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2 Reales, Sevilla, Spain

Started by Sheep, July 22, 2009, 08:07:56 PM

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Don't know if this is the right board but.... I found this nice one this week!

Size: 24x26 mm
Weight: 6.50 gram

2 Reales of Philips II, minted in Sevilla in 1588-89 (Thanks Figleaf!)

The official weight is 6.76 gram, only 0.26 gram loss!! :o
Collecting continental sterling imitations. It can be seen here.


These coins are not easy to determine. Often, much information is missing. Not only were dies routinely too small, but also, coins were badly struck, with too little force on uneven planchets. On this coin, all the necessary information is there, if you know where to look.

The S to the left of the shield proved that the coin was struck in Sevilla. Mint marks are often, but not always to the left of the shield. Assayer marks can often be found there also. However, most of the time, assayer marks start with A for every new king and work their way down to the alphabet, so the S is highly unlikely to be an assayer mark.

To the right of the shield is a Roman II, confirming that the size and diameter is that of a 2 reales coin. For centuries, Spanish silver coins came in values of 1/2, 1, 2, 4 and 8 reales and most of the time, they only differed in size.

That leaves the date. This is usually found to the left of the shield. This coin seems to be undated. The letters ATIA (part of DEI:GRATIA, by the grace of god) indicate that the coin was struck in the reign of Philip II. On later coins, the legend is abbreviated D:G. The funny symbol on the other side is a square D, the assayer's mark. This mark was applied on coins of 1588 and 1589 and undated coins. In 1588, Seville also used assayer mark A and in 1590 it used H, so it's likely that the coin was struck in 1588 or 1589.

How did the coin end up in the Netherlands? In 1586, a revolt started in the country that would end with the independence of the Northern Netherlands and continued Habsburg domination in the South, now largely Belgium, but without the bishopric of Li├Ęge/Luik. Philip II reacted by sending a arge army to strike down the rebellion. The army was close to fulfilling its mission a few times, but in the end, its supply lines from Spain were too long and it could not hold conquered cities without an army of occupation as the Habsburg reacted in a particularly cruel and intolerant way, especially against anything deemed protestant (not that the protestants were particularly nice to catholics, but they had less opportunity for cruelty).

In those days, an army consisted almost entirely of hired hand soldiers, led by loyal noblemen as its officers. So it was with the Habsburg army. It consisted largely of German Landsknechte and Spanish officers. Life was harsh. During the siege of Haarlem, an average of 12 Habsburg soldiers froze to death each night in the winter of 1572. To keep the soldiers going, Philip needed money. He had plenty of it, but all in the wrong place.

By the treaty of Tordesillas, Spain had become owner of almost all of Central and South America, including many the world's richest silver mines. Only the Holy Roman Empire, India and China also had silver mines to speak of. Of course, the colonist would steal as much silver and gold as they could get away with. Some even stole more, were caught and garotted, a slow and unpleasant way to die. Enough remained. It would be transported by donkey and mule trains across the Andes if necessary, towards ports like Vera Cruz and Acapulco. On the way, many a rider and donkey disappeared due to robbery, or just treason, but enough arrived.

By this time, the silver was coined. The Spaniards used local Indians as slave labour for the coinage. Conditions were atrocious. The Indians were worked to death, abused, poisoned with mercury vapors (mercury is used to purify silver) and hooked on drugs, so they could work while in pain, sick or nearing death. While part of the lower Spanish clergy objected, another part started the inquisition, with almost random torture and death applied to whomever the inquisitors didn't like. The death statistics were appalling, but ascribed to the "weak constitution" and the "new diseases", the Indians did not know before.

Getting the silver from Acapulco to Manilla was relatively easy, but the Philippines had a trade deficit with Japan and China, so much silver disappeared. The rest would be shipped to Spain, arriving in places like Sevilla and Toledo. Silver shipped from Vera Cruz went in large "silver fleets". These were simply never safe enough for English pirates like Francis Drake, Dutch pirates like Piet Hein and storms at sea. Yet, enough arrived in Spain.

In Spain, the coins were treated as silver bars: much was immediately remelted. So why mint it in the first place? Because the Spanish import tax (royal share) on silver was 50% on "booty" and 12.5% (one eighth) on minted coins. Therefore, it paid handsomely to have the silver minted locally. The irony is, as this coin shows, that even the re-minted coins were of low quality. Philip needed lots of coins in a hurry to pay his soldiers. Quantity was far more important than quality.

The re-minted coins had to be sent to the army in "Flanders", as the Spaniards called it. This was troublesome again. Arch-enemy France was in the way. The trick was to get the coins in Augsburg, in the Holy Roman Empire. Another Habsburg reigned there, so from there, it was relatively safe, except of course for the merchants, who insisted whenever they could to change or re-coin the silver at a hefty price and for the local gentry, who demanded part of the silver for toll. Another route was by sea to Antwerp, but the Barbary pirates, the French, British and Dutch fleet and the pirates of Dunkirk made that route pretty hazardous.

Modern estimates are that less than 50% of the silver mined actually ended up in the hands of the king and 50% of what remained was lost in transfer in Europe. In other words, it is quite possible that the silver of this coin was mined in South America, that it was shipped as a good weight, badly struck 2 reales to Sevilla, where meanwhile two other coins of its kind struck at the same time went missing. It may have been shipped across the Dolomites to Augsburg, Cologne and Amsterdam (which remained loyal to the Habsburg until it was clear they were going to lose), where another coin of its kind had disappeared, so that it could be used to pay a German soldier or a Spanish officer who got himself killed shortly thereafter. It remained in the ground while the body was absorbed, only to be found centuries later by a determined metal detector pilot. Not a bad story for a coin.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


Thank you very much for this great story! It makes it more special now.
The coin is found in dumped ground coming from a small harbour in the South-West part of Holland.
Collecting continental sterling imitations. It can be seen here.