Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #364
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
In the upcoming Heritage auction of the Moore Collection of high-quality world coins on January 9, at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, a major attraction is a 1652 Eight Reales coin struck in Potosí when most of South America was part of the Spanish Empire. Potosí is now in Bolivia.
This 1652 Eight Reales coin is NGC-certified as “MS-63” – a very high grade for a Latin American coin from the 17th century. This exact same coin was earlier in the Millennia Collection, one of the the all-time greatest assemblages of world coins.
This 1652 Eight Reales, Potosí Mint silver crown is of a special category of Latin American coins called ‘Royals.’ These were better struck on more carefully prepared blanks (planchets) than the typical silver or gold Latin American coins of the era were.
Nevertheless, Royals were not extremely well made. They were produced in the 1600s and 1700s by mints that made weakly struck coins and used poorly formed planchets. Indeed, rather than being very round, the average planchet often appeared like an odd toy haphazardly crafted by young children. As planchets for Royals were very much round (though far from perfectly so), they appear in marked contrast to typical Latin American coins. Also, in some cases, dies that were used for Royals were different from other dies for coins of the same denomination and design type.
Theories that Royals were made for colonial government officials or for emissaries of the King of Spain are curious but unsubstantiated. No one knows exactly why the coins were made. Most surviving Royals are characterized by readily noticeable wear. A theory should hold that the vast majority were circulated.
It was probably a mistake to refer to these coins as Royals. They were not special strikings in the sense of Proofs or non-Proof Specimen strikings.
Royals are just superior to the typical Latin American coins from around 1600 to the mid-1700s, which are usually referred to as cobs. Richard Doty emphasized that cobs “were so wretchedly minted that typical [coins] lack essential design elements.” On page 58 of The Macmillan Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatics (NY: 1982), Doty added that “most cobs” are “aesthetically abominable”!
While many surviving Royals show signs of having been used in or as jewelry, these particular survivors would not be an accurate sample of all Royals that were minted. It is likely that many circulating Royals were melted after they wore down considerably.
Throughout history, most heavily worn silver or gold coins were melted, as they lost weight and identifying details. Worn silver and gold coins were often melted as raw materials for new silver or gold coins. My theory is that mint officials probably released Royals as money, not as presentation pieces, to leading merchants and other influential people seeking coins, to deflect attention from the crude appearance of typical coins struck at mints in Latin America during the 1600s and early 1700s. I speculate that Latin American mint officials did not wish for powerful people to see only typical mint products and voice only negative opinions about the coins of the respective mints. Ensuring that influential people received Royals, as regular coins, from time to time was productive for political and public relations purposes.
As vast deposits of silver and gold were found in Latin America–perhaps more than the Spanish had ever dreamed possible–multiple colonial mints were extremely active for decades and even centuries. Undoubtedly, those managing these mints were under pressure to control costs and produce large quantities of coins.
Coins of the Spanish Empire were first produced in the Western hemisphere in the 1530s at the Mexico City Mint. In Lima, which is now part of the nation of Peru, a Spanish Empire Mint began operations in 1568, though it closed in 1589 and opened again late in the 17th century. The Potosí Mint, now part of Bolivia, began to strike coins during the 1570s. The mint in Bogotá (Colombia) opened in the early 1620s. The Spanish overlords founded additional mints in Latin America during the 17th century.
The mint in Potosí was extremely important, as extraordinarily rich silver deposits had been found nearby. The mintmark for Potosí was a letter ‘P’ or a monogram with three letters ‘PTS’. Each coin featured a mark by the assayer, too. On some coin types, including the Millennia-Moore topic coin of this discussion, the name Potosí is spelled in its entirety.
On this NGC-graded MS-63 1652 Eight Reales coin, the assayer’s initial is ‘E’. At Spanish mints, it was typical for coins to be each marked with the initial (or two initials) of an assayer, who was theoretically responsible for ensuring proper silver or gold content.
Eight Reales ≈ Silver Dollar ≈ Taler
For centuries, the Spanish Eight Reales coin was the main monetary unit in most all of South America, Central America and North America. Furthermore, the U.S. silver dollar was based upon the Eight Reales silver coin of the Spanish Empire. Indeed, a “Spanish Milled Dollar,” a ‘piece of eight’ and an Eight Reales silver coin are all the same thing. This unit followed the Talers (or “Thalers”) of German speaking societies in Europe, coins which originated in the 1400s.
From 1446 to 1490, Archduke Sigismund (1427-96) was the Count of Tyrol, which now spans parts of Italy and Austria. Sigismund’s ‘County’ government issued large silver coins that each weighed almost exactly one Troy ounce. These are similar to, and may have been the model for, the Joachimthalers that emerged later in the 15th century. The name of such coins was later shortened to thaler and then ‘Taler’. In 1551, the regime of King Edward VI of England issued five-shilling silver coins, called crowns, each was designed to be worth one-sixth of a Gold Sovereign.
For counting, storing wealth and trading, a silver crown is a unit of measure, a reference to a quantity of silver, and a main monetary unit for transactions. It is important to keep mind that German Talers, Spanish Eight Reales coins, Dutch ‘Lion Dollars’ (Leeuwendaalder), U.S. silver dollars and Japanese yen are silver crowns, as are similar coins produced in other societies from the 15th century to the early 20th century.
Historically, German Talers, English five shilling coins, and Spanish Eight Reales coins (“Spanish Milled Dollars”) were the most important crowns. Even during the 1840s, far more “Spanish Milled Dollars” circulated in the U.S. than U.S. silver dollars. Eight Reales coins continued to be the preferred currency for trade throughout much of Asia. In 1871, The Japanese yen was based upon the Eight Reales coin of the Spanish Empire, although this empire had dissolved decades earlier.
A Four Reales coin is similar to a U.S. half dollar and Two Reales coins are equivalent to U.S. quarters. During the 1600s, Half-Real, One Real, Two Reales and Four Reales coins were struck at the Potosí Mint in addition to Eight Reales silver coins. Other denominations were effected with countermarks on coins that had already circulated, and countermarks corresponded to silver content.
In the Spanish monetary system, the plural of “real” is “reales”. It is incorrect to refer to “reals” or to one “reale”. An Eight Reales coin is different from eight One Real coins.
The Millennia-Moore 1652 Eight Reales Royal was minted during the reign of King Philip IV, who was born in 1605. He became king of Spain and of Portugal in 1621. His reign over Portugal ended in 1640. Philip IV was king of Spain until he died in 1665.
On Latin American silver coins minted during his reign, symbols and words appear, rather than a portrait of the king. The two pillars on the reverse represent the two hemispheres, the ‘old world’ and the ‘new world’! Waves representing the Atlantic ocean are part of the design as well. Coats of arms have appeared on European coins for many centuries.
The castles and lions on Spanish coins relate to the evolution of modern Spain from smaller domains. A key event in the formation of Spain was the marriage of Queen Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1469. These were two large, very separate kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula.
The Millennia-Moore 1652 Eight Reales Royal is of a design type that dates from 1652 to 1665. All are extremely rare. The year 1652 appears three times, though only once in its entirety. At the time, the meaning of two digits, “52”, and three digits of a year, “652” was clear.
Potosí Mint Royals in The Millennia Collection
The Millennia Collection contained an astonishing, almost unbelievable run of Royals from the Potosí Mint. Latin American coins of the 17th century tend to be graded much more liberally than U.S. coins of the 19th century. Even so, surviving Potosí Mint coins from the 1600s, especially Royals, tend to have serious problems. Most surviving Royals have been mounted or holed. The quality of the group of Potosí Mint Royals in the Millennia Collection was simply amazing.
The NGC-graded MS-63, Millennia-Moore 1652 Eight Reales Royal was neither the oldest nor the rarest silver Royal in the Millennia Collection, though it was the highest certified of the group. In addition, this 1652 Royal exhibits almost zero contact marks under five-times magnification. I was able to view this coin for only a few seconds. A collector who is thinking about buying it may wish to examine it under stronger magnification or request that an expert do so. While five-times magnification is appropriate for most aspects of grading, there can be additives or interruptions in the metal on coins that require stronger magnification to identify.
If there are no such problems, this is a splendid coin. It is characterized by excellent mellow natural toning. The color is neither light nor dark, medium in nature, and apparently stable. There is no evidence of a substantial cleaning, and this coin has not been dipped in decades, if ever. The touches of orange-russet are particularly appealing. This is the most attractive, Eight Reales Royal that I have ever seen. It is really cool.
On May 26, 2008, in Los Angeles, this Royal realized $35,650, less than the previous lot, which was another Eight Reales, Potosí Mint Royal. That piece brought $36,800.
The Royal in the previous lot was NGC-graded MS-62, and was not nearly as appealing in terms of toning or surface texture. That piece, however, was dated 1850 and is from an earlier design type. The Hapsburg shield is featured on the obverse. That 1850 piece might be the finest known of a subtype.
The design of the topic coin, a 1652 Royal, is substantially different from the design of that 1850 Royal. Although Eight Reales Potosí Mint pieces of this (Krause R21) type were struck from 1652 to 1666, they are all extremely rare in the present.
There was another of this type in the Millennia Collection. An NGC-graded EF-45, Potosí Mint 1656 Royal brought $14,950. Although I just glanced at this 1656 Royal, it seemed to have appealing natural toning and no annoying marks.
The Millennia Collection also featured a 1674 Potosí Mint Royal of the following design (Krause R26) type, which is very similar to the (R21) type. An important difference is that Charles II became king of Spain in 1665 and his name appears on coins of this 1667 to 1700 type. This 1674 Eight Reales Royal was so poorly struck, however, that the name of the king is barely legible.
Like the already mentioned 1656 Philip IV Royal, this 1674 Charles II Royal is NGC-graded as Extremely Fine-45, which is fair enough. The U.S.-based bidders at the Millennia sale tended to be accepting of and comfortable with most of the grades assigned by NGC. This Charles II 1674 Royal went for $16,100.
Charles II was king of Spain for the remainder of the 17th century. Eight Reales Royals under his name were minted at Potosí almost every year from 1667 to 1700, though few survive.
A Charles II 1685 Royal in the Millennia Collection was NGC-graded EF-40 and realized $12,075. A 1690 Eight Reales, Potosí Mint Royal was counterstamped in Guatemala, evidently to be used as money there. It was also NGC-graded as EF-40 and sold for $6,900.
In April 2015, Heritage auctioned a similar coin for $8,225, a 1682 Charles II Potosí Mint Royal that was counterstamped in Guatemala in the 1830s, with an Eight Reales denomination. It was NGC-graded VF-30. These counterstamped pieces are important for multiple reasons, one of which is as additional evidence that Royals circulated as money.
As a type coin, the rarest Royal in the Millennia Collection was a 1727 Eight Reales piece struck in the name of King Luis I. He was king for just seven months in 1724 until he died of smallpox. Although coins in his name were also struck in Mexico City, this 1727 Potosí Mint piece is probably the finest known Eight Reales Latin American coin of King Luis I. It is NGC-graded MS-61 and realized $120,750, an astounding price for a Potosí Mint Royal.
In the Millennia Collection, there was a Mexico City Mint Eight Reales Royal of King Philip IV. This piece is of a design type that is much different from the topic coin.
This Mexico City Royal is dated 1850 and NGC-graded as EF-45. Although I examined it for just a few seconds, my preliminary impressions were very positive. It is not dark. It is characterized by natural gray toning, with touches of blue and orange-russet. The wear seems honest and even. There are no annoying contact marks.
Philip IV Eight Reales Royals are rare in general. Mexico City Mint pieces are even rarer than the Potosí Mint pieces. Though strong, the price realized of $92,000 for this Mexico City Mint Eight Reales Royal was unsurprising.
Eric Newman 1657 Eight Reales Royal
In August 2014, Heritage auctioned Eric Newman’s 1657 Philip IV Eight Reales Royal of the same (Krause R21) design type as the Millennia-Moore topic coin. The fact that the Newman coin was holed and plugged is noted on the NGC holder, which also indicates that it has “AU Details.” It brought $6,168.75.
In January 2014, in New York, this exact same piece sold for $8,225. It was then fresh and part of an epic offering of world coins from the Eric Newman Collection.
In August 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an uncertified Philip IV 1666 Eight Reales Royal with the details of an Extremely Fine to AU grade coin. It has been holed. That 1666 Royal is of the same (R21) type as the Millennia-Moore topic coin. It brought $6,580.
As the vast majority of surviving Philip IV Royals seem to have been holed and/or have other serious problems, very careful inspections are recommended. Even the sharpest of graders will miss imperfections at times.
If I had known as much about Eight Reales Royals in May 2008 as I currently know, I would have spent more time examining the Potosí Mint and Mexico City Mint Royals in the Millennia Collection. That group was even more incredible than I thought it to be in May 2008.
I devoted more time to 19th-century coins from independent Latin American societies. These tend to have more original, more artistic and less repetitive designs than coins of the Spanish Empire. Moreover, extremely rare and historically important 19th-century Latin American coins are not expensive. In contrast, a substantial collection of Spanish Empire Royals would cost a fortune and take many years to build.
Royals do not have to be systematically collected to be understood. Moreover, owning two or three Potosí or Mexico City Mint Royals would be interesting. Also, a couple of Spanish Empire Royals may constitute fascinating additions to a varied or general collection of colonial coins.
© 2016 Greg Reynolds
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