Top Executive Accepts Kickback



Establishes private mint on behalf of family

Sorry to tease with a headline that could have come from current affairs but there's nothing new about powerful, greedy people finding ways to enrich themselves. In this case, I'm calling out Philip II of Spain, who in 1580, negotiated such a sweetheart deal with his cousin, Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, that he was presented with two coin rolling mills, constructed at the Hall mint, as a present. Today, we would deem such a considerable personal gift following a transaction as a "kickback" and probably illicit. It would have made sense to install Spain's first mechanized mint in Seville, the home port of New World commerce, and thus the entry point of silver and gold from its colonies. But, the new mint was built in Segovia, the jurisdiction of close friends to the King, and was not governed by the State but became private property of the Royal Family.

With such self-serving behavior in the highest places, it's no wonder that Spain went bankrupt four times during Philip's reign (1557, 1560, 1576, 1596) despite the vast precious metal resources under its control, including the enormous silver deposits at Potosi and Zacatecas. I admit to trivializing the economic forces that resulted from the rapid expansion of the money supply, but the sheer scope of the financial mismanagement cannot be understated. It's estimated that from 1500 to 1800 Mexico and Peru produced 75% - 80% of the world's silver. Dr. John Leonard Riddell, during his appointment as melter and refiner of the New Orleans Mint, stated in 1845 that "During the days of Spanish rule, near $23,000,000 in silver were annually obtained from the mines [of Mexico]". That's a lot of capital to squander.

The new mint in Segovia was called the "Real Ingenio", or Royal [Coin] Mill, and was built at the location of an old paper mill on the Eresma River where the mill could deploy a waterwheel to power the roller presses. The other coin mint in Segovia, previously established by Henry IV in 1455, and now called the Old Mint, continued to produce hammered coins for another century and was never mechanized. The Royal Coin Mill began regular production of silver coins in 1586 and introduced the stamping of the year of minting to Spanish coinage. The rest of the Spanish mints adopted dates on their coins by 1588, as this was seen as a useful anti-counterfeiting measure. Mintmarks and assayers initials were added later for the same reason. The roller presses of the Royal Coin Mill continued to perform their function until they were replaced by screw presses in 1770.

Here's an example of an 8 reales from the Segovia mint, which can not only be identified as the only mint with machine struck Spanish coins at the time, 1660, but also by the aqueduct featured in its coat of arms and used as its mintmark. You may also note some characteristics of a roller press struck coin as these have a slight wrinkle in the surface and show the perfect roundness from being cut out of the silver strip with a circular stamping tool. There are three varieties of the 1660 8 reales, which may be purposeful, since the roller die consisted of three separate engravings allowing three strikes per revolution of the roller.

There is no competitive set for older coins like these but you can see it hosted in my "Silver Dollars of '60" custom set.



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