Gold Pistole

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What is a Pistole?

The pistole is a moniker for a number of early modern coins. Originally a Spanish term, it was used as an alternative name for the two escudo coin, better known as the doubloon. When used to refer to the Spanish doubloon, the term pistole usually takes on a slightly more refined, if not exactly formal tone as the term doubloon was commonly used by buccaneers to refer to plundered coins. During the height of the production of escudos, the rise in privateering also grew so that many seafaring outlaws benefited largely (if only somewhat occasionally) from the chest-loads of coins transported from mainland Spain to neighboring colonies for use. The association of Spanish gold and pirates have become the staple of pop-culture and literature, with the term pistole being used – sometimes interchangeably – with that of doubloon. While strictly referring to the two-escudo Spanish coin, the term pistole may also be used to describe any type of doubled (dobla or doble, hence doubloon) Spanish coin such as the four escudo, and the notorious eight escudo, a popular item found in many tales of swashbuckling buccaneers in its own right.[1] Considered a synonym for treasure for bibliophiles with extremely advanced vocabulary and a penchant for archaisms, the pistole isn’t far from being ‘treasure’ as much as value was concerned at the time, being worth as much as ten livres per one pistole - a hefty amount, considering the fact that shipments of such coins often come by the chest-load and would no doubt spell a fortune for those lucky enough to spirit it away.

The pistole was not a term which was limited for Spanish coins however, as it was also used to refer to the gold coinage of France (specifically those of Louis XIII and subsequent minting of similar coins thereafter) known as Louis d’ors. As with the use of the term in privateering literature when referenced to the doubloon, its use when referring to the French louis d’or also has ties in the literature of the time, with extant examples today owing largely to the sensational serials conspicuously read by the masses in pre-Revolutionary France. Among the more well known mentions of the pistole as an alternative name for the French louis d’or is found in the notoriously popular adventure novel Les Trois Mousquitaires (The Three Muskteers) by Alexandre Dumas pere. Referenced numerous times in the novel and general currency alongside other types of French, and some foreign coinage, a hundred pistole was, by the time the novel was set, purportedly equivalent to a thousand livre tournois.[2] Throughout the novel and two of its sequels, it was the de facto currency of the Musketeer-universe, with continuity in the timeline only breaking by around the timeline of the Le Vicomte de Bragelonne ou Dix ans plus tard (The Viscount of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later), the third and last installment of the Musketeer Romances, where the pistole was replaced with more ‘updated’ coinages such as the ecu and the franc.

Later on, the colloquial use of the term began to be adopted to mean whatever type of coinage was equivalent to two escudos or any other type of doubled coin, a term that later spread to many Spanish colonies, including Virginia, Mexico, and California.[3] By 1701, a coin of this name was even minted in Scotland, then under the rule of William II. Made from gold purchased from Africa, this gold coin weighed about 6.84 grams and was equivalent to 12 Scottish pounds. The number of such coins minted during this time is fairly limited, making this Scottish version of the pistole very rare.[4]

Being the stuff of legend, the coin has also been used to name a town – the Trois-Pistoles in Quebec. It was named after a legendary goblet worth the amount of three pistoles (trios meaning ‘three’), lost in a river while out navigating the surrounding areas.[5] Nowadays, the term pistols is rarely used to refer to either the escudo or the louis, however, its use as a type of currency in fiction and film remains strong, with many established concepts such as its being pirate currency or blood money being used in many historical-fantasy period films.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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