Kenny’s in Galway have been buying and selling antiquarian books for generations and have occasionally came across the odd interesting artefact hidden in the spine or covers of books.
Never before though did they find anything as interesting or as valuable as the two solid gold coins stitched into the spine of a book bought from a diocesan library.
The find was all the more extraordinary as the book which contained the coins was a common Catholic prayer book which was worthless in itself.
The solid gold coins are Mexican in origin. They have 50 pesos on one side and the dates 1821-1947, 1821 being the date of Mexican independence from Spain. On the other side they have the emblem of the Mexican state.
The coins are 37.5 grams (1.3 ounces) in weight each. A similar coin was presented to Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1962 by Mexican ambassador to London.
The find is worth approximately €5,000 if the coins went to auction as they are selling for €2,300 and upwards each at present.
The coins were found by Kenny’s archivist Sarah Gallagher on Thursday. It was one of a library of 25,000 books bought from an Irish diocese by Kenny’s.
Tomás Kenny of Kenny’s said he could not understand what made her take off the cover of the book, as the book was completely unremarkable in itself.
Mr Kenny said the coins may have been concealed by a priest, possibly a Catholic missionary, at a time when there was a lot of anti-clericalism in Mexico and the priest might need to make a quick escape.
Mr Kenny said he contacted the diocese involved, which asked to remain anonymous, so see if they wanted the coins back, but they said no.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. We often come across old letters or a £20 note, but something like this has never been in our wheelhouse before.”
Mr Kenny said they have not decided what to do with the coins yet, though auctioning them off to charity might be an option.
“We knew it was a cool, interesting story, but we never knew what the reaction would be. We bought the library with the purpose of making money from the books. This is a separate thing. We haven’t come to a firm decision yet on what we are going to do.”