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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

Puerto Rico Quarter

I didn't know much about Puerto Rico until I chose this quarter as Coin of the Month.  As the Mint Police Dog, that guard tower really got my attention!  I wondered why a guard tower would be important to this island and how long it had been there.  Here's some of the story I discovered.

Puerto Rico is a fertile tropical island about the size of Connecticut.  It lies just east of the largest islands of the Caribbean, so it was a good rest stop for Spanish ships traveling between Central America and Spain in the colonial days.  And San Juan Bay is one of the deepest, safest ports in the area.  No wonder Puerto Rico was important not only to Spain but to rival nations as well!

In 1493, Christopher Columbus found the island inhabited by a native people called Taíno.  Juan Ponce de León set up the first Spanish colonies on the island.  A long series of attacks began, resulting in more and more fortification.

  • 1511:  The Taíno rebelled against the Spanish colonists, and fought for years to take back the island.
  • 1528:  The French tried to take the island, but failed.  Fortification soon began.
  • 1595:  England sent men to steal treasure from Puerto Rico.  Some of the English ships got past the defenses into the bay.  Still, the English were kept out.
  • 1598:  Sir George Clifford landed his ships farther down the coast and attacked the city from land.  This was the only successful attack, as San Juan fell to the English...but Clifford's troops were forced to leave after only 33 days because of sickness and death caused by spoiled food and water.
  • 1625:  The Dutch attacked, again by land.  The Dutch failed to conquer the city.
  • 1797:  After the American Revolutionary War, the British tried to take San Juan, but failed.
  • 1898:  The United States briefly attacked San Juan during the Spanish-American War, but the ships' weapons were no match for the city's 18-foot-thick walls.  However, as part of the treaty that ended the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States.

During Puerto Rico's four centuries of strife, forts were built to guard the island.  In the early 1500s, La Fortaleza, El Boquerón, and El Morro were built, though small at first.  Across the mouth of the bay, El Cañuelo was begun in 1610.  Later in the 1600s, the city was surrounded by a thick stone wall and a new fort on San Cristóbal Hill.  In 1765, when the King of Spain decided to make Puerto Rico unconquerable, the forts at El Morro and San Cristóbal were built up to be the massive structures they are now.

The forts of El Cañuelo, El Morro, and San Cristóbal, along with most of the city's walls, are now part of the San Juan National Historic Site and a World Heritage Site as well.  La Fortaleza is now the home of the governor of Puerto Rico.  And the garitas (sentry boxes) that appear along the city's walls are the official symbol of Puerto Rico and the centerpiece of the Puerto Rico quarter!


Image shows the Puerto Rico quarter reverse with standard inscriptions.
Reverse:  A guard tower overlooks the ocean.  Two hibiscus flowers are on the right under the motto "Isla del Encanto."  (Artist rendering of coin.)

On mouseover, Image of quarter obverses with standard inscriptions.
Obverse:  All the new quarters show the traditional portrait of George Washington, with some minor changes.  The bust is smaller and the legends have been moved.  Place your mouse over the image to see the former design.

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