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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
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Culture:Mexican
Title:coin: ocho reale
Date Made:ca. 1798
Type:Coin/Numismatic
Materials:silver
Place Made:Mexico; Mexico City
Measurements:overall: 1 1/2 in.; 3.81 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2004.17
Credit Line:Hall and Kate Peterson Fund for Minor Antiques
2004-17_frontt.jpg

Description:
Mexican silver coin or ocho reale or piece of eight stamped on obverse (front) with the profile image of Carolus IIII or Charles IV (1748-1819), King of Spain from 1788 to 1808; the rim edge has a circle of pellets and "CAROLUS .IIII. DEI. GRATIA. 1798". The surface is stamped with 17 shroff or chop marks. The reverse is stamped with an image of a shield with four quadrants: two lions, a castle, and the 4th hard to read, which is flanked by two draped columns and surmounted by a crown; the rim edge has a circle of pellets and "HISPAN. ET. IND. REX. o/M.8R.F.M." The surface is also stamped with 20 Chinese chop or shroff marks. Minted in Spain, Mexico, or Peru, these silver coins, also known as "chopped" dollars or "cut money," were used by westeners in Canton and other trade cities during the China Trade. These coins were repeatedly "chopped" by money handlers (shroffs); the small marks or "chops" hammered into the silver are shroff marks or the "chops" of the assayers who had to attest to the purity of the metal. Coins often display an assortment of "chops" because each shroff chose a personal mark that represented, to him, authenticity. The number of chop marks on the front and reverse of this coin attest to its extensive circulation. Coins with the image of Carolus IIII (Charles IV), the preferred form of currency among the Chinese and the most frequently used because of their numbers prior to the mid 19th century, were called "old heads" in the China trade. Those coins with his son, Ferdinand VII (1784-1833), King of Spain from 1808 to 1833, were called "new heads", which were not well received until the supply of old heads diminished. Other coins from Chile, Peru, Mexico and America were used as well, but the shroffs never considered them to be as valuable as the Spanish variety. The Spanish dollar (also known as the piece of eight (peso de ocho), the real de a ocho or the eight-real coin) is a silver coin, of approximately 38 mm diameter, worth eight reales, that was minted in the Spanish Empire after a Spanish currency reform in 1497. Its purpose was to correspond to the German thaler. The coin could be physically divided into eight pieces, thus the name "pieces of eight". The Spanish dollar was widely used by many countries as international currency because of its uniformity in standard and milling characteristics. Some countries countersigned the Spanish dollar so it could be used as their local currency. The Spanish dollar was the coin upon which the original United States dollar was based, and it remained legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857. Because it was widely used in Europe, the Americas, and the Far East, it became the first world currency by the late 18th century. 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-reales coin in 1497. In the following centuries, and into the 19th century, the coin was minted with several different designs at various mints in Spain and in the new world, having gained wide acceptance beyond Spain's borders. The main new world mints for Spanish dollars were at Potosí, Lima, and Mexico City (and minor mints at Bogotá, Guatemala City and Santiago), and silver dollars minted at these mints could be distinguished from the ones minted in Spain, by virtue of the Pillars of Hercules design on the reverse. In the 19th century, the coin's denomination was changed to 20 reales (based on 20 reales de vellón) and finally 2 escudos.

Label Text:
Most of this silver was Spanish, much of the metal coming from the Spanish silver mines of the New World. In order to increase trade, the Spanish colonial administration at Manila in the Philippines arranged for silver coin from her American colonies to be shipped directly to Manila. The best known of these coins were the famous 'pieces of eight', the 8 reales piece. Chinese merchants in Manila then carried the silver coin to China where it circulated, mainly in the south-east. The use of silver coins in Chinese trade continued well into the nineteenth century, when silver dollars were often melted into ingots to provide payment as tax. Chopmarks on this 8 reales piece indicate that a Chinese money-changer has tested the quality of the silver. Forgeries were a common problem and cutting into the coin showed whether it was solid silver or just silver coated.

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https://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?t=objects&type=ext&id_number=HD+2004.17

Research on objects in the collections, including provenance, is ongoing and may be incomplete. If you have additional information or would like to learn more about a particular object, please email fc-museums-web@fivecolleges.edu.

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