In the time between Columbus' first landing and the
consolidation of the conquest of Mexico the island and its
capital city Santo Domingo served as the Spanish beachead
from which exploring parties set out for the continent. In
that period were struck the first European-style coins in
the West. They were made in the name of Carlos I Hapsburg
(King of Spain 1516-56) and poor mad Queen Juana. The
copper coins are well known and most types are fairly easy
to obtain. There are silver coins too, in denominations of
½, 1, 2, 4, and amazingly, 10 reales. Many people have
never heard of these, and most, including myself, have never
seen them (but I know two people who have!)
In the late 16th century, with the conquest of the
continents well under way and new mainland mines waiting to
be exploited, the big money left the island. Over the next
three centuries Hispaniola was rather neglected by the
Spanish, to the extent that the French were able to found a
permanent settlement in the east which was confirmed by
treaty in 1697. There they set up an enormous and
profitable agricultural slave operation.
During the wars which followed the French Revolution
the entire island was ceded to France and most of the
Spanish colonists were forced out. Then the slaves on the
French side entered into revolt, and emerging victorious,
set up the second independent European style government in
the West. This of course was the Republic of Haiti. In
first years of the 19th century Santo Domingo was occupied
by insurgent Haitian revolutionaries. When the French
finally left in 1803 the Haitians controlled the entire
island, but Spain, with British help, took back the eastern
part by 1809.
There were no local coins in the 18th century. The
whole Caribbean was using the same stuff: mostly Spanish
colonial, including cut up pieces, some Brazilian gold, a
good sized dollop of those French billon sous they called
"black dogs" and a smattering of British sterling. At the
end of the century all the local countermarks were made, and
though there are several marks attributed by various writers
to Santo Domingo only one - the crowned F.7o - is accepted
as official. The mark is known on Mexican silver, and is
rare. Crude local coins of were struck in the early 19th
century on behalf of the Spanish king. The copper ¼ real
turns up fairly often on dealer lists, but the silver 1 and
2 reales are rare.
Inspired by the revolutionary struggles under way in
the mainland colonies, local patriots proclaimed an
independent republic late in 1821. They asked for a treaty
of friendship with Haiti, and got an invasion force in
response. The Dominicans were routed. Haiti annexed the
territory and held it for 22 years, at which point a
successful rebellion was launched which culminated in a
second declaration of Independence on 27.2.1844. The new
nation put out its first money that same year. The ¼ reales
of 1844 and '48 are common coins with lots of minor die
varieties to make to interesting collecting.
That was the last coin made until 1877. What were they
doing in the interim? Fighting and going into debt of
course. Things got bad enough that one of the Dominican
Presidents arranged to have the country annexed back to
Spain, necessitating another war of national liberation.
Another, to deal with the national debt, arranged for
annexation to the USA, which proposal passed in Santo
Domingo but failed in the US Congress because everyone hated
President Grant. The nation continued on a violent and
fractious course to the end of the 19th century.
A few coins emerged from the midst of this confusion.
1877 issues in brass and copper-nickel are a trifle scarce,
but they also are found in uncirculated. Coins of 1882 and
1888 are quite common, but are relatively harder to find in
Unc. The copper coins of 1891 turn up in all grades, but
the silvers tend toward scarcity. People need the "franco"
denominations for their type sets, so they are snapped up
whenever they appear.
1897 coins are billon, with alloying metals which make
for a particularly poor surface. Pesos in low grade
accumulate in dealer inventories. Pieces in VF are not
particularly common, and there is a very steep rarity curve
from XF on. The minors of the series do not turn up very
In 1904 the government made a deal with it's major
creditor and turned over the administration of the
customshouse in Puerto Plata to the USA. This kind of
outright takeover of one nation's assets by another was part
of the temper of the times. Everyone was doing it over in
China. Other creditor nations wanted a slice for
themselves. The Dominican government sat and watched the
At that moment Teddy Roosevelt sent word that he'd be
willing to help them out of their mess, all they had to do
was ask. Ask they did, and a deal was worked out where the
USA took over the Dominican debt in return for complete
control of Dominican finances. Repayment began, but of
course the populace was restive. The country was under
foreign control, they were being squeezed, daily life
deteriorated from an already low level. In addition, the
same set of hotheads and mobsters made up the political
scene as before. It was a very violent place.
To protect its investment the USA government threatened
military actionin 1914, and actually sent troops in 1916, a
year after they were sent to Haiti. The entire island was
put under military rule, complete with curfews, military
justice, forced labor, lots of prohibitions and
requirements. Under the Army roads and schools were built,
sanitation was improved, workplace discipline was enforced,
the debt was paid. The people hated it.
The Americans departed in 1924, leaving behind a model
Constitution which was entirely ignored from the beginning.
The first President tried to change it so he could succeed
himself. He was no good anyway, so the people revolted and
in 1930 he had to resign. In the election which followed
Rafael Trujillo was granted power, which he held, using
various titles, for a bit over 30 years.
Before Trujillo the money in circulation was American.
Trujillo was a vainglorious thug, but he was an efficient
dictator who liquidated the national debt while enriching
himself. The modern Dominican currency system was set up
during his regime. Coins were struck in American
denominations on the American module (the peso reads "26.7
gramos" but is actually 26.73, same as the American dollar).
They even made a billon "war nickel" in 1944.
These "par" coins were struck until Trujillo's
assassination in 1961. Many in the series are hard to find.
The most common years are 1937, 1952, and 1961, and coins of
those years can be found in uncirculated. Other dates tend
to be catch as catch can, and difficult without wear. 1939
coins are positively tough.
Trujillo thought of himself as one of the great men of
history, right up there with Stalin and Mussolini and Hitler
and Napoleon. He couldn't resist putting out the
self-congratulatory peso and underweight gold 30 pesos in
1955. The peso is certainly common enough in XF or AU,
though tough in choice Unc. The gold seems to have become a
bit elusive in recent years.
After Trujillo the coinage began to diverge a bit from
the American standard (as did the American itself after
1964). No coins were made in 1962. 1963 coins
commemorating the centennial of the second war of
independence against Spain featured debased silver and are
very common. Then no coins again until 1967, when silver
was dropped for copper-nickel. After this the Dominican
government started shopping around for different mints and
has since put out a fairly wide assortment of coins both for
circulation and for collectors. Most of the collector coins
were inadequately promoted here. The pesos of 1969 through
1974 are easy enough to find, also the "Arte Taino" 10 pesos
of 1975, but the rest of the commemoratives, gold, silver,
and base, are seen a lot less often than the similar efforts
of Haiti or Costa Rica or even Cuba.
For the minors the situation is, if anything, worse.
All the coins are technically common, but not that many are
being exported. In the last batch of poundage I went
through there was a handful of 25¢ coins, representing most
of the dates from 1967 to 1986, but none of any other
denomination. Given the heavy involvement of American
business in the country I think it's pretty strange that the
appearance of Dominican coins in the USA market is so spotty
There are a few tokens of the late 19th century, all fairly
scarce. There are also a bunch of patterns and essaies,
most quasi-official at best, dating from 1855 on. Most are
rare, but pieces of the 1877-78 series from the Paris mint
show up fairly often. There are also those things from 1977
on, which claim to be government issues but which the
government denies ordering. Notice I don't call them coins.
These round metal things are said to exist in quantities of
10 pieces, 20 pieces, 40 pieces, and so forth. A bunch of
them in various base metals hit the market at very low
prices maybe five years ago. Amazingly, they still show up
from time to time, offered at around their SCWC quotes.
I've said before that I tend to harbor suspicions about all
claims. Those mintage numbers seem a bit low.