In 1519 the Spanish conquistador known as Hernan Cortes (an explorer for the King of Castile) led an expedition to what is now Mexico (New Spain at the time). There he conquered the Aztec empire in 1519 and claimed the land for Spain. The search for gold and silver deposits, alongside the desire for new trade routes and territory, is part of what led Cortes to this area of the world.
In 1535 Antonio de Mendoza established a mint in New Spain, which became the first significant minting facility in North America. Known today as the Mexican Mint, or Casa de Moneda de Mexico, this new Mint quickly became one of the largest producers of coinage on the North American continent.
The Spanish Dollar
The Spanish dollar, also known as the pieces of eight, was denominated in reales in Spanish. They became the first international currency in the 16th century, reaching Asia, Oceania, and North America because of their widespread use in trade, relative stability, and the uniformity of their milling characteristics.
These 38-millimeter silver coins were exported to facilitate international commerce, including in the American colonies, where they were used widely used until 1857. This currency also became the basis for the Canadian dollar, Japanese yen, Chinese yuan, Philippine peso, and other currencies. The peso would also go on to become the basis for the currencies of many former Spanish colonies.
In the United States, reales were divided into four pieces that became known as bits. Two bits equaled a half dollar, and one bit, would become the basis for the quarter dollar when the U.S. founded its mint in 1792. The Coinage Act of 1792 specifically said that the U.S. dollar would contain 416 grains (26.96 g) of standard silver, which was based on the average weight of a random selection of worn Spanish dollars.
The Mexico Mint initially imported silver from Spain and Portugal for coin production, which soon became economically impractical, especially after 1592 when large silver deposits were discovered in Mexico. Today the country is the world's largest silver producer, accounting for a fifth of global production.
The Mexican Mint Following Mexican Independence
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 following a war that had started in 1810, the country descended into a period of anarchy. The resulting instability made it impossible to continue operating a centralized mint in Mexico City as it had since the 16th century. Production was instead split up into various workshops around the country. One of those workshops, San Luis Potosi, is where the modern Mexican Mint is located.
In the 19th century, as the nation's coinage needs continued growing, it had to temporarily outsource some production to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and other foreign mints. By the early 20th century, new minting technologies based on electricity enabled the mint to regain its own coinage production.
The Modern Mexican Mint
From 1925 until 1986, the Banco de Mexico, or Bank of Mexico, took political control of the mint, known as the Casa de Moneda in Spanish. In 1992 the mint was transferred from Mexico City to San Luis Potosi. The bank is still the mint's largest client, and it also maintains administrative control over the mint and distributes its coins.
Mexican coinage and currency were reformed during this period, specifically in 1992, which resulted in the creation of the new peso and the issuance of commemorative coins in addition to circulating coinage.
Today, the Mexican peso is the most widely traded currency in Latin America and the world's 8th most traded currency.
Libertad coins carry no denomination and are categorized based on the weight of the coin. They are the official sovereign bullion coinage of Mexico. They are also issued in a wide range of sizes in silver, including 1/20th oz., 1/10th oz., 1/4 oz., 1/2 oz., 1 oz., 2 oz., 5 oz, and even one-kilo versions. Gold Libertads are traditionally released in denominations from 1/20th oz. up through 1 oz. of gold. Both versions are issued in Proof and Mint State finishes. The silver series also saw the introduction of a Reverse Proof finish in 2015, and the debut of an antiqued finish in 2018.
Since 1996, the silver Libertad's obverse design has been based on a side view of the winged Victoria statute that sits at the top of the Independence Victory Column in Mexico City. The statue was built to mark the 100th anniversary of Spanish independence from Spain in 1821.
From 1982 to 1995 the silver coin obverse, and through 1999 the gold coin obverse, were based on the 1921 Centenario gold coin issued to mark the centennial of Mexican independence that features a front-facing view of the same winged Victoria statue.
Since 2000, the reverse for silver Libertads of 1 oz and larger sizes has featured the current Mexican coat of arms surrounded by previous iterations of it, while the smaller silver coins carry the current version of the coat of arms.
The alluring classic design that adorns the Libertad is part of these coins' widespread appeal alongside their high production quality and traditionally low mintages. For all these reasons, the Libertad has emerged as one of the most popular modern coin series that is also widely collected rather than just stacked. Many past issues, especially those with incredibly low mintages- sometimes in the hundreds – can be hard to find and can be valuable.
2020 Libertad Coins
This year the release of silver and gold Libertad coins was delayed much longer than usual. The coins were not expected to hit the street until mid-December based on allocations to foreign distributors made in November. The coins only began to be released in Mexico itself at the end of September. The reason for the extended delay is that Mexico was hit very hard by the covid-19 pandemic.
As a result of a reduced time to produce coins this year and other factors, the 2020 Libertad coins will include some of the lowest mintages of the entire series, including gold Proof coins at 250 for each of the five sizes and only 300,000 for the 1 oz silver BU coins as well as some other unusually low mintage issues.
For a complete list of the 2020 mintages that are known at this time, see the table in this Coin Week article.
The Mexican Mint will undoubtedly remain a world leader in the silver and gold bullion coin market in the future as it continues to gain greater market share, innovate and provide stackers and collectors with coins of the highest quality just as it has since the 16th century.