spanish reales - 1

The History and Significance of Spanish Reales

The History and Significance of Spanish Reales

As a numismatist and shipwreck coin enthusiast, I have spent countless hours delving into the captivating world of Spanish reales. These remarkable coins hold a unique place in history and remain a treasure for collectors worldwide. In this article, we will explore the history of Spanish reales, their historical significance, and why they continue to be highly sought after by coin collectors worldwide.

Origins of the Spanish Reales

The “real” was introduced as Spain’s national currency in 1474 during the reign of King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504). Reales were minted in ¼- 12-, 1-, 2-, 4- and 8-real denominations. 

Early Forms and Denominations

Early Spanish reales were minted at various mints located in some of the major cities such as Granada, Segovia, Toledo, and Seville. The largest denomination minted was the “Reales de ocho” or pieces of eight weighing in at about 27 grams of fine silver. These eight-real coins became the cornerstone of Spain’s colonial currency system and played a vital role in international trade. The pieces of eight were so influential that they eventually evolved into what is known today as the Spanish dollar.

Evolution and Development of Spanish Reales

The evolution of Spanish reales over the centuries is a testament to Spain’s dynamic history. During the Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties, the design and production of reales underwent significant design changes, reflecting the shifting political and cultural landscapes.

Key Periods of Evolution 

  1. Habsburg Era: Under the Habsburgs, Spanish reales were marked by intricate designs and high silver content. The coins often featured the royal coat of arms denoting territories under Spanish rule and the cross of Jerusalem, symbolizing Spain’s alliance with the Catholic Church.
  2. Bourbon Era: The Bourbon dynasty introduced more standardized designs, with the portrait of the reigning monarch on one side and the Spanish coat of arms on the other. This period also saw the establishment of Spanish colonial mints in the Americas, which produced reales to support the vast colonial economy.

The Role of Spanish Reales in Global Trade

The history of Spanish reales is deeply intertwined with global trade. These coins were widely accepted across Europe, the Americas, and Asia, facilitating commerce and exchange in an era dominated by Spanish maritime power.

Influence on Trade Routes

Spanish reales were instrumental in establishing and maintaining international trade routes. They have been recovered on numerous shipwrecks, such as the famed Nuestra Señora de Atocha that sunk in 1622 near Key West, the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet that sunk off the West coast of Florida, or the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas that sunk off the Bahamas in 1656. The discovery of these and many other shipwrecks provides a glimpse into the history of these coins and how they were used to strengthen the Spanish empire and influence the global economy for over 300 years.

Iconography and Symbolism

The imagery on Spanish reales is rich with cultural and political significance. Common symbols include the Pillars of Hercules, representing Spain’s ambitions and the phrase “PLUS ULTRA,” meaning “more beyond,” signifying the country’s expansionist aspirations.

Cultural and Political Significance

These symbols not only depicted Spain’s power but also served as a form of propaganda, reinforcing the monarchy’s authority and the nation’s dominance. Collectors often find the detailed iconography of silver reales particularly fascinating, as each design tells a story of its own.

Collecting Spanish Reales

For collectors, Spanish reales, especially the hammer struck cob varieties, offer a vast array of designs, mint marks, assayers, and other features which makes each coin unique. Their historical significance, coupled with their aesthetic appeal, makes them highly desirable.

Identifying and Authenticating Reales

When collecting Spanish reales, it’s essential to be able to identify and authenticate these coins accurately. Key features to look for include the weight, silver content, strike, and specific design elements unique to different mints and periods. Understanding these details can help ensure the authenticity and value of a coin.

Preservation and Care

Preserving the integrity of any rare coin is crucial for maintaining its value and historical significance.

Best Practices for Preservation

  1. Storage: Store coins in a climate-controlled environment to prevent corrosion, discoloration, and wear. Using holders or capsules can protect them from physical and environmental damage.
  2. Handling: Always handle coins by the edges to avoid fingerprint marks and other potential contaminants.
  3. Cleaning: Avoid cleaning coins at all costs as improper cleaning can significantly reduce their value from numismatically significant to little more than their value as bullion melt.

The history of Spanish reales is a rich tapestry of economic, cultural, and political significance. These coins, which once fueled global trade and symbolized Spain’s imperial might, now serve as cherished collectibles that offer a tangible connection to the past. For collectors and enthusiasts, exploring the world of Spanish reales is both a rewarding and enlightening journey.

Whether you are a seasoned collector or new to the world of numismatics, understanding the history of Spanish reales and their role in shaping global commerce is essential. So, delve into this fascinating realm, and perhaps you too will uncover a piece of history in the form of a Spanish real or piece of eight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *