Panama Mint Cobs Catalog (AP)

Catálogo de Macuquinas de Panamá


Below is a catalog or list of all known Panama Mint cobs. These cobs with the "AP" mint mark are rare and currently only 43 are known to exist. I would like to provide images of all known AP cobs, especially since every cob is unique. If you have an image or can provide one for an AP cob which I do not already have on in this catalog, please me.

NOTE: The information regarding the Panama Mint issues provided in this introduction and catalog has been garnered from several different sources. Most notably Jorge Proctor, a numismatic scholar who has researched the original documents in the Spanish archives, has contributed a significant amount of information as well as reviewing the work for accuracy. Another significant source has been "The Practical Book of Cobs" by Daniel Sedwick and Frank Sedwick.

The Forgotten Mint
Cathedral Tower at Old Panama City
From Picturesque Panama by Jean Sadler Heald

Prior to the 1990, the mint in Panama had been pretty much forgotten, especially in the English speaking world. A few scholars such as Humberto Burzio who wrote "Diccionario de la Moneda Hispanoamerica" in 1954 claimed that there had been a mint in Panama, but they knew little about it. It was known that a small handful of cobs had the mint mark "AP", but the mint referred to was a mystery. Some thought the mark might refer to "Alto Peru" or "Upper Peru". But all that was available was theories and speculation without evidence. The mint had been all but forgotten.

Then in 1977, there appeared an article in a relatively obscure journal "Boletin Informativo del Archivo Nacional de Panama", Volume 7, June 1977 by Guillermo Diez Morales claiming that the "AP" mint mark belonged to a mint in Panama which operated starting in 1580. Morales talked about documents in the Archives of the Indies in Spain which authorized the Panama Mint and gave operational instructions including the mint mark. Later on this information became available to the English-speaking world when an article by Sewell Menzel appeared "The Numismatist" of June, 1990 (Volume 103, Number 6). Since then scholars such as Jorge Proctor have continued to do research in the Spanish archives. New information has come to light and some old ideas were found to be mistaken.

History

In the 1570's in Spanish Colonial America there was a lack of coins with which to do business. The Spanish administration for the Spanish colonies in America (the Council of the Indies) was studying the problem, and planning the location of an additional mint, perhaps at Cartagena. Officials in Panama however got the ear of King Phillip II and asked that a mint be established in Panama. Panama had no source of silver (only gold), so the request did not make that much sense. But the king was convinced and the Council of the Indies deferred to the wishes of the king. In March of 1578 a royal decree directed that (Old) Panama City be proclaimed the site of a new mint. More decrees followed in 1578 and 1579 describing the positions of mint personnel that would be needed and indicating that the tools and dies were being sent to Panama. After a delay due to some broken equipment, the mint started operations in 1580.

Closeup of AP Mintmark Closeup of AP Mintmark The mint mark of Panama was specified as a monogram for Panama, a "P" (the first letter in Panama) with the last letter "A" on top of the "P". The mint mark thus looks like "AP", and some have speculated this stood for "Audiencia de Panama" (which can be translated to English as "Judicial Tribunal of Panama"). However, the original documents make it clear that the mintmark was a monogram similar to the "O" over "M" used for "MEXICO".

The decrees also specified that Panama was to mint coins in the denominations of 1/2 real, 1 real, 2 real and 4 real. They were not authorized to mint the 1/4 real, 8 real (Pieces of Eight or Spanish Dollar) coins nor gold. Examples of all the authorized denominations have been found with the "AP" mintmark.

Production continued probably until 1583. Documents are known from the mint for 1580, 1581 and through March of 1582. No documents were sent from Panama for the remainder of 1582 and through April of 1583, so little is known about production during that time period. In 1583 an audit was conducted of the Royal Treasury of the city of Panama and a significant amount of money was discovered missing. It is possible that the missing money was part of a scheme to provide silver for the Panama City mint. Analysis of the metal in the AP cobs shows that the silver used was mined in Peru. In any event, no mint production is known to have occurred after the audit was conducted.

Kings Bridge at Old Panama City
From Picturesque Panama by Jean Sadler Heald

Why was the mint ever opened if Panama had no silver to mint? The key may lie in old Spanish documents examined by Jorge Proctor. In these documents the officials in Panama are presenting King Phillip the Second of Spain with samples of the silver coins minted in Panama and requesting permission to mint gold as well. Minting gold would have been a lucrative venture for whichever persons got the contract, especially if they were allowed to mint gold from other regions as well as Panama. From what we know, it appears that the mint had to shut down without gaining approval from the king to mint gold. No gold cobs are known for the AP mint mark. In fact, the Spanish government did not authorize any gold to be minted anywhere in the New World until the later part of the 17th century.

Design

The design of the cobs was dicatated by the Council of the Indies for all the colonial mints and master dies provided. The mint mark and assayer were added to the working dies. Almost all cobs only show part of the design, as the cobs in general were smaller in diameter and thicker than what would be needed to fit the whole design.

Collecting Panama Mint Cobs

Collecting the issues of the Panama Mint is for the very few. Approximately 43 coins are known in total. Several varieties only have one known specimen. The most common specimens may sell for approximately $3000, and prices go up from there. So the majority of us will have to be satisfied with looking at the pictures.

Rarity

To indicate relative rarity, the population count will be included for each variety.

Illustrations

The illustrations in this catalog pertain to Old Panama City where the mint was located. However it should be noted that the King's bridge, the Cathedral tower, and the other stone structures for which we have images were built after the year 1583 when the mint was closed. Most of the structures from 1580 to 1583 in Panama City were wood and have not survived, except as traces in the ground, to the present day. An attack by pirates, like something right out of an online pirate game, resulted in Old Panama City being burnt down, and now only traces of this city are left.

Numbering System

The Panama Mint cobs have been designated with the letters "AP" which was the mint mark of the Panama mint. They are then grouped by denomination (HR, 1R, 2R and 4R for Half Real, 1 Real, 2 Real and 4 Real). The number ends with a period and the the variety number. For example, the first piece below is AP-HR.1. This numbering system is based on suggestions from Jorge Proctor and the work of Barry Stallard, one of the original researchers of the AP cobs.

Permission is hereby granted to anyone to use the numbers below in referring to these coins, in print or electronic media. However, I reserve the right to assign all new numbers. Please contact me when a new number is needed.


Click on the catalog number or description below to go to the full listing for that piece.

Panama Mint Cobs Catalog

ImageCatalog #DescriptionRarity
HALF REAL COBS
AP-HR.1 Half Real Assayers P-M RR
AP-HR.2 Half Real Assayer o/X RR (1)
1 REAL COBS
AP-1R.1 1 Real Assayer o/X RR
AP-1R.2 1 Real Assayer o/B RR
2 REAL COBS
AP-2R.1 2 Real Assayer o/X RR
AP-2R.2 2 Real Assayer o/B RR
4 REAL COBS
AP-4R.1 4 Real Assayer o/X 4 upright RR
AP-4R.2 4 Real Assayer o/X 4 backwards RR
AP-4R.3 4 Real Assayer o/X-C RR
AP-4R.4 4 Real Assayer o/B denomination IIII RR
AP-4R.6 4 Real Assayer o/B denomination 4 RR