During the reign of the Bourbon dynasty, in the 18th century, Spain’s European territories shrank in size, but this loss was compensated by the development of prosperous trade routes with its overseas colonies.
One of the cornerstones of this global market was the real de a ocho or “piece of eight”, a silver coin whose weight and purity were equal to its value, with the effigy of the reigning monarch stamped on the obverse. The “piece of eight” became an international currency, the coin of choice for commercial transactions between Europe, the Americas and Asia. It was especially favoured by Chinese merchants and bankers, who even countermarked it to guarantee the weight and purity of this Spanish coin. The countermark could be a single sign, two or more characters indicating the name of a person or city, or a word such as “good” or “perfect” confirming the coin’s purity.
The map shows the routes that connected Asia, the Americas and Europe. The Manila Galleons, also known as the China Galleons, sailed the northern ocean currents from Asia to the Americas, and returned to Asia by a more southerly route, while the Spanish Treasure Fleet covered the route between the Americas and Europe. Exotic Asian products made their way from Manila to the city of Acapulco, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. From there, they travelled overland to the city of Veracruz, on the Atlantic shore, where they were loaded on ships again and set sail for Seville, stopping at Havana, Cuba, along the way. The majority of shipped goods were luxury items, most notably the light, translucent, resonant porcelain wares that ranked among the most coveted Chinese products in Europe, paid for with “pieces of eight” minted in the Americas.