(Beverly Hills, CA) – Coin dealer cousins, Ira and Larry Goldberg of Beverly Hills, California, have confirmed the discovery of a centuries’ old treasure – a (1538) 8 reales of Spanish rulers Charles and Johanna, the first silver dollar-sized coin minted in the Americas. It is a numismatic missing link, and the first one publicly confirmed.
Although referred to in 16th century Spanish documents, until now researchers had not publicly confirmed or published information about any surviving examples of the coin that links the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Americas. But the Goldbergs have acquired and verified the first one in 464 years.
“Hand-made under Spanish colonial rule in 1538 at the Mexico City palace formerly used by conqueror, Hernando Cortez, this coin is the first of the famous ‘pieces of eight’ produced in the New World,” according to the Goldbergs who are third generation coin collectors and dealers.
At their request, the coin was examined by Lawrence J. Lee, museum curator of the merican Numismatic Association, and also verified by the Professional Coin Grading Service which designated it as PCGS XF40.
“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the confirmation of the first large silver coin produced in colonial America,” said Lee. “This is one of the most exciting single finds in American numismatics. That the coin was hand-struck literally in the former home of Hernando Cortez underscores the point that this piece is of great historical importance.”
“The coin has been struck multiple times. In fact, the technical problems of minting such a coin using the available technology mentioned in the early Spanish reports are borne out by the crudeness of this coin and its planchet,” Lee stated.
“Unless the Mexico City mint could be technically more proficient than this coin indicates, they could never have made a successful 8 reales coin with the equipment they had; the invention of the coin screw press being still several decades in the future. It would also have been too large of a denomination for the local economy.”
The coin weighs 26.0872 grams and the specific gravity, 10.2673, is equivalent to .850 silver, according to ANA measurements.
“This eight-reales denomination coin is about the size of a U.S. silver dollar, and was just too big and cumbersome to be easily produced in a colonial mint. Only a few pieces were struck in 1538, and none previously were known to still exist,” explained Ira Goldberg who acquired the coin earlier this year with Larry, his cousin and rare coin business partner.
Although well documented by Spanish officials when it was made, this historic coin’s whereabouts were publicly unknown for four centuries until the Goldbergs unquestionably confirmed its existence and pedigree this summer.
“This was acquired from an estate where it had been for decades; never researched and unpublished. With the expertise and consultation of top Latin American authorities it was recently recognized and attributed. We acquired it; the ‘missing numismatic link’ of the Americas,” said Ira Goldberg.
Ira and Larry’s grandfather started a Los Angeles coin and stamp business in 1930. Over the years the cousins have bought and sold some of the world’s greatest numismatic rarities including more than $100 million worth of recovered California Gold Rush sunken treasure from the legendary “Ship of Gold,” the S.S. Central America.
“We’ve handled virtually everything in the ‘Red Book,’ but this is the most exciting single coin we’ve ever encountered. It was the first of its kind produced in the Americas, and it symbolizes the enormous economic and social changes that would unfold in the following centuries,” said Larry Goldberg.
Although the coin has no discernable date, it was confirmed as minted in 1538 because documents indicate it was commissioned by the King in late 1537 and also confirmed by prominent design features, explained Ira Goldberg, a former president of the Professional Numismatists Guild.
“The initials of the assayer, Francisco del Rincon, appear on the coin, and we know from official documents he only served a short time when the small mint first opened at the massive home of Cortez in Mexico City. Also there are other design elements only found on coins struck under the royal edict of the Spanish King, Charles the First (Carlos), and his mother, Johanna.”
Extensive documentation about the production of the coin dates back to the meticulous records made in 1545 by the King’s emissary, Francisco Tello de Sandoval. He went to Mexico City to investigate alleged corruption and theft of silver ore, and conducted extensive interviews with mint officials and workers. His handwritten notes are preserved today in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain, and translated into English in 1947. A 1955 monograph for the American Numismatic Society by Robert I. Nesmith, “The Coinage of the First Mint of the Americas at Mexico City, 1536 – 1572,” focuses on Sandoval’s detailed report.
While only a limited amount of 8 reales coins were produced in 1538, Spanish officials made smaller 4 and 2 reales denomination pieces; known as four bits and two bits. Those coins led to the slang term for today’s quarter-dollars, “two-bits.” Eventually, thousands of “pieces-of-eight” silver treasure coins were made over the centuries in Latin America and circulated worldwide. They were commonly used as pocket change in the United States until the mid-1800s.
“Stylistically, the coin is a combination of Nesmith’s early and late styles. The shape of the cartouche and the re-cutting of the letters to a less gothic shape, as well as other indicators, would place the coin around 1538. Our consensus is that the coin is a die trial,” said Lee.
The newly authenticated coin is not for sale; the Goldbergs want to enjoy the pride of ownership for a while.