World Coins

Brazil celebrates discovery by Portuguese explorer

In 1900, Brazil honored the legacy of explorer Pedro Cabral with four silver commemorative coins, including this 4,000-real coin.

Coin images courtesy of Stacks’ Bowers Galleries.

Although he was overshadowed by his contemporary explorers, Pedro Álvares Cabral today is regarded as a major figure of the Age of Discovery.

He was a Portuguese nobleman, military commander, navigator, and explorer regarded as the European discoverer of Brazil. In 1900, Brazil honored his discovery with a series of coins, including a silver 4,000-real piece, the largest denomination in that commemorative set.

An example of the coin, graded Mint State 63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., is offered in Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Aug. 10 auction in Anaheim, Calif., during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money.

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Though Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco Da Gama may still be more well known in modern times, Cabral ranks with them among the most important of explorers. 

Cabral was appointed to head an expedition to India in 1500, following Vasco da Gama’s newly opened route around Africa, a trip during which Cabral would become the first captain who ever touched four continents, uniting Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.

Instead of their intended destination, India, Cabral and his 13-ship fleet traveled far into the western Atlantic Ocean, landing on what would turn out to be Brazil.

Instead of an island, Cabral had discovered a new continent, South America, claiming an area of it for Portugal, and sending word to King Manuel I of the new territory.

With India still in their sights, Cabral and his explorers headed east, encountering danger and death along the African coast before a reduced traveling party regrouped and finally landed in Calicut. After meeting resistance there (and again being attacked), Cabral successfully traded with the Kingdom of Cochin before returning to Portugal with spices that would help lay the foundation for an empire that stretched from the Americas to the Far East.

Brazil’s independence from Portugal would eventually come in 1825, after fighting and political calculations, but by 1900 the nation was ready to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its discovery by the Portuguese explorer.

A total of four silver coins, the 400-, 1,000-, 2,000- and 4,000-real pieces, were issued for the celebration, with the largest denomination the rarest and most valuable of the set. 

The two subtypes of the 4,000-real coin depict on the reverse a star with either 16 or 20 rays. The example in the auction in Anaheim is the 20-ray subtypes. 

According to the auction firm, this coin has “nice light to medium toning with underlying luster trying to peek through,” and “some blue and orange highlights beginning at rim. Quite sharp and attractive with only some bag marks.”

The coin has an estimate of $900 to $1,200. 

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