Pirate coins are many things including but not limited to: candy, doubloons, pieces of 8, Spanish Reales, and other coins that were common during the “Golden Age of Piracy.”
Let’s start this discussion with the candy. Pirate Coin candy is a licorice treat with a salty bite found in many Scandinavian countries, although we are fond of calling those treats Viking Coins. In the US, chocolate coins wrapped in gold are also called Pirate Coins by salty sea trick-or-treaters, but, more on candy in another article…
Pirate coins, of the silver and gold variety, come in many shapes and sizes. The common thread that binds these coins together is the time from whence they came. The so-called “Golden Age” of Piracy fell roughly between 1650 and 1730. During those decades, Pirates patrolled the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans wreaking havoc on the traders that braved the shining seas.
Part of what made Piracy so popular is that it was sometimes commissioned work. The Pirate Queen, Elizabeth I of England, would pay seafarers to disrupt (and steal from) Spanish traders. This kind of sabotage was prevalent during the golden age of Piracy. A commissioned pirate was called a privateer, but both job descriptions were the same. The privateer found safety in his nation’s harbors, whereas the pirate had to make due in freeports, or those with bribe-friendly Governers and Harbor Masters. Privateers earned a portion of what they looted, determined by the Crown for which they worked. Pirates, on the other hand, were free agents that divided loot without the interference of an overseer.
Loot included foodstuffs, textiles, housewares, raw materials and sometimes loot included coins. The coins minted in Europe and bound for colonies, as well as the coins minted in colonies bound for Europe, provide the world with pirate coins.
A doubloon is an official Pirate Coin. They were minted with a face value of 32 Spanish Reales, or two escudos. These gold coins had original diameters of 22mm and were minted in Europe and in the New World, in Spanish colonies. There are larger pirate coin doubloons, the four escudos which is a two doubloon, and the eight escudos which is a four doubloon, but these are not the official single Doubloon.
When a Pirate talked about a piece of 8, they were referencing a piece of a coin, cut from a Spanish 8 Reales. The silver 8 Reales are the notorious silver Pirate treasure coin. They have a diameter of 38mm and were cut into eight equal pieces to make change during transactions. A piece of eight is often shaped like a piece of pizza because it was cut from a round coin. They are difficult to value and proving that any slice of a silver coin is in fact from a Spanish-made 8 Reales, during a specific period of history, requires more than a little legwork.
Spanish Maravedis and Reales come in nine denominations, and those milled and hammered between 1650 and 1730 are all potential Pirate coins. Escudos are also potential pirate coins. Being made of gold, however, makes Escudos more likely to have lived in treasuries rather than in a ship’s hold. Silver Reales are popular pirate coins and can come from many different mint locations. Maravedis are the most popular copper bronze pirate coins. They were traded in all of the ports and often counter-stamped, in a manner similar to the way a passport book is stamped. The Spanish controlled the seven seas from roughly 1500 to the early 19th century when the Spanish Empire suffered great territorial losses. Vida revolución! During the Golden Age of Piracy, the wealthiest ships on the Western seas were Spanish, making them the most desirable targets for the Pirates and their cousins the Buccaneers.
Through Pirate coins, both candy and currency, we can learn more about our shared history. Exploration drove our ancestors to leave villages and walk, sail, and now fly beyond the horizon line. The horizon lines we look to now require rocket fuel, or deep-sea submersibles where we can find more Pirate treasure! Keep curiosity alive, and feed it with a love of history.
See you next time on Pendant and Ring.