Gold Reis

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What Is The Brazilian Gold Reis?

Gold coins have always been a staple in the currency of Portugal, with mention of chests full of gold coins shipped to their neighboring colonies or used for international commerce and trade being the stuff of legend. One of the most well known early modern gold coins is the Portuguese real or reais. A similar coin however was patterned after it, known as the reis. Etymologically, the reis is simply nothing more than the original Portuguese real or reais adopted in a modern sense as Brazilian currency. It should be understood that the production of gold reis falls under two distinct periods: the early-modern and the modern periods of production, and that each coins from the differing periods have disparate origins despite being referred to, and used as, Brazilian currency.

When Admiral Pedro Alares Cabral first discovered Brazil sometime in the early 1500s, he subsequently conquered it and made it a territory of Portugal. In 1549, what was once only a settlement became an official Royal Colony.[1] The earliest types of gold reis found during this period was the Portuguese reais issued by Portugal itself. As Brazil remained a Portuguese colony, the rest of South America slowly became the colony of its rival country, Spain. The early period of Brazilian gold coinage did not begin here however, as they soon later discovered gold deposits in Brazil that would later influence much of the production of its – and subsequently, Portugal’s – currency.

The first official coin of Brazil that can be considered a currency on its own right without the taint of external influence came in the form of stamped ingots shaped like think scalpels. Made from 1778 to 1833, these ingots functioned as both currency within Brazil and as preparatory raw material for the creation of gold currency in Portugal and all across Europe.[2] This period of early modern coinage borrows strongly from the aesthetic concepts and standards of the Portuguese reais, although later on, this was adopted to become purely Brazil’s own. By the latter part of the 1700s, gold from the Brazilian mines of Minas Gerais became the staple source of gold for the production of both Portuguese coins and Brazilian coins, doing away with the need to import coinage into Brazil for general circulation.[3]

When Portugal fell under Spanish rule and the seat of the kingdom was transferred to Brazil, the former kingdom that did away with the reais in favour of the escudo (done in 1825) soon began to re-adopt the still-existing Brazilian reis and employ it for general transactions as well as international trade alongside silver and copper coinage.[3] An aesthetic revamp followed the Brazilian gold reis as the originally early-modern coin sporting Portuguese’s coat of arms and a cruciform symbol boasting its Christian origins was done away with in favour of the more popular bust and heraldic device found in many monarchical coinages.

This period opened the modernization of Brazilian gold coinage, and in doing away with the cruciform symbolism, it adopted the format of many ‘imperial’ coins that featured the bust of its rulers and the current monarch’s coat of arms, if not the nation’s heraldic symbols itself. Due to the value of gold, Brazilian gold reis are remarkable for flaunting extremely high face values ranging from the hundreds to the twenty-thousands. Despite the standardized face values, the true value of the reis fluctuated regularly, increasing or decreasing depending on the current state of the economy. By the latter part of the 1900s, the production of gold coins ceased, and it was no longer used as legal tender. Despite this, many early-modern and modern (pre-gold standard abolishment) coins are still sold by specialty shops to interested collectors and bullion investors, but these are rare and doubly prized. Likewise, commemorative gold coins are also created to mark special events bullion investors and collectors for their uniqueness and their intrinsic value.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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