School kids in America all learn about King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and how they equipped Christopher Columbus with three ships to sail west from Spain in 1492. Collectors who choose to collect coins from this era have their work cut out for them. It is not because the coins are scarce. There are far more of them than one might think. It is because the coins are difficult to attribute, catalog, and evaluate.
The coin in our picture comes from one of our favoite dealers in such material, Calgary Coin on VCoins.com.
Most collectors have it made. Coins dated after 1600 generally have inscriptions which give the name of the country of origin, an explicit date, and the denomination such as 1 cent, 50 pesos, or 10 lira. Not so with these old medieval beauties. You have to know the style of the patterns to guess at the country of origin, you almost never find a date on the coin, and, if you are lucky, you must apply your detailed knowledge of world history to figure out what a coin actually is. A relatively small handful of collectors are willing to brave these collecting waters.
If you look closely, you can barely make out FERNANDVS ET ELISAB on Calgary's coin, a give-away for early Spain.
The weight of the coin is important. Again, to very coarse measure, the weight varies with the denomination:
1 REAL: 3.5 grams
2 REALES: 7 grams
4 REALES: 13.5 grams
8 REALES: 27 grams
Weights can easily be off by plus or minus 1 gram.
Calgary Coin is selling this 1 real piece for $135, a fair retail price and typical for such pieces. As always, specimens in better condition command higher prices and in worse condition lower prices. If you were to sell such a coin to Calgary or any other reputable dealer, figure that he or she would pay about one-half the retail price. The difference between buy and sell prices keep the dealership solvent. Very, very approximately:
1 REAL COINS (about 3.5 grams weight)
worn, legends barely readable: $50 US dollars approximate catalog value
worn, legends completely readable: $100
well preserved, legends barely readable: $80
well preserved, legends completely readable: $500
For other denominations, multiply the values above:
2 REALES: multiply by 1.5
4 REALES: multiply by 2.5
8 REALES: multiply by 5
It is important, as always, to be wary of counterfeit collectible coins. A small but active subculture of shysters specializes in ripping off collectors using counterfeits, and medieval coins are especially easy to counterfeit.. One of the best places for information on ancient and medieval coins is ForumAncientCoins.com.