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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San Felipe de Austin Visitor has the Preservation Spirit

By Bryan McAuley, San Felipe de Austin site manager and Jeremy Brooks, HSD Curatorial Intern

On July 4th, following a couple of days of heavy rain, Christina Bernal of Houston and her parents, George and Virginia Bernal, made a stop at the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. After looking at the markers and the statue of Stephen F. Austin, Virginia took a seat on the wooden bench under the site’s large oak tree. She noticed what she thought was a heavily corroded dime on the ground near her feet and picked it up and put it in her pocket.
So began the final chapter of a remarkable journey of a half reale Spanish coin that traveled from Mexico City (its place of minting) likely to Austin’s colony (and soon to an Austin’s colony museum) by way of…the United States? Interior Mexico? San Antonio? What stories it could tell.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is what happened, after realizing the “dime” was an historic 1816 Spanish coin. While state law prohibits the removal of resources from historic sites, it’s easy to imagine many visitors being tempted to simply walk away with a remarkable souvenir. This story has a different ending.
On July 5th, Bryan McAuley, San Felipe de Austin site manager, arrived at his desk to find an email from Christina. It included the following: “I understand there will eventually be a museum at the site, and it pleases me to think the coin could be put on display for everybody to see. (Our family loves history!)”

That afternoon the coin was in THC possession and within days was sent to curatorial staff in Austin for research and initial conservation.

The Historic Sites Division’s first priority was to digitally photograph the half reale coin to reduce the amount of physical handling of the artifact, and also retrieve high-resolution details of the coin that may elude the eye. After digitally documenting the coin curatorial staffers were able to extract unseen elements through a series of light and color filters. Once the filtration process was complete the image of the coin was returned to its original state.
Above is the actual coin found at San Felipe de Austin. Several of the key features listed beside the coin became known as the Historic Sites Division continued research.

The most noticeable marking on the obverse side is the bust of King Ferdinand VII. This particular bust, specifically named the “Laurent and Drape Bust” but commonly called the “Standard Bust” is a definable characteristic of the reale from the years 1808–1814. Also minted on the obverse end is “FERDIN•VII” “DEI•GRATIA”, which names the king (Ferdinand VII) during its minted year (1816) “[By the] Grace of God”.

On the reverse side of the coin are additional components which aided in the discovery of the coin’s origin. Located on the right side is the phrase, “HISPAN•ET•IND•” (Spain and Indies). Other coins of this same era typically had the phrase, “HISPAN•ET IND•REX” (King of Spain and Indies). The half reale is unique because it lacks the “REX” portion of the phrase.

Looking at the left side of the reverse end are three important features: the R, Ṁ, and J•J•. The value of the coin is a prefix to the R, an 8R is an 8 reale, 1R is 1 reale, leading to an R, which is a half reale. The second feature indicates this particular half reale origin of mint. The Ṁ denotes Mexico City as the place where this coin was manufactured. Lastly, the J.J. stands for the initials of the assayer, or the person who determines the specific qualities of the coin’s metal. Unfortunately the actual name of the assayer with initials J•J• has not been determined, but the average quality of the half Spanish Reale is measured at .86 fine silver (.048 troy ounces).

Not noted in the picture above, but definitely the most identifiable element of the coin is the Coat of Arms of the Spanish Monarch flanked by the Pillars of Hercules.


Thanks for checking in to learn about this unique artifact from San Felipe de Austin. And a big thanks to George, Virginia, and Christina Bernal for their commitment to Texas history.

**The San Felipe de Austin is located west of San Felipe on FM 1458 in the Texas Independence Trail Region

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