The legendary “First Dollar of the New World,” 8 Reales  struck in Mexico City by the Spanish in 1538, sold for $528,000

Spanish 1538 8 Reales struck in Mexico City is finest of three known to exist

The legendary “First Dollar of the New World,” 8 Reales  struck in Mexico City by the Spanish in 1538, sold for $528,000, Aug. 17, at an auction of ancient and world coins held by Heritage Auctions in Philadelphia.

The first dollar-sized coin struck in the Americas, it was minted under the joint Spanish reign of Charles I and his mother, Joanna. The 8 Reales auctioned is the finest of three known specimens, which made world history when salvaged in the 1990s from the northern Caribbean shipwreck of the “Golden Fleece.”

“The bold design of Spain’s 1538 8 Reales is highly symbolic,” said Cristiano Bierrenbach, Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President of International Numismatics. “It signifies the end of the middle ages and establishes Spain’s powerful accomplishment of settling the New World.”The legendary “First Dollar of the New World,” 8 Reales  struck in Mexico City by the Spanish in 1538, sold for $528,000

Native New World mint workers in Mexico City struck the silver coin about two years after the Spanish Empire opened a mint there in 1536. It features a Gothic style of numerous letters and the crowned royal shield of Spain. The reverse of the coin bears the Pillars of Hercules with a banner with the words ‘PLVS,’ or ‘beyond,’ which defies Spain’s ancient motto Ne Plus Ultra, meaning ‘nothing further beyond.’

“No major museum holds one of these three 8 Reales coins in its collections,” Bierrenbach said, “and that’s why auctions such as this are an extraordinary opportunity to own one of the world’s historically most important coins.”

Below is the Auction Catalog description of the coin as presented in the 2018 August 17 ANA WFOM World Coins & Ancient Coins Platinum Night Auction – Philadelphia #3066 as #LOT #30386

Charles and Johanna “Early Series” Rincón 8 Reales ND (c. 1538) •M•-•M• AU50 NGC, Mexico City mint, 36.5mm, 27.13g, KM-Unl., Calico-68, Nesmith-Unl. hISP[]ИIE : [ornament?] : [ornament?] : ET : IИDIARRVM : RE [truncated S?]:, a pair of crown-topped pillars (representing the Pillars of Hercules), rhomboidal banner in between with the word PLVS, one pellet above, one in either corner; R below (for Francisco del Rincón), cross above (value marker), all with inner beaded border / AKROLVVS (V double struck) : [ornament?] : ET : IOhAИA : D, crowned shield with turrets in first and fourth quadrants (representing Castile), and lions in the second and third (representing Leon), pomegranate at bottom (representing Granada); •M• (mintmark, stacked) on either side, all within inner beaded border. Perfectly centered and well-struck for the type. Wonderful slate gray surfaces that continue to emit rays of gorgeous mint luster.

Once considered to be a purely conjectural piece, this earliest of crown-sized coins struck in the New World–just two years after the establishment of the mint (later Mexico City) by royal charter in 1536–represents a minuscule group of just 3 known pieces recovered from the shipwreck of the “Golden Fleece” (sunk c. 1550) in 1990, and sold at public auction in 2004, 2006, and 2014 respectively.

First suggested by the testimony of Francisco Tello de Sandoval after an investigation of the mint in 1545 (though legislation for the minting of such pieces had been issued on November 18, 1537), the present offering displays all of the tell-tale signs concordant with this and other 16th-century accounts while hardly evincing a trace of saltwater damage:

  • The legends, crudely blundered in numerous places and often showing double-striking, frequently contain breaks, in keeping with nearly ubiquitous contemporary statements that such pieces were “very difficult” to mint.
  • There is, in general, very little wear on the flan, with the coin maintaining nearly its full weight, confirming Juan Gutierrez’s statement that they “were not circulating”.
  • It carries the initial of the mint’s first assayer, Francisco del Rincón, who served his two-year term of office between 1536 and 1538.

Aside from the unabashed illiteracy of the legends (a sign that these early pieces were produced by native, New World mint workers), the present offering bears several other key clues to its early production, including the older, Gothic style of numerous letters in the legends, most particularly the M mintmarks on either side of the crowned royal shield of Spain, while the remainder of the orthography conforms to “new” Latin lettering.

From a more world-historical perspective, while this initial experiment aimed at a colonial crown-sized silver coinage initially failed, such experimentation conformed with and reflected Spain’s newfound wealth and domineering aspirations at the dawn of the sixteenth-century. Perhaps planned as the potential backbone of a nascent colonial empire, this issue proudly asserts Spain’s central position in the world political order, conveying via the motto between the Pillars of Hercules–the old border of the known world–PLVS (“beyond”, in direct defiance of the ancient motto Ne Plus Ultra, nothing further beyond) that the new superpower was no longer to sit idly on the edge of global affairs.

While earlier offerings of this type were somewhat hampered by confusion over the quantity of pieces recovered, which we now know to be only three, typically achieving $350,000 to $450,000, the sale of a third (but inferior) piece in 2014 for $587,500 demonstrated the untapped potential of this exquisite issue. With the current piece far outranking the 2014 specimen in terms both of execution and preservation, we expect this truly magisterial piece to soar to ever greater heights, and it is sure to ignite the fiercest of bidding amongst potential buyers.
Ex. Heritage New York Signature Auction #397, January 2006, Lot 14177
Selection from the Isaac Rudman Numismatic Cabinet

Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

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