Gold Moidore

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The moidore is an obscure gold coin of Portuguese origin which was minted in limited quantities from 1640 to 1732. Originally referred to as the moeda de ouro, literally meaning ‘coin of gold’, it was one of the more obscure ‘pirate coins’ of the age, being lumped alongside the more popular doubloons and pieces of eight. It was never as popular as the other gold coins of the age, although it was notable for the sheer vastness of its sphere of circulation. The Portuguese moidore was a known currency in many parts of Western Europe, and was used as legal tender long after it had ceased to be stuck by Portugal. Many Portuguese territories employed moidores as currency, usually via consignments from Portugal itself which was shipped to territories for their express use, or via trading channels where it usually circulated with other types of coinage from other countries.[1]

Made with varying purities of gold depending on the batch which was shipped, a typical moidore usually took on a form not unlike many early modern coins of a Christian origin, with the coats of arms of Portugal on the obverse, and a cruciform symbol with the inscription ‘IN HOC SIGNO VINCES’ (‘By this sign shalt thou conquer’) in majuscule on the reverse of the coin. Areas such as the West Indies and Barbados used it as de facto currency even after Portugal had ceased to produce the coins in favour of the gold reales that soon replaced it as the official currency of Portugal. Because these areas were relatively cut-off from the mints that supervised the creation and re-minting of the coins, the use of the then demonetized and defunct currencies remained until it spread through trading channels into Ireland and the west of England where too it was adopted as a currency with a value relatively separate from its original worth under mintage from Portugal, as well as being separate from any other existing currency of the area at the time with equivalent values as reckoned by weights. The moidore was a very common coin from the 16th to 18th centuries that numerous references in both the literature of the time and the colloquial language of the period confirm its popularity.

Owing to the fact that it was a currency which became widespread through the medium of seafaring, the moidore became associated with piracy and pirates – with mention of the coin being commonplace in seafaring literature of the time such as Melville’s Moby Dick.[2] The use of moidores as a type of currency was not however accepted by the general masses, as it had a reputation about it of being ‘unclean’ currency worthy only of privateers and ruffians, as referenced in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes novel, where a mention of gold moidores is credited as one of the driving forces that influenced one character to murder another in order to obtain the fortune consisting of ‘pockets full of gold moidores’.[3]

As with any other early modern gold coin, moidores only possessed a degree of value thorough its weight in gold relative to the object which would be purchased or traded for them. Because of this, copper or iron rounds were made as weights used to measure moidores when conducting transactions, examples of which still exist today. These plain rounds usually featured an inscription consisting of one letter or a series of numbers which would be its equivalent in moidores, allowing for a seemingly ‘fair’ pricing of items as reckoned though the use of weights and scales.[4] A number of gold moidores found today are highly sought-after by numismatic collectors for their rarity, although not many bullion investors find moidores worth collecting, owing to their lack of standardized purity.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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