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Spain: The most valuable Spanish coins in history | Culture

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At noon on October 22, 2009, the main hall at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona was filled to capacity. There had been more than 1,200 requests to attend the event, but only 200 people had been selected to witness the auction house Áureo & Calicó offer collectors from across the world a chance to buy a gold coin made in Segovia in 1609, under the reign of Philip III of Spain. The piece was denominated in escudos – a currency used until the early 19th century – and was part of the Caballero de Yndias collection, a compendium of over 2,000 coins that once belonged to a Spaniard who had settled down in Cuba.

The starting price for this unique item – measuring 71 millimeters and weighing 339 grams – was €800,000 and that was without factoring in an additional 18% in fees. Only one individual at the auction, a Swiss man identified simply as Number 74, rose to the challenge: he paid €944,000 for the 100-escudo piece, making it the most valuable coin in Spanish history.

The Spanish government, then led by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Socialist Party (PSOE), was unable to exercise preferential acquisition rights because the coin had been “a temporary import,” meaning that it had been brought to Spain from abroad exclusively to be sold at the auction.

“A coin is worth precisely what someone is willing to pay for it at any given moment, but as an investment, it is not safe. It is ruled by the laws of supply and demand to a superlative degree,” notes the expert Jesús Losada in his book Las monedas españolas más valiosas (or, The Most Valuable Spanish Coins), which explores the biggest global auctions to 2021 involving these sought-after objects.

An eight-escudo coin from 1652, sold at auction in 2012 for €614,000.
An eight-escudo coin from 1652, sold at auction in 2012 for €614,000.

In his book, Losada explains that the coin purchased by the unknown Swiss collector was originally made at the Royal Mint of Segovia, the only facility with the necessary machines to craft it. Doing so involved inserting sheets of gold “through two cylinders that were activated by a large hydraulic wheel as many times as necessary, until a sheet of the required thickness was achieved.” This thinner sheet would then pass through two other cylinders to strike both sides of the coin with the appropriate design. There are only seven other known facilities in the world with this kind of machinery.

The second-most-valuable Spanish coin ever sold at auction was minted in Pamplona in 1652 during the reign of Philip IV. It is an eight-escudo piece that once belonged to the collection of Archer Huntington, a 19th-century philanthropist from New York who donated it to the Hispanic Society of America. When the museum found itself in dire financial straits, it was forced to sell off its 38,000-strong collection. The sale took place at Sotheby’s in March 2012 and raised $30 million (€26 million). The Spanish coin was bought for €614,250 and auctioned off again in November of that year.

As for the third most valuable Spanish coin ever sold at auction – another 100-escudo piece made in 1633 under Philip IV – only four of them are known to exist: one is kept at Spain’s National Archaeology Museum, another one belonged to the Prince of Ligne (a Belgian lineage) who sold it in London in 1968, and a third was in the hands of a collector from Milan known only as L. B. who auctioned it off in 2019 for €590,000.

On July 31, 1715, a large fleet of Spanish galleons laden with riches sank off the coast of Florida after departing from Havana on its way to Spain. A hurricane destroyed 11 out of the 12 ships, and more than 100,000 coins ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of them have since been found by treasure hunters who offer them to auction houses, even though legally they belong to the Spanish state because they were part of a shipment on state-owned vessels. One of these coins went on sale in 2009. Minted in Mexico in 1695, under the reign of Charles II, the buyer paid €448,000 for the eight-escudo gold piece.

A 100-ducat golf coin, made in 1528, which was gifted to King Charles I.
A 100-ducat golf coin, made in 1528, which was gifted to King Charles I.

But not all the most valuable coins sold at auction are made of gold. The seventh spot is held by a silver eight-real coin minted in 1538 in Mexico during the reign of Queen Joanna I. It was sold by the auction house Daniel Frank Sedwick for €469,400 in November 2014, thus becoming the most expensive Spanish silver coin in history. This coin was legal tender in the United States until 1857, “which means these eight-real coins were the true first dollars” in America, according to Losada. Two more such coins are known of, both of which were plucked out of shipwrecks.

Losada also notes that there are other old coins that have never been auctioned off, making it hard to know their market value, but which he estimates at above €1 million. He mentions 50 examples from the days of the Catholic monarchs in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, including “a real gem weighing 176 grams with a diameter of 66 millimeters, minted in Seville between 1497 and 1504.” Until 2012, this too belonged to the Hispanic Society of America in New York.

The Cortes de Monzón, an early parliamentary body, gave Charles I of Aragón “the biggest coin of all time,” a 100-ducat piece weighing 349 grams with a diameter of 83 millimeters. It was a thank-you gift for getting behind the construction of the Imperial Canal of Aragón, a project to divert water from the Ebro River to feed the farmland in what is today Zaragoza. The coin shows the faces of Joanna I and her son Charles with the legend in Latin “Iona et Karolus reges aragorum trunfatores et katolicis” (or, Joanna and Charles monarchs of Aragón triumphant and Catholic). During the Spanish War of Independence against Napoleon, it was stolen by the latter’s troops and is now on display in Paris, at the National Library.

Losada’s favorite, however, appears to be a large coin made under Ferdinand IV of Castile, “an impressive and unique” gold coin weighing 45 grams with a diameter of 67 millimeters, which is undated but believed to have been made between 1304 and 1308. This coin is now at the Valencian Institute of Don Juan in Madrid.

Losada seems surprised that no Spanish coins, despite their rarity, technical quality and good state of conservation, have ever reached a selling price of $1 million (€880,000) at auction, whether in Spain or abroad. The most expensive coin ever sold is a double eagle, a gold coin made in the United States in 1933, with a denomination of $20 (€18). This past June, a collector paid €15.4 million for it even though there are 12 others just like it. “But that’s a whole other story,” says Losada.

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Government rejects calls to introduce a right to work from home

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The Government has rejected calls to introduce a right to work from home, promising instead to legislate for a right for employees to request home-working.

Opposition politicians have called for a right to work remotely.

However, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said that while the Government’s proposed Bill would require employers to consider such requests, they would still be able to reject them.

He argued that employers are more likely to grant requests to work from home for fear of being brought to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) – which will be the appeals mechanism in the new law.

Cabinet is set to consider the proposals as hundreds of thousands of workers face a gradual return to the office over the coming weeks.

Unions have said that employers must consult with their members about the return to on-site working and ICTU chief Patricia King warned that some workers will not be able to return for health reasons.

Mr Varadkar said new safety protocols are to be published by the end of the week as he spoke about the Government’s plans to legislate for the right to request remote working.

The proposed Bill will set out a legal framework whereby an employer can either approve or reject a request to work remotely from an employee.

‘Change the culture’

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy has said the Government must give workers a legal right to work remotely, “not merely the right to request flexible working arrangements”.

She said the Government’s plan “does not go far enough” and “The default position should be that flexible working is permissible. It should not be at the whim of employers to accept it or reject it.”

Labour’s employment spokeswoman Senator Maire Sherlock has criticised the Government for not moving quicker to address the issue of people returning to the workplace and called for legislation that guarantees the right to flexible work.

Sinn Féin’s spokeswoman on Enterprise Louise O’Reilly said the planned legislation should be “more robust” and that no reasonable request from an employees should be refused.

She acknowledged that not all requests can be granted because not all work can be done remotely but said: “the emphasis should be on the right to have it rather than the right to ask for it”.

Mr Varadkar said there was a lot of work done with the Attorney General and “Government can only interfere in contracts that employers and employees have signed to a certain extent.”

He also pointed out that remote working isn’t always going to be possible – pointing to education, healthcare, manufacturing and hospitality as examples.

Mr Varadkar said: “What we want to do is get to a position whereby remote working/home working becomes a choice and that employers facilitate that provided the business gets done and provided public services don’t suffer.”

He said that the Government does not want things to go back to the old normal for working arrangements post-pandemic.

“We want to see more remote working, more home working, more hybrid working”.

Mr Varadkar said he believes the legislation can “change the culture” and that employers will embrace it.

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Travel agents experiencing increase in bookings since Covid-19 restrictions eased

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Travel agents are experiencing an increase in inquires and bookings since the government announced the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday.

Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association, says there has been a “phenomenal” turn around in bookings, and travel agents are busy getting back to inquiries.

“We are looking at a healthy summer season, it’s the first time I’ve been positive in two years.”

He advised people to book their holidays early to avoid disappointment. “The longer you leave it, the dearer it will get. Mid-term break in February and Easter are almost full.”

Mr Dawson believes there is a pent-up demand. “There are some people who have money they haven’t spent, a big chunk of that will be spent on foreign holidays.”

John Spollen, director of Cassidy Travel in Dublin, says he has seen an increase in bookings over the weekend.

Popular destinations include Spain and Portugal, which have been Irish favourites for many years now, says Mr Spollen. There are also some bookings for the US, Jersey, Madeira and the Greek islands.

Peak travel

People should avoid peak travel times from mid June to the end of August and consider booking mid-week, early or late flights to get the best value, according to Mr Spollen.

“In May, September and October, the weather will be similar to summer weather.”

Mr Spollen added people should take out travel insurance and ensure their passport and driver’s licence are in date.

Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel in Cork said they have seen a huge increase in inquiries.

“We are not back to 2019 levels yet… the EU is a big destination. We have had a lot of inquires about mobile home holiday parks. Italy would be the most popular destination for this type of holiday, but Croatia is becoming almost as popular.”

There are also bookings for America coming in, as well as some couples celebrating their honeymoons belatedly, according to Mr Doorley.

It is important that people understand the restrictions in the country they are travelling to, he added, and they should check the Department of Foreign Affairs website regularly.

Aoife O’Donoghue is just one of the many Irish people who have not been on a holiday abroad in two years, and she is excited to be going to Barcelona at the end of March.

“A friend is moving over there in February, so myself and two other girls are going to visit her. It’s actually all our birthdays that weekend too,” she says.

The friends used to live together in Galway, and Ms O’Donoghue says it’s fantastic to have something to look forward to again.

The last time she went abroad was to Switzerland in January 2020. “Just as we were coming back there was news of the big Covid outbreak in Italy, so felt lucky to have gotten a holiday in before it all kicked off.”

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Property group clashes with council over Dundrum residential development

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The owners of Dundrum Town Centre have clashed with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council over demands for more large apartments as they advance fast-track plans for a major residential development in the south Dublin village.

Property group Hammerson and insurer Allianz, which operate the new shopping complex in the area, have been in talks with An Bord Pleanála to build up to 889 apartments on the site of the old Dundrum shopping centre.

Their company, Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership, has told the council it should scrap new requirements for “a minimum of three-plus bedroom units” in large apartment blocks that are included among proposed amendments to its draft county development plan.

In a submission last week to the council, the company said the new guidelines were in conflict with official rules that said there should be no minimum requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms.

According to the company, the justification for the guidelines was based on fast-track strategic housing development permissions in the council area and “evidence” from certain boroughs in London.

“[Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership] submit that the logic underpinning the policy is flawed and is not a basis for imposing prescriptive unit mix ratios on a countywide basis,” it said.

“The draft development plan needs to be amended to remove the very prescriptive requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms and to allow applicants to make the case for a particular unit mix based on the particular attributes of local areas where a different mix might be appropriate.”

The company also told the council that proposed amendments to the development plan presented “contradictory or ambiguous objectives” in relation to proposals for a community, cultural and civic centre in the area.

Such objections were included among 106 submissions on the draft plan in a public consultation which closed last week. Numerous other developers and the Irish Home Builders Association lobby group also opposed the measures, some saying they would delay or prevent the delivery of new homes.

Asked about the submissions, the council said the response to any issues raised would be set out in a report by its chief executive to elected members which would be published. “It will be a decision of the elected members to adopt the plan and it is anticipated that this will take place in early March 2022. The plan will then come into effect six weeks later,” the council said.

Cost increase

In its submission, the Irish Home Builders Association said its members were concerned that the introduction of “further onerous standards” would increase the cost of delivering new homes and their price.

“This at a time when construction costs are already under huge inflationary pressure and affordability is a major issues for most home buyers,” said James Benson, director of the association.

“A key concern of the home-building sector in respect of the new plan is a lack of consistency with national planning guidelines/standards, which may be considered to be contrary to recent Government policy which sought to bring a greater extent of standardisation to national planning standards.”

The submission added: “The key concerns relate to the locational restriction and unit mix requirements for [build-to-rent] schemes, other standards for apartment developments which are more onerous/restrictive than the Government’s… guidelines, and the requirement for early delivery of childcare facilities in residential developments, all of which have the potential to impact adversely on the viability and affordability of housing in the county.”

Another builder, Park Developments, said in a submission the draft sought “more onerous policies, objectives and standards” that would have a direct effect on housing supply. “We are already seeing the impact of the chronic shortage in the supply of housing on the affordability of rental accommodation and homeownership.”

Castlethorn Construction said the blanket imposition of three-bedroom requirements “can only serve to militate against development of apartments” in the council area. It said the cost of delivering three-bed apartments was “very significant”, adding that demand was “not evident by reference to market sentiment, estate agents’ advice” and national policy imperatives.

Developer Hines, which has major interests in the Cherrywood strategic development zone, said in its submission that the logic underpinning requirements for more three-bedroom units was flawed.

“While making the case that recent development has been weighted towards one- and two-bed units, it fails to recognise that three-bed semi-detached and detached houses remain the predominant typology within [Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown] and that the [strategic housing development] permissions provide a much-needed mix of housing types within the county to redress this balance within the county.”


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