Pieces of eight were Spanish silver coins (pesos) that weighed approximately 28 grams and contained a very fine quality of silver with a purity range between 92 and 98 precent. A common working man during the 17th century had to work an entire month to earn one piece of eight!
The coin received its name because it had a nominal value of 8 reales and was often cut with a sword or dagger into eight pieces or bits to produce smaller currency. You can see the V cut from several coins to make bits.
Look very closely at a piece of eight and the history of the age will reveal itself.
On one side, you will notice a large cross of the Crusades. The cross symbolizes that Spain was the most powerful Catholic country in the world. This particular cross is known as the Jerusalem Cross and identifies that the coin was produced by the Potosi or Lima mints in Peru. Flip the coin over to reveal which mint and during what year. The 'P' at the top left and bottom right signify that the coin was manufactured at the Potosi mint. And the '77' at the bottom center reveals the date of the coin to be 1677.
Flip the coin back to the cross side and you will notice in each of the quadrants either a lion or a castle. The lions of Leon and the castles of Castile symbolize the merger of Spain's two mighty provinces to make her the most influential country in the world for almost four centuries. The 'P' on the left side of the cross indicates the coin was minted in Peru.
Flip over to the reverse side to see the two vertical lines denoting the Pillars of Hercules that stood on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. The waves below the pillars represent the Atlantic Ocean where Spain discovered the New World. In the top middle portion of the two pillars, the '8' means the coin is worth 8 reales. The 'E' marked on the top right and bottom left is the assayer's initial and stands for Antonio de Erqueta (1652-1679). And in the center of the Pillar and Wave design are the faded letters 'PLV SVL TRA' which stand for 'plus ultra or more beyond'. This is Spain's message to the world that she had control and/or influence over the entire world, new and old.
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