Maximilian & the Brief Austrian Empire in Mexico

In 1861, growing Mexican debt held by countries such as Spain, the United Kingdom, and France began to cause strained relations between the fledgling New World democracy and the longstanding monarchies of the Old World. Financing the recent Mexican-American War, in particular, was a chief contributor, with Mexican President Benito Juárez suspending payment of foreign debts in order to stabilize the treasury. The trio of monarchies used this default as a pretext for more pointed demands—namely, they sent naval forces to bolster their call for repayment. While Spain and the United Kingdom reached amicable terms with Mexico, France had an ulterior motive, in that she wished to use the financial dispute as the pretense for an invasion in hopes of establishing a client empire in Mexico.

Though the outnumbered Mexican forces were surprisingly successful in one of the conflict’s earlier skirmishes—the well-known Battle of Puebla on the fifth of May (Cinco de Mayo)—the might of the French forces proved too strong. The resulting victory brought about the installation of Emperor Maximilian—an Austrian archduke and the younger brother of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph. While the United States did not play a role in the conflict and subsequent transfer of power, the position of Washington was that Juárez’s government was still, in fact, legitimate, and that this incursion of French influence in the New World was in direct violation of the Monroe Doctrine. However, Washington had bigger issues at hand, as the American Civil War prevented any resources from being provided.

Maximilian’s reign was rather brief and seemingly doomed from the start, as his imperial forces never fully defeated the republicans under Juárez; the emperor’s grasp on power always needed the support provided by France. Following America’s emergence from the Civil War, attention was focused upon assisting the republican forces and lessening France’s influence in the region. These factors spelled the end for Maximilian, as he was forced to flee Mexico City, and was ultimately captured during a siege in Querétaro City. Maximilian was tried and executed in June 1867, ending a rule that lasted just over three years.

Numismatically, Maximilian was depicted with a singular bust type—owing to the brevity of his reign—with a full, robust beard that rivaled the equally iconic mutton chops seen on the coinage of his elder brother. Our upcoming auction, held in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC) in January 2023, will feature a number of Maximilian’s silver crowns and minors spread across the issuing mints of his reign: Mexico City, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potosi. Displaying grades and levels of preservation that are not often encountered, this delightful selection should provide both expert and novice a great array from which to choose and will serve as a touchstone to this pivotal period in Mexican history and relations between powers on both sides of the Atlantic.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our Spring 2023 Hong Kong auction and our August 2023 Global Showcase auction. Additionally, we are accepting submissions for our Collectors Choice Online (CCO) auctions and currently are seeking items for our February 2023 event. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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