Columnarios

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A Spanish colonial silver coin, minted in Potosí in 1768, featuring the columns and the hemispheres.

Columnarios are silver coins that were minted by Spain from 1732 to 1773 throughout their new colonies in present-day Latin America. While the majority of columnarios were struck in Mexico, smaller mints existed in Guatemala; Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile; Potosí, Bolivia; and Columbia. The base denomination is an 8 reales coin. Other minor denominations included 4 reales, 2 reales, 1 real, and 1/2 real. The 8 reales coin is the predecessor to the American dollar. Before the United States Mint was in production, columnarios circulated, along with other coinage, in the US colonies, as legal tender until the middle of the 19th century.

Prior to the columnario, Spanish coins were hammer struck. They are called cobs. Clipping was a problem with cobs as it was easy to shave small amounts of silver from the edge of these coins and although this action was punishable by death, it was a widespread problem. The columnario, unlike the odd-shaped cob, is round coin with milled edges which makes clipping detectable and less likely.

The design of the columnario consists on the reverse of two worlds—representing the new world and old world—with a royal crown above. Below are the waves of the sea that separate the worlds and on left and right are columns (hence the name columnarios) representing the Pillars of Hercules adorned with crowns and wrapped with a banner spelling "PLUS ULTRA", meaning "more beyond". The reverse also has the letters VTRAQUE VNUM, referring to the Old and New Worlds, "Both are One", and the date at the bottom, with mint marks on both sides.

The obverse features the crown's name followed by D G HISPAN ET IND REX, meaning, "By the Grace of God, King of Spain and the West Indies." The assayer's mark is on the left and the denomination on the right of a large Spanish shield which is adorned with a royal crown atop. Various florets, rosettes, stops, and other features are used to separate features.

The edge has a repeating laurel leaf design which is very difficult to counterfeit and is often used for authentication purposes.

Currently, the Mexican 8 reales columnario is worth $200USD or more, depending on condition. Specimens from other mints fetch much higher values due the their rarity.

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