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Transitions within Transitions

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With the royal decree of 18 September 1728, Philip V initiated a radical change in the production of silver coins in Spain's colonies. By 1732, the Mexico City mint would issue the Americas' first milled coins that would become the world's preeminent trade dollar for the next century.


Such a change from the earlier hammered "cobs" did not come with out some difficulties in reaching normal quotas. The new processes instituted machinery for rolling ingots into flat sheets, stamping into rounds, upsetting and imparting an edge design and impressing the obverse and reverse design. To make up the difference in production volume, hammered cobs were continued until 1733, but in addition, a unique method was employed from 1732-1734. These are known as "klippe" issues, named after the emergency siege coinage, when production was hurried and snipping squared shapes replaced stamping of round planchets. In Spanish, these are called "recortadas" for the multiple cuts that are apparent from the edges. They are an interesting hybrid of cob and milled techniques.


First, lets review how cobs were made. Dan Sedwick presents a better explanation than the oft repeated idea that these were hacked off the end of a bar of silver.* Instead, these were likely cut from a stream of molten silver alloy poured onto a flat surface. To produce cobs, the silver was cut into equal pieces and struck between trussel and anvil die. For the klippe issue, I surmise that the strip of silver was flattened in the mechanical roller to provide a uniform thickness, manually cut into equal sized pieces and then struck in a screw press. This would have skipped the stamping into rounds and edging steps, yielding a significantly faster production output. These are further distinguished by their design, employing a somewhat more ornamental variation of the cob design with the obverse showing the crowned Spanish coat of arms, mint mark and denomination to the right, assayers initials left, and monarch's legend with date circling the rim; the abbreviated coat of arms and national legend on the reverse. A type called the "klippe die on cob planchet" is also recognized for this period and presumably skipped the process of flattening the strip in the roller.


Why would the engravers of Mexico City produce a new design for these klippe issues? I should note that the appearance of the milled coinage was described in the royal decree and that the obverse and reverse design was executed in Spain by Francisco Hernandez Escudero leaving little room for the local engravers to exercise their talents. Perhaps we can assume that stamping the new design on a coin that did not go through the proscribed production process would be a violation of the ordnance. With the evidence that regular cobs were still produced, my theory is that the engravers were proud of their skills and their local design and produced a short run of issues that would commemorate these using the superior production techniques of their new equipment.


Here's my "klippe" from a recent Barcelona auction.





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a lot of information in a short read, and very interesting it was. Thanks for sharing, really loved these old colonial coins and one of my favorite coin sets is my set of colonial era coins, those that would have been expected to circulate in the colonial Americas. Don't have a 'klippe' but any old coin that still has some meat on it and it won't hurt to hold in your hand is my kind of coin. Now I guess I'll have to find one of these for the set. ;)

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