Have you ever wondered where the U.S. Dollar sign ($) originates from? Have you heard of “8 Reales”, “8 Bits”, the “Piece of Eight” or the “Spanish Dollar”?  If not, you will learn more about it in this article.

8 reales obverse

Obverse

8 reales reverse

Reverse

It is believed that the U.S. Dollar sign ($) originates from the scroll-effect on the reverse side of the 8 Reales silver coins that were minted between 1772 and 1825 in silver-rich New Spain. These coins were the first silver “dollar” coins to circulate in the 13 Colonies that declared independence from Britain in 1776 and were approved by the U.S. Congress as legal tender up to 1857. An 8 Reales silver coin is also referred to as the “Piece of Eight” or “8 Bits”, because traders and other parties used to cut the 8 Reales in eight pieces or “bits” to use as small change. In addition, it is also known as the “Spanish Dollar”, because it was officially minted and issued by the Spanish or Hispanic Monarchy, also known as The Crown. This is why there is a portrait of the Spanish monarch on the obverse of each 8 Reales silver coin. In addition, many 8 Reales silver coins carry light “chopmarks” made by Chinese merchants in order to test for solid silver content. This was at a time when many 8 Reales silver coins were carried to the Far East for use in the China Trade. Yes, even then they had problems with the counterfeiting of silver coins, especially in China. Furthermore, it is said that the fineness of the Spanish milled dollar was reduced from 0.9166 to 0.9028 at the same time that Charles III of Spain adopted new coinage designs in 1772. This was at a time when the weight of the relevant coins was 27.064g. In 1786 under the reign of Charles IV (1788-1808) the fineness of the Spanish milled dollar was again reduced (secretly) from 0.9028 to 0.875. Thus, they didn’t only struggle with the problem of counterfeiting at the time, but also with debasement of the coins under direct orders from the Spanish kings. Despite these challenges, the Spanish Dollar was used in several countries as currency, mainly because of its milling characteristics and uniformity in standard. Some countries even went so far as to countersign the Spanish Dollar in order to use it as local currency. As already mentioned, the use of the Spanish Dollar as legal tender came to an end in 1857 in the United States. This was after the U.S. Congress signed the Coinage Act of 1857 into law, which forbade the use of foreign gold or silver coins as currency/legal tender in the United States.

Given the above, it should not come as a surprise that 8 Reales silver coins are highly sought after collector’s items and can cost a pretty Penny, especially considering that it was by far the most sought after silver dollar of the 13 Colonies.

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