1580s he was replaced by Luis de Oñate (158?-1590?) who may have been his son.  The coins continued to be produced with the same initial O, hence there are no other elements that enable one to recognize the differences between coins of both assayers.    


The remaining coins consist of 730 coins from the assayer F (Francisco de Morales, 1607-1608 and 1610-1617), 23 from the assayer A (Antonio de Morales, son of the former, 1608-1610) and 972 from the assayer D (Diego de Godoy, 1618-1634), as well as 1415 undetermined, in which one can not see the assayer‟s mark. 


Dates only started to be struck on coins in Mexico from 1607 onwards, with the production of Francisco de Morales.  The date 1600, which appears on some coins of the assayer A (numbers 2095.091 and 2095.225) therefore cannot be trusted, for it is

known that this official worked in the mint during a period of his father‟s absence, between 1608 and 1610.  It is possible that there was a mistake in the manufacture of dies, perhaps unnoticed by the assayer, which resulted in the date 1600. 


On a different coin of this assayer the letter A appears above the F of the father (No. 2102.242, A/F), confirming his temporary labour, during which he seems to have occasionally used a die with the initial of his father upon which he overstruck his own initial. 


It is worth noting that Francisco de Morales and his successor, Diego de Godoy, produced large quantities of coins, demonstrated by the high volume of their coins in the cargo of Almiranta São José.  It also seems that at some point the latter substituted the former during some time and used F dies marking them with his initial D.  When the former returned to his post, he also used the die of the latter, which had the initial D, with a letter F overstruck by the returning assayer. This procedure was common in Spanish mints, especially in Mexico and Potosi, and in this case it resulted in the assayer mark D/F. (numbers 2080.028) and F/D (numbers 2070.042).  Amongst the studied coins there are various with these characteristics. 




The second largest volume of analysed coins with a total of 2537 includes 1503 undetermined with no visible mintmark and thus difficult to identify.  The remaining 1034 coins are distributed between the coins of Seville (774), Toledo (239), Granada (9), Segovia (7) and Madrid (5). 


It is understandable that coins struck in Spain were produced with higher quality than the ones from Spanish-American mints even if hammer-struck, due to the care and experience of the manufacturers who produced them.


At the time, the largest mint in the Iberian Peninsula was in Seville, which justifies the larger amount of pieces with origin in Seville found amongst the cargo of the São José. The second largest amount in the studied collection comes from Toledo especially when compared to the meagre samples from the other three Spanish mints.   


The Seville coins are broken down in chronological order, as follows: 

1 from the assayer H ((Hernando de Rojas, 1590-1591)

49 from the assayer B (Juan Vicente Bravo, 1592-1597) 

70 from the assayer V (Juan Bautista Veyntín, 1611-1619) 

273 from the assayer D (Domínguez Ortiz, 1612-1615)

156 from the assayer G (Gaspar de Talavera (1615-1621)

225 undetermined, with no visible stamp from the assayer. 


One particular coin of the assayer H (number 2096.142) calls for special attention because it displays the date 1590, allowing it to be identified as a production of Hernando de Rojas, despite the fact that other succeeding assayers were also called Hernando and used the same initial. 


The pieces from the mint in Toledo amount to 239, distributed as follows: 

1 from the assayer M (Eugenio de Manzanas, 1566?-1580)

1 from the assayer M in a circle (Alejo de Montoya, 1578-1592) 

44 from the assayer C (Melchor Rodríguez del Castillo, 1593-1613)

34 from the assayer V (unknown, 1611-1618)

89 from the assayer P (unknown, 1619-1621)

70 undetermined. 


A document from 1572 illustrates that Eugenio de Manzanas was assayer of the mint of Toledo, and that he had worked some time before with his relative Baltasar de Manzanas who used the same initial; however, he had not minted coins with the New Engraving, but rather of the earlier type, with the name of Fernando and Isabel.  


A reference found in this study‟s bibliography mentions that Melchor Rodríguez del Castillo was assayer of the mint of Toledo between 1593 and 1595, and that afterwards he transferred to Segovia, where he held the same position between 1599 and 1611. However, among the studied coins dated between 1609 and 1611 (Numbers 2080.051, 2095.397, 2095.500), there are some pieces from Toledo with the initial C, which cannot be attributed to any other assayer of that mint, leading one to assume that during those years the assayer returned to Toledo, or that he worked temporarily in both mints. 


An interesting aspect that is common to the seven coins from the Segovia mint is a small shield with the arms of Portugal, centred on the two upper quadrants within the Habsburg shield. Portugal was part of the Spanish domain between 1580 and 1640. From this collection of coins two are associated to two assayers who worked together and united their initials in the form of the mark IM (Ioan de Ortega, working alone, 1590-1598). In one case, there is the particularity that an O appears over the I (Number 2089.049). Although this is not mentioned in any sources listed the bibliography, the O may have been added by the assayer Ortega to establish a clearer difference with the joint mark of his predecessors Morales. Lastly, two other coins correspond to the assayer A (Andrés de Pedrera, 1617-1621).


Of the remaining Spanish coins, five belong to the mint of Madrid, one of which one is from the assayer G (Gonzalo Rodríguez Bermúdez, 1615-1620) and four of the assayer V (Juan Velázquez, 1621-1628). Another nine are from the mint of Granada, eight of which from the production of the assayer M (Francisco Mínguez, 1597-1621).  None of these coins displays any particularities.




Among the collection of coins minted in Peru, the third group in relation to quantity, a small lot of eleven examples originates from the mint of Lima, the capital of the Viceroyalty.  The mint of Lima was founded by Felipe II in 1565 and started to operate three years later, but in 1573 it was close due to irregularities detected in the operations and was therefore transferred to the city of Chuquisaca (today named Sucre, in Bolivia), baptised as La Plata by the Spaniards after locating important silver deposits nearby.  Shortly afterwards, the mint was relocated to Lima and functioned until 1588, closing again until the second half of the following century. It is because of these inconsistencies that the production during the 16th Century was so limited, explaining the scarcity of these coins in the São José cargo when compared to the significant abundance of coins from Potosí. 


One of the coins is attributed to the assayer L, who worked only in 1577, but his name is unknown.  The remaining nine correspond to the assayer D (Diego de la Torre, 1577-1588).  This assayer is well known thanks to the high quality of his coins, considered the best silver coining of the 16th Century in the whole of Spanish America. The obverse side of the coins catches one‟s attention because of a small six-point star, believed to have been included by the assayer in order to identify the coins from Lima, because both this mint and that of Potosí used the letter P; in those pieces made in Lima the P refers to Peru.  


In 1574 Felipe II founded the mint of the “Villa Imperial de Potosí” next to the largest deposit of silver in Spanish America known as “Cerro Rico”.  During the colonial era, “Cerro Rico” enriched the Spanish crown with the colossal sum of approximately 2000 million “onzas” of silver (pieces of 8 reales), resulting in the development of the Renaissance in Europe and contributing to finance the construction of the “Armada Invencible”.  The silver also turned Potosí into an immensely prosperous city, rumoured to have “paved its streets with silver tiles.” (El Correo de la Unesco, March 2000, pp. 3-4, author‟s translation)


The total of 2003 coins minted in Potosí are distributed into two coins from assayer A (Alonso López de Barriales, 1572-1591, or Juan Alvarez Reinaltes, 1586-1592), 128 from assayer B (Juan Ballesteros Narváez, 1592-1610, and his brother Hernando Ballesteros, 1596?-1605?), 357 from assayer Q (Agustín de la Quadra, 1613-1616), 153 from assayer M (Juan Muñoz, 1616-1617), 169 from assayer T (Juan Ximénez de Tapia, 1618-1623), and 925 undetermined.


The coins from the Potosí mint often displayed certain peculiarities due to the extraordinary productions and the industriousness with which it was often necessary to strike coins. Alonso López de Barriales and Juan Alvarez Reinantes, mentioned above, coincided in some years of their respective work periods, both using the initial A, without establishing their own elements or characteristics to differentiate the coins. 

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Juan Ballesteros Narváez was the most productive assayer, although on some occasions he was replaced by his brother Hernando.  They produced a large quantity of coins which occasionally included small details in the design that allow to define the period during which they were struck.  In the analysed pieces, however, it has not been possible to detect such characteristics due to the increased level of deterioration and erosion resulting from over three hundred and seventy years in a marine environment. 


Baltasar Ramos Leceta worked on some occasions as a tenant of Juan Ballesteros, using the letter R with a slanted diagonal line; subsequently, during the kingdom of Felipe III, he modified his initial by making the line curved.  The coins from the studied collection come from this second period, when coins from Potosí started to be dated. Five of these pieces exceptionally display the monogram RAL, formed by superimposing all three letters, estimated to have been made by the assayer in 1618 (Numbers 2074.036, 2099.071, 2105.026, 2121.186, 2122.008).  These coins are considered rare. 


Ramos Leceta was followed by Agustín de la Quadra (Number 2097.060, the best piece among the collection from Potosí).  This assayer sometimes used dies from his predecessors, overstruck with an initial Q, which produced the rare variant Q/R (Number 2104.047), of which only seven have been found. An even more unusual one includes the inverted Q mark (Number 2092.001), a double Q (Number 2096.228), a double P as mintmark (Number 2120.113) and another coin with a P twice its usual size (Number 2120.079).  All mentioned variants are rare.  


The next assayer was Juan Muñoz and, following tradition, he also used dies of the former official, which were thus marked M/Q (Number 2078.097).  This is also a rare and scarce variant observed only on three of the analysed coins. 


The last assayer in this group is Juan Ximénez de Tapia.  This assayer‟s coins are characterized by a series of errors and deficiencies due to poor workmanship. In some of the studied coins it is noted that the blundered strike results in the quadrant of one shield overlapping the others (e.g. Number 2081.298). There were also other samples  of coins struck with a faulty die.  Twelve of these coins are particularly noticeable because the upper quadrants of the shield appear transposed, that is to say Naples-Sicily and Aragon to the left, and Castile and Leon to the right (Number 2080.085). 


A document from 1616 narrates the visit of the inspectors, which took place that same year in the mint of Potosí.  Several samples of the accumulated dies over several years were analysed, leading to the conclusion that in those coins of Baltasar Ramos Leceta and Agustín de la Quadra there were considerable errors in the weight and fineness or contents of the silver, thus seemingly fraudulent.  The assayers were no longer alive to react to the claim.  Among the coins from the São José, those that are 8 reales predominantly weigh between 20 and 27 grams, despite the deterioration and the natural erosion caused by the sea.  However, some of these coins fall into a range of weight between 11 and 16 grams; one can thus assume that they probably weighed less since the day they were struck. This disproportion is not only found in the mentioned assayers, but also in other officials of the mint. (Numbers 2156.000, R, 12 g; 2114.067, Q, 13 g; 2114.026, B, 14 g; 2104.378, M, 11 g; 2110.127, T, 14 g)



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Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC Professional numismatists specializing in the colonial coinage of Spanish America, shipwreck cob coins and artifacts of all nations. Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC Professional numismatists specializing in the colonial coinage of Spanish America, shipwreck cob coins and artifacts of all nations.


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