“Pillars” Spanish Colonial Reales

Posted by on September 9, 2012
"Pillars" Mexico 4 Reales - obverse

"Pillars" Mexico 4 Reales - obverse

From 1536 to 1572 the first silver real type was minted in Mexico City (Mexico), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), and Lima (Peru).  This type is called a “Pillars” real because its obverse has two crowned pillars rising from the ocean in the center of its obverse. King Charles I of Spain later became Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor.

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The pillars represent the Pillars of Hercules which makes the furthest point of Hercules travels during his twelve labors.  The two island mountain land marks associated with the Pillars of Hercules are at the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.  King Charles V’s motto of “PLVS VLTRA”, which is Latin for “further beyond”, runs across the center of the coin’s obverse and is sub-divided by the pillars.  The denomination is marked with a number between the Pillars and the legend is in a ring running along the rim "HISPANIARVM:ET:INDIARUM" which translates as "Spain and the Indies".  Columbus had initially thought he had made it to India and this inscription indicates it's from the Spain's holdings in the New World.

"Pillars" Mexico 4 Reales - obverse

"Pillars" Mexico 4 Reales - obverse

The reverse has the coat of arms for Spain.  Under King Charles V of the Kingdom of Castle and Leon the castle (Gules) and lion (Argent rampant purpure) are alternated in the quadrants of the shield.  On the left side of the coat of arms is the mint mark and the right has an initial of the assayer.  Its legend also in a ring rounding along the rim indicates the monarch.  "CAROLUS.E. JOHANA.REGES" translating as "Carlos and Johanna, King and Queen of Spain".  However, since King Philip II came into power in 1556 he ordered the opening of the mint at Lima, pure and had "Philip II" replace "Carlos and Johanna.

The mint in Mexico City minted coins for the Spanish colonies from 1536 until 1821 and used a mint mark composed of a “M” with a smaller “o” above and center in the middle of the M’s v, however sometime only an “M” was used.  The Mexico City mint started adding the dates to the coins it struck in 1607.

The Santo Domingo was opened in 1542 and was closed in 1564.  Its mint mark is “SP” or an alaberate combination having the “S” overlapping the bar on the “D” and a small “o” centered above.  All of the Santo Domingo’s “Pillars” coins are considered to be rare.

"Pillars" Mexico 1 Real - obverse

"Pillars" Mexico 1 Real - obverse

The Lima mint in Peru opened during 1568 and was closed in 1572.  The Lima mint would be opened and closed another three times before 1824; however it was the only mint that struck all five design types for the Spanish colonies.  It used six different mint marks over the two and a half plus centuries: “P” which was used for all these pillar silver reals, “P” with a star centered above it, “L”, “LM”, “LIMA”, and “ME” which overlapped slightly.  It was not until 1659 that dates would be struck on their coins.

"Pillars" Mexico Real - reverse

"Pillars" Mexico Real - reverse

Since there are no dates on these coins the assayers’ initial is the only notation that lends itself to identifying when, during the thirty-six years the pillars design was being used, a particular coin was struck.  For example those coins struck at Mexico City with the assayer Juan Gutierrez, who used “G” as his mark, it is known from the mints records that Gutierrez was the assayer from 1543 to 1545.  However this mints records before 1542 have been missing for centuries now and Gutierrez personal papers indicate that he started working at the Mexico City mint in 1539.  Even though the King appointed each colony’s mint secretary it was a common practice for the holder of the royal appointment to lease the position and there is difficulty in surmising when some of the assayers held their position.

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