Potosí, to the rescue of its first Mint House

Daniel Oropeza writes in Pagina Siete:

The Historical Research Society of Potosí has informed that a joint action has allowed the transfer of the property to the FCBCB follow its course.

First Mint House and Royal Funds before its remodeling. Photo: Archivo Casa Bolívar, Potosí.

Potosí is happy. A joint action between authorities and the Historical Research Society of Potosí (SIHP) allowed to unblock the transfer of the first Mint House to the Cultural Foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia (FCBCB) for free.

Sixty percent of the property is in the hands of the Judicial Branch, which has already announced its decision not to object to the transfer, while the remaining 40 percent is occupied by the Potosí Mayor’s Office, Mayor, Williams Cervantes, said he is willing to compromise. that part through a law that must be approved by the City Council.

Once the FCBCB has the entire building in its possession, it must be restored to give back its original appearance and turn it into another cultural repository, under a predominantly museum concept.

The succession of news about the transfer surprised many people because few knew that Potosí not only had one, but two mints. The second began to function in 1773 and in 1940 it was converted into the museum that is the pride of Bolivia.

In this article we summarize part of the history of the first building, emphasizing the documents found about the transfer that the Potosí Prefecture executed in 1915 in favor of the then known as Superior Court of Justice. This summary is part of the historical foundation that the SIHP prepared for the plurinational bill that provides for the free transfer of the property **.

Work of Toledo

The Imperial Villa became by 1570 the most populous city in America. It had grown at a dizzying rate. Europeans and natives built their dwellings without respecting urbanism criteria, miners and metallurgists competed for the registration of sites and for the casting of metals in Huayrachinas.

All the production of already melted silver had to pay tribute in the most important institution of the Spanish colonial aparto, the Royal Boxes, then the bullions received a seal that legitimated them to circulate freely around the world.

For the manufacture of coins that facilitate trade, King Philip II authorized the creation of a mint in Lima, the same that worked from 1568 to 1570 with many technical difficulties, such as the supply of raw materials, since the silver that minted this mint was exploited in Potosí and had to travel around 2,000 kilometers to reach its destination. This determined that the viceroy with an industrial vision to optimize the exploitation of silver and the manufacture of currency decides to close the mint of Lima.

Potosí was the center of production and turned out to be also the ideal place for the definitive construction of a Mint. By order of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, and in his presence, on December 8, 1572, the foundations of the first establishment were placed next to the Royal Boxes.

This first Mint was built by the important Neapolitan architect Jerónimo de Leto on the south east sidewalk of the main square of the Imperial Village. Its construction lasted three years and its cost was 8,321 pesos, one tomin and 13 silver grains, as detailed in a provision given in Arequipa on September 27, 1575.

Installed the First House of Currency of Potosí, with the machinery and officers who had climbed from Lima, began to operate immediately and from La Plata, on December 20, 1573, “(the viceroy) could send the monarch the sample of the first coin that has been worked.”

From the following year began the manufacture of coins at industrial level, the quantities minted in Potosí during 1574 easily surpassed all the quantities minted in Lima during the validity of its initial currency house.

Dominial Antecedent

The patrimonial building of the first Casa de Moneda de Potosí was built on behalf of King Felipe II from December 8, 1572, during the validity of the Spanish empire, with the legal status of assets of the crown. On August 6, 1825, when Bolivia reached its independence and sovereignty, this building became part of the public property of the State with the legal status of public goods domain.

During the Republic of Bolivia this property was incorporated into the assets of the central State and the institution that exercised its ownership was the Prefecture and General Command of the Department of Potosí.

The first patio of this building became National Customs and the second patio in National Rescue Bank. Inside, all the rescue of gold and silver metals was collected for the minting of coins.

The most important producing centers related to this bank were Porco, Colquechaca, San Vicente, Guadalupe, Oruro and, of course, the mines of Cerro Rico. In the case of gold, there was scarce production in Cotagaita, Amayapampa and Corocoro.

This activity of rescue of noble metals worked while the second Mint continued circulating minting and when it closed definitively, in 1906, the bank consequently closed its activities.

Customs vacated the building by needing a more extensive infrastructure and from 1873 the first courtyard was used for the operation of the Superior Court of Justice. The magistrates and judges of the court occupied the property that was already deteriorated due to lack of maintenance.

By express law of January 19, 1900, the Legislative Power authorizes the Prefect of Potosí, head of the ownership right of this building, to make a swap with the Municipal Council of Potosí.

This exchange was effected by virtue of public deed No. 40 of August 12, 1915; through this provision, the prefect José Aguirre Achá, as the legitimated authority to make the contract, exchanges the second courtyard of the First Mint in favor of the Municipal Council in exchange for a room that the same Council occupied in the first courtyard, adjoining the offices occupied by the Superior Court of Justice.

Another revealing document is the public deed No. 42 of August 23, 1915, also celebrated between the prefect of Potosi and Mr. Esteban Kersul as contractor, who perform the repair contract for the building of the first Mint House of Potosí so that it works like Palace of Justice.

The total amount of the work was stipulated in Bs 46,950.00, which were paid in full by the Potosí prefect as head of the ownership right.

The source of the financing was the Law of December 19, 1912, which established a discount to the salaries of public employees in favor of carrying out works of public necessity authorized by the prefect of the department in coordination with the Municipal Council, senators and deputies.

The main motivation to invest these resources in the renovation of the Palace of Justice was its state of imminent ruin, which is why the remodeling and refurbishment was approved.

It should be noted that from the review of the public deeds it is definitively concluded that the domain of the building was always in favor of the Prefecture of Potosí, now converted into the Governorate.

However, in 1995, the Superior Court of Justice of Potosi filed a ten-year usucapion suit (a right by which a person acquires the property of a thing for possessing it for the time fixed by law) to try to acquire the property by the passage of time and the peaceful possession of the property.

The doctrine of civil law is unanimous in pointing out that public domain assets are indefeasible and imprescriptible; therefore, said action of adverse possession is inadmissible and its sentence null and void.

A global currency

In the first Mint House of Potosí huge amounts of coins were minted in the denominations of 8, 4, 2, 1, 1/1 and 1/4 real according to the current legal framework during that period which was the pragmatic of Medina del Campo of 1492.

Of all the pieces, the most outstanding one was the 8 real or Spanish peso that transformed the global economy and became the favorite currency in the most important plazas and markets in the world, hence the great importance of this monumental building that was the factory of the old dollar.

The technology of the First Mint of Potosí corresponds to the coining with a hammer blow, without much work gave good results as can be seen in the coins of Lima and Potosí during the reign of Felipe II, but an inordinate production queue caused that this factory would prefer to mint more by diminishing the aesthetics of the pieces that turned out to be semicircular pieces of silver with the legend or the stamp of illegible or incomplete coinage. That is why these hand-made pieces were called macuquinas, as Castilianization of the Quechua word mackaycuna.

Billions of silver coins were minted in this mint and all of them bear the letter “P” as a mint mark, which allows us to distinguish their origin, the high and above all constant quantity of potosine silver coins allowed this city to acquire prestige throughout America, Europe, Asia and Africa, because the macuquina potosine circulated freely and unrestricted in all international markets.

From there we understand that the phrase “Vale un Potosí” was coined as a superlative of wealth, and that this phrase is still valid in the 21st century.

* Daniel Oropeza is a number partner of the Historical Research Society of Potosí (SIHP)

** The introductory text was written by the SIHP president, Juan José Toro Montoya.


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