The reconstructed collection of Ferdinand Columbus, £18.00
Weight: 168.310 g
Diameter: 72.000 mm
Coins and Medals
Silver 50 reales of Philip III of Spain
Segovia, Spain, AD 1618
A large silver showpiece
The 8 reales coin, or 'piece of eight', was the normal high denomination silver coin of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain. It also had an international role, as a currency used across the world in trade. However, on a few occasions in the early seventeenth century, the Spanish kings had made an enormous silver coin, with a face value of 50 reales. The design is exactly that used on the smaller silver denominations, with the crowned Habsburg coat of arms on the front and the castle and lion symbols of the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Leon between the arms of a cross on the back.
The 50 reales coins were struck at the Segovia mint, which employed mechanized coin-presses driven by water-wheels on the River Eresma: the traditional hand held hammer method of coin-making would have been hard put to impress such huge pieces. The 50 reales coins were made in only a few years, and not in vast quantities. They were clearly not practical as daily currency; they fitted poorly into a silver currency based around the 8 reales piece, and even as a way of storing wealth, it would be have been much easier to use gold coin. It is likely that they were created primarily to show off the Segovia presses, and perhaps to be used a presentation coins, given out by the king and other senior figures to mark a prestigious occasion.
J.C. Cayon and C. Castan, Las monedas Españolas: reyes C (Madrid, 1974)
B.J. Cook, 'Showpieces: medallic coins in early modern Europe', The Medal-4, 26 (1995)