Mint History
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Mint History

Historic Plans of the Segovia Mint
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The Old Segovia Mint

The coining industry in Segovia has a long and fascinating history which goes back to the times of Roman occupation when a bronze coin was struck between 30 and 20 B.C. which bore the name Segovia. Today, these coins constitute the oldest known testimony of the name of the city.

During the times of the Reconquest, in 1136 A.D., Emperor Alfonso VII made a donation of one quarter part of all the coins struck in Segovia for the construction of the city's first Cathedral. This donation provided jobs and prosperity and promoted Christian settlement in the city as the Moors continued to be pushed southwards. The document of this donation (photo on right) is the oldest known written testimony of the coining industry which later became so important to Segovia.

In 1455, King Henry the IV, also known as the Segovian King since he resided here and was quite fond of the city, constructed a new mint whose coins were the first to use the city's aqueduct as the mintmark on the coin. This symbol became known around the world since it appeared on every coin struck in Segovia during more then 400 years. This mint, known as the "Old Segovia Mint", was located in the upper walled portion of the city and continued to produce coins until 1681, always using the crude hammer-struck method.  The document in which the King gave Segovia the  privilege to have a mint is in the photo on the right.

New Technology

Around the mid 1500's, German technology began to replace the ancient hammer-struck method of coining, in use since the dawn of coinage around 700 B.C. This new method employed rolling machines which were driven by giant waterwheels. This new process arrived quickly in Spain as a result of the Hapsburg royal family ties.

Towards the end of the year 1580, Spanish King Philip II negotiated several agreements on troop maneuvers and artillery production with his cousin, Archduke Ferdinand of Tirol, who, pleased with the outcome, gave several of these new coining machines to Philip for use in Spain to help process gold and silver brought from the New World. These machines were built in the Hall Mint, near Innsbruck, Austria and in February of 1582 special technicians were sent to Spain to prepare for their transfer and installation.

At first, it was thought the machines should be installed in Seville where the galleons unloaded their ingots and coins could be immediately produced. Several other sites were also considered, such as Lisbon (then under Spanish control), Toledo and Madrid. But in May of 1583, an old paper factory and flour mill on the Eresma River in Segovia was chosen specifically by King Philip II as the site for his new mint.

The work on the new building began on November 7, 1583, using plans drawn by Juan de Herrera, the most famous Spanish architect of all time, who had met with the King and the German technicians at the old mill site to jointly decide procedures.

On June 1, 1585, the new machinery arrived in Segovia in what is now considered to have been the largest expedition for the transfer of industrial technology ever undertaken up until then. The first trial coins rolled off the machines within four weeks of their arrival and by March of 1586 the Mint began regular production of coins.

During the next 100 years, Segovia had two completely different mints which functioned simultaneously but totally independent from each other. The Old Segovia Mint, governed by the Royal Treasury, only issued hammer-struck pieces; while Philip II's new Mill Mint, governed by his own private Royal House, always issued mechanically produced coins.

The novel German coining technology was capable of producing large, nearly flawless, coins due to the rolling technique applied to the metallic strips as they passed between the rollers. Compared with the crude hammer-struck coins issued by all the other Spanish Mints, these pieces stood out in commerce and were readily accepted for their facial value, unlike the hammer-struck pieces which were always being clipped and filed, forcing merchants to weigh coins in order to calculate their value. This is particularly important when one considers that the Spanish real-8 was the standard of the day for world commerce, circulating freely even in the United States up until 1857 when finally prohibited.

The Royal Mill Mint in Segovia was the most technologically advanced Spanish mint until 1700 when modern screw presses were installed at the mints in Seville, because of its proximity to the port where metals arrived, and Madrid, because King Philip V was beginning a centralization plan. This plan eventually culminated in the closure of the mints in Toledo, Granada, Valladolid, Burgos, Cuenca, La Coruña and the Old Segovia Mint in 1730, though many of these had already ceased production.

The Segovia Mint is famous for the giant cincuentines (50 reales, silver) and centenes (100 escudos, gold), both 76 mm in diameter, which were struck there from 1609 to 1682 in extremely limited quantities and only with special authorization of the king.  Some of these special orders are found today in the General Archive of Simancas, and we include photos of them below.

Photo of the Segovia Mint in 1870, one year after its permanent closure as a coining facility.

Recent History

In 1868 the Royal Mill Mint in Segovia and the Seville facility were finally closed, both giving way to continuous pressures to consolidate all coinage production at the large new mint in Madrid which began striking with steam-driven screw presses in 1861. The historic building was sold at auction in 1874 and functioned as a water-powered flour mill under various owners until 1974 when it was finally abandoned and shortly thereafter sold. During the 1980's various attempts were made by Segovia City Hall to purchase the building which had begun to seriously deteriorate after more than a decade of total abandonment.

Unsucessfull in its attempts to rescue the building, City Hall, with the approval of the regional government, began an expropriation process in 1989 which saw the final recourse of the private owner rejected by the National Supreme Tribunal in 1995. In spite of these essential bureaucratic procedures, the historic monument still languishes in utter abandonment to this day while local, regional and national politicians haggle over the final payment to the previous owner, considered a necessary step before the restoration project can effectively begin.

Today the historic Royal Mill Mint is considered to be the oldest industrial building still standing in Spain and one of the oldest mechanized manufacturing plants still remaining in the world. Located at the foot of the Segovia Castle (Alcazar) in the most protected historic zone of the city, it has been declared an Object of Cultural Interest by the Spanish Government and an integral component of the city's historic complex of monuments declared Patrimony of Mankind by UNESCO in 1985.

Historic Plans of the Segovia Mint

Sabemos según la documentación histórica, que Juan de Herrera, arquitecto de Felipe II, hizo el primer plano del Real Ingenio en 1583, con la colaboración de los alemanes que habían venido de la Ceca de Hall en Tirol, para guiar la construcción de la nueva planta industrial.  No obstante, este plano aún sigue desconocido hoy en día.  De hecho, sólo conocemos cuatro planos de la fábrica, y apenas uno -el último- es del conjunto entero y guarda proporciones, los otros siendo meros rasguños para dirigir obras de reforma en los interiores de los edificios..

El plano de 1607, del edificio del patio alto,  fue dibujado por Francisco de Mora para las reformas llevadas a cabo tras un voraz incendio en la fundición el año anterior.  El plano de 1678 fue dibujado por José de Vallejo y Vivanco para sacar a subasta ciertas obras de carpintería que había que hacer en las salas de laminar, acuñar, herrería y canales, en el edificio principal del patio bajo. El plano de 1771 fue dibujado por Francisco Sabatini, del edificio anteriormente citado mas el ingenio chico al otro lado del canal, y como muestra de su idea para el reparto de usos de las salas para la implantación de la acuñación a volante.  El último de los planos conocidos, el de 1861, es de todo el conjunto industrial, guarda las proporciones correctas, y se dibujaba para acometer algunas adiciones y modificaciones en los recintos de la fábrica destinados a viviendas de los oficiales.