During Roman times, some of the most active mints were located in Spain. Many ancient Greek coins have also been discovered in Spain. The premiere Spanish colonial New World Mint opened in 1536 in Mexico City. Later that century, in 1574, an even larger Spanish mint opened in Potosi, Bolivia. This establishment was built near an impressive natural source of high quality silver. The success of this mint led to Potosi being recognized as the largest city in the New World.
Spanish money was especially significant in the English colonies. Some figures suggest that at least half of the coins used in colonial America were Spanish reales. The state of Virginia went as far as declaring the Spanish real as their standard currency in 1645.
In February 1793, Spanish dollars were made legal tender in the United States. This remained until 1857. Even more interesting, when the New York Stock Exchange opened in 1792, rates were reported in New York shillings. Shillings were based on the Spanish milled dollar, which were considered to be one eighth of the shilling. Even today, stock and security price variations continue to be reported in eighths.
Coin collectors who are interested in coins recovered from shipwrecks deal extensively with Spanish coins. Most shipwreck coins come from the sunken wreckage of Spanish galleons that met disaster while bringing silver and gold from the New World to Spain. The most infamous of these ships, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, sunk off the coast of Florida in 1622.
Spanish coins play an integral role in most serious numismatist's collection. These coins are some of the oldest and most interesting coin specimens to currently exist.
The thought of owning something that ended up at the bottom of the sea after a tragic and dramatic occurrence appeals to many. Countless shipwrecks are rumored to have gone down with invaluable coins. For instance, the Civil War Era's S.S. Republic sunk in the Atlantic Ocean during a hurricane in 1865, Amongst the cargo were thousands of U.S. coins. Some of these coins will go for over $100,000 each at auction.
Spanish coins are some of the most commonly found coins originating from shipwrecks. This is because many Spanish galleons were lost at sea in the process of bringing silver and gold from the New World to Spain. The most infamous of these ships, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, sunk off the coast of Florida in 1622.
Care must be taken in purchasing sunken treasure coins. Not all are as valuable as those from the S.S. Republic. In fact, some actually are worth less than what they were worth at the time of issuance. The short-term excitement that goes along with the discovery of sunken treasure often causes prices to be temporarily inflated. Oftentimes the surfaces of these coins have been so corroded that they are rendered worthless. Expert coin collectors become quite adept at identifying and purchasing sunken treasure coins that hold great value, as well as knowing when to ignore those that will quickly lose their worth.
The US is host to a number of excellent museums that contain authentic shipwreck plunder. The El Cazador Museum in Grand Bay, Alabama sells sets of Spanish gold coins recovered from the infamous wreck. The displays also contain glimpses of the ship's fittings and items from everyday life at the time of the wreck.
The Internet is a great source for shipwreck coins too, and brokers abound offering authentic shipwreck booty. But use care when dealing with online brokers, or mail order companies, and check to be sure that the dealer is reputable and reliable.