The Spanish 8-Reales silver coin set the tone for future international trade coins.
The real (meaning: "royal", plural: reales) was a unit of currency in Spain for several centuries after the mid-14th century, but changed in value relative to other units introduced. In 1864, the real was replaced by a new escudo, then by the peseta in 1868, when a real came to mean a quarter of a peseta.
The first real was introduced by King Pedro I of Castile in the mid 14th century at a value of 3 maravedíes. This rate of exchange increased until 1497, when the real, now issued in billon, was fixed at a value of 34 maravedíes. The famous "piece of eight" (peso de a ocho), also known as the Spanish dollar, was issued that same year as a trade coin. Its purpose was to correspond to the German thaler.
Use in the Colonies and Worldwide
The eight-real later became widespread in North America and Asia. The "piece of eight" was so-called because the denomination was divided into eight silver reales (8 reales = 1 silver peso). In addition to the "piece of eight," which was a one-ounce (28 g) silver coin, other coins based on it were issued: 4 reales, 2 reales, 1 real and the little (12 mm diameter) half real.
The Spanish dollar was widely used by many countries as international currency because of its uniformity in standard and milling characteristics. Some countries countersigned the Spanish dollar so it could be used as their local currency.
The silver real (Spanish: real de plata) was the currency of the Spanish colonies in America and the Philippines. In the seventeenth century the silver real was established at two billon reals (reales de vellón) or sixty-eight maravedís. The coins circulated throughout Spain's colonies and beyond, with the eight-real piece becoming an international standard and spawning, among other currencies, the United States dollar. A reform in 1737 set the silver real at two and half billon reals (reales de vellón) or eighty-five maravedís. This coin, called the real de plata fuerte, became the new standard, issued as coins until the early 19th century.
Coins were produced at mints in Bogotá, Caracas, Guatemala City, Lima, Mexico City, Popayán, Potosí, Santo Domingo and Santiago.
After the independence of Spain's colonies, the real was replaced by currencies also denominated in reales and escudos, including the Argentine real, Central American Republic real, Ecuadorian real, Honduran real, Paraguayan real and Santo Domingo real.
From 1572 to 1773 Spanish colonial silver coins were cobs. Initially cut from a silver bar and hammer struck on a coin die, they were accurate in weight, though sometimes debased in precious metal content. However unlike machined coins, they were often irregular in shape, especially if a too-thick coin was clipped by the mint to reach the proper weight. After 1732 similar, but better shaped cobs were produced on screw presses. Cob denominations were 1/2, 1, 2, 4, and 8 reales. When circulating in New England the larger coins might be cut to give intermediate values; since a real was nicknamed a "bit", the expression "two bits" came to mean a quarter dollar.
Spanish 8 reales cob.
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