Garys September Coin of the Month (Volume 3, Number 1) is a continuation of Augusts column and features an NGC AU-53 Spanish Provisional Government 1870(74) DEM, 2 Peseta (KM# 654). Last month I examined this coins link to the ancient Roman Empire. In this month's column, I intend to investigate the coins technical aspects and historical context.
The Spanish Provisional Government 2 Peseta is 27mm in diameter and weighs 10 grams. This coin has a silver fineness of .8349 and an ASW of .2684 ounces. With a mintage of 14,893,000, one might think that this coin is readily available in MS condition. Yet NGCs highest grading coin is an MS-61 example selling in 2011 for $1,955.00. The apparent rarity of MS coins seems to imply that nearly all the Spanish Provisional Government 2 Peseta coins circulated. Today, examples of this coin are generally available in VF condition.
This coins engraver is L. Marchionni and his initials L. M. are to the left of the large date on the coins obverse. The large date 1870 is not the year of this coins minting, but rather of its authorization. The year of this coins minting is engraved into two small stars at each side of the obverse legend. On the left star is the number 18 and on the right 74 signifying the year 1874. Those two obverse stars also serve as the coins mintmark with six points representing Madrid.
In the unsettling times after Spains Glorious Revolution of 1868, it was especially important for the people to have confidence in their currency. For Spains third decimal coinage the weight of the 2 Peseta and the initials of three assayers appear on the coins reverse. The initials D. E. near the left rim of the coin represent assayers E. Diaz and J. Escosura. The Initial .M. to the right represents assayer A. Mendoza. The weight of the 2 Peseta coin appears as a ratio. Thus, the phrase 100 PIEZAS EN KILOGRAMO is properly translated 100 pieces in a kilogram and represents the weight of the 2 Peseta at 10 grams (1000 grams/100 pieces).
Once a dominate world power, Spains influence around the world and in Europe had already begun to decline by the beginning of the 19th Century. Napoleons occupation of Spain early in the century led to a fierce war for independence by Spains nationalists. Seizing on the opportunity presented by Spains troubles at home, many of Spains new world colonies declared their own independence.
After the death of King Ferdinand VII in 1833, Queen Isabella IIs uncle, Infante Carlos, challenged her succession to the throne. This led to the First Carlist War (1833-39) between the followers of Carlos and those loyal to Maria Christina serving as Isabella IIs regent. In the end, the loyalty of Spains army to Maria Christina and Isabella II proved decisive in Isabella II remaining on the throne.
By the middle of the century, there had already been a number of civil wars in the political struggle for control of Spain. When Isabella II came of age and began to govern her capriciousness and ineptitude made her unpopular as a sovereign. This in turn led to The Glorious Revolution of 1868 and Isabellas removal from the throne. Two years of anarchy followed before the appointment of Italian Prince Amadeo of Savoy to the throne in 1870.
Amidst this political instability and national glum, Spain needed the proverbial shot in the arm to give her hope. Therefore, I believe the design features of the Provisional Government 2 Peseta were intended to do just that by appealing to Spains deep roots in Roman culture and her proud heritage.
The obverse of the Spanish Provisional Government 2 Peseta features Hispania, Spains national personification in a reclining position representing freedom. Hispanias left elbow is resting on the Pyrenees Mountains and at her feet is the Mediterranean Sea and Gibraltar. This imagery represents Hispanias sovereignty over all of Spain. In Hispanias extended right hand is an olive branch representing peace over all the land. On Hispanias head is a mural crown representing European heraldry. In classical antiquity, the mural crown of city walls and turrets were an emblem of tutelary deities who watched over a city and represents security. In ancient Rome, the mural crown was a military decoration given to the soldier who first successfully climbed the wall of a besieged city and placed his armies standard on it.
The reverse of this coin features a coat of arms reminiscent of Spains former imperial glory. The pillars to the left and right of the arms are the Pillars of Hercules representing the Straits of Gibraltar. One pillar represents the Rock of Gibraltar to the North and the other either Mount Hacho or Jebel Musa on the African Continent to the South. The ribbons on which are inscribed the words Plus Ultra are Spain's national motto meaning Further Beyond and refer to Spains exploration and colonization of the new world. The crest underneath a common crown represents Spains five ancient kingdoms. The top left quarter represents the Kingdom of Castile, the top right Leon, the bottom left Aragon, the bottom right Navarre, and the pomegranate at the bottom, the Kingdom of Granada. It is also interesting to note that this coat of arms was only in use when there was no one on the throne as in the years 1868-70 and 1873-74. Otherwise, the crown above the arms would have been an imperial or royal crown as opposed to a generic four turret mural crown.
Unfortunately, it took some time for the symbolism of this coin to become reality. In 1873 Amadeo I abdicated from the throne after asserting that Spain was ungovernable. The First Republic of Spain followed this government and lasted only 23 months. Finally, in a bit of irony, the House of Bourbon returned to the throne in the person of Isabellas son Alfonso XII on December 30, 1874. During Alfonsos reign, Spain finally entered into a period of peace and prosperity towards the end of the 19th century.
In summary, the imagery on coins has the power to move and inspire people by reminding them through daily commerce of their national pride and heritage. This power as I have discussed last month can be used as a propaganda tool to suppress the people or as seen this month to instill a sense of hope for the future.
Until next month, happy collecting!
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