Division of Mathematical Sciences College of Arts and Sciences University of Guam

A method of barter was in common use by the native Chamorros long before the Spaniards arrived in Guam in the 16th century. Because of this barter system and the absence of commerce, there was no need for a coinage system in Guam during the first 150 years of Spanish rule. Coin usage was slow to develop and can be linked to: the development of Guam as a Spanish colony; historical events; and coinage policies established by Spanish officials in Spain, Mexico, Guam and the Philippines.

After Father Diego Luis de San Vitores established the first mission in 1668, a Spanish galleon usually stopped in Guam once a year on its way from Acapulco to Manila to trade with Chinese merchants. Each of these galleons brought additional personnel, primarily clergy and soldiers as well as individuals who were designated by Spain to rule and administer the far-flung colonies of Guam and the Philippines. These galleons also off-loaded animals at either Umatec Bay or Agana (Apra Harbor) and delivered the "situado" for Guam's Spanish colony. The "situado" included clothing and silver coinage that comprised salaries for the governor and the troop commander, payroll for the soldiers, and stipends for the missionaries. Since there were no stores in Guam during the early years, soldiers often gambled their silver wages away.


Spanish galleons on the Acapulco-Manila trade route carried silver coinage not only to deliver the "situado" to the colonies in Guam and the Philippines but also to have silver available for trade with the Chinese merchants in the orient. The silver coinage transported by the galleons consisted primarily of "pieces of eight", the common slang name for Spanish and Spanish-American 8-reales silver coins. Although the coins were produced between 1500 and 1900, their transport by Spanish galleons between Mexico and the Philippines was limited to the period between 1565 and 1815.

The Spanish and Spanish-American 8-reales coins were called "pieces of eight" because they were often divided into eight equal parts (called "bits") for small change. Each bit was worth one Spanish "real" or twelve and one half U.S. cents. These 8-reales coins were also divided into quarters or four equal parts (called "two bits"). Each "two-bits" piece was worth two reales or twenty-five U.S. cents. -26-

During the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, a royal decree in 1497 declared the "real" as the official Spanish monetary unit. Although the first 8-reales coins were struck in Spain in about 1500, most were produced in Spanish-America, especially in Mexico. The Mexico City and Peru mints struck 8-reales coins for the first time in 1572 during the reign of Philip II. These first pieces were called cobs and were irregular in shape. The word cob is derived from the Spanish "cabo de barra" which means "end of the bar". Each cob is unique as no two cobs have the same shape or thickness, nor do they bear the same imprints. However, cobs have the same weight-each weighed 27.4680 grams from the time they were first made up to the year 1728, and 27.0642 grams thereafter. The cobs were crudely cut from refined silver bars each with a cross stamped on one side and the Spanish royal coat of arms stamped on the other. Specifically, after metal blanks were cut from a silver bar, each blank was trimmed to the exact weight and then heated so that it would be soft enough for striking. The silver blank was then placed on one die and a second die was placed over the blank and struck with a hammer, impressing a design on each side of the coin.

Spain advocated the manufacture of cobs for two reasons. First of all, because of the abundance of silver ore in Spanish-American colonies, silver coins were minted in these colonies; however, the workmanship at the Spanish-American mints was considered crude. The second reason was that cobs provided a convenient and measurable method by which silver bullion could be transported from one corner of the Spanish empire to another, especially since each cob was of the same precise weight.

Conventional circular silver 8-reales coins were produced in both Spain (Madrid and Seville) and in six Spanish-American colonies (Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru). The best known Spanish dollar during the 18th century was the "pillar dollar", a Spanish milled dollar which was minted in Spanish-America (between 1732 and 1760) to replace the cob. The reverse side of the coin bears two identical pillars which represent the Pillar of Hercules, two rock projections at the Strait of Gibraltar. The "pillar dollar" was considered a standard of trade and was not only used in Spain's colonies but was also used in the United States well into the 19th century. Two, one, and one-half reales coins were also circulated during the 18th century.

Bolivia also minted (between 1801 and 1825) an 8-reales coin worthy of note. This coin bears a PTS mint mark which stands for Potosi, an imperial city which was founded in 1546. Potosi was located in the midst of the world's richest silver mines which produced in excess of 2 billion dollars worth of silver. An 8-reales piece minted in Bolivia is displayed in the Guam Museum. It is surmised that this 8-reales coin was brought to Guam as part of the "situado" as the last Spanish galleon stopped over in Guam in 1815.

The Acapulco-Manila trade route traversed by the galleons came to an end in 1815 because of the Mexican revolution. Consequently the "situado" for the colony in Guam was drastically reduced as Spain no longer had access to the silver mines in Mexico. Spanish ships continued the trade with merchants in the far east by crossing the Indian Ocean,


In the latter part of the 17th century, one of the more significant events was an aborted stopover by two galleons transiting from Acapulco, the SANTO NINO and her escort, the NUESTRA SENORA DEL PILAR De ZARAGOZA, or PILAR. The flagship SANTO NINO was carrying the "situado" for the Marianas and at the same time, was transporting Governor-General Fausto Cruzat y Gongora to his new post in the Philippines. The PILAR, meanwhile, was transporting several Franciscan missionaries and a large contingent of soldiers, including numerous convicts, from New Spain to the Philippines.

On June 3, 1690 while the PILAR was approaching Umatac Bay, strong currents caused her to veer off course and to run aground on reefs off Cocos Island, which ships must circumvent while proceeding into the bay. The 300 people aboard the PILAR abandoned ship and were rescued. The high-ranking passengers were embarked aboard the SANTO NINO while the others were ferried ashore to await the next visiting ship. Because of the mishap, the commanding officer of the SANTO NINO did not want his ship to share the PILAR'S fate and proceeded to the Philippines without off-loading the "situado".

It is estimated that the PILAR was transporting 1,500,000 coins. These silver coins were packed in chests containing 2,500 to 3,000 coins apiece, each weighing about 160 pounds. The chests were stored low in the PILAR and used as ballast, to keep the galleon stable while sailing. An organization called PILAR Project Limited commenced salvage recovery of the PILAR wreck in 1986 and has continued this operation to the present day on an intermittent basis, To date, fewer than one hundred coins have been recovered from the PILAR. Other articles recovered include cannon balls, musket balls, and religious artifacts.


Before the introduction of coinage, the Chamorros were compensated for their labor by various means. For example, between 1680 and 1720 a Chamorro was paid a day's work with two or three leaves of tobacco grown in the Philippines. However, these tobacco leaves were priced at double their value. This double valuation depressed a Chamorro's daily wage which was equivalent to about one-tenth of a "real", about one-eightieth of a silver peso. In terms of buying power, a single pair of trousers made of the cheapest material cost between six to eight reales. Hence a Chamorro had to work four to six months in order to acquire a pair of trousers.


This series is a condensed version of a manuscript that is currently being published as a book (about the size of a novella) by Professional Press in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. ************************************************************************


From Calcoin News, Vol 52, No. 2, Spring 1998