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CURRENCY: Continental Congress


The Spanish Milled Dollar (8 Reales)
trusted by American colonists

About this Coin: On the obverse, the two hemispheres of the earth represent the Old and New Worlds, with waves below to represent the sea that divided the Old and New Worlds. The Pillars of Hercules represent the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain's gateway to the new world, and the crowns show Spain's power over both the Old and New worlds. The banners on the Pillars show the motto PLUS VLTRA, "more beyond," a reference to the discovery of the New World. At the top is the legend VTRAQUE VNUM, "'both are one," an expression of Spain's oneness with its colonies, with the date and mintmark (for Mexico City) at the bottom. On the reverse is the crowned Spanish Royal family's coat of arms, with the castle representing Castile, the lion representing Leon, and the fleur de lis representing the Bourbon dynasty. On the left are the assayer's initials, with the denomination on the right. The legend PHILIP V D G HISPAN ET IND REX, stands for "Philip V, by the grace of God, king of Spain and the Indies."

Many of these coins never actually circulated. This particular coin (and 50,000 others, along with many artifacts) spent more than two hundred years underwater in the wreckage of the Hollandia, a Dutch East India Company ship. The 750-ton ship of 32 guns and a crew of 276 men, was built in 1742, and sunk on its maiden voyage June 13, 1743, with the loss of all hands. She was under sail with three other ships, and nearly through the English Channel, when rough weather caused her to get separated from the other ships, and struck Gunners Rock off Annet island, in the Isles of Scilly. This coin was recovered from the wreckage, after its discovery in 1971.

Importance to Commerce: First produced in 1732 at Spain's mint in Mexico City, coins like this were held in place by a circular collar as they were struck by a press. These coins were of regular size and weight, and so gained acceptance throughout the American colonies. Often referred to as "Spanish Milled Dollars," they were also known as "Pillar Dollars" (from the design) or "Pieces of Eight" (from the practice of cutting them in pieces to make change). Often, they were cut into quarters (two reales), from which we get the expression "two bits."

The British Crown jealously guarded its authority to coin money, and Spanish (and other foreign) coins became a de facto medium of exchange. Often, contracts and currency specified Spanish Milled Dollars for payment, and Maryland not only used the word "dollar," but even displayed two of the Spanish coins on its 1770 two-dollar bills. Later, the Continental Congress in 1775 approved bills of credit for defense amounting to two million Spanish milled dollars. And in 1776, Thomas Jefferson recommended that the United States adopt the "Pillar Pieces of Eight" as its monetary standard, since business was transacted in those coins. In 1777, Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance in the Continental Congress, wrote: "The various coins which have circulated in America have undergone different changes in their value, so that there is hardly any which can be considered as a general standard, unless it be Spanish dollars." It would be another twenty years before the United States had its own mint, and even then, the Spanish coins, often clipped or worn, circulated freely, while United States coins, of higher intrinsic value, were hoarded, or shipped to Europe. This kept the Spanish "dollars" in circulation for decades, until Congress finally revoked their legal tender status just prior to the Civil War.


 
Six Dollars
May 10, 1775


This note is one of the denominations of the first issue of federal currency, placed into circulation in August, 1775, to pay for the early expenses of the Revolution. The beaver is shown with a self-explanatory Latin motto that means BY PERSEVERANCE. Thick rag paper was used, with blue threads and mica flakes added to discourage counterfeiting. The borders were engraved by David Rittenhouse, (later the first Director of the U.S. Mint) who shared many scientific interests with his friend, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin originally invented the process used to make the nature prints used on the back of the notes.

One of the signers was Judah Foulke, a prominent citizen of Philadelphia, who served as Collector of Excises, later as Sheriff, and also as Keeper of the Standards for Weights and Measures. His signature appears only on this first issue of Continental Currency, because he died a few months later, on January 24, 1776.

Isaac Hazlehurst, a member of the committee charged by Congress with overseeing the finances of some of the first ships built for the new American Navy, also signed this note. His four-man committee oversaw the four ships built in Philadelphia. His eldest daughter, Mary, was a close friend of Dolley Madison, and was the second wife of architect Benjamin Latrobe, who built the Hall of Representatives for the U.S. Capitol, and rebuilt the entire Capitol, after it was burned by the British during the war of 1812.

 
Two Thirds of a Dollar
February 17, 1776


On February 10, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized a million dollars worth of fractional notes, payable in Spanish milled dollars, or the equivalent in gold or silver. The FUGIO ("I fly") and "Mind your Business" legends, sundial, and the linked rings representing the colonies, along with the legends "We are one" and "American Congress" are attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and this was but the first use of them. Franklin's designs were also used for the Continental Currency coins made later that year, and again, much later, for America's first coin, the 1787 Fugio cent.

The devices and border designs were cut by Elisha Gallaudet, who also designed the Continental Currency coin. The paper, made at Ivy Mills in Chester County, Pennsylvania, contained blue fibers and mica flakes, and the notes were printed by Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia. The signer of this note, Ben Jacobs, was long thought to be one of two Jewish signers of Continental Currency, but this has come into doubt, as research indicates that he may not have been of the Jewish faith.


 
Eight Dollars
May 20, 1777


This note has been defaced with a large "X," and signed on the back because it is a counterfeit, produced by the British, in an effort to undermine confidence in currency issued by the Congress. This denomination of the 1777 issue had to be recalled and exchanged for other notes. There are several identifying characteristics of this counterfeit, mentioned on page 465 of the Fifth Edition of Eric P. Newman's "The Early Paper Money of America."

 
Thirty Dollars
January 14, 1779


Between January 14 and November 29, 1779, Congress passed seven separate resolutions authorizing the printing of over 95 million dollars worth of paper currency. $50,000,000 of this was to be used to be exchanged for old notes that were recalled. Eventually, sixteen different denominations were issued, all dated January 14, 1779, from $1 to $80 face value, payable in Spanish milled dollars, or the equivalent in gold or silver. However, by the time the notes were issued later that year, Congress had to devalue them ($7.42 for each paper dollar to $1 in silver coin). By the following year (1780), when Washington's army was reduced to foraging, and ultimately, confiscating supplies to continue the Revolution, one silver Spanish dollar was worth 40 dollars in Continental paper currency.

The notes were printed by Hall and Sellers, of Philadelphia, on paper made at Ivy Mills in Chester County, Pennsylvania, containing blue fibers and mica flakes, and watermarked "CONFEDE / RATION" in two lines, readable from the front. These devices were to foil counterfeiters -- which included the British military. The border on the face of the notes uses the legend "United States of North America," with various emblems, and the backs have various leaf and cloth nature prints. The face of this note has part of the emblem and left border of the face printed in red, and shows a wreath on a tomb, with the motto: Si recte facies (If you act righteously). The nature print on the back shows a sprig of "climbing fumitory," a vine often used for medicinal purposes.

One of the signers of this note was John Leacock (1729-1802). His father, a merchant, apprenticed him to a goldsmith or a silversmith, and soon the young John Leacock had prospered, enabling him at 23 to marry Hannah McCally. The following year, he received a sizable inheritance from his father, and he moved his business to the heart of Philadelphia's Front Street silver and gold trade, where he sold tea services, snuff boxes, buckles, and a variety of other goods. With the help of his brothers-in-law David Hall and James Read, and Benjamin Franklin, Leacock was able to sell his wares to the colonial elite of Philadelphia, and his social standing rose. He signed the 1754 petition to build St. Peter's Church, and in 1759 became the 88th member of the prestigious Colony in Schuylkill.

Like many of his fellow wealthy Philadelphians, Leacock purchased a 28-acre plantation in 1767, shortly before Hannah died. Leacock eventually participated less directly in his trade, preferring life as part of the landed gentry, raising wheat, buckwheat, vegetables, fruit, and livestock. He remarried in 1771, and began experimenting with vine cultivation, and in 1772, proposed a "public vineyard by subscription, for the good of all the Provinces" on his plantation, that would serve as a clearinghouse for the cultivation of many different varieties of grape, to be exported and adapted to other regions of the country, with cuttings made available to the public free of charge.

Leacock's involvement in politics began before then, while he still lived in the city. As a member of the Society of the Sons of Saint Tammany and one of the signatories to the Non-Importation resolution of 1765, he was associated with the Revolutionary faction in Philadelphia from its earliest days, and gained fame as a playwright in the cause of independence. His biblical parody/satire, "The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times" was widely reprinted in newspapers.

Although the Continental Congress had passed a resolution in1774 discouraging all forms of public entertainment, plays were still published, including Leacock's patriotic "The Fall Of British Tyranny, Or, American Liberty Triumphant." in 1776. Though never performed, the play was the first to portray George Washington, and chronicled the early war years, as well as the events leading up to Revolution.

When the British occupied Philadelphia in 1777, Leacock wisely departed for Reading, where he became one of only two dozen men authorized to sign bills of credit for the United States. Later, after the British left Philadelphia, he left his farm in his brother's care, and returned to the city. He was appointed coroner in 1785, an office he held for 17 years, and also ran an inn on Water Street, until his death on November 16, 1802.


 
CURRENCY: Printed by Paul Revere

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