Types of Spanish Coins

Most Spanish coins that circulated in the US were minted in Central and South American Spanish colonial countries. There is only one type of coin that was minted in Spain and intended primarily for homeland use that is seen on our early paper money. 

There were three main types of Spanish colonial silver coins (gold and copper coins were not used as vignettes on US obsolete notes): cob, pillar, and bust. Only the bust coinage is known to have been used on US obsolete notes.

  • Cob coinage--coins crudely produced without modern machinery until the early 18th century.
  • Pillar coinage--"milled" or machine-made coinage minted from 1732 until 1772.  These depict a vignette of old and new worlds topped by the crown of Spain.  There was no ruler's portrait.
  • Bust coinage--milled coinage from 1772 until independence, 1821-25.  These display the bust of the reigning king.

It is the bust coinage that was used on United States obsolete paper money.  The denomination is the real.  The largest coin is the 8 reales.  The fineness and weight of the US silver dollar was directly modeled on that of the 8 reales.  Subsidiary coins are 4 reales, 2 reales, 1 real, half real, and quarter real.  All but the quarter real are found on US obsolete notes.

The bust coins of Spanish colonial Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala appear on US obsolete notes.  This type of coin was also produced in Chile and Columbia, but their coins were not used on US notes. The country of origin of the coin is determined by the mintmark on the reverse of the coin.

In addition, the coins bear assayer initials, usually two, since there were commonly a pair of assayers responsible for the coin's purity and weight of precious metal.  Each country had its own assayers, and different pairs of assayers with different initials worked over the mintage span of a coin.

The figure below shows a Mexican 8 reales reverse.  The location of the mintmark and assayer initials is shown.  The denomination mark--in this case "8 R"--is between.  The layout of the subsidiary coins, except for the quarter and half real, is similar.  The quarter real image has not been found on US notes. 

Reverse of Mexican Spanish colonial bust 8 reales
Reverse of Mexican Spanish colonial bust 8 reales

The denomination/mintmark/assayer layout for 8, 4, 2 and 1 reales coins is this:

mintmark -- denomination -- assayer mark

The half real layout is this:

R (used for half real) -- mintmark -- assayer mark

See the coin images below for examples.

The mintmarks for Spanish colonial coins found on US obsoletes are shown below.



Mexico mintmark






While the minting date does not always appear on cobs, it is on all the later types.  However, since the obsolete note coin vignettes use the reverse, or non-date, side of the coin, the date is not visible.  The range of possible dates for the coins in the vignettes can be determined from the mintmark/assayer combination, since it is usually known when the assayers were active.

For the bust coinage, mintmarks, assayers' marks, and the associated date range for the countries whose coins appear on US notes are shown in the following table. Only a few mintmark-assayer combinations appear on the notes.

Assayer 8 reales 4 reales 2 reales 1 real 1/2 real
FM 1772-1778
FF 1778-1784 1778-1784
1777-1784 1777-1784
FT 1801-1803 1801-1803 1801-1803 1801-1803 1801-1803
TH 1803-1810 1804-1808
1804-1813 1804-1810 1803-1810
HJ 1809-1813 1809-1812 1810-1813 1810-1815 1810-1813
JJ 1812-1821 1816-1821 1812-1821 1812-1821 1813-1821
Peru (Lima mint)
JM 1772-1774
1772-1773 1772-1773 1772-1773
MJ 1773-1780 1773-1780 1774-1780 1773-1780 1773-1780
MI 1780-1787 1780-1787 1780-1788 1780-1787 1780-1787
IJ 1787-1803 1787-1803 1787-1804 1787-1804 1787-1803 
JP 1803-1824 1804-1821 1803-1823 1803-1823 1803-1821
JR 1774-1776 1773-1776 1773-1776 1773-1776 1772-1776
PR 1776-1795 1776-1795 1776-1795 1776-1795 1776-1795
PP 1795-1802 1795-1802 1795-1802 1795-1803 1795-1802
PJ 1803-1824 1803-1825 1803-1825 1803-1824 1803-1824
JP 1823        
JL 1825 1825 1825 1825 1823, 1825
J 1824-1825 1825 1825
P 1772-1784 1772-1783 1772-1783 1772-1783 1772-1783
M 1785-1821 1785-1821 1785-1821 1785-1821 1785-1821

Data are taken from Krause, Standard Catalog of World Coins (see References).

Spanish Colonial Bust Coinage

The design of the coins was the same for each issuing country, except for the mint and assayer marks.  

half real
half real coin obverse half real coin reverse
1 real
one real coin obverse one real coin reverse
2 reales
two reales coin obverse <two reales coin reverse
4 reales
four reales coin obverse four reales coin reverse
8 reales
eight reales coin obverse eight reales coin reverse

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Homeland Spanish Coin

One of the many types of coins minted in Spain and intended primarily for use in Spain appears on United States paper money.  Only the reverse was depicted.  From the design on the paper money, the coin can be identified as a three-year type, 1821-23, of Ferdinand VII.  This coinage used the de vellón real.  20 reales de vellón were equivalent to 8 reales de plata.

The coin shown below was made at the Madrid mint (crowned M mintmark); the assayers mark is SR.  It appears on the Bank of Tennessee 1 dollar note, all branches.  It also appears in an incomplete form, missing mint and assayer marks, on the Mechanics' Savings and Loan Association, Savannah, Georgia, 1 dollar.

20 reales de vellón
Spanish 20 reales coin obverse Spanish 20 reales  coin reverse

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Types of Spanish Coins