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What is a Gold Doubloon?
A gold doubloon (properly referred to as a double escudo) is a type of gold coin that originated in Spain and was later used (temporarily) by France prior to the creation of their own gold currency (the franc and later, the Louis d’Or) as well as the Americas during its early colonization by the Spaniards. Commonly referred to in literature dealing with the topic of pirates, the name doubloon was originally taken from the Spanish word doublon, or double (doh-blon / doh-bleh) which meant ‘double’. It was a very commonplace currency at the time of its creation and was used mostly in large transactions and general trade, so much so that the term doubloon came to be synonymous with money.
Originally used to refer to another type of Spanish gold coin – the excelente – for its distinctly unique design featuring the two busts of Spain’s then current rulers Ferdinand and Isabella, it later became a currency in its own right divorced entirely from its association with what would be the very short-lived excelente coin. Minted in a number of Spanish colonies until the middle of the 19th century, it was first created in 1566 during the reign of King Philip II of Spain.
The earliest types of doubloons were all handmade and thus took on the form of a semi-circular or sometimes even an ovoid shape, as perfectly circular coins were impossible to make by hand. Doubloons were originally created by pouring molten gold into thin strips which was then cooled to create blanks. This was then stamped with dies to leave the desired impressions (this varied depending on the place of mintage), and was then weighed and shaped into roughly circular shapes by cutting away the excess gold by hand. Later on, the process was perfected using mechanical methods, creating uniform milled coinage which created more detailed and ornate rounds that was as fine and ‘perfectly’ circular as the age allowed. The earliest examples of doubloons did not feature the bust of monarchs as later examples do, but only insignias and symbols. The earliest types showed the coat-of-arms of the Hapsburg royal linage on the obverse side of the coin, while the reverse featured a crusader cross accompanied by Latin mottoes. Later examples of doubloon coins would later feature other designs depending on the date of mintage as well as the place of origin.
The Spanish doubloon was created using 21 carat (crown) gold, and typically weighed 0.218 troy ounces of gold (6.77 grams), although some examples of doubloons vary in weight uniformity. Originally worth 32-reales, or two escudos (hence the name), they remained the standard gold coin of Spain and its subsequent colonies despite its forever fluctuating values until the middle of the 19th century when Isabella II of Spain opted for a monetary revamp that replaced the doubloon with the real and the peseta. The production of doubloons continued however, with a variance in the weight of the coin. Now weighing 8.3771 grams (0.268 troy ounces), it was equivalent to 100 reales. By 1849 the number of doubloons minted became lesser, with its denomination falling short of twenty reales. These latter types of doubloons were used in remaining Spanish colonies until it was discontinued by the 1850s. Some Spanish colonies such as Mexico and Peru (then called Nueva Granada) continued to mint doubloons until the 1860s, but discontinued it thereafter, while Spanish territories of Portugal had their own version of it, referred to as the dobrao.
In Spanish-American territories, doubloons were usually marked ‘2 S’, and was used as a currency which was equivalent to $4 when converted to (then) U. S. gold coinage. The U. S. itself had its own type of doubloon, created in 1787 by one Ephraim Brasher, which was used for general transactions until the early 1800s. The ‘Brasher doubloon’ is now a highly sought-after coin owing to its extreme scarcity. Despite its discontinuation, the doubloon became the model for a number of gold coins in many areas across Europe.
Nowadays, doubloons are commonly used as props in pirate movies, as well as token coins given away during Mardi Gras. The latter coins are usually made of cheap metals such as aluminum or plated copper and were popularized in the latter 1950s. Attributed to the Rex Krewe, it has since then become a common feature in Mardi Gras festivities in Louisiana, New Orleans as well as other areas. Authentic doubloons are sought after by numismatic collectors and some bullion investors, while imitation bullion made by private mints out of base metal or pure gold are also sought after by historical re-enactors and bullion investors respectively. Some of the earliest types of doubloons during the reign of Philip II (featuring the Crusader Cross) are often used as pendants and amulets and are common ‘accessories’ attributed to pirates, usually worn nowadays by privateer aficionados.
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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for coinandbullionpages.com © coinandbullionpages.com 2012
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