By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Money, in addition to being the fuel that powers any nation’s economy, is the tangible record of its unique history.
The coins, bills and promissory notes a country mints inevitably carry portraits and images of iconic national heroes and patriotic symbols, reflecting the country’s inimitable ideology and fundamental principles.
Since 1992, the Museo de Numismática del Estado de México (MNEM), in Toluca has been the custodian of samples of Mexico’s ever-changing currency.
Created as part of the Casa de la Moneda (National Mint) in accordance with the premise that numismatology, the study of ancient coins and other forms of money, can offer insights into the political, social and economic character of a nation, the museum has a collection of more than 1,000 pieces of Mexican currency.
According to the Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura (IMC), which oversees the MNAM, a single coin can convey aspects of the national identity and is a relic of past and present political values.
The IMC includes samples of coins and paper money from the time just after nation’s independence from Spain in 1810.
During that period, because the budding republic was undergoing a severe economic crisis, metal was very scarce.
After more than 10 years of intense fighting, both Mexico’s commercial and mining sectors were severely hampered and the new government was forced to collect tribute from its citizens in any shape or denomination it could.
Consequently, there were many accepted forms of currency in Mexico during the early 19th century.
Nonetheless, after independence, only the old Casa de Moneda in Mexico City and the mint in the State of Mexico (Edoméx) were in good enough shape to be declared operational.
Lorenzo de Zavala, who had been named governor of the State of Mexico, decided that the new national treasury department should be based in Tlalpan, which was the state capital in those days.
Once he had obtained the machinery to press coins from Mexico City’s
Casa de Moneda, Zavala set about determining the design and style for the new legal tender.
Unfortunately, he discovered that the trademark M§ stamp that the Casa de Moneda had pressed into its coins carried a copyright, so he had to modify the coin casts by adding a new symbol, E§.
Thus was born the new currency of Mexico, which carried the authenticating emblem of E§.M§, the official abbreviation for “Estado de México” (State of Mexico).
Between 1828 and 1830, Tlalpan’s new Casa de Moneda produced gold coins valued at 2 and 8 escudos and silver coins worth 1/2, 1.2 and 8 reales.
Examples of each of these early denominations are on display at the Museo de Numismática.
The MNEM also has samples of coins and bills that were used exclusively in specific towns such as de Tenancingo, Amecameca, Texcoco and Toluca during 1915, when political unrest in the state caused each municipality to declare its own currency.
At that time, Tenancingo was under the control of the Zapatista forces led by General Luciano Solís, who, due to the shortage of economic resources, had copper coins cast valued at 5, 10 and 20 centavos.
He even ordered 2-centavo coins to be produced, which were nearly non-existence in the rest of the country.
In Amecameca, on the other hand, which was under the command of Zapatista Gen. Trinidad Sánchez Tenorio, coins were cast from a combination of copper and lead.
The poorly minted coins, which were often irregular in shape and had very little relief texture, were considered to be the ugliest and least valued during the Mexican Revolution.
Nearby Texcoco also produced its own currency, made from red clay.
Because these tiny coins, worth 1 centavo each, were extremely fragile and easily broken, only a few samples still exist.
Even more friable were the coins produced in the state’s modern capital, Toluca, which were printed on heavy cardboard.
These flimsy 5-centavo coins were 28 millimeters in diameter and 3 millimeters thick.
By the 1920s, a unified currency system was reimposed and Mexico City’s Casa de Moneda began producing uniform 20- and 40-centavo mintages.
Paper money was first produced in Mexico as legal tender at the end of the 19th century, but the MNEM has examples of several pretend souvenir bills that were printed in 1897 for a celebration of Porfirio Díaz’ government.
There are also coins and bills from more recent periods in Mexican history at the MNEN, and plaques explaining the meaning of the images that appear on the various currencies.
The Museo de Numismática del Estado de México is located at Hidalgo Poniente 506, in Colonia La Merced, in Toluca, State of Mexico (Edoméx). Tel: (01-722) 213-1927.
It is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
There is a 10-peso admission fee, except on Sundays and Wednesday, when everyone is welcome free of charge.