Shipwrecked Piece of Eight - 18g Silver Spanish Real
Shipwrecked Piece of Eight - 18g Silver Spanish Real
Tales of pirates looting Spanish galleons have entertained us for centuries, but the Spanish lost far more vessels to storms. The Nuestra Senora de la Concepción, a flagship of the Spanish navy, left Havana in September of 1641 at the head of a 21-ship fleet and carrying 100 tons of silver and gold. A hurricane struck almost immediately, hobbling the ship, which then drifted into the reefs and shoals along the Florida coast.
This specimen is a 18g silver coin from the wreck of the Concepción recovered in 1978 by Burt Webber, Jr. protégé of the great treasure hunter Mel Fisher. The real de a ocho, or Spanish "pieces of eight", was created in 1497 and went on to become the world's first global currency.
These silver coins were ubiquitous for traders between the Old and New Worlds. From their inception and up into the 19th century, they were a commonly used trading tool among ports on either side of the Atlantic. Their nickname comes from the practice of splitting the coin into eighths, which divided the inherent value of the silver.
📸 A selection of the silver spanish coins
Shipwrecked Pieces Of Eight
This piece of eight was recovered from the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepción, a flagship of the Spanish navy. The ship left Havana in September of 1641 at the head of a 21-ship fleet, carrying 100 tons of silver and gold. A hurricane struck almost immediately, hobbling the ship, which then drifted into the reefs and shoals along the Florida coast where it wrecked.
This specimen is shipped inside an anti-tarnish bag in a black hinged jewelry box along with an informational photo card and a certificate of authenticity.
We've done some light polishing to these coins to remove any tarnish present on the outside and reveal the details stamped into the surface of the coinage. These coins are listed by weight and you can see all the available items in the collection below.
📸 Dutch Carving of a port in 17th Century Havana
MORE ABOUT PIECES OF EIGHT
📸 Taken from our treasure chest at Mini Museum HQ
THE SPANISH DOLLAR
In today’s world, our money’s value is an ephemeral thing. It's tied to the hills and valleys of exchange markets, instead of any one material resource. As the world’s reserve currency, the US dollar’s value is determined by its accepted use on the global market, but this is a far cry from how money has functioned for much of human history.
The Spanish dollar served as the world’s first international currency from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Spain’s dominance as a political power and its uniformity in currency production made their coin the perfect world currency for its era. It facilitated the massive trade routes that sprung up between the Old and New Worlds and was widely used in the United States until the advent of the Coinage Act of 1857, which banned the use of foreign currency.
📸 A macro shot of the engravings still present on some coins
Tracing the exact history of the Spanish dollar has its difficulties, as the currency went through a centuries-long process of transforming, codifying the standards we use for currency today. The real (the denomination the coins stood for) was established officially in 1497 and continued well into the nineteenth century.
Over the years the Spanish dollar came to dominate the currency market. Despite certain standardizations, the prominence of the coin meant it was minted in many different countries all across the world, meaning the exact specifications varied considerably. The Spanish dollar circulated officially until 1869, when Spain retired the currency.
Unlike today’s currency, the Spanish dollar had a concrete material value in the weight of its silver. Sometimes, the coin was splintered into eight pie pieces to split its value, hence the nickname: pieces of eight. Since the coins’ value were tied directly to the silver they were made of, Spanish dollars were among the first coins to be ridged along their sides, to prevent coin clipping.
The Spanish dollar is often tied to the Golden Age of piracy, as the currency was widely circulated in the Caribbean where pirate attacks were common. Piracy in this area was so widespread because of these very trading routes that pieces of eight circulated through. But the Spanish dollar was not simply a piece of pirate lore, it set the standard for most every monetary system that followed, from our own US dollar to the Japanese Yen.
📸 A sample coin in hand
The U.S. dollar sign draws from the Spanish dollar, but there are a number of theories to its exact origins. A corruption of the “Pillars of Hercules” that appear on the Spanish coat of arms is one theory, while another posits the sign is a symbolic truncation of the Spanish word for slave. Other theories suggest the $ sign is two letters or symbols superimposed over each other, though no consensus has been reached over which of these theories is correct.
Next time you see a coin, take a closer look at it: consider its ridged edges, the uniformity in its design and symbols. Money has a long history that stretches back to the beginning of civilization, but only with the Spanish dollar were much of its features codified into what we use today. The coins rattling around in our pockets may not have much worth in their metal, but they’re a part of a long history that draws from before the founding of our monetary systems.
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
Pond, Shepard. “The Spanish Dollar: The World’s Most Famous Silver Coin.” Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, vol. 15, no. 1, 1941, pp. 12–16.
Seijas T, Frederick J. Spanish Dollars and Sister Republics: the Money That Made Mexico and the United States. Rowman & Littlefield; 2017.
Earle, Peter. The Treasure of the Concepción. Viking Adult, 1980.