Spanish dollar

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Silver dollar of the Catholic Monarchs, after 1497
Reyes Catolicos 8 reales 28829.jpg
"Ferdinand and Elisabeth, by the Grace of God"
Displays the arms of the Catholic Monarchs post 1492, with Granada in base. Letter S on the left is the sign of the mint of Seville and VIII on the right i.e. eight in roman numerals.
"King and Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon…"
Displays the personal emblems of the monarchs: Isabella's yoke and Ferdinand's arrows.
Silver dollar of Philip V of Spain, 1739
Philip V Coin silver, 8 Reales Mexico.jpg
"Both (are) one, Mexico [City Mint], 1739"
Displays two hemispheres of a world map, crowned between the Pillars of Hercules adorned with the PLUS VLTR[A] motto.
"Philip V, by the Grace of God, King of the Spains and the Indies"
Displays the arms of Castile and León with Granada in base and an inescutcheon of Anjou.
Silver dollar of Ferdinand VI of Spain, 1753
Ferdinand VI Coin.jpg
"Both (are) one, Mexico [City Mint], 1753." Displays two hemispheres of a world map, crowned between the Pillars of Hercules adorned with the PLUS VLT[R]A motto.
"Ferdinand VI, by the Grace of God, King of the Spains and the Indies"
Displays the arms of Castile and León with Granada in base and an inescutcheon of Anjou.
Silver dollar of King Charles IV of Spain, 1806
Carlos IV Coin.jpg
CAROLUS IIII DEI GRATIA 1806 "Charles IV by the Grace of God, 1806." Right profile of Charles IV in soldier's dress with laurel wreath. It was under the reign of this monarch that the United States Mint began the U.S. silver dollar in 1794.
HISPAN[IARUM] ET IND[IARUM] REX M[EXICO] 8 R[EALES] T H"King of the Spains and the Indies, Mexico [City Mint], 8 Reales." Crowned Spanish coat of arms between the Pillars of Hercules adorned with PLVS VLTRA motto
Silver dollar of Ferdinand VII of Spain, 1821
Ferdinand VII Coin.jpg
FERDIN[ANDUS] VII DEI GRATIA 1821"Ferdinand VII by the Grace of God, 1821." Right profile of Ferdinand VII with cloak and laurel wreath
HISPAN[IARUM] ET IND[IARUM] REX M[EXICO] 8 R[EALES] I I"King of the Spains and the Indies, Mexico [City Mint], 8 reales." Crowned Spanish coat of arms between the Pillars of Hercules adorned with PLVS VLTRA motto

The Spanish dollar, also known as the piece of eight (Spanish : Real de a ocho, Dólar, Peso duro, Peso fuerte or Peso), is a silver coin of approximately 38 mm (1.5 in) diameter worth eight Spanish reales. It was minted in the Spanish Empire following a monetary reform in 1497 with content 25.563 g = 0.822 oz t fine silver. It was widely used as the first international currency because of its uniformity in standard and milling characteristics. Some countries countermarked the Spanish dollar so it could be used as their local currency. [1]


Because the Spanish dollar was widely used in Europe, the Americas, and the Far East, it became the first world currency by the late 18th century. [2] [3] [4]

The Spanish dollar was the coin upon which the original United States dollar was based (at 0.7735 oz t = 24.0566 g), and it remained legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857. Many other currencies around the world, such as the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan, were initially based on the Spanish dollar and other 8-real coins. [5] Diverse theories link the origin of the "$" symbol to the columns and stripes that appear on one side of the Spanish dollar. [6]

The term peso was used in Spanish to refer to this denomination, and it became the basis for many of the currencies in the former Spanish colonies, including the Argentine, Bolivian, Chilean, Colombian, Costa Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Honduran, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Paraguayan, Philippine, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Salvadoran, Uruguayan, and Venezuelan pesos. Of these, "peso" remains the name of the official currency in the Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.



In the 16th century, Count Hieronymus Schlick of Bohemia began minting a silver coin known as a Joachimsthaler (from German thal, modern spelling Tal , "valley", cognate with "dale" in English), named for Joachimsthal , the valley in the Ore Mountains where the silver was mined. [7] Joachimsthaler was later shortened to thaler or taler, a word that eventually found its way into many European languages including the Spanish tálero and English as dollar . [7]

Europe and colonial North America

The Joachimsthaler weighed 451 Troy grains (29.2 g = 0.94 oz t) of silver. So successful were these coins that similar thalers were minted in Burgundy and France. This coin was then succeeded by the long-lived Reichsthaler of the Holy Roman Empire, used from the 16th to 19th centuries, of 25.984 g = 0.8355 oz t pure silver.

The Netherlands also introduced its own dollars in the 16th century: the Burgundian Cross Thaler (Bourgondrische Kruisdaalder), the German-inspired Rijksdaalder , and the Dutch liondollar (leeuwendaalder). The latter coin was used for Dutch trade in the Middle East, in the Dutch East Indies and West Indies, and in the Thirteen Colonies of North America. [8]

For the English North American colonists, however, the Spanish peso or "piece of eight" has always held first place, and this coin was also called the "dollar" as early as 1581. After the Declaration of American Independence, the United States dollar was introduced in 1792 at par with this coin at 371.25 grains = 0.7735 troy ounces = 24.0566 g. Alexander Hamilton arrived at these numbers based on a treasury assay of the average fine silver content of a selection of worn Spanish dollars. [9]

The term cob was used in Ireland and the British colonies to mean a piece of eight or a Spanish-American dollar, because Spanish gold and silver coins were irregularly shaped and crudely struck before the machine-milled dollar was introduced in 1732.


A silver Spanish dollar minted in Mexico City c. 1650 17th Century Spanish Treasure Silver 8 Reales Cob Coin.jpg
A silver Spanish dollar minted in Mexico City c.1650

After the introduction of the Guldengroschen in Austria in 1486, the concept of a large silver coin with high purity (sometimes known as "specie" coinage) eventually spread throughout the rest of Europe. Monetary reform in Spain brought about the introduction of an 8-real (or 1-peso) coin in 1497, minted to the following standards-

This was supplemented in 1537 by the gold escudo, minted at 68 to a mark of gold 0.917 fine (fineness reduced to 0.906 in 1742 and 0.875 in 1786). It was valued at 15–16 reales or approximately 2 dollars. The famed Gold Doubloon was worth 2 escudos or approximately 4 dollars.

From the 15th to the 19th centuries the coin was minted with several different designs at various mints in Spain and the New World, having gained wide acceptance beyond Spain's borders. Thanks to the vast silver deposits that were found mainly in Potosí in modern-day Bolivia and to a lesser extent in Mexico (for example, at Taxco and Zacatecas), and to silver from Spain's possessions throughout the Americas, mints in Mexico and Peru also began to strike the coin. The main New World mints for Spanish dollars were at Potosí, Lima, and Mexico City (with minor mints at Bogotá, Popayán, Guatemala City, and Santiago), and silver dollars from these mints could be distinguished from those minted in Spain by the Pillars of Hercules design on the reverse.

The dollar or peso was divided into 8 reales in Spanish Latin America until 19th century when the peso was divided instead into 100 centavos. However, monetary turbulence in Spain beginning under the reign of King Philip II resulted in the dollar being subdivided as follows in Spain only:

Spain's adoption of the peseta in 1869 and its joining the Latin Monetary Union meant the effective end of the last vestiges of the Spanish dollar in Spain itself. However, the 5-peseta coin (or duro) was slightly smaller and lighter but was also of high purity (90%) silver.

In the 1990s, commemorative 2,000-peseta coins were minted, similar in size and weight to the dollar.


Spanish Real de a Ocho coin (sometimes referred to as a "dollar") minted in Mexico City c. 1809 Spanish Dollar, minted in Mexico City 1809.jpg
Spanish Real de a Ocho coin (sometimes referred to as a “dollar”) minted in Mexico City c.1809

Following independence in 1821, Mexican coinage of silver reales and gold escudos followed that of Spanish lines until decimalization and the introduction of the peso worth 8 reales or 100 centavos. It continued to be minted to Spanish standards throughout the 19th century, with the peso at 27.07 g of 0.9028 fine silver, and the escudo at 3.383 g of 0.875 fine gold. The Mexican peso or 8-real coin continued to be a popular international trading coin throughout the 19th century.

After 1918, the peso was reduced in size and fineness, with further reductions in the 1940s and 1950s. However, 2- (1921), 5- (1947) and 10- (1955) peso coins were minted during the same period with sizes and fineness similar to the old peso.


After the colony of New South Wales was founded in Australia in 1788, it ran into the problem of a lack of coinage, particularly since trading vessels took coins out of the colony in exchange for their cargo. In 1813, Governor Lachlan Macquarie made creative use of £10,000 in Spanish dollars sent by the British government. To make it difficult to take the coins out of the colony, and to double their number, the centres of the coins were punched out. The punched centre, known as the "dump", was valued at 15 pence, and the outer rim, known as the "holey dollar", was worth five shillings. This was indicated by overstamping the two new coins. The obverse of the holey dollar was stamped the words "New South Wales" and the date, 1813, and the reverse with the words "five shillings". The obverse of the dump was stamped with a crown, the words "New South Wales" and the date, 1813, and the reverse with the words "fifteen pence". The mutilated coins became the first official currency produced specifically for circulation in Australia. [11] The expedient was relatively short lived. The British Parliament passed the Sterling Silver Money Act in 1825, which made British coins the only recognised form of currency and ended any legitimate use of the holey dollar and dump in the Australian colonies. [12]

United States

The Coinage Act of 1792 created the United States Mint and initially defined the United States dollar at par with the Spanish dollar due to its international reputation:

By far the leading specie coin circulating in America was the Spanish silver dollar, defined as consisting of 387 grains of pure silver. The dollar was divided into "pieces of eight," or "bits," each consisting of one-eighth of a dollar. Spanish dollars came into the North American colonies through lucrative trade with the West Indies. The Spanish silver dollar had been the world's outstanding coin since the early 16th century, and was spread partially by dint of the vast silver output of the Spanish colonies in Latin America. More important, however, was that the Spanish dollar, from the 16th to the 19th century, was relatively the most stable and least debased coin in the Western world. [13]

The Coinage Act of 1792 specified that the U.S. dollar would contain 371.25 grains (24.057 g) pure or 416 grains (26.96 g) standard silver. This specification was based on the average weight of a random selection of worn Spanish dollars which Alexander Hamilton ordered to be weighed at the Treasury. Initially this dollar was comparable to the 371–373 grains found in circulating Spanish dollars and aided in its exportation overseas. [14] The restoration of the old 0.9028 fineness in the Mexican peso after 1821, however, increased the latter's silver content to 24.44 g and reduced the export demand for U.S. dollars.

Before the American Revolution, owing to British mercantilist policies, there was a chronic shortage of British currency in Britain's colonies. Trade was often conducted with Spanish dollars that had been obtained through illicit trade with the West Indies. Spanish coinage was legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857 discontinued the practice. The pricing of equities on U.S. stock exchanges in 18-dollar denominations persisted until the New York Stock Exchange converted first to pricing in sixteenths of a dollar on 24 June 1997, and then in 2001 to decimal pricing.


1888 Mexican dollar with Chinese "chop" marks 1888 Mexico 8 Reals Trade Coin Silver.jpg
1888 Mexican dollar with Chinese "chop" marks

Long tied to the lore of piracy, "pieces of eight" were manufactured in the Spanish Americas and transported in bulk back to Spain, making them a very tempting target for seagoing pirates. In the Far East, it also arrived in the form of the Philippine peso in the Philippines as part of the Spanish East Indies of the Spanish colonial empire through the Manila galleons that transported Mexican silver peso to Manila in the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, [15] [16] where it would be exchanged for Philippine and Chinese goods, [17] [18] since silver was the only foreign commodity China would accept. In Oriental trade, Spanish dollars were often stamped with Chinese characters known as "chop marks" which indicated that particular coin had been assayed by a well-known merchant and determined to be genuine. The specifications of the Spanish dollar became a standard for trade in the Far East, with later Western powers issuing trade dollars, and colonial currencies such as the Hong Kong dollar, to the same specifications.

The first Chinese yuan coins had the same specification as a Spanish dollar, leading to a continuing equivalence in some respects between the names "yuan" and "dollar" in the Chinese language. Other currencies also derived from the dollar include the Japanese yen, Korean won, Philippine peso, Malaysian ringgit, French Indochinese piastre, etc since it was widely traded across the Far East in the East Indies and the East Asia. [19]

Contemporary names used for Spanish dollars in Qing Dynasty China include běnyáng (本洋), shuāngzhù (双柱), zhùyáng (柱洋), fóyáng (佛洋), fótóu (佛頭), fóyín (佛銀), and fótóuyín (佛頭銀). The "fó" element in those Chinese names referred to the King of Spain in those coins, as his face resembled that of images of the Buddha (佛 in chinese); and the "zhù" part of those names referred to the two pillars in the Spanish coat of arms.


In modern pop culture and fiction, pieces of eight are most often associated with the popular notion of pirates.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dollar</span> Name of monetary currency

Dollar is the name of more than 20 currencies. The United States dollar, named after the international currency known as the Spanish dollar, was established in 1792 and is the first so named that still survives. Others include the Australian dollar, Brunei dollar, Canadian dollar, Eastern Caribbean dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Jamaican dollar, Liberian dollar, Namibian dollar, New Taiwan dollar, New Zealand dollar, Singapore dollar, Trinidad and Tobago Dollar and several others. The symbol for most of those currencies is the dollar sign $ in the same way as many countries using peso currencies. The name "dollar" originates from Bohemia and a 29 g silver-coin called the Joachimsthaler.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mexican peso</span> Currency of Mexico

The Mexican peso is the currency of Mexico. Modern peso and dollar currencies have a common origin in the 16th–19th century Spanish dollar, most continuing to use its sign, "$".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spanish peseta</span> Currency of Spain from 1868 to 2002

The peseta was the currency of Spain between 1868 and 2002. Along with the French franc, it was also a de facto currency used in Andorra.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peso</span> Name of several monetary units

The peso is the monetary unit of several countries in the Americas and the Philippines. Originating in the Spanish Empire, the word peso translates to "weight". In most countries of the Americas, the peso uses the same sign, "$", as many currencies named "dollar". The sign "₱" is used in the Philippines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philippine peso</span> Currency of the Philippines

The Philippine peso, also referred to by its Tagalog name piso, is the official currency of the Philippines. It is subdivided into 100 sentimo, also called centavos.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coins of the Philippine peso</span>

Philippine peso coins are issued by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for circulation in the Philippines and are currently available in seven denominations. The Philippine peso has been in use since Spanish rule.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doubloon</span> Two-escudo or 32-real gold coin

The doubloon was a two-escudo gold coin worth approximately $4 or 32 reales, and weighing 6.766 grams of 22-karat gold . Doubloons were minted in Spain and the viceroyalties of New Spain, Peru, and Nueva Granada. As the Spanish escudo succeeded the heavier gold excelente as the standard Spanish gold coin, the doubloon therefore succeeded the doble excelente or double-ducat denomination.

Trade dollars are silver coins minted as trade coins by various countries to facilitate trade with China and the Orient. They all approximated in weight and fineness to the Spanish dollar, which had set the standard for a de facto common currency for trade in the Far East.

Spanish <i>real</i> Historical currency of Spain, used from the mid-14th century to 1868

The real was a unit of currency in Spain for several centuries after the mid-14th century. It underwent several changes in value relative to other units throughout its lifetime until it was replaced by the peseta in 1868. The most common denomination for the currency was the silver eight-realSpanish dollar or peso which was used throughout Europe, America and Asia during the height of the Spanish Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">French Indochinese piastre</span> Currency of French Indochina (1885-1952)

The piastre de commerce was the currency of French Indochina between 1885 and 1952. It was subdivided into 100 cents, each of 2~6 sapèques.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spanish colonial real</span>

The silver real 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 or sixty-eight maravedís. Gold escudos were also issued. The coins circulated throughout Spain's colonies and beyond, with the eight-real piece, known in English as the Spanish dollar, 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 or eighty-five maravedís. This coin, called the real de plata fuerte, became the new standard, issued as coins until the early 19th century. The gold escudo was worth 16 reales de plata fuerte.

The pataca was a monetary unit of account used in Portuguese Timor between 1894 and 1958, except for the period 1942–1945, when the occupying Japanese forces introduced the Netherlands Indies gulden and the roepiah. As in the case of the Macanese pataca which is still in use today, the East Timor unit was based on the silver Mexican dollar coins which were prolific in the wider region in the 19th century. These Mexican dollar coins were in turn the lineal descendants of the Spanish pieces of eight which had been introduced to the region by the Portuguese through Portuguese Malacca, and by the Spanish through the Manila Galleon trade.

The Philippine real was the currency of the Philippines during the Spanish Colonial Era. Brought over in large quantities by the Manila galleons, eight silver reales made up a silver peso or a dollar. 16 silver real were equal to one gold escudo.

This article provides an outline of the currency of Spanish America from Spanish colonization in the 15th century until Spanish American independencies in the 19th. This great realm was divided into the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which came to include all Spanish territory north of Panama, the West Indies, Venezuela, and the Philippines, and the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included Panama and all Spanish territory in South America except Venezuela. The monetary system of Spanish America, originally identical to that of Spain, soon diverged and took on a distinctive character of its own, which it passed on to the independent nations that followed after.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Currency of Venezuela</span>

The currency of Venezuela has been in circulation since the end of the 18th century. The present currency unit in Venezuela is the Venezuelan bolívar.

Currency in Colombia denotes the ingots, coins, and banknotes that have been used in Colombia since 1622. It was in that year, under a licence purchased from King Philip III of Spain, that Turrillo de Yebra established a mint at Santa Fe de Bogotá and a branch mint at Cartagena de las Indias, where gold cobs were produced as part of Colombia's first currency. Silver milled coins date from 1627. In 1831, Gran Colombia dissolved into Venezuela and New Granada. In 1836, in New Granada, new monetary laws were passed, to standardise the money produced in the country. From 1861 to 1862, due to financial instability, the United States of New Granada accepted British currency, the name of the country becoming the United States of Colombia in 1862. In 1880, Colombia pegged the peso to the gold standard due to the falling price of silver. In 1886, the paper peso was introduced. In 1931, Colombia abandoned the gold standard and switched to the current form of the peso.

The article provides a historical summary of the currency used in Ecuador. The present currency of Ecuador is the United States dollar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States dollar</span> Official currency of the United States

The United States dollar is the official currency of the United States and several other countries. The Coinage Act of 1792 introduced the U.S. dollar at par with the Spanish silver dollar, divided it into 100 cents, and authorized the minting of coins denominated in dollars and cents. U.S. banknotes are issued in the form of Federal Reserve Notes, popularly called greenbacks due to their predominantly green color.

The history of Philippine money covers currency in use before the Hispanic era with gold Piloncitos and other commodities in circulation, as well as the adoption of the peso during the Hispanic era and afterwards.


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  20. Or had learned to imitate the phrase after hearing it exclaimed over a spectacularly large horde: Treasure Island, chapter "The Voyage", states that the parrot was present at the "fishing up of the wrecked Plate ships" and 350,000 pieces of eight
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Further reading