Spanish Coins on American Notes

If George Washington did throw a silver dollar across the Potomac, it surely was a Spanish dollar. 

The Spanish colonial dollar, perhaps better known as the eight reales or piece of eight, circulated widely in the American colonies and later the United States long before there were United States dollars. It was the model for the US dollar coin. Spanish coins served as legal tender in the United States, and they were only demonetized in 1857.

reverse of Spanish colonial Mexican but 8 reales

Vignettes of coins of the Spanish American colonies, and less commonly those of homeland Spain, were used on many US obsolete notes. The image was a symbol of known value to a public justifiably reluctant to accept paper money. Spanish coins were familiar to United States residents, and they were esteemed widely for uniform and high quality and stable value.

This exhibit examines a selection of post-colonial US obsolete notes that have depictions of Spanish coins.

Why study such items? My interest in the topic--Spanish coin depictions on US obsolete notes--began as an offshoot from my interest in Spanish colonial and other Latin American coins. The chapter in America's Foreign Coins (see References) introduced me to the general topic, and I soon grew to love the beauty of 19th century US notes.

One of the greatest joys of a thematic collection of obsolete paper money is that in spite of all the work by many dedicated collectors and scholars to catalog the material, there is much yet uncatalogued. The number of obsolete issues is vast, and you simply never know what you might find in a dealer's stock. Part of the appeal is simply the pleasure of the hunt.

I welcome your suggestions and comments. I would be pleased if you would share your information with me.

Bob Schreiner
March 2021

About this Exhibit