The real (meaning: "royal", plural: reales) was a unit of currency in Spain for several centuries after the mid-14th century. It underwent several changes in value relative to other units throughout its lifetime until it was replaced by the peseta in 1868. The most common denomination for the currency was the silver eight-real Spanish dollar or peso which was used throughout Europe, America and Asia during the height of the Spanish Empire.
See also: Currency of Spanish America
The first real was introduced by King Pedro I of Castile in the mid 14th century, with 66 minted from a Castilian mark of silver (230.0465 grams), fineness 134/144 or 0.9306, and valued of 3 maravedíes. It co-circulated with various other silver coins until a 1497 ordinance eliminated all other coins and retained the real (now minted 67 to a mark of silver, 0.9306 fine, fine silver 3.195 grams) subdivided into 34 maravedíes.
The silver real was minted in ½, 1, 2, 4 and 8-real denominations. After the discovery of silver in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia in the 16th century, the 8-real coin (referred to since then as a dollar, a peso or a piece of eight) became an internationally recognized trade coin in Europe, Asia and North America. These reales were supplemented by the gold escudo, minted 68 to a mark of gold 11/12 fine (3.101 g fine gold), and valued at 15-16 silver reales or approximately $2.
This real worth 1/8 dollar or $0.125 was retained in Latin America until the 19th century but was altered considerably in peninsular Spain starting in the 17th century. This Spanish colonial real was subsequently referred to as moneda nacional (national money) and underwent two more alterations, namely:
The various financial crises under King Philip II gave rise starting in 1600 to the real de vellón (made of billon, or less than half silver). The relative autonomy of Spain's constituent kingdoms resulted in reales of varying silver content and worth considerably less the real nacional worth $0.125. The monetary confusion will not be resolved until the real de vellón was fixed at $0.05 (20 reales to the dollar) in 1737.
The first ordinance officially devaluing the Spanish non-colonial real came out in 1642, with the real provincial debased from 67 to 83.75 to a mark of silver (hence, $0.10, or 10 reales to the dollar). Actual coins worth ½, 1, 2, 4 and 8 reales provincial (the latter worth $0.80 and called peso maria) were minted in 1686 and were poorly received by the public.
The same 1686 recoinage came with edicts in 1686-1687 fixing the real de vellon at $1 = 15 reales or 512 maravedies (or $1 = 8 reales nacionales worth 64 maravedies). The ineffectiveness of these edicts meant that existing reales de vellon were worth even less than 1/15 = $0.0664.
The confusion to the monetary situation won't be resolved until 1737 in various stages, namely:
Subsequent changes until the end of the 18th century were minor and involved reducing the fineness of the silver dollar to 130/144 = 0.9028 fine and the gold escudo (now worth $2 or 40 reales de vellon) from 0.917 to 0.875 fine. Starting 1810 silver coin denominations were revised to their more commonsense values in reales de vellon: 20R, 10R, 4R, 2R and 1R with 1R = $0.05.
The loss of American possessions in the first third of the 19th century cut off the inflow of precious metals into Spain and resulted in the gradual use of French coinage in local circulation. These subsequent changes to the Spanish currency system were never carried out in full:
The real was only retired completely with the introduction in 1868 of the Spanish peseta, at par with the French franc, and at the rate of $1 = 20 reales = 5 pesetas. Consequently, the term real lived on, meaning a quarter of a peseta.
Coins were minted in both Spain and Latin America from the 16th to 19th centuries in silver ½, 1, 2, 4 and 8 reales nacional and in gold ½, 1, 2, 4 and 8 escudos. The silver 8-real coin was known as the Spanish dollar, or peso, or the famous piece of eight. Spanish dollars minted between 1732 and 1773 are also often referred to as columnarios. The portrait variety from 1772 and later are typically referred to as Spanish dollars or pillar dollars.
Coins were minted in Spain in copper 1, 2, 4 and 8 maravedíes, in silver coins equivalent to 1, 2, 4, 10 and 20 reales de vellon since 1737, and in gold coins equivalent to ½, 1, 2, 4 and 8 escudos. New coins introduced after the 1850 decimalization include copper 5, 10 and 25 céntimos de real was well as a new gold 100-real ($5) coin.