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The Guatemala 8 Reales Hoard Reassembled

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Hoards are an interesting and much-loved area in the study of numismatics. They offer insights to understanding what coins were circulating at a given time period and even provide context into historical events that caused the coins to be lost, to begin with. However, many hoards go undocumented, often broken up and sold off with the end collector, never knowing the history of their coin or where it originally came from. A few years ago, an interesting hoard of 8 Reales came out. It was destined to another lost pedigree, and as you progress in this story, you will understand why. Now, years later, I will attempt to reconstruct the story the best I can with the information as I understand it. It is a story of not only the coins but how coins are traded in the 21st century on a global marketplace.

Image of Guatemala Hoard coins. Click image to enlarge.

Discovery

In a lost and unknown location, on the border between Guatemala and Mexico, someone discovers a group of 8 Reales. The group consists of over 400 coins, and – amazingly – almost half are from the Nueva Guatemala Mint located in Guatemala. All are Portrait type pieces of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII. The other half consists of coins from other locations, such as Mexico City and Lima, Peru, with only one Pillar type. Based on the conditional state of the coins, it is likely this area was a swamp. Also, because of the condition of the coins, they are highly undesirable. They are eventually sold to a coin dealer in Mexico who specializes in export to China for the domestic Chinese coin market. These coins are sold and exported to China.

International Markets

In China, countless coins are buried in the ground. With increased construction activity over the past couple decades, many coin hoards have been discovered in China. From this, many dealers have become experts in removing corrosion from coins in order to get them graded and sold into the retail market. The Guatemala hoard coins are purchased by a coin dealer in the Jiangsu Province of China, who we will call Coin Dealer A (CD-A) to avoid confusion going forward. The intent of CD-A is to conserve the coins and make them sellable in the Chinese market, where he hopes to sell them for a good profit. Pillar, Portrait, and Cap & Rays 8 Reales are all popular coins with Chinese collectors and used to circulate freely in China prior to and alongside Chinese domestic coinage. However, CD-A realizes that, once in hand, these coins are too black and corroded to be restored and will make efforts to sell them as-is.

A coin dealer from Shanghai, China (CD-B), hears of the group and upon examining them realizes that they are unsearched when he picks out a rarity from the group and purchases that coin. That rarity is a Fernand VII 1808 8 Reales with the bust of Ferdinand VII.

Image courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service. Click image to enlarge.

Image courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service. Click image to enlarge.

The Ferdinand VII 1808 8 Reales

The history of this coin is outstanding. The Nueva Guatemala provincial mint didn’t have instant access to information. Anything from decrees to equipment would have been shipped long distances from other places, with a shipping route of Spain to Mexico City before heading to this distant mint. When Charles IV abdicated in March of 1808, Ferdinand VII became king. Ferdinand VII reached out to Napoleon Bonaparte, then Emperor of France, who imprisoned Ferdinand VII at the Chateau de Valencay and forced his abdication of May 6, 1808, just two months after he had ascended to the throne. Napoleon placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte in charge of Spain. The Spanish people didn’t accept Joseph Bonaparte as their monarch and rebellion followed. This instigated what came to be known as the Peninsular War. The Spanish reestablished Ferdinand VIII as king on August 11, 1808, but he remained imprisoned in France for six years.

While all of this is going on in Spain and Europe, the mint in Nueva Guatemala now had been informed that Ferdinand VII is ruler, but no official portrait had been sent. From this, Nueva Guatemala continued to use the Charles IV bust on its coinage but now with the legend “Ferdinand VII.” This came from a decree that only the date and title on the coins should change. Some other mints would make imagined busts of Ferdinand VII for their coinage. The Nueva Guatemala mint honored this decree and coins using the bust of Charles IV but with the Ferdinand VII title were coined in 1808, 1809, and 1810. Finally, in 1811 the newly adopted bust of Ferdinand VII arrived in Nueva Guatemala and his portrait was finally used with his title. To curry favor with Ferdinand VII, Nueva Guatemala struck an unknown number of coins using the 1808 date and the Ferdinand VII bust for 8 Reales, 2 Escudos, and 8 Escudos. Prior to the discovery of the subject hoard, the 8 Reales had fewer than ten confirmed known examples. Some have argued these coins to be like proclamation issues (commemoratives) for export, as a few of the examples are still in uncirculated condition, but a few circulated examples were known before the discovery of this hoard.

The Hoard Moves Again

With the discovery of a rarity in the group, CD-B, contacts a coin dealer in the United States, CD-C, and offers them the 1808 Ferdinand VII 8 Reales. CD-C buys the coin with but an image for visual reference. When the coin arrives in the United States, CD-C inquiries about purchasing the hoard. In the meantime, CD-A has been shopping the coins around China hoping that someone will buy them but having no luck. After CD-B had purchased his rarity, CD-A finds other examples of 1808 Ferdinand VII Portrait 8 Reales. Eventually, CD-A and CD-C arrange a transaction and, with the help of CD-B, about 200 coins are sold to CD-C, all of which are the Nueva Guatemala issue, including a second example of the 1808 Ferdinand VII Portrait 8 Reales. They are taken from Kiangsu, China, to Hong Kong and shipped to the United States. CD-C takes the coins and removes all of the blackness and corrosion. Both 1808 Ferdinand VII Portrait 8 Reales are sold to collectors via private sale, and the remaining 8 Reales of the hoard are sold to a retailer. Neither a name is assigned to the group nor a pedigree – they are simply corroded Guatemala 8 Reales now on the retail market.

A Lucky Loan

Months later, CD-B is contacted by a coin dealer friend (CD-D). CD-D lent CD-A some money and for collateral CD-A had given CD-D the chance to select about 20 coins, hand picking the nicest examples of the Guatemala Mint issues from the hoard. When the loan came due, CD-D requested his money and CD-A (who hadn’t made any money off the hoard) told CD-D to keep the coins as he wasn’t paying it back. CD-D has more specialized knowledge on his coins and realizes that in his group are two good coins – two examples of 1808 Ferdinand VII Portrait 8 Reales. CD-D sells the remaining examples (the collateral coins) from the hoard to CD-B on the condition he buys the whole group, not just the keys. CD-B agrees, but in trying to shop them to CD-C learns they don’t want them as they hadn’t sold their group yet and removing the black coloration was a long, expensive process. CD-B quickly sells the hoard to another American coin dealer, CD-E, at cost with the stipulation he gets to keep the nicer of the two 1808 Ferdinand VII Portrait pieces. CD-E buys the group, takes them back to the United States, and sells the hoard intact to a collector. A year later, CD-B posted his Ferdinand VII Portrait 8 Reales on Facebook to show it off. The collector sees the post and reaches out to CD-E, who then negotiates with CD-B to buy the second example for more than double the original purchase price, on behalf of the collector. That collector now owns two examples of the rarity with fewer than 14 examples known.

Image courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service. Click image to enlarge.

Conclusion

The hoard of over 400 coins that was excavated somewhere in Central America was moved to Mexico, China, Hong Kong, and the United States all within a few years. It yielded four of the rarest Ferdinand VII Portrait 8 Reales coins, increasing the population of known examples by some 40%. About half of the hoard has now been conserved with the black and corrosion being removed, and the coins dispersed to retail sales. The other half of the hoard is still in China, made up of mostly Mexico and a few Peru Portrait type pieces with only one Pillar type found in the group. CD-A has told others that he had found two or four more 1808 Ferdinand VII Bust types prior to selling off part of the group, yet this hasn’t been verified and the coins were never offered for sale or shown to anyone.

One smart collector in the United States understood the value of the hoard and the rarity of the Ferdinand VII 1808 coins and saved them from being cleaned. These coins prove that they circulated along with other 8 Reales as normal issues. The collector is smart enough to preserve them into the future by choosing PCGS to certify the examples alongside an 1808 with the bust of Charles IV in the PCGS multi-holder, both coins from the same hoard. The collector also had the numismatic acuity to understand that a hoard and a pedigree add value to coins considered less desirable by others and when they one day sell the hoard, they can point to this to identify their history.

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