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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, singular. 

Below are some of the key features of the columnario:

Mint Mark 

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 catalog.

Assayer's Initials 

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 "9".  


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 limitations.

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".



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