Coin Of The Serpent Temple: 20 Centavo (Mexico, 1943)-Article

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

This Mexican coin represents the 3rd denomination coin of the Mexican Peso (Series AA, American Bank Note Company). The coin is a relatively large, smooth-edge design. It's made of bronze and weighs a hefty 9.93 g. It's dimensions are 28.5 mm (1.12 in) wide and 2.09 mm (0.082 in) thick. The coin's bold text is minted, in Spanish.

This variant of the 20 Centavo coin is known as the "Type 1 National Emblem". Which circulated from 1943-1955 and succeeded by the Type 2 (1955-1971). Followed by the Type 3 (1971-1974), ending the series. All types feature similar artwork, with some alterations between variants. The "Type 1" features a smaller eagle, then later types. This was made larger on the "Type 2", it's wings nearly touch the text and feature less detailing. While the "Type 3" features the least detail, to the point of being relatively abstract. The "Type 3's" art features a flat/uniform depth, unlike earlier types.

Notably the Series AA (Mexican Peso) history is divided into 2 phases. The first phase features banknotes printed by the American Bank Note Company (1936-1969). While second phase features banknotes printed by the Banco de México (1969-1980). Banknotes and coins during Series AA-era, where introduced in staggered circulation. (Note: This article's reference to "Series AA", should be taken as a generalization. Of the period which the coin circulated.)


To pay homage to the coin's rich culture, it will be reviewed reverse first. The reverse is dense in artistic and symbolic details. Blending European and Indigenous symbols to represent the Mestizo (people of mixed Spanish/Indigenous ancestry), who make up a large portion of Mexico's people.

Beginning from the top, is the coin's value (20), in bold raised numbers. Above them is a Phrygian (Liberty) cap, backed by rays of light symbolizing liberation. The caps originated in the ancient kingdom of Phrygia, located in central Anatolia (now modern Turkey). Although gained their association with liberty in ancient Rome. In the form of the pileus, which were worn by emancipated slaves. Later inspiring it's use during the French (1789-1789) and American Revolutions (1775-1783), respectively.

At the reverse's center is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, in ancient city of Teotihuacan. As can be seen by the text at the pyramid base. The text is much more legible on uncirculated examples. Although it should be noted the slightly obscured lettering, is an intentional design aesthetic. The pyramid is flanked by the volcanos Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Used to symbolize the characters in a Nahua (Aztec) romance, involving a princess and warrior. (SEE: "The Legend of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl" below)

Finally, at the bottom is the text "CENTAVOS 1943". Centavos translating to "cents" and meant to be read with separated "20". While "1943" represents the mint year, which is also the 1st mint year of the "Type 1" version of these coin. This text is flanked by 2 types of cactus, used both by ancient and modern Mexican people. The cactus on the right is called nopal in Mesoamerican Spanish. It's name is derived from the Nahua nohpalli (paddle). It's pads are often cooked and eaten with eggs, during Mexican and Tejanos breakfast. While it's fruit tuna (prickly pear) can be eaten raw, candied, made to jelly, and fermented into wine.


The observe appears (at first glance) relatively sparse when compared to the reverse. Although it's in fact full of symbolic meaning, relating to the Nahua/Aztecs. A raised rim (both sides) features decorative saw-toothed ridges in its interior. Encircling the Mexican Coat of Arms, with a header of bold letters. It reads the "ESTADOS UNIDOS MEXICANOS", the United States of Mexico.

The Coat of Arms contained relates to the founding of the city of Tenochtitlan (Aztec capital). The legend tells of the Mēxihcah (a Nahua tribe) wandering, in search of a homeland. It was foretold in a vision that it would become the site of a great city. Upon on an island in Lake Texcoco, an eagle was spotted perched on a nopal (cactus), consuming a snake. Signaling to Mēxihcah nomads, the site to built their city.

The flag of Mexico is linked to the mythical founding of Tenochtitlan.
The Flag of Mexico

From the small island the Mēxihcah built the chināmitl, "floating gardens" to grow their crops. Undeterred by the hard work, they built the greatest city in Mesoamerica. Trading to the distant Pacific Ocean and possibly the Incan Empire of the Andes Mountains. Under the rule of Emperor Ahuitzotl (1486-1502) there was a great flood of Lake Texcoco. Damaging Tenochtitlan, from which was rebuilt on a grander scale.

Ahuitzotl was succeeded by his nephew, Emperor Moctezuma II (1502-1520). Who ruled the empire during the Spanish invasion, commanded by conquistador Conquistador Cortés (1485-1547). After the Spanish conquest, Tenochtitlan served as a new capital for Spanish America. In order gain it's former power and prestige. The area which upper-class Spanish lived continued to be known as "Mexico-Tenochtitlan", for a period. Although the name Ciudad de México (Mexico City) has been the formal name since 3 August 1521.

The Legend of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl

According to the legend of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Iztaccíhuatl was a Nahua (aztec) princess who fell in love with her father's warrior, Popocatépetl. The emperor sent Popocatépetl to a war in distant Huāxyacac (Oaxaca). With the false promise of granting Iztaccíhuatl as his wife, upon returning.

The emperor told Iztaccíhuatl that Popocatépetl had fallen in battle. Believing the lie, Iztaccíhuatl fell in grief and died. Upon returning Popocatépetl found his love dead. In desperation Popocatépetl took Iztaccíhuatl outside the great city of Tenochtitlan. Praying to gods, they were both immortalized as mountains, as the gods covered them in snow.

Thus giving the twin mountains their Nahuatl names, Iztaccíhuatl (white woman) and Popocatépetl (the Smoking Mountain). The "white woman" referring to the mountains likeness to a snow covered woman. And the "the Smoking Mountain" referring to Popocatépetl's rage, for losing his beloved Iztaccíhuatl. To this day, Popocatépetl is an active volcano, while Iztaccíhuatl remains dormant.

Size Comparison

A 20 Centavo coin with a US Half Dollar for comparison.
A 20 Centavo coin with a US Half Dollar for comparison.

Type 2 Example

Additional Notes

  • All non-currency related photos are public domain images, provided by Wikimedia.

  • In 1974, the Type 3 20 Centavo (1971-1974) was replaced, by a new copper-nickel design.

  • The Type 3's replacement reuses the same reverse and features 37th President Francisco Madero (1873-1913), as an observe.

  • Francisco Madero's feud with then-President Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915), is often regarded as starting Mexican Revolution (1910-1920).

  • Popocatépetl is the 2nd highest mountain in Mexico, behind "Citlaltépetl" (star mountain).

  • Iztaccihuatl is alternatively known as "La Mujer Dormida" (the sleeping woman), in Spanish

  • Iztaccihuatl is lowest mountain in Mexico with permeant snow and glaciers.

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