Thursday, July 23, 2015

My First Spanish Silver!!

Hey everyone!  I recently took a road trip to do some detecting with the “Pennsylvania Boys”, my buddies Keith and Tracy and my new friend Ethan.  It was a beautiful day, although it was blazingly hot in the sun by the end of it.  We all had a great time, and came away with a nice pile of relics.

We were detecting the site looking for Civil War relics, and we all found quite a few.  The bullets were a mixture of dropped and fired rounds, mostly three-ringers and William’s cleaners.  Much to my surprise, a little more than half (11 out of 20) of my three ring bullets had a Washington Arsenal star base stamp.  My favorite is the high-impact Minie ball with the star base clearly visible.  Another interesting first for me is a William’s cleaner type one with quite a bit of the zinc washer still intact.  These typically corrode away with ground action, and finding the zinc remaining is rather uncommon.

One interesting byproduct of hunting for Civil War relics is that the soldiers marched, camped, and fought on the existing infrastructure of the day.  It’s not at all uncommon to find artifacts that predate the Civil War mixed in, sometimes by 100 years or more.  I found five civilian buttons that predate the war.  The heavily corroded button is my first pewter button, which unfortunately lacks any front design.  My favorite button that I found was a highly ornate tombac button with a star motif.  The picture doesn’t do the level of detail any justice.  Ethan also found a great button, a massive pewter button with what I think looks like a nautical motif.

I found the end of a very decorative spur, and I’m not sure about its use or age.  It clearly doesn’t look military issue, but I don’t know enough about them to say if it’s from the Civil War era.  It has the right look about it, though, and war found in the right area.  Any help on that one would be most appreciated!

The find of the hunt for me, though, was this cut Spanish silver pistareen.  This is my first Spanish silver, and my oldest coin to date by a long stretch.  Although the date portion of the coin has been cut off, there is enough present to determine a date range.  We can see most of the word “PHILIPPUS”, referring to Spain’s King Philip V, who ruled from 1700 to 1746.  Foreign silver, especially Spanish silver, dominated the Americas for colonial trade, and all the way into the middle of the 19th century.  The face value on the complete coin would have been 2 Reales, with 8 Reales being equivalent to one dollar.  UPDATE: I received a reply from colonial silver expert Bill D. on a detecting forum, who further narrowed down the mint date of this coin. Because the assayers mark is present k. This piece, the coin was produced in Mexico City between 1733 and 1746.  Thanks for the added information, Bill!

So how did it end up as only a fragment of a coin?  Because the value of the coin was in the silver weight, making change for a purchase was often done by physically dividing the coin into pieces.  The famous pirate “Pieces of Eight” refers to the subdivided pieces of an 8 Reale coin.  In this case, the full 2 Reale coin was divided into four ½ reales (5 cents worth of silver for a pistareen) at some point in order to make change.  With such complicated monetary exchanges, I have no idea how they kept it all straight!  Fortunately that came to an end in 1857 with the passage of the Coinage Act, which forbade the use of foreign silver coins as legal tender.  As it turns out, this wouldn’t be the only Spanish silver for the day – Keith also pulled a cut silver milled pillar reale coin towards the end of the hunt!

Thanks so much for reading, and thank you to Keith, Tracy, and Ethan for a fabulous day of detecting and fellowship.  I had a blast, and I can’t wait to get together again soon!