Posts Tagged ‘doubloons’

Pirate Money

September 18, 2008

Ahoy Matey! September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Time to break out the parrots and rum and enjoy a pirate comic or two.

In keeping with the pirate theme, I sprinkled doubloons, gold coins, and pieces of eight on a test I just gave (the words, not the actual coins). And that got me thinking — just what are these pieces of money?

A piece of eight is a silver Spanish coin, also known as the Spanish dollar, which was used starting around 1500 and which was the basis for the US dollar. Its name comes from the fact that it was worth eight reales (so it might make more sense to call it an eight-piece coin). Indeed, for those with sharp scissors, the coin was sometimes cut into eight slices, each worth one reale, that were referred to as bits. Thus two bits was worth a quarter dollar, which is a useful fact to know if you should need a shave and a haircut. For that matter, there’s all sorts of other “bit” terminology: a dime, being just short of a bit, was called a “short bit” and a “long bit” was 15 cents.

Spanish Piece of Eight from 1739 (King Philipe)

Spanish Piece of Eight from 1739 (King Philipe)

But what about doubloons? A doubloon is a gold coin, worth twice as much as some other Spanish coin. According to Wikipedia, a doubloon is worth two ducats, and therefore worth four pieces of eight or 32 reals. But wiseGEEK says the doubloon is worth sixteen pieces of eight, and therefore worth 128 reals. Who to trust, who to trust. I like the name wiseGEEK, so I’ll go with their story (plus they admit that lots of different coins have been called doubloon). Suffice it to say that doubloon=gold and they’re good to have aplenty in your treasure chest.

Pirate flag by oren neu dag, Creative Commons License.