Posted by Barbara Barrett on 22nd October 2012
Pieces of Eight
Silver 8 real coin of Philip V of Spain, 1739
VTRAQVE VNUM M[EXICANUS 1739; "Both (are) one, Mexico [City Mint], 1739″; Displays two hemispheres of a world map, crowned between the Pillars of Hercules adorned with the PLVS VLTR[A] motto.
PHILIP[PUS] V D[EI] G[RATIA] HISPAN[IARUM] ET IND[IARUM] REX; “Philip V, by the Grace of God, King of the Spains and the Indies”
Displays the arms of Castile and León with Granada in base and an inescutcheon of Anjou
1. Pieces of eight were old Spanish coins which were in circulation between the late 16th and late 19th centuries. The coins were made of silver and known as a silver dollar. Early coins were made of precious metals such as silver and gold so the weight of the coin – and hence the metal content – was key in determining value. This also meant that coins were sometimes physically cut into pieces. That was the origin of the term “pieces of eight”. A full silver dollar was worth eight reales in the currency of the time. Thus it was frequently cut into up to eight pieces, or bits, each worth one reale. Rather confusingly the term “piece of eight” is used to refer to a full dollar coin rather than the individual pieces into which it could be cut. Sixteen of these full silver pieces of eight – 16 * 8 = 128 reales – were equivalent to one gold doubloon.
History: Many pieces of eight were minted in the US and then transported around the world by sea. For this reason they were often found on treasure ships targeted by pirates. The Spanish silver dollar was legal tender in the US until 1857 and formed the basis of the American currency. One US dollar was initially equivalent to one Spanish dollar. The practice of cutting the silver dollar into eight pieces gave rise to colloquial expressions such as “two bits” for a quarter of a dollar.
[origin: Spanish (peso de ocho), the real de a ocho or the eight-real coin]
“Boots of Cordovan leather, chests of ash,
Damascus steel, rare silks and silver plate;
Rough-carven gems to match the starlight’s flash,
And gold moidores cresting a piece-of-eight!
Tuns of brown ale and barrels of black rum,
And many a pipe of sharp Canary wine;
Toledo blades that shimmer, gleam and hum,
And bales of spice and idols of odd design!
“Ah, such dreams grip and cut me like a knife!
Let others rest in sweet slumbering death—
I cannot sleep; I need the sting of life,
The pounding of my veins, the fire, the strife,
The slashing spray, the sea-wind’s blasting breath;
The joy, the pain, the peril, sun and snow,
The tavern, and the ale at Plymouth Hoe!
“I cannot rest in Nombre Dios Bay.
Up through the seething fathoms I arise.
When night reefs sails to drink the dying day
And stars are longboat lanterns in the skies,
Then sea to sea I live it all again—
My youth and manhood. . . Devon and the Main!”
I met the ghost of Drake one Devon night;
He sang of sail and sword and reaving stench—
And in his eyes there burned the sea-thrown light
Of life-loving life not even Death can quench.
[from “Drake Sings of Yesterday”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 466 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 412]