The mystery of the peculiar Peruvian coin printed in 1899, experts say it should not exist

Researchers have examined a 10-cent coin from Peru that has an unclear provenance.

Ten years ago, scientists and students at the Catholic University of Peru in Lima were intrigued by a financial enigma. Several 19th- and 20th-century Peruvian coins were purchased by the university from neighborhood traders to support graduate students’ studies in the chemistry department.

A 10-cent coin known as a “dinero” with the marking “1899” on it sticks out among the rest of the coins. It is important to note, nonetheless, that no official documentation exists in any international numismatic source that attests to the coin’s 1899 existence. Two university scholars, Luis Ortega and Fabiola Bravo Hualpa, made the decision to unravel this riddle.

The findings of an X-ray and light examination of the coin, which indicated that the dinero was constructed of a nickel-silver alloy rather than the official currency of the Lima Mint, which contains around 90% silver, were reported in a research published in the journal Heritage Science last year.

Concurrently, they discovered that the 1899 dinero had lead, cobalt, and iron traces in it, suggesting that the coin may be an earlier counterfeit. The restricted technology of that era makes this mix of impurities common of classical alloys as well.

According to Dr. Ortega and Ms. Bravo Hualpa’s hypothesis, the currency may have been made elsewhere and its creators might not have known that there was no official dineros in 1899. Low-value coins like the dinero gained popularity at the period because of the political and economic unrest in Peru, and counterfeiters seized the chance to produce fake coins.

Still, Dr. Ortega intends to carry out further investigation to learn more about the context and history of these fake coins. These may provide valuable insights on the late 19th and early 20th century Peruvian economy and society.

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