Currency of Spanish America - Technical Summary

Technical Summary

The mint standards were set by the Spanish crown and until 1686 the coinage of Spain and of the Indies (Spanish America) were identical, save in two respects. A minor difference was that coins minted in America were inscribed REX HISPANIARVM ET INDIARVM (king of the Spains and the Indies), while those minted in Spain had only REX HISPANIARVM. The major difference was that vellón or copper coins were not minted for circulation in the Spanish American colonies, while after 1602 the currency of Spain itself consisted chiefly of copper coin.

Although Mexico and Peru were the chief source of the world's silver, after 1620 silver was always at a premium in Spain and vellón constituted the accounting unit and the chief medium of exchange (the cuarto also became a common accounting unit). The silver flowed through Spain in a steady stream to pay for imports, wars, and imperial expansion.

Philip IV reformed Spain's monetary system in 1686 by debasing the silver coinage, which had been unchanged since 1497. This reform applied only to coins minted in Spain. The coinage of the American colonies, which had already assumed great importance in international trade, was left untouched, and the 1497 silver standard continued in use (until 1728). From this time on, the monetary systems and currencies of Spain and of Spanish America developed differently.

Coins were defined by monetary regulations as so many minted per mark weight and of a certain minimum fineness. The mint mark used was the mark of Castile. It originated when Alfonso X (1252–1284) replaced the Roman pound (libra) with the Cologne mark. Spanish numismatists usually use the weight of this mark as determined in 1799, i.e. 230·0465 grams. The measure of fineness (ley in Spanish) for gold was 24 quilates (carats), each of 4 granos (grains); the measure for silver was 12 dineros, each of 24 granos.

Standard Reference Coins Minted in Spanish America
according to the legal definition
coin # per
weight g millesimal
fine metal
Silver coin
1497–1728 standard
real 67 11d 4gr 3·433 ·9305 3·195 g
peso 8⅜ 11d 4gr 27·468 ·9305 25·561 g
1728–1772 standard
real 68 11d 0gr 3·383 ·9166 3·101 g
peso 11d 0gr 27·064 ·9166 24·809 g
1772–1786 standard
real 68 10d 20gr 3·383 ·9028 3·054 g
peso 10d 20gr 27·064 ·9028 24·433 g
1786–1821 standard
real 68 10d 18gr 3·383 ·8958 3·031 g
peso 10d 18gr 27·064 ·8958 24·245 g
Gold Coin
1536–1772 standard
escudo 68 22q 3·383 ·9166 3,101·117 mg
onza 22q 27·064 ·9166 24,808·936 mg
1772–1786 standard
escudo 68 21q 2·5gr 3·383 ·9010 3,048·257 mg
onza 21q 2·5gr 27·064 ·9010 24,386·057 mg
1786–1821 standard
escudo 68 21q 3·383 ·875 2,960·157 mg
onza 21q 27·064 ·875 23,681·257 mg

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