The Mexican Peso

The Mexican Peso is the legal tender in Mexico, a currency that has lived adapting to the needs of the market throughout the years. At present, the peso is issued in nine different kinds of banknotes and nine coins of different value, ranging from 5 centavos to 1,000 pesos.

Origins and History

The origins of paper money in Mexico date back to the beginning of the 20th century . with the foundation of the Bank of Mexico, on 1st September 1925, which received the exclusive authority to issue money by minting metal coins and printing banknotes. This institution also regulated monetary circulation, interest rates, and exchange rates.

The Bank of Mexico was created at a time when it was necessary to reactivate credit in the country and introduce the use of banknotes in people’s daily life. For this reason, apart from the responsibilities of an issuing bank, the financial entity was empowered to operate as a normal credit banking institution.

Between 1929 and 1930 the banknote was finally set out as the main payment instrument in the country.

The first banknotes issued by the Bank of Mexico were printed by the American Bank Note Company of New York (ABNC) in a size of 180 x 83 mm. This first series (1925-1934) consisted of banknotes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 pesos.

In general, the banknotes printed by the ABNC were designed by the staff of that company according to customer requirements. That is to say, in the case of Mexican banknotes, the Bank of Mexico established which elements and people it wished to depict in each denomination and the American Bank Note Company designed the engravings, or else, the Bank selected the engravings directly in the archives of the company.

The most recent family of banknotes, known as Series F or Type F, introduced changes in the security elements, in the colors and sizes of notes compared to the previous series. Each of them has a different size and color; they all measure 66-mm wide but their length varies. The note of the lowest denomination (20 pesos) is the smallest one, measuring 120-mm in length, and the note of highest denomination (1,000 pesos) is the longest, at 155-mm long. From each denomination to the next one (20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000) there is a difference of 7 mm in length.

Regarding their materials, the banknotes of 20 and 50 pesos are printed in polymer whereas the rest of notes are printed on cotton paper.

Within this family of banknotes, there are also special issues of banknotes. These are the commemorative banknotes for the centennial of the Mexican Revolution (printed on polymer) and the bicentennial of Mexican Independence (printed on cotton paper), in denominations of 100 and 200 pesos. These are legal tender banknotes and do not replace the ordinary 100 and 200 peso denomination notes. The idea is to withdraw commemorative banknotes from circulation gradually as they deteriorate in the future.

On 6 May 2013, the Bank of Mexico put into circulation a new 50 peso banknote which incorporates new security features, designed with the most advanced technology, together with other variations regarding the Type F banknote of the same denomination. This new banknote, the same as its predecessor, is printed on polymer substrate; the predominant color is magenta, and it has the same dimensions: 66-mm wide and 127-mm long, with the effigy of José María Morelos y Pavón, leader of the Mexican Independence, as its main decorative motif.

Current Mexican Peso Coins and Banknotes

Regarding Mexican coins, bearing the inscription “United States of Mexico”, unlike the banknotes which bear the inscription “Banco de Mexico” they have experienced various changes in design, both in the national coat of arms displayed on the obverse, as on the reverse face of the coin.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the purchasing power of coins was reduced because of an inflationary process. This led the Bank of Mexico to mint high denomination coins, so high that they even surpassed the denomination of fifty pesos, and at one time, there were even coins of one thousand and even five thousand pesos. In view of this situation, and in order to simplify the management of large amounts of national currency, on 18 June 1992 a new monetary unit was established for the Monetary System of the United States of Mexico, equivalent to 1,000 of the former pesos. This new unit was named the “Nuevo Peso”, identified with the symbol “N$” or by putting the word “Nuevo” before it. In compliance with this disposition of the decree, during 1992 the Bank of Mexico issued a new series of coins in denominations of ten, five, two, and one peso and fifty, twenty, ten and five centavos.

These coins are bimetallic. Ten peso coins have a silver center and those of five, two and one peso coins have it in cupronickel outer ring and aluminum bronze center. Later on, the silver center of the ten peso coin was changed for an industrial metal.

Interesting Facts

  • The minting of official money in Mexico started in 1535, with the foundation of the “Casa de Moneda”.
  • The dollar sign was first used on money in 1847 on the $100 Mexican banknotes. It was not until 1869 that it appeared on the reverse of the $1000 United States note.
  • The Mexican peso was the first coin in the world to use the sign “$”, also before the US dollar. The dollar sign did not appear on U.S. coinage until February 2007, when it was used on the reverse of a $1 coin authorized by the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005.
  • The bird on the national coat of arms is not an Eagle, but a Caracara, a bird of prey in the Falconidae family. Caracaras are principally birds of South and Central America, just reaching the southern United States.
  • If you ask most Mexicans who is on the 500 peso banknote, they will quickly tell you it is the painter Frida Kahlo, who was the famous wife and fellow painter Diego Rivera, present on the obverse (or front) of the same banknote.
  • A 20 peso polymer banknote has an average life of 32 months, whereas the 50 peso note in the same material lasts some 39 months.

About G. William Hood

G. William Hood is a writer, fine arts painter, educator and world traveler. He lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
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