Carlos & Johanna Early Series 4 Reales; “First Half Dollar of the New World”

The weekly iAuctions here at Stack’s Bowers Galleries are a great source for collectible coins within a reasonable budget! Every month (closing on the first Sunday of the month) these iAuctions will contain world and/or ancient coins, with the inclusion of some very notable highlights such as this piece — the “First Half Dollar of the New World.” The joint mother and son co-rulers of Spain and the Spanish Domain; Johanna and Carlos I (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) are the issuing authority behind this coin struck for use in Mexico, known then as “New Spain.” Joanna “the Mad” married Philip of the Habsburg line, thus introducing their House’s reach into Spanish lands. After Philip’s death she spiraled into madness. Despite her confinement in a nunnery, she retained her position as the legal queen of Spain. Her father Ferdinand II of Aragon ruled as regent in her place, and after his death Joanna’s son Carlos/Charles I became regent.

One portion of the extensive empire then under the Habsburg dominion was the New World Spanish conquests. Recently conquered by Hernan Cortes, the former Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan became Mexico City, the capital for New Spain and the minting location for these issues. Carlos issued a formal decree to establish a mint in Mexico City in 1535 and after mint officials arrived from Spain (several months later) the minting began in early 1536. The larger denominations of 4 and 8 Reales were authorized to begin production in 1537. The first few years are known as the “Early Series” and are most easily identified by their lack of water lines. The Assayer Francisco del Rincon held the office for two years (at the time it was only on a two year lease) and used the assayer mark “R”. This 4 Reales issue is noted as the first Half Dollar of the New World.

The obverse design depicts the famous “Pillars of Hercules” which marked the Strait of Gibraltar separating the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. According to Greek mythology these served as a barrier to the outer, then unknown sea, and were inscribed “Non plus ultra” or ‘nothing further beyond.’ These Pillars were then adopted by Carlos I as the supporters for his coat of arms, but with a modified motto of “Plus Ultra” or ‘further beyond.’ This was an encouragement to go past the defined borders of the world, and to establish the gateway to a new Spanish controlled empire beyond the Pillars. The actual design on this coin shows two pillars surmounted by crowns in the center of the coin, with a bordered banner stretching across, with “PLVS” in the banner (which is one form of shorthand for the motto). The large numeral four above the banner represents the denomination of 4 Reales. In the center field below the pillars the assayer’s mark “R” is represented. The entire central design is bordered by a beaded circle, with the outer legend just beyond. The outer legend of “: HISPANIO : ET : INDIARUM : RE:” with a symbol (similar to a %) at the top, which serves as the legend’s starting and stopping point. The obverse legend is not entirely visible; the above represents the complete and unabbreviated legend which states the Spanish holdings and conquests.

The reverse design shows the arms of the joint Castile and Leon, quartered, with a pomegranate below, all surmounted by a crown. “o-M-o” appears at either side of the device, signifying the minting location of Mexico City. A border of dots separates the design and outer legend, similar to the obverse, with the intended legend reading: “KAROLVS : ET : JOHANA :” but similar to the obverse, portions of the legend are either worn or slightly off the planchet. However, nearly full legends are present on both the obverse and reverse. There are some minor signs of light porosity and evidence of doubling, but the attractive grey toning enhances the visual appeal of this historically significant piece. Graded by ANACS at VF-35.

Look for this and other numismatic pieces in our upcoming iAuctions. These are held every Monday to Sunday, with world numismatic items being included in the sales that end on the first Sunday of every month. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our iAuction items at the Browse Auctions link at If you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency for our iAuctions (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors by calling 800.458.4646.

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