What are columnarios? They are Spanish 8
reales coins minted in the New World between 1732 and
1772 at such mints as Mexico City, Guatemala, Santa Fe de
Bogotá, Popayán, Lima, Potosí, and Santiago. The
distinctive design features on the obverse two pillars, each
with a crown and wrapped with a banner bearing the words
PLUS VLTR. Between the two pillars are two worlds sitting on
an ocean of water. The reverse features a heraldic shield
capped with a crown. These silver crowns have a machined or
milled edge and weight 27g. Columnarios circulated
throughout the New World including the United States where
it was accepted as legal tender until 1857. Fractional
columnarios include 4 reales, 2 reales, 1 and 1/2 real.
Although sometimes referred to as Spanish Milled Dollars,
Pillar Dollars, or Pieces of Eight, the technically correct
term is columnarios, plural -- or, columnario,
Below are some of the key features of the
The most common series is that of Mexico.
The mint mark is a large "M" with a small
"o" over it. This was used during the entire
series from 1732 to 1772 and appears twice on the 8 reales
columnario, on each side of the date on the obverse. Note
that in 1733 an experimental "M-X" mint mark was
used for that year only. Other mint marks include:
"G" for Guatemala; "N" with
"o" over it on left of date and "R" with
"o" over it on right of date for Nuevo Reino;
"PN" for Popayán, minted only one year in 1769;
"LM" for Lima; Potosí used a special character
made of a "P", "T", and "S";
an "S" with an "o" over it for Santiago.
For dates of these series, see the
On the reverse of the columnario and to
the left of the heraldic shield you will find the assay
mark. This typically consists of one or two initials. On the
Mexico series "MF" and "MM" are common.
"J" is common on Santiago columnarios. And "JM"
is common on columnarios minted in Lima. For a complete list
of assay marks, refer to the catalog.
The letters most often refer the the first letter of the
name of the assayer or, if there are two assayers, then the
first name of each. For example, with the later-date Mexico
columnarios from 1762 to 1770 the "MF" (as shown
above) is for Manuel Assorín and Francisco Antonio de la
Peńa y Flores.
The date on the columnario is found on
the obverse at the bottom between two rosettes with the mint
marks on the other sides of the rosettes. Different styles
of numbers were used and is a key identifier. Early date
Mexico, Guatemala, and Lima columnarios, for instance, used
an Arabic "5" while later-date examples feature
standard "5"s. Also, various styles can be found
with the numbers "6" and
Located on the right side of the heraldic
shield on the reverse is an 8 with rosettes above and below.
This indicates 8 reales. Fractional columnarios include: 4
reales with a "4"; 2 reales with a
"2"; 1 real with "1"; half real
which was not marked with a denomination due to space
The 8 reales columnario is the forerunner
of the US Dollar. Therefore, the 4 reales columnario is equivalent
to a "half dollar"; the 2 reales a
"quarter"; and the 1 real is one "bit".