Caudillism as Demonstrated by Bolivian Propaganda Coinage

(c) copyright 1986 by Chicago Coin Club

With the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the armies of Napoleon in 1808 and the resulting diversion of royal attention from her colonies, the desire for independence from Spain by the colonies began to pick up momentum. One of the first areas, if not the first, to declare for freedom was the northern portion of the Viceroyalty of La Plata, later to become the major portion of Bolivia. Rebellions broke out in mid-1809 in the cities of Chuquisaca (to be renamed Sucre in 1825) and La Paz. Although ruthlessly surpressed by Royalist forces, this first cry of freedom as expressed by Pedro Murillo in July, 1809 was to last for sixteen more years. Final realization came with the momentous battle of Ayacucho in December, 1824 under General Sucre. His formal declaration of Bolivia's existence as a country came on August 6, 1825 (being named after his Commander-in-Chief, Simon Bolivar).

The realization of independence had been achieved not through a unified effort but as the result of many individual military leaders (Caudillos in Spanish) and their supporting armed followers. Bernardo O'Higgins, Jose de San Martin, Andres de Santa Cruz, Jose Miguel Lanza, Antonio Jose de Sucre, Simon Bolivar, and others had fought the Royalists, and sometimes each other, to bring peace and order to South America. Their means, however, was to be the downfall for the continued freedom of the people for it was the very existence of these individual warlord armies and the resulting hero worship that was to bring disorder to most of the new nations. The cult of Caudillism (the following of a military leader or Caudillo, an advanced form of Macho-ism) brought independence from the Spanish throne only to subvert that bloody, hard-earned fabric to chains of dictatorship in country after country of South America.

Caudillism has three degrees or stages; the first being that which developed in the early years of attempted independence as separate Caudillos with their followers all fought for a common cause. This was the case (in the previously mentioned Caudillos) during the years of 1809 leading to final accomplishment of the common goal in 1825, freedom from Spain. From 1825 to 1830 there was a transitional phase during which the common cause still lingered but was beginning to be replaced by the second stage in which the Caudillo subverts the common cause to his own cause. This second phase existed from the 1830's on into the late 1800's for Bolivia before developing into the third (and still existent stage) in which the professional military officer (Caudillo) gains and keeps power, not through the use of a private following but through the professional armed forces of the nation. (Note, my personal opinion would be that the difference between stage two and three is in reality microscopic, for oftentimes the officer who makes it to the top has done so only with the support of a given faction within the armed forces.) This third stage is most familiar in the personages of Juan Domingo Peron, Anastasia Somoza and even in the original homeland with Francisco Franco.


As we are representing the world of medallic art by the single example of Propaganda Coinage, especially as these encroach on coinage, we are going to follow the development of Caudillism as reflected by the propaganda coinage of a single country, Bolivia. This country - which was the first to declare its independence and the last to achieve it - was unfortunately to develop Caudillism to its greatest degree. One president after another seized power from 1829 to 1876 (at least as reflected by the propaganda coins issued). During this period of some 45 years one saw 15 presidents, 10 of whom were to issue over 75 types of propaganda coinage in two different metals (gold and silver) and in at least eight denominations (including die varieties, the count of varieties is over 310).

I am certain that it is only a matter of time before numismatic publications accept the ever-growing undercurrent of thought that these pieces: "silver proclamation coins," as referred to by Paul Bosco (1); "medallas moneda" or medallic money, as referred to by Luis Alberto Asbun-Karmy (2); "monetary medal," as referred to by Richard G. Doty (3); or propaganda coins, as I shall refer to them, were purposely issued, circulating coinage of Bolivia. World Coin News recently acknowledged that one such piece issued in 1849 which carries not only an OR mintmark for Oruro and JM for the mintmaster's initials but also 1 S for the denomination of 1 sol will make a future edition of the Standard Catalog (4).

As these pieces are of such interest to me I shall review the many arguments in favor of classifying these as coinages put forth most succinctly by Paul Bosco in 1980 (2):

1. The die sizes and edges (many have lettered edges) "are the same as for the regular-issue coins." Agreed, except that for purposes of argument I should point out that it should only make sense to use the existent mint equipment for the production of planchets; whether the end use would be metals or coins would make little difference. Further, the fact that about half have coin axis and half medal axis must be attributed either way to mint carelessness, unless we choose to claim that half of an identical series are to be considered medals and the other half coins.

2. "The pieces are usually found worn and - as with most briefly issued Latin American types - usually are holed." Little doubt about this either, as in walking the markets of Bolivia I have seen countless holed and worn coins, but frankly neither their age, size nor briefness of issue would seem to account for this as I have seen many of the longer lived issues, such as the 20 or 50 centavos, holed. Also many of the "older" artifacts, such as coca leaf pouches, are decorated with holed coins (colonial, republican and propaganda), sewn loosely in place so as to take the function of bangles or sequins when worn. Playing the devil's advocate once again, the fact that the propaganda coins appear so frequently could also be attributed to their worthlessness as anything other than a decorative item. Since most medals are much larger, and thus useless as sequins, the much smaller sized propaganda coins could merely be filling a void.

3. The "NASCA Hoard" of some 1400 propaganda coins that came out of a Cochabamba bank's bullion deposit in 1979 does lend more credence to the pieces being accepted as fiscal backing against paper money outstanding.

4. "Bolivian coinage between 1830 and 1852 is, in the minor denominations, almost nonexistent." A very definite understatement and one of the most convincing arguments as far as I am concerned. To suppose that all commerce functioned for a period of 20 years only on coinage issued prior to the 1830's is at best far fetched. To believe that commerce only required the 8 soles, which continued to be issued during this period and that there was no need for the smaller denominations is absurd. One must realize that the desire to legitimize each new president's claim to fame was required not among the educated but among the uneducated, who were best reached by some other means than the written word which in itself didn't travel very quickly across the expanses of a very large country with isolated centers of population. The best means of propaganda, therefore, would be though their every day transactions, i.e. through the medium of the country's coinage ... especially the more frequently used smaller denominations.

5. Dr. Doty's work (4) is without flaw as to his presentation of the linking of the weights of the propaganda pieces with the stipulations of Bolivian coinage law. Further, my studies of the specific gravities of the various pieces in relation to his study also strongly support his argument ... but as stated briefly in point #1, if one wanted to issue medals of value, why not use the existing mint equipment, planchet sizes and even silver fineness rather than whomp up a new batch of silver to a different fineness than that which already existed?

6. "William Christensen ... mentions that Argentine cambists included these proclamations in their exchange tables," which I might add is the very reason why the melgarejo series is listed by Krause (5) ... yet, they bear no denominations and no mention of the Republic of Bolivia, merely the usual propaganda message to be found upon most coins in the series.

7. "Several die pairs were prepared for some issues" (a modest understatement in my observations) and in one case, the 1/10 boliviano (1/8 melgarejo to some), "12 obverse dies have been identified." Additionally, the 1/20 boliviano (or 1/16 melgarejo) of 1865 has almost as many die varieties. An even more interesting point than why so many die varieties if these are indeed medals is why issue medals of such an unpretentious size as either the 1/10 boliviano (dime sized) or especially the 1/20 boliviano, which is much smaller? There can be little reason for issuing such small medals unless they are controlled solely by their relationship to the size of the regular coinage.

8. I fully agree that if one merely wanted to issue gold medals the most logical procedure would be to employ the existing dies of the silver strikings. This was not done. Therefore, when we do find the propaganda coins being issued in gold, being issued not only in sizes different from those for the silver issues but in sizes, weights, and purity relating to the corresponding 1/2, 1 and 2 escudos ... there can be little left to the imagination other than that they were created to be used as circulating coinage.

9. The abundance of contemporary counterfeit Bolivian coinage, both of mint and non-mint origin, is sufficient to allow the creation of a sizable collection. Yet, I have never seen nor heard of a single propaganda piece in base metal (other than the copper melgarejo series as listed in Krause) (5). "Copper or base metal strikings seem not to exist, very possibly because they might have been plated and passed as coins." But if there are counterfeits of regular coinage ... and the propaganda pieces are to be considered regular coinage ... why not counterfeits of them also? Quite simple, I believe; (a) each "President" made certain that there were no off-metal strikes so as to assure his loyal citizens that his reputation, as promoted by his coinage, was as good as gold ... or silver; (b) the creation of dies outside the mint must have been a time-consuming task, which - in the case of normal Bolivian coinage - would eventually have its illgained rewards, but with the uncertainty of duration of any given "President," there could have been the very definite negative incentive that by the time the dies were finished ... so too was "El Presidente;" and (c) since each new leader might have wanted the prior one wiped off the slate as quickly as possible, there might have been a general recycling of propaganda coins for their metal content as well as the removal of propaganda favorable to the predecessor. This tended to make the counterfeiting of propaganda coins sufficiently disadvantageous so as to effectively curtail the practice for all but the regular issues of the Republic.


Bolivia itself is a landlocked (since 1880) mass almost equal in size to California and Texas combined, but with only 15% of their total populations (5,600,000); 15% of that residing in its two capitols, no, you are not reading double ... the only country in Latin America that has two: Sucre, the Constitutional, and La Paz, the Governmental. From this, you can begin to understand the problems that still lie ahead, for after all, if a country has had uncounted (10+ in the first 30 years) constitutions, 65+ presidents and 180+ attempted coups during the course of its 160 years of "independence", why bother changing the Constitutional capitol when the leaders don't abide by the Constitution most of the time anyway! After all, we are now in the continent of Machismo and the land of Caudillism personified, in which elections frequently are postponed due to the "unsettled conditions." Now, naturally after a president has settled in for his term ... when it comes time for his departure, things certainly are being unsettled ... and thus, the times are "unsettled."

After the surrender of the main Royalist forces on December 9, 1824 and the effective elimination of most resistance to the forces of independence ... the pace of freedom quickened considerably with the creation of the country of Bolivia by General Sucre on August 6, 1825. Prior to this time we have the first propaganda coin being issued in a 2 soles denomination (Figure 1) paying homage "To the Liberators of Columbia and Peru from the Officials of Potosi." (Gran Columbia was to be the name of a unified South America, and Peru referred to the old Viceroyalty of Peru from which La Plata had been created in 1776 - and thus most of Bolivia.) We should note that there is no mention of any specific individual, merely a true outpouring of thanks for the blessing of independence which was understood to be directed towards Sucre and Bolivar (first stage Caudillism).

Being preoccupied elsewhere, Bolivar was unable to present the first Constitution (which unfortunately, due to his belief that the people were unable to rule themselves, called for a president for life) until May of 1826. After Bolivar declined the offer of president himself, Antonio Jose de Sucre (the hero of Ayacucho) was chosen to be the first president of Bolivia in December of 1826 (two years to the day from the date of Ayacucho). This prompted the issuance of the second propaganda coinage denomination of Bolivia, a 1 sol depicting an open book with "Fundamental Law" inscribed upon its pages and the legend "The Employees of Potosi for the Constitution Sworn in the 9th of December of 1826" (still an example of the first stage of Caudillism in which the intermingling of the first Constitution, the swearing in of the first president are involved with Sucre though there is no direct mention).

Sucre, however, accepted the presidency only for a period of two years (with the further provision that he retain 2000 Columbian troops) for he frankly doubted the ability of a new nation that had known nothing but bitter warfare for 16 years to be able to accept the concepts of freedom as provided in their Constitution. He was quite correct, for the next year was to see one minor uprising after another. Not choosing to fight in order to remain in power (remember that, although he was a Caudillo, he had become so only in the cause of independence) nor to risk any more of his Columbian troops in the quagmire of Bolivian power plays, he resigned and turned the presidency over to the vice president, Pedro Blanco in 1827.

A new congress met in 1828, modified the Constitution and chose General Andres de Santa Cruz as the next president. Santa Cruz found it necessary to put down an attempted coup by Blanco even before assuming the responsibilities of office. This event was marked by the issuance of another 1 sol coin (Figure 2) depicting a dove of peace with an olive brance flying while on the other side is the "Cerro de Potosi" (the famous hill of Potosi from which the abundance of silver had poured) with the inscription "The Employees of Potosi to General Santa Cruz ... Peace, Union and Independence of Bolivia." Note that while Santa Cruz had been one of the Caudillos who fought for independence, he was now the first to be named on a coin and thus ushered in the transition from stage one to stage two of Caudillism.

For the next 10 years we witness a flip-flopping of naming and not naming Santa Cruz: in 1831 another 1 sol coin was issued to another Constitution with no mention of Santa Cruz, followed, in 1833, by a 1 sol coin issued by the mining tribunal proclaiming President Santa Cruz. In 1835 the first of several very unusual pieces appeared which pay homage to Senora Felicia Cernades, the wife of a general (wonder which of the two was the friend?) in a 1/2 sol denomination.

Earlier, Santa Cruz had been the first President of Peru during which time he had worked long and hard for a union of Bolivia and Peru (remember both had largely come from the old Viceroyalty of Peru) prior to being ousted from office in 1827 by one General Gamarra. Quite apparently old dreams die hard or the desire for revenge was too great, for Santa Cruz invaded Peru in 1837, defeated Gamarra and unified the two countries in May of 1837. This resulted in the issuance of a 2 soles coin by Bolivia in 1838 proclaiming "Thanks to the Victor of Yanacocha, Socabay and the Pacifer of Paucarpata" (no mention of Santa Cruz by name) while from the Peruvian side of the union we have an 8 soles of very nice work (Figure 3) proclaiming the homage of Cuzco (the Peruvian mint city) "To the Invincible Protector of the Confederation" (this coin mentioning Santa Cruz).

The union of Peru and Bolivia (at that time far larger than today) caused consternation among their neighbors; resistance to the confederation, not only within Peru but also from Argentina and Chile, eventually brought about Santa Cruz's defeat at Yungay in January of 1839, followed by exile. General Jose Miguel de Velasco took the presidency in February of 1839, bringing about the issuance of two different 1 sol coins; the first dated February 9, 1839 with a phoenix rising from the flames on one side and an angel with spear proclaiming the regeneration of Bolivia on the other. The second (Figure 4) portrayed an angel with a book inscribed "Fundamental Law" in her right hand and a trumpet in her left spewing forth "Liberty" while flying over a cornucopia (of Bolivia) on one side and a palm tree on the other with the message "Potosi to the Constitution of 1839." (Note, a new Caudillo ... so we have reverted to the first stage of Caudillism with no mention of the name.) The two 1839 coins are followed by an 1840 1 sol proclaiming homage "To the Regenerator of Bolivia" portraying Velasco over battle flags on one side and an angel with the scales of justice on the other. (Note, no mention of Velasco by name but the first portrayal of a Caudillo on Bolivian coinage ... another step intermediate between stage one and stage two.)

Velasco's short term in office was marked by three different issues (an attempt to legitimize a troubled position). Civil unrest opened the door of opportunity to General Gamarra who had been sitting on the Peruvian sidelines awaiting his chance for further Peruvian revenge or greater personal glory. He invaded Bolivia where he was defeated and killed by General Jose Ballivian at Ingavi in November of 1841 which led to three new coins:

1. A 1 sol (Figure 5) portraying a monument on one side and the sun shining down upon a mountain battlefield strewn with corpses while proclaiming the message "Gratitude of the Department of Potosi to the Defender of National Independence, November 18, 1841;"

2. An undated 1 sol coin showing a flying dove with branch on one side and a monument on the flip side with the message "Gratitude of the Employees of Sucre to the Illustrious Victor of Ingavi; " and

3. Another undated 2 soles coin portraying an arm emerging from nowhere (the hand of God?) placing a (victory) monument while upon the reverse is a slightly paunchy Indian with a laurel branch in his left hand and a trumpet in his right proclaiming the message "Potosi Transmits to Posterity the Glory of the Victor of Ingavi;" at his feet lies a llama (Bolivia?). (Note, another interesting and yet unexplained abnormality of this piece is that while being noticeably smaller in diameter and thicker than usual, it is of full weight.)

In the following year another 1 sol coin was issued with Ballivian portrayed on one side and the "Cerro de Potosi" on the other with a message of homage on the anniversary of Ingavi. (Note, just one of two factors, a portrait or the name, but not yet both.)

Again in 1843 another 1 sol appeared depicting the rather standard open book inscribed with LEY FUNDAMENTAL (or Fundamental Law) and upon the reverse crossed arrow, sword and spear with liberty cap and the propaganda message "To the Constitution of 1843 * Restoration * Independence."

The following year, another 1 sol propaganda coin which for the first time displayed both the President's name and his portrait, though very cautiously. The reverse depicts an altaror pedestal with an open book and a sword behind (take your pick; the sword comes behind the law or the law is backed by the sword) while the obverse depicts a naked bust facing right (which could easily be taken as a smaller version of the Bolivar portrait appearing on C 67, the 1841-47 8 soles coin) bearing the legend "Constitutional President Ballivian He Gave us Country, Law and Peace 1844." (Note, the first coin depicting the second stage of Caudillism, self-idolization.)

In 1845 another 1 sol (Figure 6) was struck (backing away from stage two as there is no portrait nor mention of Ballivian's name) referring to his accomplishment of freeing Bolivia from the Peruvian invasion four years earlier. This piece depicts the victory monument to Ingavi and on the other side a seated Indian in head dress with branch in his right hand and cornucopia under his left arm with the legend "The Capitol of Potosi to the IV Anniversary of Ingavi."

Although there are no further dated coins for Ballivian, there are at least two undated pieces (probably issued in 1846) of 1 sol (Figure 7) and 1 escudo denominations bearing the identical theme of a flaming altar on one side with two (love) birds with flared wings standing upon a hill with POTOSI beneath and the message "To the Virtues of SENOR DONA MERCEDES COLL de BALLIVIAN." Ballivian resigned in 1847, being followed very quickly by Velasco again, then by Jose Maria Linares (we shall meet him again in the future) and finally by Manuel Isidoro Belzu in 1848.

Belzu was to prove to be one of the two most prolific issuers of propaganda coinage and it didn't take him very long to get started for 1849 saw two different 1 sol coins struck:

1. The first (Figure 8) being the coin we discussed earlier in this chapter as being the only one to bear assayers initials, mintmark and the valuation 1 S, certainly not the markings one would expect upon a medal. This was issued in two very distinct varieties, both expressing gratitude to M Y B.

2. The other (Figure 9) bears the legend "to General Belzu" between laurel branches while the reverse depicts crossed sword, branch and caduceus (being the symbol of a herald) with liberty cap behind two clasped hands, with the further legend "The Department of Potosi to General Belzu (heralding) Union Commerce Liberty Glory" (not as subtle a beginning coinage as we have previously witnessed).

The following year we have the first 4 soles coinage (Figure 10) being struck (in true second stage Caudillism) with a naked bust of Belzu facing 3/4 left and upon the flip side a portrayal of Hercules with upraised club in his right hand and downcast torch (of freedom?) in his left while standing firmly upon a dragon (note, the club of power is held well above the torch of freedom). The legend circling the coin reads "M. Y. (Y being frequently used in place of a capital I to designate the difference from the number 1) Belzu Constitutional President of Bolivia 1850 The National Force Triumphs over Tyranny." (This man isn't going to waste any time getting to second stage Caudillism and is doing it on a much grander scale than those before him.)

In 1851 he humbled himself somewhat by limiting his propaganda to a single 1 sol coin (Figure 11) bearing the now quite familiar open book but with a new message of "Bolivian Constitution" inscribed upon its pages and the simple legend around it "Sworn in on the 28th of October of 1851" while the reverse - with the exception of mintmark, assayers initials and value - is the identical design as that on the listed circulating coinage ... even to "Bolivian Republic."

1852 was to be his banner year for coinage production as Belzu had apparently found "true salvation." He had been severely wounded during an assassination attempt in September of 1850 in Sucre, and after recovering, he not only declared the day a national holiday but also had a chapel built on the exact spot that the attempt had taken place. Two years later he had it consecrated and proceeded to memoralize the event through:

1. An 8 soles (with three very different edges) depicting an angel flying over clouds carrying a trumpet in her right hand and a wreath in her left, inside which is inscribed "The General Belzu," while upon the other side of the coin appears the Capilla La Rotunda - The Round Chapel - (Figure 12) with the legend "On the 6th of September of 1850" appearing beneath and the overall message reading "The Department of Potosi in 1852 to the Supreme (being) that Save Bolivia." Indeed a very modest man ... or had he truly embraced religion having brushed by it so closely? (Note, no 4 soles were struck as the coinage from 1850 had been extensive and there may not have been any commercial need; if these were medals, then there should be no reason for their not existing!)

2. A 2 soles with identical imagery (Figure 13).

3. A 1 sol with identical imagery (Figure 14).

4. A 2 soles coin (Figure 15) portraying a woman with liberty cap protecting two children in her arms while next to her rests a shield with the central part of the coat of arms and "Bolivian Republic" emblazoned upon it. The reverse side shows an allegorical figure being driven off a cliff and into water by an arm and sword appearing from the clouds, while the legend reads "The Employees of Potosi to President M Y Belzu Providence Persecutes the Crime."

5. A 1 sol with a head in a burst of rays (or perhaps the sun) while the flip side shows the famous "Cerro de Potosi" supported by two cornucopias pouring forth their bountiful wealth of (propaganda) coins while the legend reads "The Mintworkers of the Department of Potosi to the President of the Republic." (Note, while the reason for the sudden modesty of not mentioning or showing Belzu is now unknown, all of the pieces I have seen are too badly worn to know whether the head in the sun burst was at one time recognizable as Belzu.)

6. Another sol (Figure 16) with a representation of the town of Potosi beneath a shining sun (with a microscopic face - basking in the presence of their benevolent leader?) while the very simple reverse shows a naked bust of Belzu facing left and the short, simple legend reads merely "The People of Potosi to President Belzu." (Note, whereas most other coins have referred to the Department of Potosi, we now have the People themselves proclaiming the Caudillo.)

After the outpouring of emotion from the previous year, the coinage of 1853 provided a slight breather with fewer pieces:

1. A 2 soles coin depicting the mint building on one side and a view of La Paz upon the other.

2. Another 2 soles coin (Figure 17) showing a view of La Paz dominated by Mt. Illimani in the background while the reverse shows an altar inscribed "Liberty" upon which the base of a large cornucopia rests, pouring forth coins from its mouth. The legend reading "National House of Money (mint) of La Paz Erected by The Manuel Y. Belzu 1853." (Note, not President Belzu any more but THE M Y Belzu ... as if there were others?)

3. A 1 sol with identical imagery.

4. Another 1 sol (Figure 18) showing the Andean Condor perched upon the top of the "Cerro de Potosi" while immodestly a naked angel crowns a bust of Belzu upon a pedestal with a laurel wreath, the whole encompassed by the legend "Potosi to the Illustrious Chief of Bolivia December 24, 1853."

Opposition was beginning to mount towards the Belzu reign (whether because of his heaven sent powers, or the portrayal of his heaven sent powers in the face of strife is a bit hard to know at this time) and the following year we witness a real outpouring of coinage (propaganda is cheaper than bullets and one or the other was needed) as indicated not only by the denominations but the numbers of die varieties within the different pieces:

A design depicting the naked bust of Belzu facing 2/3 left over clouds over wreath, the opposite side showing a woman with babe in arms and two toddlers hanging on her with legend reading "The Country to the Illustrious Defender of its Independence M Y Belzu Constitutional President Potosi 1854." (Note, as opposition increases it's the whole country now paying homage while he in turn becomes a bit more humble ... he once again is merely its president). This coin was issued in the following denominations:

a. 2 escudos;

b. 1 escudo;

c. 1/2 escudo;

d. 1 sol.

2. Another sol with one side bearing the legend "The Employees of Potosi to the Savior of the National Dignity" while the reverse merely depicts a seated woman (Liberty?) holding a huge flag emblazoned BOLIVIA while resting against a pedestal upon which sits an Andean Condor.

3. A third sol with obverse of an Andean Condor with an olive sprig flying over a circle of chain broken into three segments; the reverse depicts a woman leaning against a pedestal while holding a cornucopia in her right arm and with her left about to place a wreath upon a naked bust of Belzu facing left. (Note, it would appear that even the mint engraver was fed up with homage to Belzu for it very much seems that the woman (Bolivia) is blindfolded.) The legend reads "The Heroic City of La Paz in 1854 to the Illustrious Chief of the Nation M. Y. B."

Opposition was becoming far too intense and 1855 was marked by a milestone in Bolivian politics; the president actually stepped down at the end of his term, naturally observing the event for posterity with another propaganda coin of exceptional workmanship ... and why not ... the next president, Jorge Cordoba, was his son-in-law! Since this was all in the family, the transition was marked by the issuance of three different 2 soles coins (not too pretentious but not too small either):

1. On one side of the first coin is an angel flying, raining down flowers upon a multitude of people with upraised arms, while the flip side shows a very formal setting with Belzu turning over the badge and sash of office to Cordoba while the members of the electoral congress observe the event (Figure 19).

2. On the obverse of the second is a woman seated with pole and liberty cap in her right hand, leaning against a pedestal inscribed with "(the Potosi mint monogram) The Year 1855" upon which is standing the Andean Condor with flared wings, the whole being encircled by "First Successor of the Captain General Manuel Ysidoro Belzu." The reverse depicts a large bust of Cordoba upon a pedestal emblazoned with the crest of Bolivia; both are backed by a multitude of weapons and flags with the legend reading "To the General of Divn. (has me stumped, sure hope it doesn't mean divinity) Jorge Cordoba Constitutional President of the Republic."

3. The last issue for the year depicts an allegorical goddess with fancy helmet and crest holding in her right hand a shield inscribed BOLIVIA, which rests upon a pedestal emblazoned with laurel enclosing a head (?), while in her left hand she holds a staff surmounted by a bird holding a branch in its claws; at her foot is a cornucopia spilling out (propaganda) coins, the legend reading "Free and Happy by LA PAZ (could mean issued by La Paz or could mean by the peace). The reverse is much simpler, being a ribboned laurel wreath encircling "April 4, 1855" while the outer legend reads "The Protector of the Institutions of the People."

As can be readily seen, the name may have changed but the family sure kept on the same propagandist! The production for 1856 continued unabated with a 2 soles, Figure 20, (containing four different die pairs according to Bosco [2]) and a matching 1 sol (comprising two obverse and four reverse dies [2]), portraying a woman with sash of office in her hands seated next to a condor - both floating upon clouds encircled by the legend "Bolivia to the Constitutional President Jorge Cordoba." The opposite side shows an open book inscribed "Constitution," with a pole surmounted by a liberty cap surrounded by rays; both rest upon a backdrop of draped flags with crossed cannon and sword beneath, encircled by the simple statement "To the Anniversary of the Legal Transmission 1856." A second and even simpler 1 sol coin merely has a naked bust of Cordoba encircled by "To the Constitutional President J. Cordoba" while the back has a wreath with "The Employees of the House of Money (the mint)" outside and within the wreath "PAZ (could literally be translated to mean Peace, or, more likely, merely a shortening of La Paz) 1856."

Continuing into 1857, two more variables of 1 sol propaganda coins were issued:

1. A condor with laurel branch in his beak flying over the "Cerro de Potosi" with reverse of an angel placing a wreath upon a bust of Cordoba with the legend "To the Birthday of the Supreme Chief 1857 Remembered by the People of Potosi."

2. An Andean condor perched upon a laurel branch with reverse of cavalryman with sword rearing over a dragon (St. George and the dragon? Jorge is George in Spanish) and legend "The Employees of the La Paz Mint to His Excellency the Constitutional President of Bolivia Jorge Cordoba 1857" (Figure 21).

By this time the coins were running out of space for the legends and the people out of patience with Cordoba for after several short lived coups, Jose Maria Linares came to power in September of 1857, an event which was marked by the issuance of yet another 1 sol coin (Figure 22). This piece depicts on the obverse a helmeted goddess with a spear in her right hand and a bird at her feet, while the other side has a frontal bust (either he was not very handsome or it was a real rush job) of Linares with the badge of office upon his left breast with the legend "The Employees of the La Paz Mint to the Restorer of the Rights (of the country) September 29, 1857."

Nothing more was minted for the next four years as the stage two Caudillism pieces pumped out by the Belzu-Cordoba family unit had been temporarily replaced by a throw-back with Linares.

Then, with a new president, Jose Maria Acha, we have a new 4 soles coin struck with a naked bust facing left. The opposite side depicts a woman with a scroll inscribed "Constitution" in her right hand and a pole with liberty cap in her left, with encircling legend "The People of Cochabamba to the Victor of San Juan * I Save the Constitution of 1861." (Note, the use of "I", can't let the temporary regression from stage two Caudillism become a habit, can we?)

Another pause of two years and then we are offered three more versions of 2 soles:

1. A military uniformed bust facing left with (apparently his signature) "J J M de ACHA" written below while the flip side shows a condor hovering over a closed book inscribed "Constitution" upon the spine and a crossed laurel branch and sword upon the book while the legend "Gratitude of the People of Potosi to the Restorer of the Constitutional Order 1863" is displayed (Figure 23).

2. Identical imagery to the above, except naked bust facing slightly right.

3. Identical bust as = 1 above with a condor hovering over crossed pikes, swords and flags behind a breastplate with helmet above and the legend "Compliment of the People of Cochabamba to the Constitutional President of the Republic 1863."

Again ... a slight pause ... until 1865 (although bearing an 1864 date) ... the epitome of a stage three Caudillo who shall unfortunately have to be graded only a 2 1/2 due to the irregularities of history. Remember stage three is a leader who gains and stays in power through the nation's army. It is hard to credit Bolivia with having a national army as in reality it wasn't a nation but a land mass with widely separated centers of population which had their own favorites. (Note, it may be very difficult for most of us to understand that a nation which in name has existed for over 160 years wasn't even linked by an east-west highway until the mid-1960's.) This lack of national cohesion might help to explain our next president's preoccupation with outdoor activities as he was to spend a very large portion of his seven years at the helm of his country marching from one end to the other, which probably gave him well developed leg muscles when it inevitably came time to flee.

If you thought that the outpouring of coinage during Belzu's seven years was substantial ... you ain't seen nothing yet, for Mariano Melgar was to far surpass him. New coinage denominations, pieforts and large volume production serve to mark his bloody, dictatorial and self-serving reign. Anyway, the 1/10 boliviano (Figure 24) portrays a military uniformed bust of Melgarejo facing left; the reverse shows a monument and the legend reads "To the Hero of December 28th M.M. 1864 Sympathy of the People of Potosi." There is, for the record, a (so far) unique piece, identical to the above with the exception of one word in the legend which causes the last half to (perhaps, more logically) read "Gratitude of the People of Potosi" ... the reasoning for the two apparently conflicting messages is unknown at this time but Dr. Doty (6) logically reasons that although the issue may have been small it is not unique.

Those of us with the Krause "phone book" (5) can readily find three of the many issues for 1865; the 1/4 and 1/2 melgarejos with conjoined busts of Munoz and Melgarejo with its propaganda (note, no stated value and nothing about Bolivian Republic) to be followed by the 1 melgarejo with portrait of Melgarejo alone, facing left. Additionally there were minted:

1. A 1/5 boliviano (or 1/4 melgarejo as weights would be almost identical) with Melgarejo military uniformed bust facing left and condor with flared wings perched within a wreath, with overall legend "Potosi to S.E. (his excellency or Supreme Excellency) General Mariano Melgarejo Savior of the Country and its Pacifer in 1865."

2. Another 1/5 boliviano with Melgarejo naked bust facing left within laurel wreath and opposite side showing an ominous- looking condor (Melgarejo personified ... as time would show) menacingly hunched over conjoined branch and cornucopia, with identical overall legend as coin #1.

3. A third 1/5 boliviano (Figure 25) with identical imagery of #2 but with legend of "Potosi to the Illustrious Collaborator of the General Melgarejo Dr. M D Munoz Loyal Secretary of State in 1865" (Hmmmmm, wonder if Munoz lasted into 1866?).

4. A 1/10 boliviano, Figure 26, (unusual in that there is no mention of Melgarejo) picturing a beehive with bees on one side while the opposite shows a breastplate with sword passing vertically through it, with cavalry helmet upon the upper point of the sword; the whole being surrounded by a musket with bayonet, another sword and flags, with legend of "Gratitude of the People in 1865 to the Loyal Army of December" (reference to his overthrow of Acha on December 27, 1864).

5. Yet another 1/10 boliviano (Figure 27) with military bust of Melgarejo facing left within a wreath while the opposite side shows a sun shining upon the "Cerro de Potosi" with a small cornucopia below, all being above the date 1865. (Note, most interesting as there is no legend.)

6. Finally, a 1/20 boliviano (Figure 28) showing a naked bust of Melgarejo facing left with a dragon being threatened by a hand and sword on the other side, with overall legend "The Hero of December Saves the Country from Anarchy 1865."

We take a short rest from the propaganda pieces during most of 1866 and 1867 while Melgarejo was doing anything but resting, as witnessed by his Decree of Pacification in December, 1865, under which he declared:

a. Anyone spreading rumors was to be declared a traitor.

b. Any municipality rebelling against authority was immediately outlawed.

c. Any traitor suffered immediate confiscation of all property.

In 1866 he required all Indians to show proof of land ownership or suffer confiscation and confiscated all land in the Yungas region (a very lush, semi-tropical valley).

In 1868 we return to the rendering of homage to the President with a particularly detailed 1/2 melgarejo (Figure 29) commemorating his visit to Potosi on December 20, 1867 which was followed by three additional pieces, all dated 1868:

a. A 1/5 boliviano with small naked bust of Melgarejo facing left over open wreath with wording only on the other side, the whole reading "Melgarejo to Potosi and Tarata for the Defense of the Constitution the 24th & 25th of December of 1868."

b. A 1/10 boliviano with small naked bust facing left over open wreath, with an open book upon the reverse inscribed LEI FUNDAMENTAL (error I'm certain for ley) or "Fundamental Law" over an open wreath with legend "The Grand Citizen of Bolivia to the Constitution of 1868." (Note, such a modest individual, for it was he who convened the National Assembly in August at which time it thanked him for the pacification of the country and gave its approval to him as president for which he in turn presented them with another Constitution, which he then abrogated in December.)

c. A 1/20 boliviano which is identical to that of 1865 except bearing an 1868 date.

In February, 1869 Melgarejo issued his SUPREMO DECRETO (Supreme Decree) in which he declared himself absolute dictator of the country but unfortunately didn't memorialize it with a coin.

The last of the propaganda series for Melgarejo was to be a modest little 1/10 boliviano with naked portrait facing left (must have been his photogenic side) with naught but wording upon the back as a birthday greeting (the powerful are often lonely) "Potosi to his Excellency on his Birthday March 28, 1869 Salutations to President Melgarejo."

The excesses of Melgarejo, which were to cause him to flee the country in late 1871, seem to have been such that none of the next five presidents saw fit to issue propaganda coinage until Hilarion Daza in 1879, whose issue is listed in Krause (5) as Y 53. This is a 20 centavo coin, bearing his portrait facing left, his date of birth, January 14, 1879 and the expression of solidarity between the army and the president (war was declared against Chile in March).

With the above mentioned pieces the tradition of propaganda coinage supposedly ceases, according to most other sources ... BUT DOES IT?

I have a piece (Figure 30), sold me by a dealer as a medal, which expresses the gratitude of the National Congress to the philanthropist G Pacheco for the establishment of the Pacheco Mental Hospital in Sucre on October 2, 1884. In itself it is not a particularly spectacular piece for the then president of Bolivia ... that is, if one is willing to overlook the reeded edge, the diameter and the weight which happen to coincide with the regular issue 20 centavo coin.

Again, another "medal" (Figure 31) with reeded edge that commemorated "Installation of Machinery (in) Potosi August 6, 1906 Administration of the Most Excellent Dr. Ismael Montes." Now not only did he happen to have been President since 1904 but the piece has the correct weight and diameter for the circulating 50 centavos coin of the same year, as well as having the reverse of Y 54.1 with very slight modifications.

Still not enough, you say? Then let's go back to Krause (5) for the final two propaganda coins.

In July of 1937 a military junta placed Col. German Busch in the presidency which was ratified by the national assembly in early 1938. His reign (excuse me, term) in office was marked by very pro-labor policies until his suicide (?) on his birthday in August, 1939.

In December, 1943 a citizen's coup headed by the MNR party replaced the previous president and allowed for the constitutional election of Major Gualberto Villaroel who then convened a national assembly which proceeded to:

a. Grant general amnesty for all political prisoners or exiles.

b. Indicate its intentions to allow land ownership for the Indians.

c. Abolish forced labor and conscription.

Unfortunately these reforms were too much, too fast and eventually led to a state of siege, riots, strikes and an eventual necktie party for the by then ex-President Villaroel.

In 1951, Victor Paz Estensoro (who just happened to have been the head of the MNR in 1943) was elected president in absentia and the outgoing president turned over the position to an army junta. A large scale miners' revolt under Lechin proved to be successful and Paz Estensoro came to the presidency in 1952, which just happens to be the year that KM #'s 1 through 4 were issued under the heading of MEDALLIC ISSUES, with the additional notation that Krause (5) considers them to have the value of 5, 10, 20 and 50 bolivianos (although not carrying the valuation upon the pieces). Further, look at the imagery for the propaganda pieces: an Indian and a miner, the two groups that brought about the coup, as well as portrayals of Busch (the pro labor President) and Villaroel who died a martyr for the Indians and the miners. What better way to bring persuasion to bear for the MNR President and his almost stage three Caudillism as what remained of the army was disbanded and in effect replaced with an MNR army when the miners and peasants were given arms. Paz Estensoro and Lechin (vice president) didn't agree on national policies and went separate ways with many more coups to come.

In August 1971, President Juan Torres Gonzalez was overthrown by yet another army coup headed by Hugo Banzar Suarez. The new president expelled most of the Soviet embassy from La Paz, devalued the currency due to IMF pressures and faced other national problems that proved to be unpopular with the workers, eventually bringing about an attempted coup which in turn caused Banzar to install an all-military government in 1974.

1975 marked Bolivia's sesquicentennial of independence and we shouldn't be too surprised that it also provided an ideal occasion for a true stage three Caudillism propaganda coinage. Three pieces, in fact, were issued (Y 73, 74 and 75) with the same legend "Order Peace Work" (only the denominations being different) and the conjoined busts of the Great Liberator, Simon Bolivar, and President Banzar. (Note similarity of hair styles and uniform collar designs linking one to the other: The Caudillo who gave freedom ... the Caudillo who was maintaining it ... what a message!)

It has been a long trip from stage one to stage three, 150 years of a colorful (unfortunately too frequently, red) journey that I fear has not reached its conclusion ... although I should not mind at all being proven wrong!


  1. Paul Bosco, "The Silver Proclamation Coinage of the Bolivian Republic," Paul Bosco Numismatic Quarterly, December 1980.
  2. Luis Alberto Asbun-Karmy, Monedas, Medallas, Billetes, Acciones Y Documentos Bancarios de Bolivia Banco de Credito de Druro (Bolivia, 1977).
  3. Richard G. Doty, "The Bolivian Monetary Medal," ANS Museum Notes 25, The American Numismatic Society, 1980.
  4. Standard Catalog of World Coins, Krause Publications, 1985 Edition.
  5. Richard G. Doty, "Bolivian Coin Discovery Adds New Type," Coin World, September 7, 1983.

Additionally, for a photographic rush job (my fault) that turned out as professionally as usual, my sincere appreciaton to a good friend, William S. Nawrocki.

Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to that "good ole country boy" from Greensboro who, when he can be pinned down long enough, is more than generous in the dispensing of background knowledge pertaining to the Bolivian series: Louis Hudson, Thank you.

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