M.M. writes: I’m trying to identify a coin I recently found with a metal detector at the site of a log cabin that was built approx. around 1800 in southeastern Indiana. I’ve found numerous large cents 1826 to 1845, a half dime, dime and 3 cent peace but one I cannot identify. It is silver, dated 1798, the size of a dime, a bust on the front with Gratta something on the front, on the back it has a shield with a coat of arms, a crown above it and it looks like swords on each side of the shield. It also says Hispan .ET IND R (something).F.M any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Your coin dated 1798 is a Spanish 1/2 Real (pronounced ray-ál) with the portrait of Carlos IV of Spain. It was minted at the Mexico City Mint, the initials F.M belong to the assayer, the person in charge of making the coins. Spanish silver circulated freely in the United States and was legal tender until 1858. The U.S. monetary system is essentially based on the Spanish Real.
Here is how Spanish Reales related to United States Coinage:
- Spanish 8 Reales = US$1
- Spanish 4 Reales = half dollar or 50 cents
- Spanish 2 Reales = quarter or 25 cents
- Spanish 1 Real = 12½ cents (when worn and they usually were very worn the 1 Real translated as a U.S. dime or 10 cents).
- Spanish 1/2 real = 6 ¼ cents (also passed, because of wear as a U.S. half dime or 5 cents) This coin was called a medio, a term no longer in the U.S. vernacular.
In the American West, where there always coin shortages, the portrait 8 Reales were cut in to 8 pie shaped pieces to serve as small change. One piece, called a bit, was worth 12½ cents. Two bits was a quarter, a term that still survives today.
Value for low grade 1798 medios – about $10.