America's First Silver Dollar

A Sharp Eye Brings The Coins of Our Forefathers to a New Generation of American Collectors

Even before the American revolution our forefathers were drawing the line in the sand opposite their would-be English masters. As the "colonies" were settled, vast tracks of forest were cleared and grain was planted and harvested---grain needed to feed factory workers in heavily industrialized England. But instead of paying money for the grain, the English often forced the Americans to barter---trading plows and shovels for wheat. At the same time, Americans who had nothing to barter were forced to pay for English factory goods with cash. As a result, America quickly became starved of silver coins.

If this pattern had continued, commerce might have ground to halt.

Of course, this situation was intolerable to our freedom loving forefathers, and, of course, they came up with a solution: They would get the needed silver coins by trading with England's most feared enemy!

A coin steeped in the history of the new world

Portrait of an early pirate from the Library of Congress collection

Shortly after the Spanish conquered the new world they discovered huge silver deposits in central Mexico. Much of the new silver was returned to Spain in the form of silver bars, but in 1632 the Mexico City Mint---the oldest mint in the new world--was established and began striking coins with the new silver. In 1772 the mint began to produce a new, machine made silver coin---the Spanish Dollar. These silver dollar sized coins were not only destined to be immortalized as the "Pieces of Eight" of pirate legend, they would also solve the coinage problems of the new Americans.

In order to obtain the silver coins they so desperately needed, the colonists turned their ships south and began trading with the Spanish. The result? Vast quantities of the Spanish Dollar---America's First Silver Dollar---were imported into North America.

Map of North America about the time

America's First Silver Dollar was being

imported intothe colonies.

 

 

 

 

 

The reverse of the Piece of Eight showing the Arms

of Spain and the Pillars of Hercules. The motto

on the ribbons means

"more beyond"

 

The Spanish Dollar quickly became the most popular coin in North America. It is even thought by some that if Washington did throw a coin across the Potomac, it was likely to have been America's First Silver Dollar.

The obverse of America's First Silver Dollar pictured the reigning Spanish Monarch the year they were struck. This coin was struck in 1776!

Every day commerce was lubricated by this remarkable coin, and the terminology which developed by using it became so deeply embedded in American culture that it remains with us to this day.

Pieces of Eight

Because America's First Silver Dollar was often cut into eight pie shaped "bits" in order to make change, the intact coin became known as a "Piece of Eight." Since the entire Piece of Eight had a value of 8 Reales, each bit was valued at one eighth of the total. Two bits equaled a quarter, four bits a half dollar and six bits three quarters of a dollar. Did you ever spend two bits?---Then you were living the legacy of America's First Silver Dollar!

To put the value of America's First Silver Dollar into perspective, an average worker during the colonial era earned about 2 bits a week!

Americans traded with the Spanish in the Caribbean and returned with America's First Silver Dollar

Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in the decision to pattern US coinage after the Spanish Piece of Eight

A coin so popular it was adopted as the American standard

After the American revolution a great debate ensued among men like Franklin and Jefferson. Should the new United States of America adopt the coins of their former masters---the shillings, pounds and pennies of the English monetary system---or should they adopt some other standard? The solution to the dilemma was already in their pockets---America's First Silver Dollar.

In 1792 Congress decreed that the new US Silver Dollar must be modeled after the Spanish Piece of Eight.

But in the early days of the country very few of the new US Silver Dollars were struck at the nation's only mint in Philadelphia---not only were there were still so many of America's First Silver Dollars in circulation from the pre-revolutionary days that new coins were not needed, but many American's actually preferred the Piece of Eight!

America's First Silver Dollar continued to fuel commerce well into the nineteenth century. In fact, these popular coins remained legal tender all the way up to 1857!

An old friend takes an ocean voyage

After 1857 America's First Silver Dollars disappeared from circulation and began to accumulate in banks. Gradually, bag after bag was sent to the orient in exchange for trade goods---so many were exported that eventually a coin that every American had once been able to hold in his or her hand became virtually unknown in the United States.

Most of America's First Silver Dollars ended up in the Orient

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