Gold Reais

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What is the Portuguese Reais?

The Portuguese reais, better known as the Portuguese real (lit. ‘royal’), was a type of gold coin which was the predecessor of the more popular escudo, it in turn having been preceded by the Portuguese dinheiro.[1]

Commissioned by Ferdinand I in circa 1380, it was originally meant to replace the dinheiros at a value of 120 dinheiros per one real.[2] The first coins to have been minted were initially made of silver, although later minting of the reales resulted in a split of denominations owing to the introduction of gold and copper alongside the silver coinage. By the time of King Duarte I, the real, then referred to as the real branco was now worth 840 dinheiros and had officially replaced the former as the official coin of Portugal.

Minted alongside the silver ones, the gold reais was of a somewhat finer type than the latter gold coins that would be issued by Spain later on. Typical of coins dating from the 15th to 16th cenuturies, the reais flaunted the coat of arms of Portugal as well as an equilateral cross accompanied by mottoes of ruler’s names and the motto of the realm on the obverse and reverse side respectively. Due to the distinct use of the equilateral cross as one of the foremost symbols of the coin, the gold reais was also referred to as a cruzado (lit. ‘blazoned with a cross’). Originally being made in 1, 3, 5, 10, and 20 reais, although by the latter part of the 1500s, the one real coin was discontinued in favour of the three real one, which became the smallest denomination. In a similar vein, large denominations amounting to the thousands were also minted, referred to as mil-reis, with 480, 800, 3,200, and even 6,400 gold mil-reis having been coined.

By the early 18th century, the 6, 400 reis coin, also called the ‘peca’ became the standard gold coin Portugal, while the introduction of base-metal coinage took effect by the latter part of the 18th to the early part of the 19th century, when copper coins were issued as smaller denominations and the silver ones revamped to middling denominations (with some exceptions), with the larger face values reserved for gold coins. Due to the constant change of coin standards, the value of the gold and silver reais no longer tallied up to the original face value of the coin which were sometimes worth more than the inscribed face value they purportedly possessed.

Later on, the currency standards of Portugal became so unreliable at best that the need for a new, less confusing and more reliable currency system needed to be implemented. The production of gold reais was discontinued by the middle of the 18th century and replaced with the escudo, while the production of silver ones remained alongside copper ones well until the early 1900s. Both large-denomination gold coins also circulated with banknotes (invented in circa 1797) and issued by a number of different banks throughout its run, making the Portuguese currency system even more complex that it previously was. With the abolishment of the gold standard, the production of gold reais ceased ultimately, with the last gold coins having been minted from 1908 to 1910, under the reign of Manuel II.

All subsequent currencies thereafter retained only the base-metal ones and the issuance of (likewise revamped) banknotes, foregoing the production of silver coins at around the same time as the complete abolishment of pure gold ones, only retaining alloyed coins of the barest amounts of silver, until billion coinage too was finally abolished by the middle of the 1900s owing to the Revolution of 1910.[3]

As with any pre-early modern gold coinage, reais are rare and highly sought after by collectors, with a number of extant samples having been made into amulets and pendants as was the penchant of the time for coins bearing the cruciform symbol. [4]

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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