Spanish Colonial Silver Reales: An Overview

Posted by on September 8, 2012
SC SCR 1900 Mexico half Real 300x150 Spanish Colonial Silver Reales: An Overview

1800 Mexico half Real

The Spanish Reales started being minted in the New World as a way of providing coinage for merchants.  For a fee reales were struck in the mints in the silver producing lands in the Americas.  The reel was set as being equal to 34 maravedies which is a Spain’s base metal coins' unit.  The fee of two reales for every mark of silver which would produce 67 reales was set.  The first New World mint was set up in contemporary Mexico City, Mexico by the Spanish in 1536 and was the first to strikes Reales for Spain.  Reales were struck in six denominations: 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 reales.

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1803 Eight Reales

The silver 8 reales coin would later be used as the measure that the United States of America would use for the US’s first one dollar silver coin in 1795.  Likewise the US silver quarter was equivalent to the one real, and US silver half dollar comparable to the two reales.  Because the United States had adopted the decimal system for its currency the dime and half dime (which became the nickel) did not have an equivalent among the Spanish coins.  The Spanish silver 8 reales coin also would be cut into smaller pieces (a common practice throughout Europe) creating a half, a quarter, and even an eighth.  These pieces became called ‘piece of eight’ and later led to the convention of referring to a US quarter as ‘two bits’.

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"Shield" Cob 8 Reales - obverse

The early reales are also called silver ‘cobb’ coins and in Spain called "macuquina". The term Cob comes from the Spanish phrase describing the cutting of the planchets they were struck from; “cabo de barra” which translates as “end of bar”.  This refers to the fact that the cob planchets were not cut from rolled metal sheets but they were cut from the refined ingots which were hammered into round bars.  Cobs were then hand struck and then weighed and if too heavy clipped.  Those not heavy enough were simply thrown back into the melting pot.  The strikes are generally weak and sometimes the planchet would crack when struck.  The cobbs were only used for circulation in the colonies and were melted down is Spain if they were to be used in Europe.

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1770Spanish Colonial 8 Reales Milled

In 1537 King Charles I revised Spain 1479 coin act and set the Spanish 8 reales coin to weigh 423.9 grains which is 27.47 grams of 93.05% fine silver.  Latitude was taken by the New World assayers who would guaranty their purity to be between 92% and 95% silver.  In 1728 Philip V made many changes regarding Spain’s currency as more machines were replacing the hammer and after all Spanish colonial coins were machine struck or ‘milled’.  Also the weight and purity were changed to 27 grams of 93% silver planchets for the 8 reales which were renamed Peso.  These changes helped secure the Spanish silver coins as a world currency and Pesos were denominated as; 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 peso silver coins.

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"Pillar" 1 Real - obverse

The real was not new to Spain when they started minting them for the colonies and Spain was minting reales for their colonies since 1505.  The first reales were struck in 1350 under King Pedro the Cruel.  The motto “Numus Regalis” Latin for “Royal Coin” lends them to be called “reales”.

Five different design type for the silver reales during the three plus centuries of Spanish rule in the Americas from 12 different New World Mints.  The “Pillar” was struck from 1536 to 1572, which was replaced with the “Shield” was minted from 1572 to 1734 with the “Pillars and Waves” from 1651 to 1773.  “Milled Pillar” in 1732 to 1772, and “Milled Bust” from 1771 to 1825.  There were dates on the early colonial sliver reals and it was not until 1607 when the Mexico City mint started adding the date that the dates started appearing on the coins from the other Spanish colonial mints.  The Pillars used on Spin's coins are "Hercules' Pillars".

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