Behind a small door with the sign “Historical Archive. Reading room ”, hundreds of volumes in wood and glass bookcases tell the story of the Bank of Spain (BE). The institution that has the monopoly of issuing money owns an archive that traces the economic history of Spain for almost 250 years. Almost 150,000 shares, like some of the 1,000 that King Carlos III bought when the bank was born, in 1782; account books, promissory notes, correspondence with banks, financing operations … 27 kilometers of documents on online shelves, but also its valuable collection of banknotes, some 20,000 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 houses by publishing on its website the minutes of the governing council and those of shareholders from its creation to 1920. There are 218 books, some 70,000 pages.
“The archive began with the entity, when it was still called Banco de San Carlos, and its creation was already announced at the first meeting of shareholders, 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.
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, that they commissioned 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 “de los goyas”And can be seen temporarily in the new exhibition space of the BE, which King Felipe inaugurates on Wednesday, and can be visited until February 26, 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 1900, the bank was able to prove, thanks to the books in which the orders and payments were recorded, that they were from Goya.”
You have to go down 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 being consulted, and not only by researchers. Serrano says that in order to resolve a recent dispute, the Community of Madrid asked them for information on the ownership of the land through which the Guadarrama canal passes, located in the Las Rozas area.
What the bank archivists are most proud of is the banknote collection. “The first Spanish banknotes were issued on March 1, 1783,” indicates 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 from 1830 that 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 remains the old oven used to burn canceled bills.
Serrano draws attention to the fact that the archive 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 the 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, especially coins, that went to the Soviet Union to buy arms for the Republic. The rest, until the 707 available then, ended up in Paris, but recovered after the conflict.
“The Bank’s Governing Council met on September 14, 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 extracted, which was in an underground chamber 35 meters deep, a new construction that had been completed in 1936.”
The gold was transferred 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 archive 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.