Gold coins: The Mexican Libertad

Roman Baudzus writes

Mexico´s Libertad (Freedom) has been minted by the Mexican Mint “Casa de Moneda de Mexico” since 1981. After the South African Krugerrand and the Canadian Maple Leaf, the Mexican Libertad was the third modern bullion coin on sale at world markets. The gold coin, which is also known as “Onza”, is now one of the world’s top-selling coins. From 1981 to 1991 the Libertad had a purity of 90% (.900). As of 1991 the Mexican Mint increased the purity to 99.9 percent (.999).

In contrast to the minted coins from other countries there is no nominal value displayed on the Mexican Libertad. The value is measured in terms of its weight. However, the nominal value can be calculated by converting the Libertad´s daily floating gold value into the country’s currency, the peso. The Libertad is legal tender in Mexico. During its first edition from 1981 to 1989 the coin was produced in three different weights: one ounce, 1/2 an ounce, and a 1/4 ounce. Each of these coins has a gold purity of 90%. The remaining 10% consists of silver. The total weight of a one-ounce coin is 34.5 grams. Between 1989 and 1991, production of the Libertad was halted, however. After Mexico’s Mint restarted minting in 1991, two more weights, a 1/10 ounce as well as a 1/20 ounce, were added. As of today, the gold coin is minted in five different weights. Starting in 1991, the gold coin´s purity was increased to 99.9 (.999). The total weight of the one-ounce coin came down to 31.103 grams.

The coin´s front side shows Mexico´s winged goddess Victory enthroned on the Mexican Independence Column, which symbolises the country breaking free from Spanish colonial rule in 1821. Victory is bordered on each side by the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl. The weight and purity of the coin, as well as its minting year are displayed in the shape of an arc at the coin´s top. This design applies to coins minted from 1991, although the motif was again altered slightly in 1996; this alteration mainly concerned the written information on the coin. In its first edition (1981 to 1989) the front side also showed the winged Victory Libertad, but not standing on the Mexican Independence Victory Column.

On the back of the coins Mexico’s coat of arms is displayed, which shows an eagle bringing down a snake. The inscription at the top of the coat of arms reads “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” (United States of Mexico). Ten small coats of arms are circularly arranged around the eagle, but these are only found on the one-ounce coin. It is important to distinguish between the collector´s edition – so called Proof Sets – and bullion coin editions. The latter form the bulk of sales.

Since 1982 the Mexican Libertad has also been issued as a silver coin. In contrast to the gold coin, the silver version is not accepted as legal tender in Mexico. Hugo Salinas Price, president of the Asociación Cívica Mexicana Pro Plata (Mexican Civic Association Pro Silver) in Mexico City, has been fighting in favour of the reintroduction of silver as a nationally accepted means of payment for years. In 1979 the Mexican parliament passed the legislative proposal of former Mexican president José López Portillo to re-establish the silver Libertad as legal tender. The new law, however, had a constructional flaw. Portillo’s law worked on the principle that every Libertad silver ounce could be exchanged at the current market value by the central bank, Banco de Mexico, into paper currency. For two years the Mexican population used the silver Libertad as currency in its daily transactions. In December 1981 the law was abolished. The constructional flaw in accepting silver as an official Mexican currency was due to the lack of a nominal, irreducible value that should have been featured on the coin. This important clause was omitted from Portillo’s law. Nowadays, the Asociación Cívica Mexicana Pro Plata campaigns for the inclusion of this clause in a new legislative proposal. Should Hugo Salinas Price‘s campaign be successful, the value of each minted coin in circulation as currency would fluctuate according to the current silver price and could be exchanged into paper money by the Banco de Mexico.

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