Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Coins and History: The famous "pieces of eight"- DOS MUNDOS or PILLAR COINAGE 1732 - 1772

This is a continuation of a series on my previous post  On Line Business: Selling Coin Collectibles and Lessons in History. The coins presented here are mostly from  items posted in my on line store at Bonanza .  From my coin collection, I was able gather very interesting historical snapshots per country of origin which I now share with you one coin at a time..

The DOS MUNDOS or PILLAR COINAGE  (1732 - 1772)  were the famous "pieces of eight" (referring to the 8-real coin) of legend and literature. The silver coins'(strictly of 916.66 fine silver) bold design proclaimed Spanish dominion over the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Americas and the East. These columnarias were minted with screw presses in the same denominations as the earlier cobs with an established well earned reputation of being the best known and respected coins in every part of the known world making them the prototype of modern international currency.
Spanish Colonial Cob Coin 1570 to 1780
The 8 Reales represented the largest denomination for the Pillar coinage series. These crown-size coins were approximately 37 to 41 millimeters in diameter and weighed around 417.6 grains (27.059 grams).The silver fineness of .916 was a little devaluation from the old .930 carried by the old cobs possibly made to offset the increased cost in coin manufacture.

DESIGN: You can use the guide below to properly review the coin:


"A" - the origin or mint where the coin was struck
"B" - the year of mintage
"C" - assayer's initial
"D" - denomination of the coins, in this case "8" for 8-Reales
"E" - the ruling monarch

These old coins from Spanish Mexio are great collectibles. The denominations are 1/2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 reales, which are predecessors of America's 5, 10, 25, 50 cents, and one dollar. The capital M with small o (oM or Mo) is the mint mark for Mexico City. Pillar dollars from other countries can be worth more than those from Mexico, but not always. You will find coins like these issued in Spanish colonies Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru. To identify which is which, subtle differences must be sought out. 

The coins have different Spanish kings during different periods of time. For coins with this pattern, the kings of Spain were Philip (Phs), Ferdinand (Ferd, Ferdnd, Frdnd, Frd), and Charles (Carlos, Carolus, Carolvs, Carol, Car). Look for the name on the side with the shield and crown. The coin in our picture has King Charles III name on it. 

The design represents the crowned Pillars of Hercules and the crowned hemispheres of the Old and New World floating on the sea. On the scrolls that twines around the pillars  is the legend PLUS ULTRA (further beyond) . You can also see the Latin inscription "VTRAQUE VNUM" (the union of two worlds) which depicted the Spanish colonial domination of both Old and New World with .
Fast fact
When Charles I (1516-1556), the first Hapsburg monarch, sailed for Spain from Netherlands to claim and sit on the throne left vacant by his grandfather Ferdinand the Catholic, a group of 40 ships accompanied him. His flagship carried a picture of the Pillars of Hercules with scrolls that twines around the pillars. The scroll bore the young monarch's motto - Plus Ultra.

The origin of the pillars and "PLUS ULTRA" are traced to the legendary Greek hero Hercules. On his journey to capture a 3-bodied monster on the island of Erythia, he erected two pillars on the sides of the Straights of Gibraltar between Europe and Africa. During those time, it was thought to mark the edge of the world- in Latin -- "Ne Plus Ultra" (Nothing lies further). Charles I removed the word "Ne" and carried "Plus Ultra" as his motto in his ambition to expand the Spanish Empire beyond its European possessions during that period. Note that Magellan discovered the Americas during those period.

It was ironic though that it was in the period of this coinage that Spain lost its luster as a world superpower and began to loose grip of its colonies.

The crowned Coat of Arms of Spain with the Latin legend "PHILIP (or FERDND/FERDIND VI) -V-D-G-HISPAN-ET- IND-REX" (Philip V/Ferdinand VI - By the grace of God; King of Spain and the Indies.


The Royal Cedula (Decree) of 9 June 1728 by Philip V (1701-1746) brought a new age into Spanish colonial coinage. Minting of milled-type coinage with a screw press replaced the hammered-type macuquinas. Also a new design for the silver Real, showing the majesty and domination of Spain during the period, was also introduced.

The new design used a screw press that worked by rotating a weighted lever. It pressed an upper and lower die together on a blank planchet and with the intense and even pressure of the press, the planchet would be evenly and fully struck and would be of the same thickness. Quality was supervised by two assayers, with both adding their initial to each coin. The (macuquina) cobs were used to be supervised by only one assayer. For the eight reales coin, an additional special collar was used to produce an edge design, giving a protective corded edge consisting of a design resembling a tulip. Any clipping or filing would be immediately evident. Because of their uniform size, weight without cracks or uneven edges and their deep full strike with all information clearly visible, they were difficult to clip or counterfeit. Testament to this is being popular with merchants in the Orient.

Although these designs were actually struck from Spanish American mints, they circulated not only in the American colonies, but also in the Orient, including the Philippines. It was actually the chief currency during the forty period (1732 - 1772) of its luster. Not only was striking beauty contributed to the popularity of the series, but also it was highly regarded for its silver content and weight.


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