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The Peseta: The Decimal Metric System

Room 30, showcase 11 Five-peseta coin of the Provisional Government. Madrid, 1869. Silver. Pulse para ampliar Five-peseta coin of the Provisional Government. Madrid, 1869. Silver.

The turbulent 19th century also witnessed several monetary reforms which created more problems than they solved, due to the mixture of different values in circulation. The much-needed overhaul finally came with the introduction of the decimal-based metric system, a universal system of measurement that gradually spread across Europe. Spain adopted it in 1849, but the system was not enforced until 1868, the year when Isabella II was dethroned in the “Glorious Revolution”.

Determined to align itself with Europe, the Provisional Government adopted the principles of the Latin Monetary Union, a convention that standardised the weight, size and purity of coin denominations based on the decimal metric system. And so the peseta was born.

This standard was easy to reconcile with the old system of reales, and the name was also familiar as it had previously been used for the two-real coin, primarily in Catalonia. However, the designs were novel, as the government wanted to distance itself from the monarchy: a woman inspired by the “Hispania” figure on second-century Roman coins, and a coat of arms adapted to reflect a generic concept of the state, with a mural crown rather than a royal one.

The peseta was Spain’s currency for over one hundred years, undergoing changes in its imagery and a gradual evolution in its composition from precious metal to inexpensive modern alloys. The last issue, a 100-peseta coin that symbolically revived the reclining personification of Spain from 1868, was produced in 2002.

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