Monday, August 24, 2009

A piece of eight...

Today while Tom worked hard to wash the remaining Port Tobacco artifacts he came across this fragment of a coin which was found in Stratum 1 of Unit 74 in the Jamieson Field. Having never seen anything quite like it, some sleuthing was in order.

Our preliminary research shows that this is a piece of a Spanish dollar. This silver coin was produced in Spanish America beginning in 1497. It was used around the world, including in the United States, where its use was only discontinued in 1857. The whole coin is worth 8 Reales (the unit of currency used in Spain at the time), and it is possible that this piece actually is a "piece of 8," meaning it is an eighth that was cut from a coin in order to make smaller change. This is the second coin found at Port Tobacco that has been cut in this manner.

It is more difficult to analyze the decorations of this coin considering the small fragment, so it is helpful to take a look at an intact coin:

Spanish Dollar from the reign of Ferdinand VI of Spain dating to 1753.

The "R" visible on our fragment is the mark of the assayer who supervised its minting. However, it is impossible to tell where this coin was minted, as the lower part of the coin bearing this information is missing. The date is also missing, though we know that this particular type of coin was produced from 1732-1772. A rough measurement of our fragment puts it at 19 mm, which is within the range of being half of the diameter of an intact coin (37-41mm).

As for the design on the coin the image on the right shows a small portion of a pillar. These coins were commonly called "pillar coins," as the design represents the Pillars of Hercules. The pillars read "PLUS ULTRA" meaning "further beyond," referencing the expansion of the Spanish Empire. Between the pillars is an image of the Old and New World. The Latin inscription along the edge of the coin reads in full "VTRAQUE VNUM," meaning the union of two worlds. (These are visible on the intact coin). The reverse side of the coin bears the Coat of Arms of Spain and also denotes who the king of Spain was when the coin was minted. For our coin the king at the time could have been King Ferdinand VI as the end of the name, "ND" is visible. This would date our coin somewhere between the years 1746 and 1759 (though it could have passed through Port Tobacco at a much later date).

Pretty amazing that all of that can be discovered using just a small bit of coin.

So what is this piece of coin doing in Port Tobacco? Perhaps it was fulfilling its job as a coin and on its way to purchase goods or services when it slipped out of someone's pocket. Then again, that is only one possibility of many.



No comments: