coinage. A non-industrial country could not well absorb all the produce of the American mines. Moreover her stock of precious metals was continually being replenished from an apparently inexhaustible source. On the other hand, this American wealth did serve “ to feed an unpractical vanity and further unfit the nation for manufacturing and commercial life." Everything could be purchased with gold and silver, not only cloths and grain, but armies, heretics, and the hegemony of Europe. The opportunity for conquest was offered by the Hapsburg connection. And Spain, by the loss of her industry and the plundering of her fleets, paid the cost of Hapsburg imperialism.






Both Soetbeer and Lexis attempted to resolve the complex question of . monetary values in Spanish America in the first half-century of European occupation. Their information was gleaned from meagre references found in the "Coleccion de documentos ineditos," in the collection of Ternaux-Compans, and in the pages of sixteenth century historians of America such as Herrera and Garcilaso de la Vega. The American treasury records introduce further elements of confusion scarcely suspected before; but they also enable us to gain a juster idea of the standards of value employed in the American colonies.

In Hispaniola and other islands in the first two decades of the sixteenth century, bar gold was doubtless used by weight as a medium of exchange. The crown, however, also endeavored to put into circulation silver and copper coins sent over from Spain. In Seville is a copy of a cedula of April 15,1505, ordering the officers of the Casa de Contratacion to coin and ship a half-million of silver and a half-million of vellon, the silver real to circulate at a value of 44 maravedis (A. de I., 139, I, 4, lib. i, fol. 159). A letter of Ferdinand to Governor Ovando, in the following December, refers to "dos millones de cuentos de moneda" being sent to Hispaniola, money which Ovando was to divide among the inhabitants in exchange for gold (Colecc. de doc., 2d ser., vol. v, p. 114). Another cedula of February 28, 1510, to Diego Colon, announces the sending of the "cuento de plata de vellon " (sic), for which the governor had asked to meet the lack of small currency in the colony (ibidem, p. xcvi); and in the ledgers of the India House are noted remittances to cover the value of coin thus sent out.

By selling silver reals at 44 maravedis, when their legal value in Spain was only 34, the crown made an excellent profit on the risk and expense of these shipments. And the real continued to circulate at the higher rate till 1538, when as a consequence of the establishment of mints in the Indies, its value in Hispaniola was arbitrarily reduced to 34, in conformity with the rule elsewhere (ibidem, vol. x, p. 401; Recop., lib. iv, tit. 24, ley 4). Letters to the emperor from judges, merchants and other inhabitants in 1538-39 represented the evils which such an act would bring upon the colony. Prices and wages would rise, trade cease, and the island be depopulated. As no one would bring silver to the newlyestablished mint, it had been closed and was let out to rent. It seems that in response to these appeals, Charles V extended the old rate for

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

five years more, after which interval the legal price of the real was to be maintained. (Colecc. de doc., 1st ser., vol. i, pp. 546, 558, 564. A. de I., patr. 2, 1, 2/21, no. 7; 53, 6, 8, no. 51; 139, 1, 10, lib. 22, fol. 314.)

Apparently in the first flush of discovery of these new lands, the Catholic Kings had intended to set up mints immediately to receive the precious metals secured there. In the instruction to Columbus of April 23, 1497, we read:

"Asimismo nos paresce quel oro que hobiere en las dichas Indias se acuñe é faga dello moneda de excelentes de la Granada, segund Nos habemos ordenado que se faga en estos nuestros Reinos, porque con esto se evitará de facer fraudes é cautelas del dicho oro en las dichas Indias, é para labrar la dicha moneda, mandamos que lleveis las personas é cuños é aparejos que hobiéredes menester; etc." (Navarrete, Colecc. de viajes, etc., vol. ii, p. 184.)


Not till 1535, however, was a royal mint created in America. cedula of May 11 of that year provided for a Casa de Moneda in the cities of Mexico and San Domingo. Only silver was to be coined, except in San Domingo where copper might be issued whenever the crown gave special license. The same rules were to be observed as in the mints in Spain (except that the master of the mint was to take three reals out of every marc of silver coined, instead of two), and pieces of eight, four, two, one and one-half reals were to be struck, to be current in the Peninsula as well as in the Indies. There is no evidence, however, that the third real was collected before the reign of Philip II. (Colecc. de doc., 2d ser., vol. x, pp. 264-271; A. de I., 139, 1, 1, lib. I, para. 7:— Instruct. to Ant. de Mendoza, 1st viceroy of N. Spain, April 25, 1535; Recop., lib. iv, tit. 23, ley 4:- Ord. of November 18, 1537. The ordinance of 1535 provided for the coining of one, two, and three real pieces, medios and "cuartillos.")


Up to Acosta's time at least (he went to the Indies in 1571), no copper was used on the mainland, owing to the abundance of gold and silver, vellon being current only in the islands (Hist. de Ind., lib. iv, cap. 3). Apparently gold was not minted in Mexico City till 1675, when its coinage was ordered by a cedula of February 25, of that year," igual en todo à la que se acuñaba en Espana " (Colecc. de. doc., 2d ser., vol. x, pp. lxxii ff.).


Before the establishment of mints, means of exchange on the continent of America were extremely crude and confused. In the ledgers of the royal treasurers of Mexico, we find references to many kinds of pesos 99 66 oro comun, oro mejor que comun con tres quilates añadidos," 99 66 oro marcado,' oro de ley," " oro de ley perfecta," "oro de minas," "oro de Tipuzque." To discover the relative values of these various forms of gold is essential to a proper understanding of the ledgers.

[ocr errors]

Three clues are provided us by the treasurers themselves. We learn that after August 1, 1523, three carats were added to every peso de oro "demas de la ley," and that these three carats were equivalent to sixty maravedis. Such pesos, " mejor que comun," had a value 20 per cent higher than " oro comun," while oro de ley perfecta" was 40-50 per cent higher. Two more suggestions come from two letters of the licentiate Salmeron, a judge of the Audiencia of Mexico, written to Spain

in August, 1531.

[ocr errors]

oro de

In one he says that there are 50,000 pesos Tipuzque" circulating in the country, and that this base gold if converted into ordinary pesos de oro, would approximate 30,000 of the better sort. In the other, speaking of the rent paid to Cortez for the housing of the Audiencia in a portion of his palace, Salmeron remarks that the 9,000 "pesos corriente " already paid the Marquis equal about 6,000 "pesos de oro de minas." Lastly there is the testimony of Bernal Diaz del Castillo that the Spanish authorities in the beginning circulated gold of three carats less than the legal fineness in order to aid the soldiers in the payment of their debts, and incidentally to defraud the merchants who had come to Vera Cruz to trade. This baser gold, he continues, was called "Tipuzque," an Indian word meaning copper. Eventually the Emperor, moved by petitions from the colonists, ordered the payment of customs dues (almojarifazgo) and judicial fines (penas de camara) to be made in this "oro de Tipuzque," so as to withdraw it from the country.

Soetbeer and Lexis have made clear that the usual standard of value in the Indies in the first half of the sixteenth century was a peso de oro worth 450 maravedis and about 22 carats fine (a peso 22 carats fine was strictly worth 454 maravedis; a peso of 450 maravedis was strictly 21.81 carats fine). Their conclusion is confirmed by the colonial records in Seville. This peso was not a coin, but an imaginary unit; it represented, like the castellano in Spain, one-fiftieth of a marc of gold; and it came to be known as the "peso de oro de minas." As the relation between gold and silver was roughly taken to be 1–10, a marc of silver was said to be worth five of these pesos de oro. Very soon, however, silver was reckoned at the legal value set upon it in Spain, 65 reals or 2,210 maravedis, which implied a ratio of 1-10.18, very close to the legal ratio, which was 1-10.11.

The peso de oro de minas was the unit of exchange from the conquest until the thirties of the sixteenth century. Men paid in uncoined gold of a certain weight and fineness. But in the thirties the output of the Mexican silver mines began to be felt, silver became more common than gold, and was used more and more as a circulatory medium. And as till 1537 there was no American currency, silver too was used by weight as equivalent for these imaginary pesos de oro. After 1537, however, when a mint was in operation in Mexico City and silver pieces of eight reals were issued, the silver peso naturally superseded the peso de oro de minas as a unit of value. But the process was a slow one, and till well into the following century the imaginary peso of 450 maravedis continued to be used in buying and selling bar gold and silver (Soetbeer, op. cit., p. 135, says that it was used only in connection with gold bullion). The silver peso of eight reals or 272 maravedis was the famous Spanish dollar or piece of eight" of trade the world over.

[ocr errors]

Of the numerous kinds of gold mentioned in the ledgers of the royal treasurers of Mexico, it is probable that "oro de ley perfecta" represented pesos of the full value of 450 maravedis. If this gold was rated 50 per cent higher than current or common gold, the latter must be worth only 300 maravedis and have a fineness of about 15 carats. If current gold with three carats added was worth 60 maravedis more than before, its value must be about 360 maravedis. This is confirmed by

the statement of the treasurer that it was 20 per cent higher. And the whole reasoning falls in with the remark of Salmeron that 9,000 pesos "corriente " equalled 6,000 pesos de oro de minas. It may also help to explain the statements of some seventeenth century writers that there was an imaginary unit called the peso ensayado of nine reals (306 maravedis.) (Brit. Mus. Add. Mss., 13,976, fol. 46; Veitia Linaje: Norte de la Contratacion, p. 274.)

The value of the " oro de Tipuzque " is always clearly indicated by the treasurers - 272 maravedis. It agrees with the other testimony of Salmeron, that 50,000 pesos de Tipuzque were worth 30,000 of the better pesos.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

These figures afford a reasonable explanation of the early Mexican treasury records. At the time of the conquest the Spaniards brought with them from the West Indian islands the peso do oro of 450 maravedis. But owing to the crude means of testing the fineness of gold in the jewels, ornaments, etc., constituting the most important part of the plunder, that which passed for "oro de ley" was much closer to 18 than to 22 carats. Moreover the weights used by the conquerors were evidently at fault. In fact we are told by Bernal Diaz that they had to manufacture their own scales and weights to ascertain the value of their booty. Lastly, the Spaniards deliberately debased the gold in circulation, as recorded by this same chronicler. It was doubtless to correct this final blunder that after August 1, 1523, three carats were added to every peso of bullion refined by the royal officials, as we discover in the ledgers of 1522-24. The actual value of the peso before this correction was about 300 maravedis, after the correction about 360 maravedis. The latter was the " peso corriente con tres quilates anadidos." Each, however, in the beginning was current as the peso de oro of 450 maravedis.

Most of the gold in circulation between 1524 and 1530 was in one or the other of these forms. But in the records of these same years we find appearing for the first time "oro de ley perfecta "; and this seems to have been the peso finally raised to its full weight and fineness. Such gold always paid one-fifth to the crown, while other bullion was taxed at rates ranging from one-sixth to one-twelfth.

In the accounts of 1530-31, only "oro de ley perfecta" and "oro comun" are the units used. “Oro de minas " is mentioned, but it refers rather to the source of the gold than to the value of the peso. Not till 1531-37 do we find the "oro de Tipuzque," worth 272 maravedis. It is contrasted with oro de ley perfecta" and with "oro de minas de marca real." It was likely the " oro comun" of earlier ledgers, from this time forward accepted by the government at a considerable discount from its current value in the country. Bernal Diaz says that it was all

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »