During the colonial period in British North America, colonists were not authorized to mint their own currency, which led to a scarcity of English coins for everyday transactions. To overcome this challenge, they resorted to using whatever coins were available to them.
The Spanish silver dollar, with a value of eight “Reales,” became the most commonly used currency during this time.
A pieces of eight is a type of Spanish coin that was widely used as currency in the Caribbean and other parts of the world during the 16th and 17th centuries. The coin was also known as a Spanish dollar or an eight-real coin, and it was made of silver.
The origin of the pieces of eight can be traced back to the Spanish Empire, which was one of the wealthiest and most powerful empires in the world during this time. The Spanish empire controlled a vast territory that included much of the Caribbean and parts of South America, and it extracted vast wealth from its colonies in the form of gold and silver. The pieces of eight coin was minted using this silver, and it became a popular form of currency throughout the empire.
Unlike modern times, the value of coins back then was determined by their weight in gold or silver, rather than their appearance. Spanish coins were the preferred choice among traders because they had a milled edge, which made it difficult for dishonest traders to shave slivers off of the coins without being noticed.
It is worth noting that in those days, cutting coins was not considered a criminal offense. In fact, it was customary to cut coins into eight pieces, known as “bits,” to make change. As a result, the Spanish dollar became known as the “Piece of Eight,” with a value of eight bits. Thus, an item worth “two bits” would cost a quarter of a dollar.
Despite the challenges faced by colonists in British North America, the Spanish silver dollar played a significant role in facilitating day-to-day transactions during this period. Its widespread use highlights the importance of having a stable and reliable currency in any economy.
Pirates and other seafarers were particularly fond of the pieces of eight coin, as it was widely accepted and could be easily traded or used to purchase goods and services. The coin was also easy to divide into smaller denominations, which made it convenient for making smaller purchases.
Today, the pieces of eight coin is no longer in circulation, but it remains an important part of pirate lore and is often associated with the romanticized image of the pirate life. It is also a popular collectible among coin collectors and history enthusiasts.