A look at a map will demonstrate that this
is an extremely unusual country. It's
over 2500 miles long, its width less than a tenth of that. Has some of the highest
mountains in the world, mostly desert, very little arable land, only a small central coastal
region with a reasonable climate. That's where most of the people live. The rest of the
country tends to be more used than inhabited.
The evidence of my mailing list would seem to indicate that there is not a great
deal of collector activity there, as it is one of the hundred and fifty or so nations from
which I have never had a correspondent. Well over half the population is urban, literacy
is high, the economy is supposedly not as bad as Argentina's next door. The collectors
ought to be there, but I haven't met them.
PRE-CONQUEST, before 1540
The northern portion of Chile was occupied by Araucanian people before the
Spanish conquest. The Araucanians had a settled agricultural society, employed
advanced weaving and ceramic techniques, and smelted the "easy" metals (gold, silver,
copper, etc. but not iron). They had been attempting to fend off the Incas in the north for
centuries before the Spanish came, so were skilled in warfare. Large Araucanian armies
routed the first Spanish expeditionary force of 1535. The second Spanish invasion
managed to hold on, but the Araucanians obtained horses and guns and continued
fighting the invaders for another 300 years.
I have seen Araucanian artifacts in museums, where they would seem to get about
a twentieth of the display space of Inca objects, which they somewhat resemble. I have
never seen any Araucanian items for sale. They are generally, claimed by the
government as patrimony, and most cannot legally be traded. The Araucanians evidently
were barter and tribute people like the Incas and did not employ recognizable tokens, or
at least nothing recognizable as such has survived. They are said to be the inventors of
the poncho, and one can imagine the slit-center blankets being a favored trade item or
possible proto-currency in the region.
SPANISH COLONIAL PERIOD, 1540-1818
The first Spanish expedition was led by Diego de Almagro, a partner of Pizarro,
from Peru. It found very little gold and a whole lot of trouble from the Araucanians.
Almagro left without establishing a Spanish presence. Five years later, in 1540, Pizzaro
sent one of his lieutenants, Pedro de Valdivia, south with orders to take the region. The
lieutenant succeeded where the partner had failed. Valdivia founded several Spanish
settlements, among which was Santiago, the then and current capital, in 1541.
Chile was governed until 1778 as a dependency of Viceroyalty of Lima, thereafter as a
semi-autonomous Captaincy-General. Lima coins were used until the 1740s. Gold coins
began to be struck in Santiago at that time in attempt to compete with the Brazilian
"joes." The coins had the standard Spanish types of king's bust (in this instance Fernando
VI) right / arms. A die (or possibly hub) for a 1741 4 escudo coin exists, but the coin
itself has not turned up. An 8 escudo (doubloon) of 1744 is #1588, illustrated in Vicenti's
Catalogo General de las Monedas Espanolas, but the picture is an engraving, not a photo.
The coin is also #6868 in Cayon & Castan's Catalogo with an outrageous price. No one I
know has ever seen it. This was followed in 1749 with a 4 escudo, which series
continued until 1756. Doubloons followed in 1750, continuing through 1760. 1 escudos
were struck in 1754, '58, and '59, 2 in 1758. All these coins exist but are extremely rare.
Although they are listed in the Spanish catalogs with more affordable prices the
silver coins of Fernando VI are no easier to find than the gold. Listed are a « real of
1756, 1, 2, and 4 reales of 1758, and 8 reales of 1751-59. These are all pillar types of
course. The eights are said to appear every now and then. I have been advised, should I
be interested in the minors, to "forget it".
The early coins of Carlos III continued the types of Fernando VI. There are «, 2,
and 4 reales for 1760, all basically no-see-ems, and pillar dollars for 1760 and '62-69,
merely extremely rare. Gold coins continued the old Fernando portrait with new Carlos
legend for a few years. How many years seems to be a matter of some dispute. There are
photos of a 1761 1 escudo and a 1763 doubloon in Vicenti, and a 1762 is in the 1986 de
Luxe SCWC. Vicenti's illustrations for the 4 and 2 escudos are engravings, not photos.
A photo of a 1763 4 has bust of Carlos. There are perhaps some conflicting assertions
here, a direct result of these coins simply not being around.
Doubloons with the new portrait supposedly exist for each year from 1764
through 1772. In that year the alloy was changed from 22 carat to .901 fine, and again in
1777 to .875. Date runs exist for all the gold denominations through the end of the reign
in 1789. Theoretically these are less rare than the earlier coins. If so, just barely.
Complete date runs exist for the silver « through 8 reales from 1773-89. The 2s are
scarce, 8s are rare, others are very rare.
Several years passed after the accession of Carlos IV in 1789 before the arrival of
the new portrait hubs in Santiago. For most denominations the new portrait was adopted
in 1792, but curiously the 2 and 8 escudos kept the old dead king's type until the end of
the reign in 1808. The tiny ¬ real denomination was added. Small hoards of 2 and 8
reales have been found, and many of Carlos IV's silver coins are merely scarce, rather
than rare. The gold remains extremely tough.
The early coinage of Fernando VII (1808-09) maintains the invincible scarcity of
the series. An imaginary "military" bust was employed for the first few years for the
doubloons and pieces of 8 of 1808-11, and for the 2 reales of 1810-11. The 1808-9 coins
are extremely rare and highly popular, the 1810-11 coins are somewhat more available
and just as popular. Continuing the Chilean tradition of using dead king's portraits, that
of Carlos IV was retained for the 4, 2, and 1 escudos and 4, 1, and « reales through 1817.
The old portrait was actually reimposed on the doubloons after the demise of the military
bust types. Small hoards of lion & castle ¬ reales have been found in uncirculated for the
dates 1813 and 1815. 2 and 8 real coins are found occasionally, 1s and ¬s less so, 4s and
«s are very scarce. Gold of course is next best thing to impossible.
The capture of Fernando VII by Napoleon in 1808 became the occasion of moves
toward independence throughout the Spanish colonies. A first Chilean effort in 1810 was
resisted by the Viceroy of Lima, who reestablished control in 1814. Jose de San Martin
began to form the Army of the Andes two years later. The army went north the following
year, liberating Chile, whose independence was definitively proclaimed in 1818. San
Martin and his army went on to free Peru, his Chilean brother-in-arms Bernardo
O'Higgins remaining behind as Chile's first president.
REPUBLICAN PERIOD, 1818-1973
-REAL / ESCUDO COINAGE
The first numismatic product of the Republic was the "Chile Independiente" peso
of 1817 with the volcano / pillar design. The common type with the "Y" of the reverse
motto to left of the pillar is not impossible to obtain, and the series continued to be issued
in quantity until 1834. Average grade is likely to be VG. The following year, 1818, saw
the inauguration of the Republican gold series with the rare and underpriced 8 escudos.
This coin had a similar but different volcano / pillar motif, which type was also retained
until 1834. Very few of these early gold coins are around. They're basically auction
A case could be made for these two earliest pieces of eight being of a
commemorative or proclamatory nature. The economy of the region was seriously
depressed, and large pieces of specie would more likely be hoarded or transferred abroad
than extensively circulated inside the country. On the contrary, the little silver ¬ reales of
1818, struck with dies inherited from the old colonial government, obviously served no
propaganda purpose, but were strictly "pro bono publico." They are no more common
than the previously issued Spanish quartos.
In Chile, as in the rest of South America, 2 and 8 real coins were struck in
greatest quantity, eights typically spending some time hidden in hoards while the smaller
denominations circulated heavily. As the monetary system was basically the same from
Mexico to Argentina, coins of all the Latin American nations circulated indiscriminately.
The bulk of early Chilean circulation was made up of coins of Potosi and Mexico, the
early Chilean coins being struck as much as an expression of sovereignty as for economic
reasons. In addition to the pieces of eight small quantities of volcano / pillar fractionals
were struck in gold (1824-34) and silver (1833-4 and 1843). None are common.
Typically the silver minors are found in low grade. Often the pillar is obliterated by wear
and weak strike.
The impossible coin of the series is the 1828 8 real of Coquimbo north of Santiago.
Twenty or so of these exist in two die varieties. Formerly one of these varieties was
thought to be a contemporary counterfeit. Lately opinion is shifting to the view that one
variety was actually struck in Santiago, the other in the field. 1, 2, and 4 escudo gold
coins are probably also more or less impossible to find. Finishing up the volcano / pillar
period is the ¬ real of 1832-34, which bears inscriptions only. These are scarce, and as
the SCWC photo shows, are more likely than not to come very worn if not damaged.
A constitution was promulgated in 1833. In commemoration gold 8 escudos were
issued 1835-38 with the "hand on constitution under a radiant sun" design reverse and the
national arms obverse. National designation was changed from "Chile Independiente" to
"Republica." 4 escudos were issued 1836-7, 2 escudos in 1837-38, and 1 escudos in
1838. All are rare. This series was replaced starting in 1839 with gold of reverse type
"armed lady (the nation) with pillar (stability of law), fasces (unity), and cornucopia
(hoped for prosperity)," which type somewhat resembles the contemporary Peruvian
coins. This design continued in use until 1851, and the 8 escudo coins are the most likely
to be encountered of escudo denominated Chilean gold. This is not of course to imply
any degree of availability for these coins. They're a bit more common than blue moons.
The 1846-51 versions are of exceptional interest in that they bear the month of issue (on
the edge) as well as the year. So there are actually twelve varieties for each year. Good
Moving on to the more available silver, we find volcano / pillar types replaced by
"arms / condor breaking chains." These coins in mediocre condition are relatively easier
to come by, though top grades are few and far between.
The first attempts at a decimal reform were the copper « and 1› coins of 1835.
They are common, and can occasionally be found in AU-Unc. In 1851 the reform was
enacted, the coppers being reissued, and both real and decimal coins being struck in gold
and silver. The copper coins of 1851 are even more common than the 1835s. Silver
types are not rare as a group, though any Chilean coin is tougher than its Peruvian or
Bolivian counterpart. The gold, as usual, is not at all common.
"Flying condor" minors of 1851-62 I have found to be fairly scarce, and usually
weakly struck and worn. A couple of years ago I purchased a collection of low grade
coins from a young Mormon missionary who had worked in Peru. It included a dozen or
so of the later "condor on rock with shield" series, but none of the flying condors. That
makes 12 to none for me, and I don't notice large date runs of either minor series showing
up in other dealer's lists. There seem to be enough of the later pesos around, though
again, you see them merely from time to time as opposed to the frequent voluminous
Bolivian listings of numerous dealers.
I've only handled a few of the 1870-98 «, 1, and 2› coins. Mine were in terrible
condition. Uncirculated examples of these coins in Unc are probably ten times rarer than
similarly graded British pennies or USA Indian cents, but they do exist.
In 1895 the price of silver went up and the peso shrank accordingly. A new type
was inaugurated: "condor taking off from mountain top." I'll nickname this the "inflation
type," because the series was subject to ongoing debasement of its silver content, ending
with copper-nickel coins. Early minors are not particularly available, and are scarce to
rare in Unc. In copper-nickel minors I've seen quantity (in this case ten or more at one
time) of these coins in Unc: 5› 1937, 10› 1933, '37, '38, '40, and 20› 1940. Have not seen
other dates in Unc. Many dates, especially of the 5›, I've never seen at all. The odd
denomination 40› coins of 1907-08 are not common, usually come worn, are rather tough
in high grade.
The peso types show a sad diminution in size and fineness before their
copper-nickel denouement. All are available in AU at least. The copper-nickels are very
common. I once had 400+ of circulated 1933s, in which were 20 or so 1940s. I have
never seen a 1927 mule peso offered. I suppose I missed it.
Silver 2 and 5 peso coins of 1927 are available. I can't comment on whether
comma or period variety is scarcer.
In 1942 nickel was shipped abroad for use in the war. Inflation ephemeralized the 5 and
10› coins. The new smallest coin, the 20›, was struck on cheap Chilean copper blanks
roughly the size of a USA 1›. 1942 is extremely common in circulated, and often is still
found in poundage. The other dates don't turn up all that often. Most examples are
weakly struck. AUs are scarce, no-argument Uncs are rare. The accompanying 50›,
struck only in 1942, is not particularly easy to find. Circulated copper pesos show up in
poundage. Common dates are 1942, '43, '44, and '52. I've never happened upon a stash
of Uncs other than one small batch of 1954s several years ago.
The sad aluminum inflation coins of 1954-59 are pretty common. 1 peso 1957 is
still being sold wholesale.
Gold coins of 1, 2, 5, and 10 pesos were struck during the period 1851-92 with the same
types as the preceding escudo coins. Most likely denominations to find are 2 and 5
pesos. They are not common. Reduced size 5 and 10 peso coins were struck starting
1895, with accompanying 20 peso added in 1896. Coins of this series show up
occasionally in the gold market. In 1926 there was a further weight reduction, 20, 50,
and 100 peso coins being issued on the new module. The series was continued after
World War II as bullion offerings, which practice continued until the precious metal
bubble of 1980, when many were melted. The later date gold coins are available but not
In 1968 a set of gold and silver coins was struck commemorating the
sesquicentennial of Independence. The silvers are somewhat scarce, the gold quite so.
The coins are denominated in pesos, despite the adoption of the "escudo" as the
circulating coin in 1960.
There are two periods in this series. In 1960-70 the escudo was pegged relatively
high and only centesimo denominations were struck. « and 1› are fairly common. 2› are
rather scarce. Several dates of 5 and 10› are common. I think 1967s are still available
In 1971 inflation began to eat up the escudo. The reduced size 10› was struck of that
year is an extremely common coin. It was accompanied by 20 and 50› and 1, 2, and 5
escudos. All are available wholesale except for the 2 escudo, which was withheld and is
No coins were issued in 1973, the year of the successful insurrection by the armed
forces against the legitimately elected government. Continued inflation forced the issue
of base metal 10, 50, and 100 escudo coins in 1974 and '75 which are common.
Some proofs exist of the escudos series. I'm willing to bet there are more than are
listed in the catalog. I've never seen any.
In 1975 inflation really got out of hand forcing a thousand to one conversion for
the sake of convenience, the new denomination being once again the peso. 1› through 1
peso coins were issued that year. 1› was dropped thereafter, 5› followed the next year, 10
and 50› lingered until 1979. The size of the peso was reduced in 1981 and has continued
in that form to this day. I believe all these types are easily obtainable, many dates being
available in wholesale quantities.
In 1976 the government came out with it's "Third Anniversary of Liberation"
coins, in base metal for circulation, also NCLT gold and silver proofs. I've always
thought the seminudity of the Victory was a bit risque for the particular government that
issued these coins, but I'd have to agree with the dealer who said that though he had
nothing good to say about the issuers, but it was still a beautiful series. My own
interpretation is that the lady is actually chained to the coin, a numismatic exposition of
the Orwellian phrase: "Freedom is Slavery." But enough politics. The precious metal
versions are not particularly common and quite popular. 1977 and '81 dates of the 5 and
10 pesos are available wholesale. Other dates are spottier. 50 and 100 peso coins of
1981 are also available wholesale. Later dates are harder to come by.
Gold bullion ounces were struck from 1978 to 1983 using the types of the pillar
dollar. I saw a few of these years ago, none lately. 1983 gold and silver bullion issues
commemorate the tenth anniversary of the coup. I haven't seen any of these.
The royalist emergency cast silver 8 reales of Chiloe Island in the south are quite
rare. Being cast, they would be no problem to counterfeit, the high values ascribed to
them being an additional temptation. At this time a consensus seems to be emerging that
there is no way to tell the real from the fake for this type. A similar situation prevails
with the 1822 emergency coins of Valdivia near Santiago. Whether genuine or not, both
Chiloe and Valdivia coins show up from time to time.
Early in 1833 a program was inaugurated to validate foreign silver coins
circulating in six major cities. All of these are rare. Counterfeits are common. The
original decree referred to coins of Potosi mint only, so coins of other mints are more or
less automatically assumed false. Standard warning regarding countermarks applies:
The two series of emergency coins from Copiapo are fairly available. Pesos are
more common than 50› coins.
Chile has had a rich series of tokens from the early nineteenth century. These
items include ferry, railroad, and other transport pieces, many commercial tokens, and
industrial chits. An early copper ¬ real was made for canal workers there. This KM
listed piece exists. There is supposedly at least one. Practically unique to Chile is the
large series of late nineteenth century tokens in colored vulcanite. Most of these were
made for use in the nitrate mining camps. I don't know how many different types there
are, at least 40. Average grade for these is VF, average price would be a few dollars.
Many are fairly common. A fun series to my mind.