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Columbia Coins and Notes Covered
By Neil Shafer, Bank Note Reporter
June 10, 2013

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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Last month I wrote about world Depression Scrip from A to F, stating that I would continue that discussion this time. But the Colombia catalog came along and I felt it was important enough to review as soon as I could, so it took precedence over the scrip. I will endeavor to get back to that subject for the July column.

At a show this spring I was able to obtain a new publication covering a collecting area that was in need of a thorough updating - the country of Colombia. The book titled Monedas y Billetes de Colombia and subtitled Colonia y Republica 1616 a 2013 purports to cover all coins and notes that were used in Colombia from the very beginning in 1616 through today. The author is Pedro Pablo Hernandez. There is an indication that the book is in its sixth edition. This is the first one I have seen. All text, descriptions and listings are in Spanish.

The first part of the book deals with coinage in copper and silver. Order of presentation follows a progression of face value from low to high, irrespective of the chronology of release. In other words, the first listing is the lowest denomination, half decimo de real, and it happened to be issued in 1847-48. The first silver coinage consists of Cuartillos (quarter real) whose coinage began in the 1622-1755 period without date as they were so small. Coverage appears exhaustive, and values in Colombian pesos and their equivalents in U.S. dollars are shown for each different piece and date where applicable.

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Part Two covers coins of silver, copper, nickel and bronze, including issues from the leper colony and all regular emissions. Die and mintmark varieties are listed separately with their own valuations. Part Three deals with gold coinage from the earliest issues to the latest that took place in 1991. Tokens of various kinds, revalued pieces and patterns make up a separate section. So much for the coin commentary. All coverage from here on applies only to the paper money listings which after all constitute the only reason I am reporting here on this volume.

About a third of the way through the book the listings of paper currency items begin. The first paper section has to do with issues of the modern Banco de la Republica, Presentation follows that of the coins, with the initial listing being the half peso of July 20, 1935, and in two variations: serial numbers with six or seven digits. The value differential is about $200 U.S. There follows the listing for the cut half peso notes of 1942-43, with no less than six different entries.

Thus does the book progress through the many different series of issues from the Banco. I have never seen such detailed coverage of Colombian notes any place before this, and it is a real eye-opener as to what exists—more important, what varieties are considered worthy of separate listings.

Part Two covers official issues of the 19th century, starting with the one real of 1813, Colombia’s first paper emission. There are quite a number of issues of various kinds that I have never been aware of until now.

I recall when working on the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money years ago that we would have a group of additions to be made in the Specialized Issues book for each edition. This system resulted in some listings I see now as private issues having made their way into the main part of the catalog, but they were never pointed out as such. Now with this new revision it should be a much simpler task to get it right once and for all.

Certain civil war issues from 1899 to 1902 are included as a part of this section. There are a few illustrations of some of these pieces, but not nearly enough. Many are available fairly easily so that they should have been shown as an aid to users of the book, as there are so many variations of the same denomination that it becomes a daunting task for anyone not totally familiar with this series to figure them out.

There are also some severe problems with counterfeits of various civil war issues; while mentioned briefly, no specifics are given to help separate them. It is understood that to deal even partially with this problem would take considerable additional space, but it is an important enough aspect to the collecting of these particular pieces that it should have had more attention.

Section Three presents us with the private issue banks, of which there are a number I had not known of before. Many are illustrated and valued. There are also a good number of civil war issues in this part of the book, especially those of the states and Departamentos. The same comments apply here as with the previous section: not enough illustrative material to help distinguish between the variations as listed.

The final part of the paper money listings could have been a chapter by itself as it deals with private and local issues. Once again there were some I had never seen or known of before. As one of my strong interests in paper money is in such issues as these, I was surprised at the number and variety they represented.

While the values throughout the book may be debated as to their validity, they apparently represent the opinions and possibly the offers to sell from a company that every few pages has a notice at the bottom about making one’s purchases through a central numismatic address in Medellin. Users of the book may take it any way they wish to see it.

A few general comments are in order at this point. Many pages have entries at the bottom that provide very helpful details about personalities shown on the notes or other features that enhance the listings. A couple of times there is an explanation about the various grades as used in the book and their equivalents in more detail. This information is also included as part of the introductory paragraphs for the coin sections. The importance of knowing what these headings mean cannot be overstated.

In the book we find grade headings of Regular, Bueno and Muy Bueno. The first refers to notes that are in low grade, with soiling, discoloration and generally in bad condition. The second includes fine condition notes but with significant signs of circulation. The last talks about notes in very fine to almost new condition. The closest I can get to these descriptive grades in English are Good, Fine and Extremely Fine. It is imperative that users of this book be familiar with these terms as they are applied to the listings.

It will be noted that there is no mention of the term for Uncirculated. In the text it is specified that items in this high a grade are a matter of discussion. I fully understand that most earlier notes are not available in uncirculated condition, so it is really not needed except for later issues, many of which are certainly found quite easily in this lofty state. In my view this is one aspect of the entire book that totally misses the market need for helping to place valuations on later uncirculated pieces.

Obviously the author with his long list of distinguished contributors has knowledge enough to provide this kind of information so sorely needed. Especially now and going forward, the strength of collector demand for higher grade examples is only going to gain in momentum, and not to address this situation is a serious flaw that should certainly be corrected for the next edition.

There are a large number of banks and issuing institutions of all kinds listed in this catalog. Without an index it is very difficult to locate any specific issuer, especially if one lacks familiarity with so many different notes. The addition of a detailed index is another feature that would greatly enhance the usability of this book.

As mentioned before, I obtained this book at a recent show and have no information as to its availability or whom to contact to find out more about it. The only suggestion I have would be to contact dealers to see if they have any way of assisting you. It’s a very worthwhile addition to any numismatic library and I am certainly happy I was able to happen onto it as I did.

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