For those of you not acutely aware, I am originally from Texas. All right, I’m not quite from Texas, but I spent a majority of my youth there growing up, so Texas is what I consider to be my childhood home. Imagine my surprise as both a historian and a coin collector to find out just how historically important the city of San Antonio was in the New Spanish Empire.
The New Spanish Empire was a huge territory which included all of central America and current day Mexico as well as most of the Louisiana Purchase, Texas, and the West coast up into what is now Northern California and over all of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. New Spain was ginormous. The New Spanish Empire lasted from 1519 to 1821 when Mexico overthrew the viceroyalty of New Spain after an eleven year insurgent war.
However, in the early 1800s, Spanish missions at San Fernando de Bexar, Goliad, and Nacogdoches, were still the most successful settlements in the Texas interior, much of the rest of the area was frontier. As daily activities bustled and commerce flourished in these limited areas, a shortage of small denomination coins caused a serious hardship, much as they did a few decades later in California. There just wasn’t enough specie on hand for people to transact any business.
Manuel Pardo was the acting Spanish Governor in New Spain in early 1817, and he received authorization from Mexico City to produce copper coins known as jolas, worth a half real each. Pardo chose a local merchant and public administrator, Manuel Barrera to produce 8,000 of those coins. A public notice was issued, announcing the new coins and identifying Barrera as the coiner. A copy of that notice survives in the original Bexar archives. Those coins have the initials MB above 1/2 and 1817 on the obverse, with an incuse single star on the reverse, considered the first appearance of the Texas Lone Star symbol. I know, that is just freaking cool isn’t it.
Well, precious few of these coins have survived the intervening years because of the politics of the area and the fact the governor after Pardo wanted to recall the coins and most likely melt them down and re-issue them with his own initials on them and a new date. This makes the 1817 Jola a real rarity. These Jolas also have the distinction of being the only coin of Spanish origin to be minted in what is now the United States.
As it turns out a relic hunter searching along the banks of the Rio Grande in the early to mid sixties found a number of the little jolas, worth a cool six and a quarter cents each back in the day. They stayed stored in a desk for a quarter of a century until he found out exactly what they were. Well in Philadelphia this year one of those little jolas sold in excess of $52,000 dollars at auction. not bad for a little hunk of copper about the size of a dime. I guess sometimes the historic importance of an item and where it came from hold more value than the metal it is minted on.
The origin of the Lone Star, which Texas is known for around the world came from a little coin in a bustling mission town on the frontier of Texas.