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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

Spanish Silver Dollar

When is an American coin NOT an American coin?  I'm Flip the Mint Seal, and I'm excited.  Wait till I tell you about this Spanish silver dollar!

Back when the eastern states were just British colonies, there wasn't much gold or silver for making into coins.  The colonists had to use any money they could find, whether English pounds, French francs, Dutch gilders, Spanish reales...imagine trying to keep track of all those different systems, all with different values!  But the Spanish colonies were rich in gold and silver, and the coins made in Mexico and other mints were used everywhere.

So when the United States broke away from England and we needed a national currency, we created a new unit of money, called it a dollar, and gave it the same value, size, and weight in silver as a Spanish dollar.  Thanks to men like Thomas Jefferson, we divided the dollar into 100 parts called "cents" instead of the more complicated divisions that other countries used...for example, the Spanish dollar was divided into 8 reales (ray-AL-ess).

But the new states still had very little gold or silver.  How could they make this new dollar?  Some say that George and Martha Washington gave some of their silverware to the Mint so it could make the first silver coins. That was cool!  ...But it wasn't enough to keep our new money going.

That brings us to two important Februaries in the life of the Spanish silver dollar in America.

  1. In February 1793, less than a year after the United States Mint was created, the government of the United States declared that the Spanish dollar could be used as regular money or "legal tender"—it was "monetized."
  2. The second big February was in 1857, more than 50 years later.  That's when Congress "demonetized" the Spanish dollar.  The United States finally had so many of its own coins that it didn't need to rely on Spanish coins anymore.  People could no longer spend a Spanish dollar here.

But the Spanish dollar helped to keep us going for a long time.  Thanks, Spain!

Flip, the Mint Seal

Teacher Feature

OBVERSE: Spanish Silver Dollar
Obverse:  Two pillars surround a Spanish crown, which sits on two halves of a globe-the eastern and western hemispheres. Later versions show portraits of the current King of Spain and the pillars were moved to the back.

REVERSE: Spanish Silver Dollar
Reverse:  A fancy crown and shield are surrounded by the Latin words that mean "Philip V, by God's grace, King of Spain and the Indies."



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