Spanish dollar

Spanish dollar

The Spanish dollar (also known as the "piece of eight", the "real de a ocho", or the "eight real coin") is a silver coin, worth eight reales, that was minted in the Spanish Empire after a Spanish currency reform in 1497. It was legal tender in the United States until an Act of the United States Congress discontinued the practice in 1857. Through widespread use in Europe, the Americas and the Far East, it became the first world currency by the late 18th century. Many existing currencies, such as the Canadian dollar, United States dollar and the Chinese yuan, as well as currencies in Latin America and the Philippine peso were initially based on the Spanish dollar and other 8 reales coins. 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, Salvadoran, Uruguayan and Venezuelan pesos.



Following 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 reales coin in 1497.

The coin was minted with several different designs in the following centuries at various mints in Spain through to the 19th century, having gained wide acceptance beyond Spain's borders. In the 19th century, the coin's denomination was changed to 20 reales (based on 20 "reales de vellón") and finally 2 escudos.

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

In the 1990s, commemorative 2000 pesetas coins were minted, similar in size and weight to the 8 reales and also with high finesse.


Following independence in 1821, Mexican coinage of silver reales and gold escudos followed that of Spanish lines until decimalisation and the introduction of the peso. The Mexican 8 reales coin (eventually becoming a 1 peso coin) continued to be a popular international trading coin throughout the 19th century.

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

Ireland and British colonies

The term "cob", for a piece of eight or a Spanish-American dollar, was used in Ireland and the British colonies during the period when Spanish-American gold and silver coins were irregularly shaped and crudely struck.

United States

The Coinage Act of 1792 created the United States Mint, but the first U.S. dollars were not as popular as the Spanish dollars, which were heavier and were made of finer silver. An eight real coin nominally weighed 550.209 Spanish grains, which is 423.900 troy/avoirdupois grains (0.883125 troy ounce or 27.468 grams), .93055 fine: so contained 0.821791 troy ounce (25.560 grams) fine silver. Its weight and purity varied significantly between mints and over the centuries. In contrast, the Coinage Act of 1792 specified that the U.S. dollar would contain 371 4/16 grain (24.1 g) pure or 416 grain (27.0 g) standard silver.

The coins had a nominal value of eight "reales" ("royals"). The coins were often physically cut into eight "bits", or sometimes four quarters, to make smaller change. This is the origin of the colloquial name pieces of eight for the coin, and of "quarter" and "two bits" for twenty-five cents in the United States.

Prior to the American Revolution there was, due to British mercantilist policies, a chronic shortage of British currency in its colonies. Trade was often conducted using Spanish dollars. Spanish coinage was legal tender in the United States until an Act of Congress discontinued the practice in 1857. The pricing of equities on U.S. stock exchanges in 1/8 dollar denominations persisted until the New York Stock Exchange converted to pricing in sixteenths of a dollar on June 24, 1997, to be followed shortly after by decimal pricing.

Long tied to the lore of piracy, "pieces of eight" were manufactured in the Americas and transported in bulk back to Spain (to pay for wars and various other things), making them a very tempting target for seagoing pirates. Some pirates were among the richest people in the world. The Manila Galleon transported Mexican silver to Manila in Spanish Philippines, where it would be exchanged for Philippine and Chinese goods, since silver was the only foreign commodity China would take. In oriental trade, Spanish dollars were often stamped with Chinese characters known as "chop marks" which indicate that particular coin had been assayed by a well-known merchant and determined genuine.

Thanks to the vast silver deposits that were found in Mexico (for example, at Taxco and Zacatecas) and Potosí in modern-day Bolivia, and to silver from Spain's possessions throughout the Americas, mints in Mexico and Peru also began to strike the coin.

Millions of Spanish dollars were minted over the course of several centuries. They were among the most widely circulating coins of the colonial period in the Americas, and were still in use in North America and in South-East Asia in the 19th century. They had a value of one dollar when circulating in the United States.

The coin is roughly equivalent to the silver thaler issued in Bohemia and elsewhere since 1517. The German name "thaler" (pronounced "tah-ler" — and "dahler" in Low German) became "dollar" in French and English.

In fiction

In modern pop-culture and fiction, "Pieces of Eight" are most often associated with the popular notion of pirates.

Fictional portrayals

* In Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island", Long John Silver's parrot had apparently been trained to cry out, "Pieces of eight!" This use tied the coin (and parrots) to fictional depictions of pirates.
* In Terry Pratchett's "Going Postal", Reacher Gilt's parrot cries out "twelve and a half percent!" as a parody of Long John Silver's parrot.
* In "Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates" pieces of eight are the primary in-game currency.
* In the Pirate Lords must meet together by presenting the "Nine Pieces of Eight", since these Pieces were used to seal the goddess Calypso in her human form by the first Brethren Court. As the Pirate Lords were, at the time of sealing Calypso into her human form, too poor to offer real Spanish dollars, they opted to use personal talismans instead.
* "Pieces of Eight" is the name of a novelty pirate store outside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland California.
* In "RuneScape" pieces of eight are a reward for a pirate-themed minigame called "Trouble Brewing" and can be used to purchase special pirate attire. [ [ RuneScape - the massive online adventure game by Jagex Ltd ] ]
* In the Amiga and PC pirate-themed adventure game series, "Monkey Island", the traded currency is the piece of eight.
* in Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle numismatics, gold and Pieces of eight are an integral part of the plot. In the second volume "The Confusion" there is also a subtle reference to the fact that a Piece of eight is composed of 8 "bits" (it is thus a sort of "byte" and a unit of information transfer).
* "Pieces of Eight" is the title of a pirate themed coin game by Atlas Games []

ee also

*Spanish real
*Maria Theresa thaler


External links

* [ The Spanish dollar and the colonial shilling]
* [ Information on Columnarios]
* [ Cached legacy website dedicated to 8-Real Spanish Milled Dollars]

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