Honduras 1888 20 pesos
"Honduras, gold 20 pesos, 1888, very rare, NGC AU 58. The Honduran 20 pesos series of 1888 to 1908 is famously rare and important as the top denomination of the first gold coins struck in Honduras, an issue that also included 1, 5 and 10 pesos, all of which are rare. Despite some 1883-dated issues that were later special productions, the first date of gold mintage was 1888, as recorded by the mint director, José Estéban Lazo, in a document dated October 16, 1888:
"We have never before minted gold coins and they were never ever minted in this country until May of this year, that we started minting gold, which came in part from Olancho and in part from Minas de Oro [northeast of Comayagua]. We have struck coins of 20 pesos, 5 pesos and 1 peso, with fineness and weight in accordance with the fineness and weight of the French coinage. The first minting of gold in Honduras, that was executed under the tenure of the current administration of his excellency, Señor President General Don Luis Bográn, will make history in the story of the coinage of Honduras since we have never done it before."
As to quantity of coins minted in 1888, all we know is that 788 pesos in face value were minted across the three denominations (1, 5 and 20 pesos), with another 330 pesos’ worth of 10 pesos struck in 1889. This led Christensen to state in March 1970 that “probably less than 30 were struck” in the 20-pesos denomination in this initial mintage. Holland Wallace stated in his 1966 book Central American Coinage Since 1821 that a mintage figure of 1108 pesos total in the years 1888 and 1889 means “a maximum possible mintage of 39 pieces of 20 pesos and 33 pieces of 10 pesos,” apparently without regard to the fact that 1 and 5 pesos were also struck in 1888. Another angle is to look at the known breakdown of gold coins struck in 1895 and assume the same distribution by denomination; in that year, 303 pesos’ worth was struck as follows: 1 peso, 43 pieces; 5 pesos, 20 pieces; 10 pesos, 10 pieces; and 20 pesos, 3 pieces. If we assume an identical distribution across the four denominations in 1888-89, then mathematically that equates to no more than 11 pieces struck in 20 pesos! Clearly the production of such a small number of large gold coins must have been more political than practical.
In any case, today we can publicly trace only three survivors, although others may exist. The other known dates of the 20 pesos—1895 and 1908 but with several different overdates (most linking back to 1888)—are all restrictively rare as well, each with near-unique population levels and with recent sales records (if any) typically well into five figures (a 1908/897/888, for example, hammered for GBP36,000—over $65,000 with buyer’s fee—in Baldwin’s September 2014 auction as lot #3140). It was not an exaggeration when Almanzar referred to Central American gold coins (in the catalog for his July 1975 auction) as "The Sleeping Giant of Numismatics"!
The present coin graded AU 58 (NGC) is lustrous and fully detailed except for a diagnostic natural die-flaw rough spot on UNION on the otherwise-bold pyramid side, the Liberty side less bold and bagmarked (also with die-clash evidence to right), the whole piece essentially without wear and with nice color, currently second finest in the NGC census behind a single MS 61 (which is in the hands of a strong collector). The Eliasberg specimen at VF 30, sold in April 2005 (American Numismatic Rarities, lot #3069, sold for $32,200). Besides this last-mentioned piece, lauded by the cataloger as "offered only when great collections are dispersed,” the only public sales records we can trace over the past 50 years appear to be for the present coin, as the (poor) photos for these sales show the same rough spot on UNION: November 1969, Harmer-Rooke, lot #3663, listed as Extremely Fine and "very, very rare, almost never available"; and March 1970, Christensen, lot #501, described as "quite a nice example of this great rarity.” This specimen has been in a collector’s hands since it was offered by a dealer in 1977.Clearly, this 1888 20 pesos is a traditional and important rarity for both the large-size gold collector and Honduras completist. While there is no need to add to the hyperbole, we want to contribute one more phrase to the current offering and say that it is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity—don’t miss it!"
Recorded mintage: unknown but three known.
Specification: 32.25 g, .900 fine gold.
Catalog reference: Fr-4, KM 57.
- Michael, Thomas, and Tracy L. Schmidt, Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900, 9th ed., Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2019.
- Friedberg, Arthur L. and Ira S. Friedberg, Gold Coins of the World, From Ancient Times to the Present, 9th ed., Clifton, NJ: Coin and Currency Institute, 2017.
- Robinson, Charles, The Coins of Central America, 1733-1965, San Benito, TX: 1965.
- Sedwick, Daniel Frank, Augi Garcia and Cori Sedwick Downing, Treasure Auction 26, Winter Park, FL: Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC, 2019.