Coins are the main protagonist of the frigate Mercedes. These were not only the aim of the plunder of the wreck and the reason for the law suit, but they also constituted some of the main legal evidence for the identification of the ship: the coins themselves indicate that the vessel onto which they were loaded sailed from Lima in the first months of 1804, when the mint in that city had not yet had time to produce a large number of coins.
Virtually everything that was removed from the wreck were coins. And although they were not the only thing that the Mercedes was transporting, they were a very important part of the load. Beyond the extraordinary number of them – almost 600,000 coins in different states of conservation – what must be stressed is their enormous cultural value as property of world archaeological heritage and as the image, frozen in time, of an era and a specific historical event.
The collection consists of about 578,000 silver coins and only 212 gold pieces; an unusual amount which also contributed to the identification of the ship, as it reflected the amounts in the records of the shipment. Most of them correspond to the most high-value Spanish coins of the day: silver pieces of eight and gold escudos, minted during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV in the American Viceroyalties, in particular in the Royal Mints of Lima and Potosí, as well as in those of Popayán, Santiago de Chile and Mexico. Most of the coins are from between 1772 and 1804, mainly from 1803 and from the decade of the 1790s, with those from 1804 – the date of the sinking – being the most recent.