“Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”
Surely these large silver rounds are one of the most iconic coins of all, what with their associations of buried treasure, pirates and parrots – all music to the ears of a coin nerd and history nut like me…if I don’t watch myself, the greed/desire overcomes reason in a flash and there’ll be a price to pay…(…it’s ok, I can afford it…!?!)
Could be a bargain…
They’re not really all that hard to come across. The Spanish made heaps and heaps of them over at least a couple of hundred years (as they pillaged their way through mines that included Potosi, pretty much a mountain of silver).
They don’t turn up every day, though, so when one’s on offer it’s tempting…is it a good deal..?…maybe the owner doesn’t know what they’ve got…I might not have this opportunity again…
The sad truth is that the coin in the photos is not genuine.
Fortunately the story behind it is not all bad news…
Milled vs cob 8 Reales
As an 18th century fake the piece pictured attempts to show all the features of a milled coin, which means it looks a lot like one that was run through a press, a form of production that I think only became widespread after around 1730 or so.
It does show a high amount of detail, still that’s not unreasonable for a milled coin of that time – especially if it had been locked away and hoarded (by a pirate!!!).
I’m on dicey ground here, but before that period, I understand that virtually every 8 Reales from the Spanish Main was most likely hammered, in fact even more roughly made – sliced off a bar of metal, quickly stamped and then clipped and filed to make the correct weight; these were the cob coins literally rushed back to Europe by the shipload so as to keep the Spanish treasury in the black (they were fighting a lot of people and needed the cash).
Interesting enough – however, clearly this is not one of those, and, it’s only my opinion – cob coins are just a bit too rough and ready anyway.
Still, this piece lies in potentially dangerous territory, especially for the inexperienced – 200+ year old antique silver coins minted with early technology – are they authentic and how can you tell ?
It’s got a Spanish number “5” and the date seems to be about right…
Buy the book before the (fake) coin ?!
Thankfully, I had remembered to take my own advice, and had bought a book (Eight Reales and Pesos of the New World, by C.A. Elizondo Jr.) well before heading out to see what might be around.
Then, when this piece appeared on the off chance at a show, I figured it was a smart buy.
Far from being misrepresented, it was described as a ‘contemporary counterfeit’ – not only inexpensive, but also, since it was made to pass as genuine, incorporating all the important features of the real deal. An authentic fake, if you like!
Funnily enough, that tipped the scales and money changed hands.
I don’t normally go for fakes of any kind, yet there were a lot of advantages in this particular purchase.
Knowlege is key to coin collecting, even of the negative variety, and there’s no substitute for being able to handle and inspect an example at your leisure – you get to see roughly what the lettering and the mintmark ought to look like and generally familarise yourself with the type. And it’s more satisfying than simply staring at photos!
Having a good long look in hand also provides experience in identifying the lack of detail in the designs, including the pattern on the edge, arising from its being cast (cheaper to do), rather than properly minted. Of course that’s a lot clearer when there is a genuine coin to compare with.
Still, with good photos, you can appreciate the differences and, as it happened coinquest.com allowed me to get a handle on the spot under the map of the world where the detail on the genuine coins stands out clearly, a useful point for future reference.
It turns out, in this instance, that the mintmark is one easy way to tell that the coin is not quite right because the Elizondo book (and coinquest, too) lets you know that the Santiago mint didn’t produce any 8 Reales in 1752 (apparently counterfeiters made the coin like this so they couldn’t be accused of faking money; they could argue that legal tender like this didn’t, in fact, exist and so could not be faked!).
Weight, it’s worth it
Of course checking the weight goes a long way to establishing if it truly is the genuine article – this one comes in at 21-22g when it ought to be up around 26-28g, so that’s a dead giveaway.
And using a set of scales allows you to avoid assessing the silver content by dropping it edge on to a marble counter to listen for the ringing tone of precious metal, as Venetian bankers liked to do!
In the end, far from being a worthless fake, this ‘check piece’ has proven its worth as a tool for learning about the coin type, which is a Spanish Pillar Dollar (one of the earlier types, without any portrait).
Frankly it’s astounding how easily we can delude ourselves when confronted with an object we desire – I reckon this old 1752 Santiago has saved me from making a bad choice more than once…