World Coins

1538 silver 8-reals of Mexico City realizes $587,500 in auction

One of three examples of the earliest silver dollar in North America realized $587,500 during Daniel Frank Sedwick’s Nov. 6 auction in Orlando.

Images courtesy of Daniel Frank Sedwick.

One of three examples of North America’s earliest silver dollar equivalent coin realized $587,500 in Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC’s Nov. 6 auction in Orlando, Fla. 

The undated (1538) silver 8-real coin was estimated to sell for between $500,000 and $1 million, and the opening bid was $475,000. The final price included the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee.

The anonymous buyer was bidding from the floor. According to Agustin Garcia-Barneche, the vice president of the Sedwick auction firm, the buyer “is a very sophisticated collector of Latin American coins, specifically of the colonial period. This will always be the star of his collection.”

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

Numismatic Guaranty Corp. graded the Sedwick example Extremely Fine 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 had previously been 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. 

The reverse of the coin bears the Pillars of Hercules with a banner that shows the inscription PLVS VLTRA (meaning “more beyond”), signifying the entrance to the Mediterranean. A Maltese cross appears at the top, and an initial R for the assayer is at the bottom. The various design elements are all contained inside an encircling legend stating the rulers’ territories. 

The auction was the first public offering of this example. 

Garcia drew several parallels between the early Mexican 8-real coin and the American silver dollar, noting that the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar (which weighs 26.96 grams) was based on the Spanish colonial 8-real pieces like those struck at the Mexico City Mint and elsewhere in Spain and the New World for some 300 years. 

“Spanish colonial coins, particularly from Mexico, were legal tender in the U.S. until 1857 and therefore the first ‘dollar’ of Mexico is technically the first such coin of the United States as well,” he said. 

This was the firm’s second live floor auction and 16th live auction overall. Between 50 and 75 people were in the room for bidding, and video and audio feeds gave remote attendees extra insight into what was happening and added interest, according to the firm. 

Prices realized, including the buyer’s fees, surpassed the $2 million mark, and many lots sold for record prices, according to Garcia. 

For results from the auction, visit the company’s website

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