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The Coinage of Quetzalcoatl

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Mexico 1982-Mo 5 Pesos Quetzalcoatl PCGS PR69DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

The revival of one’s ancestral, cultural, and spiritual path is something revered worldwide. For Mexico, this is especially true as the nation is faced with hundreds of years of colonial rule that erased much of this in favor of that of the colonizer’s systems. Yet, this developed into its own culture, something beautiful and unique, but the draw of the past adds to this diversity creating something uniquely their own. This trend of revival of symbols of antiquity started to appear and be celebrated on the coinage of Mexico in 1943 with the design of the Teotihuacan pyramid. But it would continue with adding more symbolic designs, including those of the deity Quetzalcoatl, to the coins in 1980.

Stone carving of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan – Image labeled for free use. Click image to enlarge.

Quetzalcoatl, or the feathered serpent, is a deity whose origin has largely been lost to time. The first known depictions of Quetzalcoatl are in the Olmec (1400-400 BCE) culture, which some archeologists believe date to the time of 900 BCE, however it may even predate this culture. During this time and over a period spanning the next couple thousand years, there was no writing, the history and religious practices were taught and passed down through the oral tradition, and the deity of the feathered serpent was so ubiquitous in the culture the canon for the deity was lost and changed over time. The feathered serpent deity also spread to other civilizations, such as the Mayan and Aztecs, where the name Quetzalcoatl comes from.

Depictions of Quetzalcoatl are varied and many, ranging from the form of being a feathered serpent, a dragon, to that of an anthropomorphic figure. The theology of Quetzalcoatl is just as varied from that of creation, to a symbol of fertility, a spirit of political structure, an agricultural deity, to the God of Wind, air, learning, rain, lightning, thunder, renewal, to that of the boundary-maker between the Earth and the sky. In one narrative, Quetzalcoatl is the giver of corn to humanity so that they would have food. With the Spanish entering Mexico in 1519, Hernan Cortes stated that the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II believed him to be the return of Quetzalcoatl. This would be repeated throughout the telling of the history the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish during colonial time.

With Mexico starting to issue circulation coinage featuring that of first the Teotihuacan pyramid in 1943, then that of Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec Emperor in 1947, other pre-Columbian designs started to be added to the coins. In 1980, two new designs were introduced; these were the 20 Pesos featuring a Maya ball player and 5 Pesos featuring the stone carved head of the feathered serpent at the Ciudadela complex in Teotihuacan.

Mexico 1984-Mo 5 Pesos – PCGS MS67. Click image to enlarge.

The business-strike 5 Pesos featuring the stone head of Quetzalcoatl was a mass-production issue that was produced from 1980 until 1985. In 1980, the mintage for the piece is listed as 266,899,999. The 1981 has a listed mintage of 30,500,000, and the 1982 with a mintage of 20,000,000. No circulation issues were produced in 1983. In 1984, circulation production began again with a mintage of 16,300,000 issues and in 1985, the final year of production, 76,900,000 coins were made. The Quetzalcoatl 5 Pesos does have its rarities, being that of the proof issues. In 1983, the Mexico Mint produced a proof set with a mintage of 998, which includes a proof example of the Quetzalcoatl 5 Pesos dated 1982. The mintage recorded for 1982 5 Pesos is higher than the mint proof set production, with the listed number at 1,051 coins. Just seven examples of proof Quetzalcoatl 5 Pesos are recorded, making it a rarity.

Mexico 1997-Mo 100 Pesos Gold Serpiente Emplumada (Quetzalcoatl) PCGS PR68DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Mexico 1998-Mo 5 Pesos Silver Quetzalcoatl – PCGS PR69DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

Collector commemorative coins issued by the Mexico City Mint also feature Quetzalcoatl. These first issues as part of the pre-Columbian Teotihuacan series in 1997 feature Quetzalcoatl on a gold 25 Pesos, 50 Pesos, and 100 Pesos, with the coins offering a 1/4-ounce, 1/2-ounce, and 1-ounce of gold, respectively. Each of these gold coins was minted in mint state and proof, and each uncirculated example has a mintage of 500 and each proof a mintage of 206. A 1-ounce silver 5 Pesos coin was produced in 1998 featuring Quetzalcoatl as part of the pre-Columbian Toltec series with a mintage of 5,000 mint state examples and 4,800 proof examples.

Mexico 1979-Mo Silver Medal – Israel Coin Exhibition in Mexico – PCGS MS67. Click image to enlarge.

Interestingly enough, a Mexico City Mint piece to feature Quetzalcoatl predates the circulation coins of 1980, a medal featuring the stone-carved head of Quetzalcoatl for the Israel coin exhibition was produced. These medals were struck in gold, silver, and tombac. The exhibition was jointly held between the two countries, with Israel footing a display of Israeli coins in Mexico City and the Banco de Mexico having an exhibition of Mexican coins in Jerusalem.

With the endless mass-production of modern collector coinage, a few other countries have tried to capitalize from collectors by featuring Quetzalcoatl on their coinage. The Cook Islands in 2017 as part of their “Gods of the World” series issued a silver $20 coin featuring Quetzalcoatl, with a mintage of 333 examples. Niue would do the same in 2020 as part of their “Universal Gods” issues, striking a silver $10 featuring Quetzalcoatl and a mintage of only 500 pieces.

With all that had been lost by those who had a faith doctrine focused around Quetzalcoatl, Aztec, and other deities with the progress of time, the use of Quetzalcoatl on the coinage is a way to bring back that culture. The proud heritage of Mexico is diverse and deep, and the coinage featuring Quetzalcoatl is just one piece of the beautiful kaleidoscope that is Mexico.

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History Latin American