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Finding value in Cob coins - Pieces of Eight

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Hello Collectors,


I have been fortunate in the past to have seen a lot of shipwreck coinage and artifacts that bring to life the past as I grew up in Cape Town and had a circle of friends who dived such shipwrecks or had the expertise to clean such coins from other divers for a percentage commision.At the time, Dr Frank Mitchell used to come around loupe in hand and admire some of these new finds in the fairly simple middle class house that my friend stayed in whatwith diving paraphenalia strewn around outside. Those were times when one could not help to get enthralled by what came out of the sea.


The legendary "Pieces of Eight" were in fact crudely struck pieces of rolled out silver plate, all more or less of the same weight but varied in shape and thickness. They all originated from Spanish colonised South America where there were big deposits of silver in places like Potosi.


The stamp used to stamp the planchet carried the Spanish emblem, Ruler's name in cryptic , the place of minting denoted by a letter (L = Lima, P = Potossi, M= Mexico City) and some the assayer' s symbol who supervised the minting.


What was noticeable was that very few of the 23,000 Cob coins found on a shipwreck like the Johanna (1682 Buffelsjagsriver) carried good marks that one could trace the origin of that coin to the place or date of mintage (Lima).The stamping did not often get a date or a mint mark in because the stamp it self was much bigger than the planchet.


It was also said that Charles II was not a very good ruler and did not take a lot of care in the striking of his coins. By contrast the founders of modern Spain and the sponsors of Christopher Columbus Ferdinand and Isabella of 1480 had beautiful coins including the well known Gold Double Excellente and the lovely siver series from 8 Reale to 1 Reale.


The amount of plundering of Spanish Ships by British is reflected in the cargo found on the British Johanna wreck in that it was amost entirely Spanish Silver bullion (coins and ornamentally engraved silver bars weighing around 20 Kgs). A khoi-khoi chief was extremely hospitable to the survivors of the shipwreck and looked after them until Ensign Oloff Berg could come and fetch them from Cape Town.


Despite the rough and ready striking, one cannot help but be impressed by the rough beauty of the coin.They all weigh between 24 and 26 grams about. NGC has now started to grade them too and they are fetching reasonable prices.


A few years ago , I managed to almost simultaneously buy two very similar Cob coins at opposite sides of the world, one in China and the other in the USA both from the 17th Century and both dated and showing mintmarks. The cutting of the planchet involved a shears and one sees a hook like burr on some coins due to the twisting force used in the cutting action.


What is often not known is that the Piece of Eight goes down in halves to four,two, one and one half in smaller denominations. I have a set of these all from the Johanna.


Many of our Cob coins have ended up on the International Markets but there are still a number to be had locally and add another dimension to our already rich numismatic history that is very much part of the history of money in the world.


Some pics are enclosed




Edited by geejay50
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I am a collector of Spanish colonial coinage, but not the cobs. I collect the milled "columnarios" or pillar coinage.


From a collectible standpoint, cobs are definitely worth considering. They are reasonably priced though I am understand they are much more expensive than they were 10 or more years ago because they are much more popular and the demand for them is much greater.


From a scarcity standpoint, the issues from Bolivia (Potosi) are by far the most common and those from Colombia (Nuevo Reino) the scarcest. The other mints are Peru and Mexico. I'm not aware of any from Chile and those from Guatemala were not issued until the 1730's and resemble a distorted version of the columnario coinage, There are also a handful known from the Dominican Republic and Panama but these almost never come up for sale.


Of the denominations, the 8 real is by far the most common while the 4R appears to be the scarcest.


In addition to the "regular" cobs, there are also "royals" or presentation pieces and from the Potosi mint at least, coins shaped liked a heart pendant.These two are very much in demand and bring very strong prices, especially the heart shaped coins. Of the latter, the last one I saw I believe sold for $15,000 USD. Almost all of them (of both) are holed or otherwise impaired.


From an "investment" standpoint, I would prefer to buy higher quality minors (other than the 8R) - IF they can be found. They are much scarcer and much cheaper because buyers prefer larger coins. I would also be a buyer of "royals", even a holed one, rather than a larger number of cobs. The cheaper (Potosi 8R) royals appear to sell in the vicinity of $2500USD to $3000 USD while a decent cob can set you back about $500. Given their generally unattractive appearance, I am dubious that the financial prospects for most cob coins is that favorable at current prices.


Though less well known and less popular, I also favor the concurrent Spanish homeland coins from the same period you mentioned. But not the cobs, the milled design with the Spanish crown and cross surrounding the quartered lions and castles. I own eight of them in grades AU-58 to MS-66 in both NGC and PCGS holders. By my standards, these coins are very reasonably priced. Heritage sold a 1718 CA (Cuenca mint) NGC MS-64 2R a few days ago for a paltry $431. Its a coin NEN had on their website for an ask price of $975. If I had known it was going to sell for such a price, I would have bought it myself.

Edited by jwither

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Hi Ernesto,


I really value your input and know that there is a very strong body of collectors of colonial Spanish Coins in North America that include the Cob Coin issue. Africa was not really the destination of these coins but by default when ships that were wrecked along our coast and it was the divers who salvaged these coins and brought them out of the sea over the centuries. In the 1980s it was fashionable for divers and their wives to wear jewelery made from Cob coins and their fractions.


The idea of salvaging a wreck by diving on it is not new. In 1715, John Lethbridge couldnt support his family by selling wool in England and at the age of 39 developed a diving machine which consisted of a specially made wooden barrel with a glass panel in the floor (an inch and a half thick) and holes where his arms fitted through. Both the English East India Company in 1720 and the Dutch East India Company in 1729 contracted him to recover chests of silver from shipwrecks that in the latter case had sunk in Table Bay - he was very successful too . He was still diving well into his 80s in 1757 (Turner pg91) - at an age when life expectancy for ordinary men was about 35!!


The Johanna was not the only ship that carried these Cob coins. The outward bound VOC ship 'Het Huis de Kraaienstein' ,wrecked at Oudekraal 27 May 1698 (near Llandudno Cape Town) was carrying 19 chests of Cob coins (Pieces of Eight) of which all but three were recovered at the time and the rest delivered remnants to individual divers who scratched the sea bottom. (Turner "Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa 1505 to the Present') Note the month of May being the month of the winter North Westerly storms that made ships lose their anchorage amd drove them onto the coast.There was no breakwater - built in 1869 by convicts who tragically included some of the last Cape Busmen (Broken String- Bennum).


What is your take on the presence of Mint Marks, and Dates on these Cob coins? Are they more common in the Bolivian (Potosi) coins than in say the Peru (Lima) coins? I paid $104 and $115 inclusive of postage in 2006 for the two Potosi coins.My Krause's Catalogues end in the 1700s.


The Silver deposits of Potosi was reputed to be the richest in the world and apparently there was a hill there that was discovered by an Indian who when he had cooked his meat in by fire noticed the droplets of Silver in the heated rock on which he had been cooking. That hill has apparently produced something like 80% of the world's silver.


I attach pics of the fractions of Cobs (reverse). The weights are as follows; Piece of Eight 25.87gm middle; Four (fractured)left 11.08gm; Piece of Two 1.58gm; Piece of One 2nd right 1.04gm; Piece of one half 2nd left 0.8gm. Allowances to be made for silver loss by sea corrosion.










Edited by geejay50

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I wish I could answer your questions on the mint marks but I cannot, I'm simply not familiar enough with them.


I only know that the Bolivia specimens are (generally) the most common and come up for sale the most often. Between the Lima and Mexico City specimens, I would estimate that the latter are scarcer but this is only a guess. I do not recall seeing that many minors of either, mainly the 8R. There are some Lima issues (1/4R I believe) from the late 1500's that are very well struck, more or less round and with good detail. I believe the assayer is Diego de la Torre though I might have his name wrong or spelled wrong. These are reasonably priced and might be an issue that anyone interested in this series might consider buying.


On the prices you paid, I think they are about right. My description of a "better" struck coin is one which is mostly round, with a more or less centered strike and with what I would consider to be VF wear or so. These I believe are about $500 for an 8R from Potosi but it will depend upon which issue it is. They are not common but are available.


There is definitely a strong market for these coins to my knowledge. I believe a reasonably large number of collectors from the United States buy them and would expect this is true also at least in South America and Europe but cannot confirm this.


My primary interest is in the pillar (columnario) minors from Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. Along with cobs, the columnarios are what I would describe as among the few truly international coins even though they are less popular than say, US Morgan dollars, in terms of how many collectors pursue them. I do not buy them because I am trying to make money off of them but I believe that, bought at a reasonable price, they will do well.


I have just over 30 of them in grades of VG-8 to MS-65 with most graded by NGC and PCGS. I am most interested in those from Bolivia and Peru in high grade. I actually have seven of the 12 Peru 1/2R in the NGC census graded AU-55 or better and three of the eight 1R. I am looking for more but have bought only one (a 1759 Peru 1R that came back AU Details) in about three years because I have just not seen them.


The 8R are vastly more common across these four mints (especially in better grades) but are only regularly available from Mexico and occasionally from Peru in MS. Almost never from Bolivia and Guatemala; I am only aware of a handful of each mint. The 1754 Mexico is by far the easiest to find in MS. There are about 400 listed in the NGC census from a hoard found several years ago.


My assumption is that most buy a single specimen of these coins as a type coin with a small number who collect the Mexico 8R by date, probably a few hundred worldwide. There are probably almost no collectors who buy the minors like I do.

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Hi Georg


Found an interesting article in my archives.


When I read your first post in this thread I can see that you and I both admire Dr Frank Mitchell greatly.. so I am sure you would find his comment that "They (the "1815" Griquatown token coins) had no real use for money and it seems DOUBTFUL if the coins ever circulated" might clear up this issue we have disagreed on in the past. (see the last scan and the piece highlighted in YELLOW)


I would put Dr Mitchell ahead of any other numismatist of our time.


You can see his article in the magazine at:





anyone who has the original 1978 "Antiques in South Africa" will confirm this scan of his article written at the time I met him in Cape Town.


For the record simply disregard my mindless comments challenging some of the comments that Mitchell says in the scans.... what he says above (highlighted in red) is all the affirmation I seek from one of the giants of our hobby.


Kind regards


Scott Balson

Edited by ndoa18

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Hi Scott,


Interesting reference you make from Dr Mitchell about the circulated Griqua coins (see comment on find of a worn Griqua Halfpence coin in Matjiesfontein Cape ) and their memory in the Lauer Griqua non circulated Patterns.


This posting is not about the GQT issue at all though and refers to Spanish Cob coins and their value.


Perhaps you should stick to the topic as posted?



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Please stick to the topic gentlemen.




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Weigh-Less for Coins


I recently bought some Spanish Cob coins from the wreck of the Joanna / Johanna (wrecked at Cape Algulhas in 1662). They were of different sizes and weights, so I tried to figure out if they were 1, 2, 4 or 8 Reales. (Pieces of 1, 2, 4 or 8)


I did some Googling and funny enough, it brought me back to the BidorBuy Coin forum to a post that Georg did 2 years ago. (The same thread that I am posting this on).


According to another source, their average weight is as follows ;-


1 Reales cob (Piece of 1) = 3.4 grams

2 Reales (Piece of 2) = 6.8 grams

4 Reales (Piece of 4 )= 13.7 grams

8 Reales (Piece of Eight) = 27. 5 grams.


The 5 coins I bought weigh as follows


2 grams

10.5 grams

13.3 grams

20.1 grams

20.5 grams


I reasoned as follows...


The last two coins weighing just over 20 grams can only be Pieces of Eight (8 Reales) but have lost about 20% of their weight due to lying on the bottom of the sea for hundreds of years – reducing their weight from 27.5 grams to approximately 20 grams.


The cob weighing 13.3 grams is a problem – it could either be a 4 Reales that was not affected by the sea and remained its original weight (just over 13 grams), or it is actually an 8-Reales that lost a significant amount of its original weight – losing more than 50%.


The cob weighing 10.5 grams is probably a 4 Reales that lost 21% of its original weight – from 13.3 grams to 10.5 grams.


The cob weighing 2 grams is probably 1 Reales (Piece of One) that lost 41% of its weight.


Maybe the answers lay in the strikes and marks on the coins but I am no expert – see following pictures.











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A couple of Cobs I have:


The round 21gms & the mounted 15,9gms.






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