Gold 4-excelentes of Ferdinand and Isabella and silver 4-reales of Charles and Joanna

Castile, Spain, AD 1497 - about 1520 (4-excelentes)
Mexico City, around AD 1535 (4-reales)

Two coins minted from the wealth of a New World

The lure of gold drew many explorers into the Americas, and created the myth of Eldorado, the city of gold. The conquistadors and other early European settlers looted the gold treasures of the native populations and exported much of it to Europe.

This first New World treasure was reflected in the coinage of Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus's patrons, whose gold coins became plentiful as a result. Until the middle of the sixteenth century, the bulk of New World treasure reaching Europe was gold. In the first decade, it was about 4,000 kilos, rising to 15,000 in the 1530s (nearly 12,000 of which was loot from Inca Peru, including the emperor Atahualpa's famous treasure) and reaching a peak of 42,000 kilos in the 1550s.

By contrast, in the later sixteenth century, the real wealth of the New World was in silver, discovered in mines in Mexico and the Andes in the 1530s-40s. Spanish imperial power rested on this wealth: over 2,700 tonnes arrived in Europe in the 1590s! New silver transformed Europe's currency systems, and vastly increased the amount of coin in circulation, fuelling the great inflation of the period. The discovery of silver in Mexico was followed in 1535 by the first locally made coinage of the Americas.

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Gold 4-excelentes of Ferdinand and Isabella and silver 4-reales of Charles and Joanna

Gold 4 excelentes

  • Silver 4 reales

    Silver 4 reales

 

More information

Bibliography

J.C. Cayon and C. Castan, Las monedas Españolas: reyes C (Madrid, 1974)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

Dimensions

Weight: 13.930 g (4-excelentes)
Weight: 13.930 g (4-excelentes)
Diameter: 33.000 cm (4-reales)

Museum number

CM 1856-6-15-15;CM SS Banks 145-135

CEM16286;CEM17055

Presented by W. de Salis

Location

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