What the entrails of the Bank of Spain hide

Behind a small door with the sign “Historical Archive. Reading room ”, hundreds of volumes in wood and glass bookstores tell the story of the Bank of Spain (BE). The institution that has the monopoly of money issuance owns a file that traces the economic history of Spain for almost 250 years. Almost 150.000 actions, such as some of the 1. 000 bought by King Carlos III when the bank was born, in 1782; account books, promissory notes, correspondence with banks, financing operations … 27 miles of documents on online shelves, but also his valuable collection of banknotes, some 20. 09 photographs, plans of the bank’s branches ―which became 70 -, collections of bills of exchange and commercial securities … The BE has begun to show part of what it hosts when publishing on its website the minutes of the governing council and those of shareholders from its creation until 1920. They are 250 books, some 70. 000 pages.

“The file began with the entity, when it was still called Banco de San Carlos, and its creation at the first shareholders meeting, in December 1782 ″, says the head of the General and Historical Archive Unit, Elena Serrano. Since then it has been keeping “the documents generated and received by the bank in the exercise of its functions”. One of these is essential, the granting of loans. “The origin of the bank is linked to the loan to the State to finance the war in which Spain allied with France and against England for the independence of the British colonies in North America,” he adds.

DVD 1074. Madrid 29-09-21.-Archivo del Banco de España. Foto: Julián Rojas

Among the documents available online is the minutes of the shareholders’ meeting in which it was agreed to commission the portraits of the first directors. “In 1784, the shareholders were so satisfied with the management of the directors, then six, who commission their portraits. Five of them to Francisco de Goya, who carried them out in the next four years ”, adds Serrano. “He was not yet a camera painter, but he was in the circle of the illustrated, well connected. Two of the portraits are full-length and the other three are half-length ”. They are all in a room of the bank known as “of the goyas ” and can be seen temporarily in the new exhibition space del BE, which King Felipe inaugurates on Wednesday, and can be visited until 26 February 2022.

However, for a time, the genius of Fuendetodos lost the authorship of these works. “At the time, the portraits were kept and, as they were not signed, it was doubted who had painted them,” adds the head of the Archives and Document Management Division, María de Inclán. “Until in 1830, the bank was able to demonstrate thanks to the books in which the orders were recorded and the payments that were from Goya. ”

Real cédula en la que se anuncia la creación, en 1782, del Banco de San Carlos,
Real ID in which it is announced the creation, in 1782, of the Banco de San Carlos, “national and general “, precedent of the Bank of Spain. Bank of Spain

You have to download some stairs to enter another area of ​​the archive and see more papers in filing cabinets, in files tied with ropes … Some documents that are still consulted, and not only by researchers. Serrano says that to resolve a recent dispute, the Community of Madrid asked them for information about the ownership of the land through which the Guadarrama canal passes, located in the Las Rozas area.

Real cédula en la que se anuncia la creación, en 1782, del Banco de San Carlos, Billete del Banco de San Fernando, de 1830, con el lema a la derecha Banknote of the Bank of San Fernando, of 1830, with the slogan on the right “Death penalty to the counterfeiter”. BANCO DE ESPAÑA ARCHIVE

What the bank’s archivists are most proud of is the banknote collection . “The first Spanish banknotes were issued on March 1, says Patricia Alonso. Its design, commissioned to the Academy of Fine Arts, was the work, among others, of the cartoonists Rafael and Alberico Mengs, sons of the neoclassical painter Rafael Mengs. “They wanted them to have an aesthetic, and like today’s banknotes, each value had a color. The paper came from a factory in Barcelona, ​​with watermarks to avoid counterfeiting ”, he adds. The BE keeps a copy of 1830 which has the warning “Death penalty for counterfeiter” printed on it.

His partner Virginia García de Paredes remembers a finding in the bank related to the illegal manufacture of paper money. “There were no copies of the banknotes of the Banco de San Carlos, but in the eighties of the 20th century, a colleague, working on a file of counterfeits, found an envelope in which were those original banknotes, which had been left there to contrast forgeries ”. On this trip to the bowels of the bank, the old oven used to burn canceled banknotes remains.

La jefa de la Unidad de Archivo Histórico y General del Banco de España, Elena Serrano, consulta uno de los legajos.
The Head of the Historical and General Archive Unit of the Bank of Spain, Elena Serrano, consults one of the files. Julian Rojas

Serrano draws attention to the fact that the file has been preserved almost intact despite having endured, among other horrors, the War of Independence and the Civil War. During the first, the entity moved to Cádiz, “they took the most necessary documents and shareholders meetings were held between 1810 and 1814, but it did not close in Madrid “. After the defeat of the Napoleonic troops, everything returned to the capital.

History during the Civil War is associated with the Moscow gold episode. Documents that will be released in the future by the BE and that speak of the 510 tons of gold, mostly coins, which went to the Soviet Union to buy arms for the Republic. The rest, until the 707 available then, ended up in Paris, but they recovered after the conflict.

De izquierda a derecha, María de Inclán, Virginia García de Paredes, Elena Serrano y Patricia Alonso, en el Archivo del Banco de España.
From left to right, María de Inclán, Virginia García de Paredes, Elena Serrano and Patricia Alonso, in the Banco de España Archive. JULIÁN ROJAS

“The Council of Government Bank met on 14 September 1936 because the Government of the Republic, chaired by Juan Negrín, had communicated its decision to send the gold to Moscow, ”Serrano details. With Madrid under siege and that seemed about to fall into the hands of the coup troops, “there was a lot of discussion in the junta, almost all of its members opposed it because it was against the statutes, which stipulated that only gold could come out to sustain the price. of the peseta ”. However, “that same day the gold began to be taken out, which was in an underground chamber at 35 meters deep, a new construction that had been completed in 1936 ″.

The gold moved to Cartagena, “to the tunnels of La Algameca, a military base”, adds Alonso. They stayed there for two months and then they sailed to Odessa (now Ukraine) and from there to the Soviet capital. The file also keeps the document, in French, the language of diplomacy, that the political leaders of the two countries signed to seal the agreement that generated so much controversy.

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