Collecting The Coins of Ecuador
By Carlos Jara – Mexican American Coin Company - Latin American Numismatics ………
The coins of Ecuador have traditionally been both respected as difficult to obtain, and very popular among collectors. While not a particularly extensive series (as opposed to, say, Colombia), the Ecuadorean series is complex nonetheless. Thankfully, good references about it have been available for a long time. For example, Dale Seppa’s checklists are a great and inexpensive starting point. Years ago, the more serious collector had to search for a copy of Ortuno’s ” Historia Numismatica de Ecuador “, which is not that easy to find. While it is the best in my opinion, it failed to correctly analyze the 1862 issues and since it is in Spanish, it is difficult for some collectors. The alternative was Hoyos’ ” La Moneda Ecuatoriana a través de los tiempos ” which was also in Spanish. Today we have an excellent alternative in Michael Anderson’s authoritative reference (” Numismatic History of Ecuador “) which is written in English, and, as a bonus not usually encountered in our area of interest, very well written.
Any serious collector ought to carefully read this latter work. After doing so, he will understand how Ecuador’s coinage evolved over the years following the inauguration of the Quito mint in the early 1830’s. He will for example notice that while the State of Gran Colombia (effectively comprising the present republics of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama) was dissolved in 1830, its influence on the early coinage of the Quito mint is evident. This is easily explained since the first Ecuadorean coinage law passed on November 1831 (and remained in effect until 1857, when the decimal system was introduced) indicated ” the type, weight and fineness of these [the first Ecuadorean issues] shall be exactly the same as that which is found in those [coins] which are struck in the mint of Popayan.
“Therefore, it is no surprise that all silver minor coinage of Ecuador issued until 1857 is debased (such as the Popayan issues), while the first gold coins (struck until 1843) closely follow the Liberty bust design of the Colombian issues.
A matter directly related to the issuance of debased coins was the widespread circulation of similarly debased coinage, mostly imported from Peru, Potosi (the now ubiquitous 4 R issue with the frozen date 1830), and Colombia. Per Gresham’s law, the bad (debased) coinage expelled or replaced the good (full fineness) one, and as a result, Ecuador’s own debased minor coinage circulated extensively within its territory. For us present day numismatists, this has a direct consequence and means that any early Ecuador silver issue is very difficult to locate in higher grades. Assembling even a type collection of these can be very challenging. A particular mention should be made here of the cuartilla series, issued from 1842 to 1862, which is very popular (and difficult to complete!) among collectors. A very few specimens exist in top grade, the most important being the ex Alfredo Karger (probably)-Almanzar-Freeman Craig specimen of the 1842 date recently sold by Heritage. The privilege of owning that little jewel was hefty at a healthy $27,600.
As mentioned before, the Ecuadorean early gold issues are similar to their Colombian counterparts. There is one little caveat though: they are much rarer (with the exception of the 1826 4 Escudos of Colombia) as type coins, a result of Ecuador’s Quito Mint available gold supply being but a fraction of what was available in the Colombian mints.
In 1844, Ecuador changed the design of its coinage (but not its system or the fineness of the coins) and issued 4 Reales and 8 Escudos with the bust of Simon Bolivar in 1844 and then again in 1845 with a slightly different design. These 4 Reales silver issues, which show a not too flattering depiction of the Libertador, are downright rare in any grade above Fine, following the trend already mentioned for the earlier silver issues. Their “big brother”, the 1844 8 Escudos (with the bust of Bolivar facing right, and again crude and not too handsome) might well be the rarest gold Onza of any Latin American Republic. While a second specimen has long been rumored to exist (and even another with the 1845 date), only one specimen (the Hammel piece, sold in 1982 for 32,000 U$ is presently confirmed. At the same sale, a very nice specimen of the 1813 Argentina Sunface 8 Escudos “barely” realized figure in the low teens.
The 1845 8 Escudos with the Bolivar bust facing left (of which 2 main varieties exist: with and without poles under the shield) is also very rare and important as a type coin. We currently have a very high grade specimen of this issue in stock and interested parties are welcomed to discuss it with us. During the same period, the Quito mint issued its first full size crown, the 1846 8 Reales, a one year issue of a beautiful liberty head design. The new design being much more handsome than the ugly Bolivar design found on the 1844 and 1845 4 Reales, which were referred to as “tuberculosas” in their time, referencing the illness that eventually took the Libertador away). The new issue hardly circulated and was clearly hoarded, as evidenced by the comparatively high number of high grade surviving specimens. The fact that this issue is now very rare is a result of it simply being struck in very few numbers (namely 1386 coins).
The “Bolivar facing left” gold 8 Escudos were issued up until 1856, all of which are rare, with the last 1856 date considered by many as a one year type, due to its slightly different design. This concludes our basic survey of the Ecuadorean coins issued under the old Spanish Colonial monetary system. In our next Newsletter, we will discuss the coins issued after Ecuador adopted the French decimal system in 1856. Be sure to check it out since this will include the very famous (although little understood by many) issues of 1862.
In 1856, the Ecuadorean authorities had seen enough of the debased circulating issues, and issued a new monetary law by decree of December 5, 1856. This decree ordered the implementation of the decimal monetary system, paralleling the one in France, with a coin of 5 grams with a 0.900 fineness valued at 1 Franc (or, more precisely, 1 Franco).
At first sight, it might seem strange that the first coins actually issued under this new decimal system still carried denominations of the old octal Spanish system. The coin we are referring to is a one year type of extreme importance and rarity; the 2 Reales issue dated 1857 (we currently offer the finer of the 2 known specimens, see below). However, these coins (still of 0.666 fineness and with a weight of 6.75 grams) were in fact a perfectly legal issue, since the December 1856 decree authorized (and thus tolerated the issuance of) coins which were equivalent in value to the new decimal coins. Since a 6.75 grams coin of 0.666 fineness equals (in intrinsic value) a 5 grams coin of 0.900 fineness: this meant that the 2 Reales coin of 1857 had the same intrinsic value of a 1 Franc coin of the new decimal system, and could therefore be issued under the 1856 law.
The above charming numismatic puzzle was clarified in our work on the 1862 issues published in 2004. Note that to further clarify matters, the Ecuadorean authorities formally forbade the issuance of coins bearing the old denominations of Escudos and Reales by another decree dated December 4, 1857. This resulted in the issuance of the 1858 5 Francos coin (a full size crown of 25 grams and 0.9 fineness), a coin which is very scarce and popular, with the top graded pieces being very rare. The beautiful example pictured below is currently available.
The Ecuadorean authorities’ plan was to issue sufficient coins of full 0.900 fineness of the new decimal system to recall the debased coins, which amounted by contemporary estimates to a hefty 10 million Reales. This plan came to naught after the massive earthquake that hit Quito in March 22, 1859, and left the mint practically abandoned.
The lack of circulating media allowed a final issue of debased silver coins in 1862, up to a total of 200,000 pesos. These coins were also issued under the decimal system (see the reasoning shown for the 1857 2 Reales issue) and were authorized by a monetary decree of 1861. Their minting was undertaken by a conglomerate of privateers, which had formed a financial consortium named El Banco de Particular de Descuento de Guayaquil, and hoped to recover the mintage costs with the difference between the coins nominal and intrinsic value (amounting in theory to roughly 41.800 pesos if the full 200.000 pesos of 0.666 fineness were issued). The project was carried out with enthusiasm, with dies being commissioned to the well known Paris Mint’s engraver Albert Barre. While the dies were being finished in Paris, other provisional dies were commissioned at the Quito Mint, which were used to strike coins of ¼, 2 and 4 Reales, all of which are great rarities today.
In the end, the only regular issue coins struck with the beautiful dies engraved by Barre were an issue of 4 Reales dated 1862. These are the only Ecuadorean coins dated 1862 which can be located without much difficulty (if one settles for a VF grade!). However, from a numismatic point of view the Barre dies are extremely important since they also produced full 0.900 fineness (to distinguish them from the planned regular issues) patterns of 2 and 4 Reales, and also a pattern crown, all dated 1862. The latter piece, which bears no indication of value, is traditionally referred to as an 8 Reales coin, but logic (see again the reasoning for the 2 Reales 1857!) forces one to conclude that if such a crown had been struck, it would have weighed 25 grams of full 0.900 fineness and was rather a 5 Francos coin. The total combined amount of all the patterns dated 1862 is less than 10 pieces, so it is correct to refer to them as extremely rare.
The icing of the cake for the 1862 coins is the gold 50 Francos piece, of which only one is presently confirmed (with a 2nd specimen rumored to exist). Although the Quito Mint produced many numismatic treasures, the undertaking of the issuance of the 1862 coinage was an economic failure, and resulted in the temporary closure of the Quito Mint. Readers who wish to further investigate these issues might read my work on them, or consult my old blog entry at www.lanumismatics. blogspot.com Later issues might seem uninteresting in comparison but we still can mention many worthy pieces, such as the 1884 Proof issues, very rare in any of the known denominations.
A special mention should be made of the known Ecuadorean countermarks. Both the 1831 MdQ monogram countermark (found on debased coins of Colombia with the Indian head design) and the RA monogram (supposedly issued by Rogelio Alvarado for a prisoner colony in the Galapagos island) have been extensively counterfeited. Any interested parties should study these series in detail before buying them. Feel welcome to give us an email or call about them! The Ecuadorean series include many extreme rarities, which may never be seen by even most enthusiast collectors, but few series are more rewarding to attempt completing. The main reason is very simple, and instead of trying to explain it, let us quote Herman Melville’s Moby Dick description of an Ecuador 8 Escudos glanced upon by Captain Ahab: Now this doubloon was of purest, virgin gold, raked somewhere out of the heart of gorgeous hills, whence, east and west, over golden sands, the headwaters of many a Pactolus flows. And though now nailed amidst all the rustiness of iron bolts and the verdigris of copper spikes, yet, untouchable and immaculate to any foulness, it still preserved its Quito glow….
Now those noble golden coins of South America are as medals of the sun and tropic token-pieces. Here palms, alpacas, and volcanoes; sun’s disks and stars, ecliptics, hornsof- plenty, and rich banners waving, are in luxuriant profusion stamped; so that the precious gold seems almost to derive an added preciousness and enhancing glories, by passing through those fancy mints, so Spanishly poetic. It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequod was a most wealthy example of these things. On its round border it bore the letters, REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO. So this bright coin came from a country planted in the middle of the world, and beneath the great equator, and named after it; and it had been cast midway up the Andes, in the unwaning clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those letters you saw the likeness of three Andes’ summits; from one a flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering the equinoctial point at Libra.
After this beautiful description, we rest our case. Feel free to contact me at carlos@ latinnumismatics.com to discuss the Ecuador issues or any Latin American numismatic topic.