The First Silver Dollar of the Americas: Cob Pieces of Eight
In American history, no other coin has reached such an esteemed place in the pantheon of numismatics as the Silver Dollar. But what inspired our Founding Fathers to use this specific denomination and metal?
The first silver dollar to circulate in the Americas was the 8 Reales, also known as the Cob or Pieces of 8 coin. Hand struck from the end of a silver bar, these coins were crudely struck but strictly adhered to weight values. Every example that has been found of the Cob coins have chipped edges, which came from the striking process. The assayers would cut the edges until the coin was the correct weight, and then put their stamp on it to indicate that it was approved.
The name “cob” comes from the phrase “cabo de barra,” which translates to “the end of the bar,” referring to the silver bar. The refined silver bars were put in a furnace to melt them down. As part of the process, a long, handle like piece of silver was left intact. This “end of the bar” was then used to make the Cob silver coins.
In early America, many coins were used from other countries, such as the Cob Silver Dollar. These coins did not have to travel across the ocean from Europe, but came up from South America. Many were struck in Bolivia, from the Cerro Rico Mines, which produced 80% of the world’s silver from the 1500s to the 1800s.
The design on the coin itself would later reappear on the Spanish Pillar Dollar. The obverse features the Pillars of Hercules, which represent the gateway to the new world through the Strait of Gibraltar. The reverse showcases the Cross of Jerusalem with the Lions of Leon and the Castle of Castile from Spain, which represent the Spanish Coat of Arms.
To mark the importance of the Piece of 8, it is the first coin mentioned in the illustrious Red Book, the Guide to United States Coins. Thomas Jefferson, while he was Secretary of State under George Washington, recommended that the 8 Reales be used as the official currency of America. It is clear that the Founding Fathers were not opposed to this idea as the coin was accepted as legal tender until 1857.
Cob coins are so rare that even the Red Book only lists them up to Extremely Fine condition. These are rarely seen intact as they were often cut into pieces as a form of payment. Rare Collectibles TV has recently acquired Uncirculated condition examples from the illustrious Cerro Rico Mines and they are available now!