Golden Fleece Counterstamps
on Spanish Cobs
I went to the British Museum in January 2001 to
study silver cobs from the Colombian mints of Nuevo Reino and Cartagena, cobs
are a crude style of hand hammered coins made in Spain and Spanish
America. While looking through trays of
coins I came across some Spanish cobs with a Golden Fleece counterstamp applied
to them. The coins were properly
identified as issues of Brabant. This triggered
an association in my mind as I recalled references to a Golden Fleece counterstamp
on a Nuevo Reino cob, a photo of one is in Restrepo/Lasser, coin M46-40.
Below is an image of another Nuevo Reino coin
from the 1914 edition of Herrera’s El Duro. The coin was also illustrated as an
engraving in the April 1901 edition of the American Journal of Numismatics,
more on that further in this article.
Adolfo Herrera, El Duro, plate
XVIII number 4
Host coin is Nuevo Reino, 8 Reales
1662 PORS, R/L # M46 - 32
Catalog References to Brabant
The Spanish and Spanish American coins with the
Golden Fleece counterstamps are
cataloged in Delmonte
as number 324, includes 8 reales, 4 reales and 2 reales. J.R. de Mey
assigns catalog number 255 to 8 reales and doesn’t mention 4 or 2 reales.
The counterstamps beg the
questions, “Who, what, why, where and when?”
WHAT is the
Some background, this design is the emblem for
the Order of the Golden Fleece, an order of knights created by Philip the Good,
duke of Burgundy, in 1430. According to
Greek mythology, the golden fleece is the sheepskin that Jason and his
Argonauts, aboard the ship Argo, searched for and found. The idea is that the fleece represents
courage and boldness, suitable for knights.
The fleece is suspended from a “fire-steel”, in the shape of the letter
B for Burgundy.
To understand how the Golden Fleece design came
into being it is necessary to place it in historical context. The history of Brabant, Burgundy and France
is much too complicated for expounding
here in a brief article, but we can start in the 14th century with
claimants to the Duchy of Burgundy in dispute over sovereignty of the Duchies
with their cousins, the reigning Kings of France. On 6-September-1363, King John II of France granted
the Duchy of Burgundy to his fourth son, Philip. John’s eldest son inherited the crown as Charles V of France.
During the next 50–60 years there were power struggles between the Dukes of
Burgundy and the French crown, out of these rivalries we see the establishment
of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
How did the emblem of the Golden Fleece itself
come into being? I designed to find out
and my search lead me to the catalog produced for a museum exhibit in Brussels,
1996. A wealth of information on the
Order of the Golden Fleece is in the book and as it is published by the Royal
Library of Belgium, I believe the information is reliable. The catalog is
entitled L’ordre de la Toison d’or, de Philippe le Bon à Philippe le Beau
(1430-1505): idéal ou reflect d’une sociéte? In English the title
translates, The Order of the Golden Fleece, from Philip the Good to Philip
the Handsome (1430-1505): ideal or reflection of society?
The next generation after Charles V of France and
Philip the Bold of Burgundy, saw increased hostilities among the key
participants in the power struggle.
Charles the VI succeeded his father Charles V as King of France, but
with his recurring insanity the cousins contended one with another for power. Philip the Bold’s son, John the Fearless was
enemies with his cousin Louis of Orleans, brother of Charles VI. The struggle between John the Fearless and
Louis of Orleans is a good place to start with the emblem of the Golden Fleece.
During that time in history it was common to take
emblems and mottoes to represent oneself, and as a symbol of affiliation with
some one more powerful. To a degree we
still do this today, consider military patches and medals. The importance of
these emblems and mottoes must not be overlooked or we will miss the
understanding of the Golden Fleece emblem.
Louis of Orleans took as his emblem the figure of a knotty stick, or
club. To this he added the words “ie
which translate roughly as “I Annoy It”, referring to the Burgundians. Not to be intimidated or out done, John the
Fearless counters this motto with one of his design. In 1405 John chose a carpenter’s plane as his emblem and added
the words “ik hovd”, which translates roughly as “ I Hold It”. The plane is in the shape of a horizontal
“B” and is shown in motion with wood chips flying, symbolizing the shaving down
of the knotty stick of his opponent Louis.
The conflict among the cousins escalated with
Louis being murdered in 1407 and John the Fearless assassinated in 1419, all of these events drew the participants
into the 100 years war, which is another story.
Philip the Good inherited the Duchy of Burgundy
and immense other territories that his father John the Fearless had built
up. He took his father’s emblem of the
plane and converted it to a “fusil” or fire-steel, a good translation would
actually be lighter, a device still used for starting fire. The fire-steel is
operated by putting two fingers through the loops of the B and holding the
flint in the other hand. Philip’s emblem
is more aggressive and dangerous than the plane of his father, as the
fire-steel launches sparks instead of wood chips. To the emblem he added the words “ante ferit quam flamma
micet” which roughly translates as “it
strikes before bursting to flame”. Philip developed his emblem / motto in 1421-2.
It was in 1430, some sources say 1429, that
Philip the Good established the Order of the Golden Fleece. For the order he chose his personal emblem,
the fire-steel in the shape of “B” for Burgundy, placed two of them back to
back and suspended the fleece from a flint stone positioned between the
The emblem of the Golden Fleece and the Collar of
the Golden Fleece have been used on thousands if not millions of coins in the
last 500 years, it is by far one of the most familiar designs on Spanish
coinage. Even though it is familiar,
the origin of the design itself is not well known, at least it wasn’t to
The counterstamps are small and difficult to see, so
to better see the fire-steel design. I have reproduced here another
image taken from a Spanish Netherlands 1655 Patagon of Philip IV.
Image used with permission of Gary
WHO applied the
The counterstamps where authorized by officials
of Philip IV of Spain. Spain’s claim to
the Southern Netherlands, including Brabant and her association with the Order
of the Golden Fleece go back to Maximilian I, of the house of Habsburg. Through political agreements, Maximilian’s,
father Frederick III, arranged the betrothal of Maximilian to Marie of
Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Rash, sometimes called Charles the Bold, (son
of Philip the Good and great grandson of Philip the Bold mentioned
earlier). The accounts that I read say
that the children were attracted to each other and it was an affair of the
heart as well as political. It was a complicated and long political
affair that looked as though the betrothal would never consummate in
marriage. It was only after Charles the
Rash died in battle against the French in 1477, that Marie and Maximilian were
wed, even then Marie and her mother Margaret of York had to make skillful
negotiations to deny competing French aspirations to marry Marie to Charles,
son of Louis XI. This marriage, which
brought wealth and additional power to the Habsburgs, forever changed the
course of European history. For further
information see Crankshaw.
Through Maximilian’s marriage to Marie, the house
of Habsburg inherited Burgundy and the Grand Mastership of the Order of the
Golden Fleece. When Charles V of the
Holy Roman Empire ( not to be confused with Charles V of France), grandson of
Maximilian, retired in 1556, he divided his dominions, into two parts, with
claims to Germany, Austria and the Holy Roman Empire going to his brother
Ferdinand; Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, the New World and more going to
Charles’ son, Philip II. This division took two years. It is from this division that Spain held
claim to the Spanish Netherlands and that the Order of the Golden Fleece later
split into two branches, the Habsburg and Spanish branches. The Grand Mastership of the Spanish branch
is today held by King Juan Carlos.
The coins were counterstamped in the Spanish
Netherlands, the Brabant region including Brussels in what is today Belgium.
WHEN and WHY?
It looks as though there were a great number of
Spanish coins circulating in the Spanish Netherlands during the middle part of
the 17th century. Part of
this money was to finance the Army of Flanders during the Thirty Years War. A great number of these Spanish coins were
cobs and a lot of the cobs were found to be underweight and low purity, likely
related to the mint scandal at Potosi which led Philip IV to order a complete
redesign of the coins (to the beautiful pillars and waves design) produced in
South American mints. Also the practice of clipping, or trimming of metal along
the coin edge was responsible for some light weight coins. In section nine of Philip IV’s pragmatica of
1-October-1650, he specifically banned counterfeit coins that
originated in France and Portugal as distinct from the spurious coins
originating in Peru, which were recalled.
In order to reduce fraud and facilitate commerce the government required all
Spanish cobs to be turned in to the mint for melting and made into new
money. In areas were there was no mint,
certain money changers were authorized to test the cobs, and if they determined
the coins were of proper weight and fineness to counterstamp them with the
Golden Fleece. This practice began in
1652 and ended approximately 1672 when the government “discovered” that the
people were clipping the counterstamped coins and so even though they were
stamped as proper weight, they had now become adulterated and hence the stamp
was no longer a reliable indicator of full weight coins. As well as clipped coins there were possibly
counterfeited counterstamps as well.
With thanks to Brunk and previous generations of
numismatists, we today have information that could otherwise have become
lost or so obscure as not to be identifiable.
Gregory G. Brunk compiled an anthology of articles concerning
countermarks on coins in his World Countermarks on Medieval and Modern Coins. In it he reprints an article from the April
1901 edition of the American Journal of Numismatics entitled Counterstamps
on Spanish and Spanish-American Coins.
The Journal article in turn was a reprint and I assume a translation, of
an article printed by Alphonse DeWitte in the Revue Belge. In
that article was a quotation from an official announcement, bill or placard
which is highly informative, the announcement was printed in 1652 at
Antwerp. The quotation below is from
the 1901 Journal.
TOUCHING SPANISH REALS
“It has come to our knowledge that among the above-named Reals – the whole
pieces called Mattes, and the parts thereof, halves, quarters, eighths, and
sixteenths, - it is found on assaying them, that a great number of those from
Peru and other places have been adulterated, counterfeited, or are not up to
standard in alloy or in weight, so that the public are unable to value them at
their actual worth and it is also difficult to discern the good from the
bad: for this reason we have, in the
past, and do now declare them base; and further, as the Reals of Spain and
Mexico, which have circulated among the people for forty, twenty, ten, and
two-and-a-half pattars, are all too light in weight, we do ordain that they
shall be brought to the mints, or to the sworn money-changers, so that the
value thereof may be determined according to assays which shall be made; and
the better to discern between the Reals of Spain and Mexico (of just weight and
alloy) and those of Peru, we further ordain that before it be permitted to put
them in circulation they shall be carried to our mints as aforesaid; or in
places where there are no mints, to the sworn moneyers, there to be marked with
punches prepared for this purpose, under penalties set forth in these placards.
“Reals of Spain and Mexico being counter marked with this device may be
allowed to circulate as of the value of forty-eight pattars.”
shown below from the 1901 Journal article is an engraving of the
same 1662 eight reales which is photographed in Hererra 1914 featured at
the beginning of this article.
The Brabant Counterstamped
pieces in the British Museum
I found four counterstamped Spanish cobs in the
British Museum coin trays, as listed below.
Cabinet 269, tray 18, coin accession #
1935-4-1-11239. The host coin is a
“Star of Lima” style 8 reales from Lima (Peru), weight is 25.094 grams. Looks to be Calicó type 89, with the
denomination 8 above the assayer V to the left of the left column and the mint
name spelled out between the columns “LI*MA” which dates the coin as 1659. The counterstamp is applied to the reverse
side of the host coin. Published in NI
Bulletin print edition.
Cabinet 269, tray 22, coin accession # 1923-9-2-5. The host coin is a peninsular (SPAIN proper)
mint but I can’t identify which one.
Weight of the coin is 26.860 grams.
Cabinet 269, tray 22, coin accession # 1923-9-2-6. Host coin is Potosí 8 Reales 1667 assayer E.
Cabinet 269, tray 22, accession # Geo III Spanish Coin
# 1. According to Janet Larkin, King
George III was a coin collector and this specimen from his personal collection
came to the museum in 1823. It was
really neat to hold and admire the same coin that a king once did himself. The host coin is a Potosí 8 Reales 1655
assayer E, Calicó type 101 with letters PH beneath the crown. The counterstamp is applied to the reverse
side of the host coin. Published in NI
Bulletin print edition.
How does a fire-steel work?
To make fire
with this device you need three things; flint, tender and steel, the harder
the steel the better. By striking the
steel against the flint, pieces of the steel are abraded and this causes
sparks, the sparks must be directed into the tender to set the tender aflame.
Thanks to Curator Helen Wang and museum assistant
Ian Lewis for their generous assistance during my inspection of the collection
and providing reference books from the department’s library. A special thanks
to Janet Larkin who also assisted me and
arranged for the photographs.
For reference, the web site address for the British Museum is http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/
Thanks also to the following persons for their
assistance in my research: Dr. Barrie Cook, British Museum, Curator of Medieval
and Early Modern Coins; Philippe Elsen of Jean Elsen Numismates; Nicholas C.
Seijffardt at Simtom.firstname.lastname@example.org; Jane Colvard at the ANA library;
Gary West of Colonial Era Coins for use of his image; and to the NI librarians
Granvyl Hulse and Jim Haley.
All rights reserved by
author, Herman Blanton. Any publication rights are given non-exclusive
only. Images of coins in the British
Museum Collection are not reproduced as I do not have rights for electronic
publication, to see images of two pieces refer to the NI Bulletin, Volume
37, Number 1, pp. 6-15, January 2002 edition; a printed
publication of Numismatics International, Dallas, Tx..
To the best of my knowledge the images from Herrera and The American Journal
of Numismatics are in the public domain.
 Jorge Emilio Restrepo and
Joseph R. Lasser, Macuquinas de Colombia, (The Cobs of Colombia, South
Colombia: private printing, 1998) p. 27.
Adolfo Herrera, El Duro (Madrid: J. Lacoste, 1914) Vol. I p. 236 and
Editor, “Counterstamps on Spanish and Spanish American Coins,” American
Journal of Numismatics, Vol. XXXV-No. 4 (Boston: April 1901): pp. 103-104.
A. Delmonte, The Silver Benelux (Amsterdam: Jacques Schulman N.V.,
1967) pp. 82-83.
J.R. de Mey, Les contremarques sur les monnaies (Brussels: Numismatic
Pocket, 1982), pp. 41-42.
Guy Stair Sainty, The Most Illustrious Order of the Golden Fleece, [
Online. Internet. 27 February 2001. Available: http://www.chivalricorders.org/orders/other/goldflee.htm
Dr. Michael Pastoureau, “Emblèmes et symbols de la Toison d’or,” L’ordre
de la Toison d’or, de Philippe le Bon à Philippe le Beau (1430-1505):
idéal ou reflet d’une société? (Brussels: Royal Library of Belgium,
Edward Crankshaw, The Habsburgs, Portrait of a Dynasty, (New York:
Viking Press, 1971) pp. 34-40.
Dr. Barrie Cook. 2001. Personal communication.
Aloiss Heiss, Descripción General de las Monedas Hispano-Christianas desde
la Invasion de los Arabes (Madrid: R.N. Milagro, 3 volumes, 1865-1869),
Vol. I, p.350.
Cook. 2001. Personal communication.
 Gregory G. Brunk, World
Countermarks on Medieval and Modern Coins . (Lawrence, MA.: Quarterman
Publications 1976) pp. 164-165.
|©Copyright 2001 Herman Blanton