Gold Escudo

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What is a Spanish Gold Escudo?

The escudo was a type of Spanish currency that later became a denomination, initially produced as gold coinage during its inception but later revamped to become silver coinage after the discontinuation of the gold ones.[1] The gold escudo was first introducted in circa 1530s as both a type of coin and a denomination originally worth 16 reales. As is typical of coins from the time, these escudos were usually made by hand, with very rudimentary circular or ovoid shapes depicting the Spanish coat of arms as well as an equilateral cross denoting it as a coin of Christendom. The earliest examples of escudos were made from pure gold or gold alloyed with minute amounts of copper for hardness, and were usually minted using manual striking methods. These resulted in rudimentarily shaped ovoid coins that vary in the detail and depth of its impression owing to the then un-standardized methods of minting. The earliest types of gold escudo usually had its faces slightly or totally off-center.[2] These somewhat poorly struck coins are most commonly found in shipwrecks that can be traced from the early to mid-1500s as they were commonly used for trade at the time. A number of escudos from this era were also made from various purities of gold, with the majority being made from gold and copper alloys. The consistency of the alloys usually varied from 50 / 50 (parts gold to copper) to 80 / 10, although other examples of escudos from the middle of the 1500s were usually composed of 24 carat pure gold.

Issued in varying denominations (with ½, 1, 2, 4, and 8 escudos available; the two-escudo being known as the doubloon), it was the standard currency of the Spanish territories at the time of its creation until the introduction of the silver escudos sometime during the early 1860s. As with all old gold currencies, the value of the escudo fluctuated widely, although the case for the Spanish gold coins’ fluctuation was not always due to debasement, but rather due to the introduction of other forms of currency that often drastically changed the exchange value of the other preexisting currencies of the time.[3]

Until the early 1600s, gold escudo continued to be shaped like rudimentary circles and the standard aesthetics that marks ‘modern’ European currencies (i. e. portraitures of rulers, dates of minting, national mottoes or names of rulers) were still rarely in place but not altogether un-existent.

By the middle of the 1600s (circa 1680 onwards) gold escudo ceased to be handmade and became minted,[4] resulting in more uniform coins that now began to depict the busts of Spanish rulers. By around this time, the consistent use of the equilateral cross reminiscent of Crusader’s coins began to fall away in favour of the depiction of the realm’s heraldic devices or coats of arms. These modern milled gold escudos became the forerunners of many gold coins of Europe, including the French louis, the Portuguese reis, the Italian scudo d’oro, any many others; some examples were even used as coins in many areas that fell under Spanish rule. The standards of modern coinage such as minter’s marks and master-minter symbols or hallmarks were also applied to these milled escudos, so that by the time of its discontinuation, subsequent gold coins would follow in the practice, among them the French gold coins and Portuguese gold coins.

By the time of milled coinage, much of the gold used in the creation of escudo were either recycled or re-coined old versions, or gold that was taken from Spanish colonies or plundered wealth from earlier times. Once again, the purity of the coins were sometimes questionable especially if they were made from plundered wealth, although by this time, whatever wealth that had been taken by earlier Conquistadores would have already been refined and rendered pure, despite the traditional methods employed at the time. By the latter part of the 1700s, the production of gold escudo fell away in favour of the silver escudos that would later become the standard of Spanish coinage. The remaining gold coins were entirely done away with however, and were used in much the same way bullion coins are used today.

Some earlier examples of escudos (usually ones depicting the crusader crosses or other equally religious symbols) would often be mounted as pendants or incorporated into sword pommels or other items as decorations or amulets against harm, owing to their sacred symbolism and precious nature. Nowadays, escudos are sought-after collectibles owing to their rarity, with many numismatists investing substantial amounts of time and money in attempts to locate rare types of escudo. Gold investors and antique collectors also consider escudos extremely valuable investments, not to mention highly decorative artifacts in their own right. A number of escudos sold online nowadays however, have the tendency to be fakes, so careful scrutiny and study is required to ensure the authenticity of the purchase.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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