World Coins

Silver ‘dollar’ from Lima struck with new technology

A rare 1751 silver Columnarios or Pillar dollar (8 reals) from Lima highlights Cayon Subastas’ Feb. 20 auction.

Images courtesy of Cayon Subastas.

When production of Spanish colonial coinage transitioned from hand striking to machine minting, the technology wasn’t adopted all at once.

With minting facilities in the homeland and scattered throughout the Americas, it was a slow build for mints everywhere to adopt the new ways.

An example of the earliest machine-struck pieces from the Lima Mint in Peru is part of a collection of Columnarios being auctioned by Cayon Subastas on Feb. 20 in Madrid.

1794 Flowing Hair dollarInside Coin World: Collecting silver dollars by type: The February monthly edition of Coin World features the nation’s legacy of silver dollars, stretching from 1794, when a small number of Flowing Hair dollars were struck, to today’s American Eagle silver dollar, produced by the millions every year.

The 1751-J Pillar dollar or 8-real coin was issued during the reign of Fernando VI. 

Columnarios were struck from 1732 to 1772, the name referencing the columns, or pillars, in the reverse design. 

Below two globes, representing the new and old worlds, are the waves of the sea that separate the worlds, and on the left and right are columns representing the Pillars of Hercules (rock formations marking the transition between the Mediterranean and Atlantic). The pillars are adorned with crowns and wrapped with a banner spelling PLUS ULTRA, meaning “more beyond.” 

The reverse also has the letters VTRAQUE VNUM (“Both are One”), referring to the Old and New Worlds, and the date at the bottom with Mint marks at both sides.

Before machine minting, the Spanish and colonial 8-real coins had roughly defined edges, making them susceptible to having silver shaved off, thus diminishing their metal value. 

Though the Mexico City Mint inaugurated the new technology relatively quickly, it took decades for it to spread to Lima. 

Initial efforts in 1729 went nowhere, and a 1742 committee recommendation was ignored by the Viceroy. 

In 1748, a series of reforms were enacted at the Lima Mint to improve the quality of coins being produced there, spearheaded by a new superintendent of the mint, Andres de Morales y de los Rios, from Cordoba.

Before his promotion, he was sent to Mexico City to view their processes and machinery, but while there an earthquake damaged the Lima Mint. He left for Lima to take office May 25, 1748, promptly rid the mint of staff who had created the unacceptable quality coinage, and oversaw construction of a new facility. 

The 1751 dies for new coinage arrived from Spain on Oct. 31, 1751, in two small boxes, along with enough blanks for 10 gold and 10 silver coins. Work on the dies took additional time, and locating staff capable of using the new machines also slowed the process. 

In July 1752 the first machine-struck coins were received back in Spain by the king, suggesting that the silver was coined late in 1751 or in the first weeks of 1752.

Consequently the coinage is extremely rare. 

The example in the Cayon auction is one of three examples the firm has handled. Cayon grades the offered coin as equivalent to Very Fine and places on it an estimate of €20,000 (about $22,795 U.S.).  

Translation assistance provided by Christopher Bulfinch, Coin World Associate Editor.

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