It is worn on the face and the faded date is stamped 1876. The coat of arms of the Republica de Chile on the obverse side is likewise well rubbed, seemingly eroded by the passage of time. The legend ‘Un Peso’ at the bottom of the coin implied a value. It was a fake, made by talented scoundrels in Latin America and if it hadn’t been by accident, I wouldn’t have known.
There is a stand composed of a long wooden table, outside Antigua’s famous yellow La Merced Church, near the large circular fountain. Their space is composed of bare brown dirt, near a large tree and unlike the other vendors who have their food and beverage stands nearby, not on the cement walkways. Six days weeks the foursome set up their table, unload and arrange their assortment of brass, silver and other antiques for sale. Oliver is the coin expert and Sara Argentina is the jewelry maven. I was the unsuspecting gringo with a coin that I thought was genuine.
Collecting and bringing home souvenirs from your travels is an age-old custom. Latin America is famous for their fabrics, ceramics and if you’re in Guatemala, their coffee. Years ago I found a Spanish silver ‘piece of eight’ in a Peruvian mountain village and when I moved to Guatemala I kept looking for old Spanish coins, in the markets, the shops or the occasional stand such as there are in Antigua.
He smiled when I showed him the Chilean peso. “es falso” he said. He showed me how the milled edges did not match the worn faces of the coin, indicative of a molded reproduction. Unconvinced, I returned with the other two Guatemalan sourced coins, one supposedly from Peru and the other a Spanish coin dated 1819. I also brought my original purchase from Peru, the Spanish silver doubloon.
No doubt about it: the other two were equally ‘falso’...compared for color, they were a bit duller and when tapped with a real silver coin, the sound was a ‘clunk’ rather than a ‘clink.’ They also weighed less than a proper coin but you’d need a gram scale or a delicate touch to notice this.
The moral of the lesson is that when you’re tempted by what appears to be a legitimate antique, fakes have been around for centuries. If you’re looking for old coins in the markets of Guatemala, caveat emptor. The real value is about ten percent of the asking price and I just happen to have three available.