Many American collectors are familiar with the 1818 New Spain (Texas) half real coins, called jolas, through their listing in A Guide Book of United States Coins, and in other colonial references. Although they were known to a small number of Texas collectors for several decades, the first widely publicized notice of the similar 1817 dated pieces appeared in The Paper Republic by James P. Bevill, published in 2009. Further details were published in "Lone Stars Rising, A Missing Numismatic Link," by Bevill and Alvin Stern in the May 2011 issue of The Numismatist. To the best of their knowledge, the two pieces in Heritage's Philadelphia Signature Auction represent the first ever public offering of any 1817 jolas.
In the early 1800s, Spanish missions included those at San Fernando de Bexar, Goliad, and Nacogdoches, the most successful settlements of the Texas interior. As daily activities bustled and commerce flourished, a shortage of small denomination coins caused a serious hardship, much as they did a few decades later in California.
Manuel Pardo was the acting Spanish Governor in New Spain in early 1817, and he received authorization from Mexico City to produce copper coins known as jolas, worth a half real each. Pardo chose a local merchant and public administrator, Manuel Barrera to produce 8,000 of those coins. A public notice was issued, announcing the new coins and identifying Barrera as the coiner. A copy of that notice survives in the original Bexar archives. Those coins have the initials MB above 1/2 and 1817 on the obverse, with an incuse single star on the reverse, considered the first appearance of the Texas Lone Star symbol. The 1817 MB jolas are nearly identical to the 1818 JAG jolas in layout and design. The 1818 JAG pieces have been known since their discussion and first illustration in 1892 (L.E. Daniell, Personnel of the Texas State Government, with Sketches of Representative Men of Texas, San Antonio, Maverick Printing House, 1892).
Governor Pardo soon turned his command over to Antonio Maria Martinez, who was the last governor of Spanish Texas, serving from May 27, 1817 to August 17, 1822. In December 1818, Martinez recalled the Barrera coins in favor of a new issue produced by Jose Antonio de la Garza. The recall notice was dated December 6, 1818, stating that de la Garza would receive the Barrera coins and replace them with his own for a period of 12 days. The recall of the older coins was probably intended to supply the metal necessary for the new issue. There was apparently an additional issue later in 1817, produced by R. Garza, as the current two pieces suggest.
The familiar 1818-dated New Spain jolas have the initials JAG above, the date below, and the denomination expressed as 1/2, appearing horizontally due to space considerations. The 1818 pieces are known on small (17 mm.) and large (19 mm.) planchets. The basic layout of the 1818 pieces, with the coiner identified above, the denomination at the center, and the date below, is an important consideration towards authentication of the 1817 pieces. A notice of the 1817 issue survives in the Bexar archives, specifying that each half real coin would contain the name and surname of the issuer.
Several varieties of the 1817 pieces exist. One piece is known with the inscription M. BARRERA above, 1/2 vertically, and a three digit date, 817. The reverse has a multi-pointed motif. That piece clearly follows the written notice of those pieces. Another variety shows the initials MB, 1/2 oriented horizontally, and the date, 1817 below, and is identical to the layout of the 1818 JAG pieces, including the lone star motif on the reverse. A third variety has the name R. GARZA above, 1/2 oriented vertically, and a three digit date, 817. A fourth variety, as offered in both lots in the present sale, have R. GARZA above, 1/2 oriented vertically, and 1817 below. These pieces have the same multi-pointed reverse motif seen on the M. BARRERA jola. The similarity in these varieties suggests closely related issues.
In addition to the stylistic similarities, an extensive physical study of 1817 and 1818 jolas was conducted in August 2011 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science by Dr. Garth Clark of Katy, Texas, working closely with James Bevill. His analysis utilized non-destructive mass spectrometry, including six 1817 jolas and five 1818 pieces. All five of the 1818 pieces were from the San Antonia River hoard of approximately 60 JAG half real coins.
"The conversion of ore into a finished planchet has changed over the millennia. For purposes of simplification these steps in copper metallurgy can be divided into ancient, liquation, sulphatization, and electrolytic processes. With each advance in technology, the initial ore signature gets weaker as the ore is more efficiently processed. Newer electrolytic processes result in a final copper of such purity that only isotopic signatures can yield any clues. However, for copper refined from older processes, especially ancient and liquation processes, there is usually enough of a signature to group coins as to ore origin and refining techniques."
Dr. Clark presents a detailed analysis that yields several important conclusions. He writes that "all of the coins in the group of jolas (1817 and 1818) which were tested have a common ore origin and a common refining process." His conclusions point to the unquestioned authenticity of these pieces:
- There was no brass or bronze used in making the jolas. The coins were made from refined ore and were not made from a secondary copper or brass product.
- Molybdenum can be used as a surrogate isotopic signature and groups these coins as belonging to the same isotopic copper origin.
- Each of the jola coins was made from a copper ore with lead, nickel, iron, and silver impurities or copper refined using a process that incorporated lead. This marks the copper alloy being used as pre 1869 (copper electrolytic processing) and pre 1833 (Pattinson process), or in the liquation/fire refining era.
- Using absolute and relative ratios of the non-copper metals present, the jolas can all be grouped into two to four overlapping groups and are all related by composition.
The two 1817 half real jolas offered in this auction are from the same R. GARZA dies. They are closely related to the 1817 Barrera pieces, and also closely related to the 1818 de la Garza jolas. These are crudely produced, small copper coins, with detail perhaps weak or missing since manufacture. pictured example has been conserved to bring out considerable detail that was obscured by its original patina.