Mexican pesos have a long and fascinating history dating back to the Spanish colonial era. Over the years, the coins have been minted from various metals including gold, silver, nickel and cupronickel. The silver content in particular has fluctuated greatly depending on the economic conditions at the time the coins were issued. This article will examine which Mexican pesos contain silver and discuss a bit of the historical context surrounding their minting.
The Colonial Real
The origins of the Mexican peso can be traced back to the Spanish dollar or eight reales coin (also known as the Spanish peso) which was issued by Spain for use in their colonies. The first of these coins were minted in Mexico in 1536 at the Mexico City mint and were made of nearly pure silver. These colonial Spanish reals continued to be minted in Mexico until 1897. Coins denominated in reals were issued in 1⁄4, 1⁄2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 denominations, with the eight reales coin being the most common. These large silver coins were generally cut into eight wedges to make pieces of one real as needed.
The First Mexican Peso
Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 1823, the first coins of the Mexican Republic were issued. The eight reales denomination was retained, now called the peso, and consisted of .903 fine silver (90.3% purity). This fineness was increased to .903 in 1895. The coin weighed 27 grams and was 37mm in diameter. These early Mexican peso coins remained in circulation until 1920.
The Second Mexican Peso
In 1864, Maximilian I was installed as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III. His reign would prove short-lived, but Maximilian did institute an important currency reform, decimalizing the peso. The coins issued under Maximilian’s reign from 1864-1867 are the first to use the peso and centavo division. These coins were minted in copper, brass, and gold. Silver coinage was planned but never implemented before Maximilian was overthrown and executed by firing squad in 1867.
The Silver Standard
In 1869, the first decimalized silver Mexican peso coins were issued under Benito Juarez’s government. The peso was now divided into 100 centavos rather than 8 reales. From 1869 to 1897, the peso contained .903 fine silver, weighing 27 grams and measuring 37mm diameter, the same as the old Spanish dollar-derived 8 reales coins. In 1897, the silver content was reduced to .800 fine (80% silver) which still amounted to 21.6 grams of pure silver. This standard was maintained until 1920.
The Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution from 1910-1920 brought widespread destruction and upheaval to the country’s economy. Coin shortages became common during this period, with various factions issuing their own coins. In 1920, the victorious Constitutionalist faction led by Alvaro Obregon introduced a new silver peso containing just 10 grams of .900 fine silver. This amount was further reduced to .500 fine silver in 1947, now containing just 5 grams of pure silver. These debased silver pesos were minted until 1949.
Base Metal Pesos
The global depression of the 1930s coupled with rising silver prices compelled Mexico to decouple its currency from silver. In 1949, the first base metal one peso coin was introduced, now struck in brass or bronze alloy with no precious metal content. The last silver pesos were the five peso coins issued 1947-1949. After 1949, all Mexican pesos coins are struck in base metals.
Collectible Silver Pesos
Here is a summary of the key silver Mexican pesos that collectors prize:
- Spanish Colonial Silver Reales (1536-1897) – These large silver coins were minted in Mexico City for over 300 years. Denominations include 1⁄4, 1⁄2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 reales all containing high purity silver.
- First Peso (1823-1920) – The eight reales coin was renamed the peso in 1823 but maintained the same silver content (.903) and weight (27g) as the old Spanish dollars.
- Second Peso (1869-1897) – After decimalization in 1869, this peso was equivalent to the old 8 reales coins in size and silver content.
- Third Peso (1897-1920) – Silver content was slightly reduced to .800 fine but these coins still contained over 21 grams of pure silver.
- Fourth Peso (1920-1947) – Silver content reduced to 10 grams of .900 fineness, the Fourth Peso marks the decline of the silver peso.
- Fifth Peso (1947-1949) – The last silver peso coins with just 5 grams of .500 silver.
So in summary, any Mexican pesos dated prior to 1920 will have high silver content, with earlier dates being the most valuable to collectors. By 1949 the pesos transitioned to base metal.
Identifying Silver Pesos
There are a few easy ways to identify Mexican silver pesos:
- Date – Any peso dated prior to 1920 will contain silver, with earlier dates containing more. Pesos minted 1823-1869 have the highest silver content.
- Weight – A silver peso will feel heavier than a base metal version. Silver pesos typically weigh around 27 grams vs 12 grams for base metal versions.
- Size – Silver pesos are larger at 37-38mm diameter vs 21mm for base metal coins.
- Edges – Silver pesos have milled or “reeded” edges vs smooth edges for clad coins.
- Sound – Silver pesos have a distinctive high-pitched ringing sound when struck, vs a duller thud from base metals.
Comparing a suspect peso against a known silver content coin using size, weight, metal appearance, and sound is an easy way to spot silver. There are also electronic metal testers that can detect silver purity.
Most Valuable Silver Pesos
The key dates, condition, and mintage all play a factor in determining the value of silver Mexican pesos. Here are some of the more valuable types:
- Pillar Dollar 8 Reales – Dates 1758-1821, high grade examples can sell for $2,000+
- First Peso – Dates 1823-1895, VF/XF can sell for $100+
- Proof Pesos – Rare proof versions sell for high premiums
- Condition Rarities – High grade or visually stunning “monster toning” coins bring big premiums
There are also certain lower mintage dates that are worth considerably more than common dates. Consulting a reference like the Krause Standard Catalog of World Coins is the best way to identify scarce dates and valuations for Mexican silver pesos.
Finding Silver Pesos for Purchase
Here are some good options for locating Mexican silver pesos for your collection:
- Coin Shops – Many dealers will have a selection of Mexican pesos, be sure to inspect coins carefully here.
- Coin Shows – Large coin shows will have multiple dealers with Mexican pesos.
- Online Auctions – eBay and auction houses like Heritage offer auctions with Mexican coins.
- Online Dealers – Numerous reputable online coin dealers offer Mexican pesos for sale.
- Collector Groups – Connecting with other numismatists can yield opportunities to buy pesos.
When purchasing silver Mexican pesos, be sure to scrutinize the details carefully, as there are many counterfeits and altered coins. Buy only from reputable sources with a return policy. Certified/graded coins provide the most security but cost more.
Caring for Silver Pesos
To preserve these historic coins, proper storage and handling is important:
- Use protective coin sleeves or flips to prevent contact and abrasion.
- Store coins in a cool, dry place away from chemicals and humidity.
- Only handle coins by the edges to avoid fingerprints and smudges.
- Use cotton gloves when handling to minimize oils and dirt.
- Avoid cleaning or polishing as this can diminish value.
With proper care, even well-circulated silver Mexican pesos can retain their beauty and value for many years to come. The rich history and lovely silver appeal make collecting these coins very rewarding.
Mexican pesos have a long tradition closely tied to the abundance of silver in Mexico. Any pesos dated prior to 1920 will contain substantial silver, with earlier dates containing the highest purity and weight. These large silver coins are eagerly sought after by collectors and can be worth significant premiums in nice condition. Identifying silver pesos is straightforward once you know what to look for in terms of date, weight, dimension, edges, and sound. With a fascinating history and lovely silver appeal, Mexican pesos make an excellent addition to any coin collection.