Auction set for America’s first ‘silver dollar’

1538 Mexico City 8-real coin is one of three examples known
By , Coin World
Published : 09/09/14
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One of three examples of North America’s earliest silver dollar equivalent coin highlights Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC’s Nov. 6 auction in Orlando, Fla.

The undated (1538) silver 8-real coin is estimated to sell for between $500,000 and $1 million. The opening bid is $475,000.

The example Sedwick offers weighs a full 27 grams and, as customary for the hand-struck 8 reales, is not perfectly round.

Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has graded the Sedwick example EF-45. 

All three known examples of the coin were struck at the Mexico City Mint, under Francisco del Rincón, the facility’s first assayer, just two years after the mint opened as the first in the Americas.

In the early 1990s, these coins were discovered in a chest of 2,000 coins from a circa 1550s Caribbean shipwreck, according to Daniel Frank Sedwick, the company president. The discovery provided physical evidence of the early issues, which were reported in documents transcribed by researcher Alberto Pradeau in 1947 and supplemented in 1955 by Robert I. Nesmith.

The transcripts were from an investigation by Francisco Tello de Sandoval in 1545, as ordered by the king in response to accusations of fraud leveled by Hernan Cortés, Spanish conqueror of Mexico. Though the large-sized early coins were referenced in the report, no extant examples were known prior to their discovery in the shipwreck. 

All three examples of the coin were struck at least twice, confirming Pradeau’s research that found production of the coins was halted because of difficulty with striking.

The coins share the same basic designs.

The obverse features a crowned shield housing castles and lions in its quadrants, representing Castile and Leon, with a pomegranate for Granada at the bottom, flanked by Gothic-M Mint marks for Mexico inside a legend that shows the name of King Charles and his mother Joanna, the “mad” queen.

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