As with Spanish silver, Spanish gold coinage was sought throughout the world. The basic gold coin was the eight escudo piece, often called a doubloon. In 1537 eight escudos was set at 27.4680 grams of .92 fine gold (22-carat gold). In 1728 the weight was reduced to 27.06429 grams, and then in 1772 the fineness was reduced to .90103. Thus, over some 250 years the fineness and weight of Spanish gold coins changed only slightly, attesting to the stability of its value and its function as a standard by which other coins were measured.
In the New World Spanish colonies several major deposits of gold were discovered, especially in Columbia. These finds required local mints to produce gold coins and ingots for shipment to Spain. As with the silver during the early period, cob coinage was minted. Gold cobs were first produced in 1622 at Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia, followed by Mexico City in 1679 and Lima, Peru, in 1696. The first milled gold coinage, often referred to as portrait gold, was minted in Mexico in 1732. The production of gold cobs continued until 1750, after which time they were completely replaced by milled coinage. Also in that year a new mint was opened in Santiago, Chile, which primarily produced gold coins.
The ratio of gold to silver coin production in the Spanish mints can be gleaned from the salvage remains of a treasure fleet of eleven Spanish galleons that were destroyed by a hurricane in 1715 off the east coast of Florida, near the mouth of the Saint Sebastian River not far from present day Cape Canaveral. The State of Florida has claimed twenty-five percent of all the salvaged treasure from this fleet and to date they have acquired about sixty thousand silver cobs and about fifteen hundred gold cobs which is a ratio of 40:1. For additional information on Spanish shipwrecks click here.
Along with cob coinage the mints also produced gold (and silver) ingots for export. The gold would be extracted from the ore at the mint by melting. Workers would then take a wooden box and fill it with wet sand. They would then ram an iron rod into the sand to form ingot sized holes in the wet sand at about three inches apart. A crucible was then used to pour the molten gold into the cavities. Once the gold was cooled the ingots were removed and hammer stamped with the mint mark and the royal seal to show that the twenty percent royal tax known as the Quinto, had been paid. Like the crude hammer struck cob coinage, this method of ingot bar production was an older technique used in the more primitive conditions of the New World. By the mid-seventeenth century much of Europe had moved to cast iron ingot molds that produced the familiar standard-sized rectangular bars. Below are five 22-carat gold ingot bars from the Mexico mint in 1659 recovered from the 1733 Fleet Wreck by Mel Fisher. These bars were acquired on May 6, 1973 by Mr. Robert Gore from Armada research Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Treasure Salvors.
In the New World Spanish gold coins were minted in one, two, four, and eight escudo denominations, while Spain also produced a one-half escudo piece. (The half escudo was regularly produced in Spain from 1738, and it was also briefly minted in Mexico 1814-20.) The escudo was often called a "shield" and equaled sixteen reales of silver. The two escudo piece was called a "pistole," while the four escudo coin was known as a "double pistole," although at first it was sometimes called a doubloon. The large eight escudo coin was called a "quadruple pistole" or, at first, a double doubloon; later it became the coin the English colonists called the Spanish doubloon.
Spanish gold circulated throughout the English colonies, especially after 1704 when the West Indies adopted a gold standard. In 1759 Abraham Weatherwise of Philadelphia printed Father Abraham's Almanack, which included a chart with the current value of gold coins in both Philadelphia and New York City (Click here for the table). In Philadelphia the two escudo pistole was worth £1 7s, while the eight escudo doubloon was valued at £5 8s and the silver eight reales Spanish pillar dollar was 7s6d. In New York City the value of these coins was £1 9s, £5 16s, and 8s respectively. Spanish gold was regularly accepted in the early United Sates and continued to be minted in the New World until 1821.
Last revision: May 4, 2004. Thanks to Barry Powell for pointing out Mexico City started producing gold coins in late December of 1679.
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