Shipwreck: Atocha 1622
Mint: Lima. Grade: 2
Denomination: 4 reales
The silver coins of this era were popularly known as "pieces of eight" (reale de ocho) in the Spanish colonies, although back in Europe they were more commonly referred to simply as the peso. There were twelve major mints of the Spanish Crown in the 17th century throughout Central and South America, but Potosi (Bolivia), Lima (Peru), Bogota (Colombia), and Mexico were amongst the most famous. In addition to the "pieces of eight" denomination, there were also others such as cuatro reales (four reales) and dos reales (two reales), the latter of the two being more rare than their larger counterpart.
These "pieces of eight" were made by taking a large piece of silver of proper weight and fineness which was cut off the end of a silver bar, then flattened out and impressed by a hammer, all stamped with a die by hand. (The same process is done for the smaller denomination coins, but the weight of the silver varied according to the desired denomination.) Each coin is marked with a cross on one face and a shield on the other. The shield stamped on the obverse side represents the ruling Hapsburg alliances acquired via marriage or conquest. The shield is decorated with various symbols representing Spanish territories and the noble families that ruled them. Also featured on the shield side is the mark denoting the location of the coin's minting and the assayer's initial. The outer-most ring of the coin would be marked with the King's name.
It was rare for coins to be dated during this time period; if a coin were dated,the coin face in which the date was stamped differed depending on where the coin was minted. Coins minted in Mexico feature the date on the shield side, while coins minted in Potosi feature the date on the cross side. The Cross on the reverse side features two castles and two lions, representing the major kingdoms of Castile and Leon. The Cross combined with the symbols of Castile and Leon represent the alliance between Church and State in Spain, which was the most powerful Catholic country at the time.
One silver coin served as a full month's wage for a seaman and, although a single coin may not seem like much by today's standards, it easily paid for a month's worth of food expenses and then some.