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Coinyoshi's Blog

01 Oct 2022

Coins of Great Empires: Spain and the New World

Young Numismatists Exchange | Coinyoshi

The idea for this blog came from unlikely sources: a boring eighth-grade study hall, a game of chess, and my school library’s 972 section. I had already finished all of my homework (read chapter one of To Kill a Mockingbird and do 11 trigonometry problems) and was bored. So I decided to play a game of chess on my computer. My teacher told me to stop and do something productive. I went to the library and found the 972 section about the Spanish Conquest. I picked up a book about the Inca emperor Atahualpa and started flipping through it. Then something caught my eye. It was a picture of a Lima gold doubloon. I looked over and saw a poster about a trip to Spain centered on colonialism. I knew I hadn’t done a Coins of Great Empires blog in forever (my laptop broke last March and money.org was blocked on school computers last year) so I decided to do one about the coins of the Spanish Empire.

The Spanish Empire was one of the most powerful in the New World, controlling most of South America, Central America, Mexico, Florida, and the American Southwest. Formed in 1492 with the union of Castille and Aragon, it soon became the dominant power in Iberia and the New World after Columbus. Madrid effectively ran the Americas at that time. A wealth of gold and silver flowed to Spain from the new world as the conquistadors plundered the Aztecs and ransomed the Inca emperor for 750 tons of gold and silver. Much of the New World treasure was lost in wrecks such as the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the 1715 plate fleet. (I wrote about that in my shipwreck blog, if you want to read more) This left many artifacts at the bottom of the ocean on the American coast. The coins of the Spanish Colonial Empire are highly collectible. Some can be very pricy.

The Spanish monetary system at the time was called the Real. It is a very confusing system with six different denominations. But don’t worry: if I can describe the German States systems, I can certainly attempt this one. 1 Escudo = 6 Real = 64 Cuartillos = 544 Maravedis = 1,088 Blancas. 1 Excelente = 375 Maravedis. (OK. I had to use a calculator and some Numista statistics, but it worked.). The highest denomination ever minted by the Spanish for use in Spain was a 100 Escudo piece, equal to 108,800 Blancas. The highest denomination coin minted in the New World was the 8 Escudo coin, mostly struck in South America and Mexico. 

One of the most recognizable coins for colonial collectors is the 8 Escudo doubloon from Peru. Made of .917 fine gold, it was the inspiration for Ibrahim Brasher’s Brasher doubloon. The obverse of the 8 Escudo coin shows the coat of arms of Castile and Aragon. The reverse shows what looks like a tic-tac-toe board with letters and numbers. The letters and numbers shown on the coin picture I found spell out: L8MPVA717. The first two letters show that it was minted in Lima and it is an 8 Escudo coin. I have no idea what M, P, V, or A mean, but 717 means that it was minted in 1717. This coin, to me, is fascinating, but it is worth its weight in gold (even more than that :) ). The average price is around $40,000 for the ones I found!

One of the most famous New World coins is the Moby-Dick coin. It is known as such because Captain Ahab bribes his sailors with a gold doubloon if they can spot or catch the white whale, depending on the version of the story. The coin described is the Ecuadorian 8 Escudo coin, one pure ounce of gold. Even though the coin was minted after Ecuador’s independence from Spain, it still has quite a bit of Spanish design influence in the portrait on the obverse.

There is so much about Spanish colonial coins to cover that I can't explain them all in one blog. I might do part 2 on the colonial cobs and the Spanish coins used in the Thirteen Colonies during and after the American Revolution.

Thanks for reading, and see you in the next one!

Also, people ask me if the coins in my blogs are mine and, if not, where I get the pictures. No, 90% of the pieces in my blogs are not mine, even though I wish some of them are. Mostly I get photos online, from coin magazines and books, or from my friends that collect coins.


Read more: 

Numista pages on Peru and Spain

Britannica: Spanish Empire

Comments

Long Beard

Level 5

An extremely vital and rarely discussed subject. The influence, even to this day, are immeasurable. Well done indeed!

Kepi

Level 6

Great blog! Really enjoyed your writing and information! ; )

TCHTrove

Level 4

Excellent blog and history! Very nicely done!!

Mike

Level 7

I enjoyed your blog and thanks for the information. This is how we learn So I picked some pointers today thanks to you. Mike

Longstrider

Level 6

Very well done blog. Glad to see you back. Get your school to put Money.org back on. How is a guy supposed to learn? Anyhow thanks. I like your work here.

Coinyoshi

Level 4

They put money.org back on in August when they changed their blocking rules. I'm glad because now I can publish my blogs and earn YN dollars and stuff.

AC coin$

Level 6

Excellent blog and expanded information. There's a great source for coinage history if you seek into the Mexican "Situado" which was mostly the financeer of Hispanic America for more than two centuries. Thanks for sharing your research.

Coinyoshi

Level 4

Photo credit: Numista

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