If there’s one classic Mexican coin that makes its way into U.S. coin
collections, it’s the Pillar dollar or “piece of eight” struck at the
Mexico City Mint in the 18th century.
The design features two globes, representing the Old and New worlds,
between pillars, under a crown. The Spanish arms and denomination are
found on the reverse.
Pillar dollars were struck across South America under Spanish
colonial rule and circulated widely in early America, and across the
globe. Although the Pillar dollar was of foreign origin, it was legal
tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857 was passed.
It’s collected as a world crown (a large silver coin), coins
popularly branded in the mid-20th century as “silver dollars of the
world.” Crowns get their name from the British denomination of a
crown, which equalled 5 shillings.
To U.S. collectors, the Pillar dollar, the 8-real coin struck
between 1732 and 1772, is possibly the most iconic foreign coin of the
18th century. Handsome, common examples from the Mexico City Mint in
Very Fine condition can sell in online auctions at the $150 to $200 level.
In a Sept. 11, 2012, Heritage auction a group of five Mexico City
Mint Pillar dollars graded Fine to Very Fine brought $940, or less
than $190 each.
Perhaps the ultimate Pillar dollar for a U.S. collector was offered
at Heritage’s Jan. 15 auction of the world coin portion of the Eric P.
Newman Collection. The 1834 Pillar dollar graded About Uncirculated 58
by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. had a modest estimate, but the coin’s
rainbow toning and the provenance carried it to $2,350.
Bust type 8-real dollars were struck from 1772 to 1825 and also
circulated widely around the world. These are generally less expensive
than their Pillar dollar counterparts. A solid Very Fine example might
cost $75 to $90 in an online auction while one with impaired surfaces
— such as one that was found in a shipwreck — may be purchased with a
bit of searching for under $50.