Pulled from the Briny Deep
The 1538 coin, known as the Carlos and Joanna 8 reales, is one of three recovered in the 1990s in the Caribbean from a chest aboard a Spanish shipwreck known as “The Golden Fleece.” The design of the coins is highly symbolic and artistic.
The obverse (face) of the coin is covered by a crowned shield with castles and lions representing Castile and Leon, the two kingdoms unified under Isabella, Joanna’s mother and grandparent of Carlos I (also known as Carlos V of the Holy Roman Empire). A pomegranate at the bottom represents Granada, the name for the first American Spanish colonies. The shield is flanked on each side by M mintmarks for Mexico City and the coin’s edge is surrounded with the names of the king and his mother.
On the reverse, the twin Pillars of Hercules stand in front of a banner marked “Plus” referring to the motto Ne Plus Ultra meaning “no more beyond.” A small Georgian-style cross known in Spain as the “cruz de ocho puntas” or eight-pointed cross floats above the pillars, its pointed edges possibly representing the number eight at a time when Arabic numerals were not widely known in the Americas. The assay mark R at the bottom represents the mint’s assayer, Francisco del Rincón, which is how the coin has been dated.
The coins have irregular edges typical of hand-struck coins of the era and each exhibits evidence of double-striking, a common practice for imprinting intricated designs on higher value hand-struck coins.
A True Rarity
Each of the three Carlos and Joanna 8-reales coins is held privately for now. That makes them of particular interest to collectors since most historically significant coins are represented in collections such as the British Museum, the Smithsonian, or other national historical holdings and are inaccessible for sale. And as the first “dollar” coin made in the Americas, this silver piece of eight is considered among the ten most important coins in the world.
The Heritage Auction is open to online, phone, and in-person bids until August 17. You can learn more and follow the action on their website. When results are known, we’ll post them her on the Great American Coin Company blog.