They may share borders, but it would appear that throughout history that’s about all that Spain and France have shared in a convivial manner. Fact is that they have seemingly always been at loggerheads with each other which has not only strained trade relations, but also quite interestingly the currency and more specifically types of coins that Spain produced.
Despite the conflict between the two countries, Spain at the end of the 18th century was in a right royal mess. There was no money, things were creaking along, everything crumbling and the government was declared as being massively incompetent.
As you might expect in such a disordered period the coinage was rather varied, quite the change from the orderly currency of the previous century, but discounting the colonial coinage. There were no new coins of Ferdinand for those few months of kingship in 1808 other than some proclamation pieces in silver and gold struck in Madrid. Curiously, there are no pictures of these, but the Standard Catalogue of World Coins has a very spotty listing of Spanish proclamadas.
In emergencies, countries with monetary systems have employed various kinds of strategies to pay people with money that they don’t have. Typical methods before the advent of paper money were to debase the coinage and to force people to accept it at the rate the government wanted them to. Usually we see silver coins replaced by billon. Gold coins tended to get smaller if they were changed at all. People who did business in gold were often in a position to demand full value.
In Revolutionary France they had used paper money to disastrous effect. Napoleon tried to live without paper, and succeeded for a while in France itself. In Spain there was no paper money tradition, so they went to debasement to stretch the funds. Not wanting to make grey money, which hadn’t been seen in Spain in a couple of centuries, they made high grade silver but still called “vellon” and gold coins, just twice or more the stated value. It looked like a 2 reales but it said it was a 4 reales. Did it go as a 2 or as a 4? That depended on the circumstances.
Joseph Napoleon’s face showed up on raised value silver coins made in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona; 1 real coins the size of a half real, 2 reales like 1 real, 4 reales like 2 reales, 10 reales like 4 reales, but full size and full weight ordinary 8 reales from 1809 to 1812. Why? I don’t know, but I can guess: used to make payments to important people.
In 1812 the Joseph 8 reales were replaced with vellon 20 reales, that type, interestingly, struck in 1814 in Barcelona, after Joseph was gone.
The old gold escudo denomination was suppressed and replaced with a new system of reales, theoretically locking in a gold to silver ratio, and also introducing a new denomination, the peseta. Why pesetas? To get the people ready for decimal coins, I suppose. Anyway, gold 20 and 320 reales, equivalent to 2 and 8 escudos in old money.
An 8 maravedis coin, ordinary looking, was struck at the Seville mint. The Standard Catalogue describes it as copper, others state that they were made from the bronze of melted cannons.
There was a separate coinage for Barcelona, harkening back to the long history of fiscal exceptionalism in that region. Copper 1/2, 1, 2, and 4 cuartos, silver pesetas (4 reales), 2.5 pesetas (10 reales), and 5 pesetas (20 reales) (alongside of full weight 8 reales issued at the same time for payments to favoured clients), and gold 20 pesetas.
Coins in the name of Ferdinand, twiddling his thumbs up in France, were issued by local agencies in several locations, and, as the Peninsular War dragged on, regular Ferdinand coins began to appear from the normal mints as they were taken by royalist forces.
First came a series of 8 reales sized silver coins very simple designs, looking essentially like countermarked slugs. The least uncommon are from Tarragona, southwest of Barcelona, dated 1809, denominated as 5 pesetas. Another, announcing its value as “un duro,” was made in Gerona, 1808. Similar things, denominated as 30 sueldos, were made in Palma Majorca, dated 1808, a few on rectangular planchets with clipped corners. A 5 pesetas exists from Lerida, 1809, but is very rare.
On eBay I found several of the Tarragona 5 pesetas, buy it now, prices inflated, not selling.
Those are the abnormalities so to speak. But what of the normal coins for the period? Experts say that there is a normal 8 reales from Seville, 1808, not rare, say the catalogues. Valencia struck “normal” 4 reales in 1809 and 2 reales in 1811. Cadiz started up a mint in 1810, issuing 2 and 8 reales, continuing with an 8 escudos’ gold coin in 1811, a 4 reales in 1812, a 1 real in 1813, and a half real in 1814. Madrid put out an 8 reales and a 2 escudos in 1812 and a half, 1, 2, and 4 reales in 1813. The Jubia mint, in the far northwest, struck 2, 4 and 8 maravedis coppers starting in 1811.
Catalonia, as usual, was a bit complicated. Coins were struck at mints in Tarragona and Palma de Mallorca, sometimes the same type at both mints. Denominations with Ferdinand portraits included silver 1/2, 1, 2, and 4 reales from 1809 and gold 2 escudos in 1811 and 8 escudos in 1813.
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