Before European contact in South America, the Incans ruled the western coast of the continent, even extending into southern Central America. The Incans spread a standard language, culture, and coinage system, which thrived because of the extensive gold and silver reserves found in the region. When the Spanish conquistadors came in search of precious metals, they found an immense empire that had overflowing riches in the large cities, but surprisingly unpopulated in the vast fertile countryside. When the Incas fell, the Spanish quickly asserted their authority, enslaving the natives in their own mines, coining the metal, and sending it across the Atlantic, filling the pockets of their sponsors. This type racial discrimination continued as Africans were also enslaved and imported. Wealthy merchant families moved to the continent to start plantations, and mine the abundant mineral resources, including gold and silver. As the wealthy ruled with an iron hand, discontentment grew. It finally boiled over in 1810, when Simon Bolivar sparked a rebellion that liberated Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Simon Bolivar was made president of these countries, and was able to unite them to complete his dream of a continental country. But due to financial struggles and a war-torn countryside the “Gran Colombia” didn’t last after Simon Bolivar died in 1830. Previously using primarily Spanish coinage, what happened to Gran Colombian coinage after the wars for independence? This week I am going to take a look at the designs Gran Colombia’s coinage, and next time, I will explore their monetary system
In the early 1800’s there was a need for standardized coinage to support the war-torn South American economy. Because many old Spanish coins were being hoarded or exported, cities started issuing their own coinage, creating a statistical nightmare. When Gran Colombia rolled out coins from the Bogata and Popayan mints, there were many denominations, but I will focus on the 1 Real denomination, as it has many of the features displayed on the Gran Colombian that were minted during the early 1800’s.
The designs on Gran Colombian coinage were reflections of the people that lived in the newborn empire. At the time, almost every European country had busts of their rulers on the obverse of their coins. When the United States fought for and gained independence, the founding fathers chose a symbolic device instead of people. The “George Washington of South America,” Simon Bolivar, chose to not put himself on coinage, seeing it as a sign of monarchy. The main design on the obverse is India, a young native woman wearing a feathered headdress and represents liberty. Normally, a pomegranate appears on the reverse, representing the fruitfulness of labor. The legends, or lettering, on Gran Colombian coins can be confusing, as they can mean anything from an administrative colony, to Gran Colombia, to a province within modern-day Colombia. Note that there were many small variations of mintmark and mintmark location, as well as date to design errors.
These beautiful coins have designs that say a lot about the culture that the South American people lived in during the early 1800’s. They were deeply scarred by the wars for independence that some of these coins had funded, and were desperate for the necessities of life including mediums of trade. They were longing for liberty, fruitfulness, united spirits, and for life to be “normal” again.
Thanks for reading, comments and tips are welcome
Main source: Wikipedia