Columbus discovered the New World in 1492 and later explorations revealed important sources of gold and silver. These metals, important as money in Europe were made into coins at a facility called a Mint. The first mint was established in what is now Mexico City in 1535. Many other mints were established in Latin America as new gold and silver sources were discovered.
The coins at these mints were crudely made from irregularly shaped blanks cut from the end of a bar of silver or gold and stamped by a worker equipped with only a hammer, a set of dies and an anvil. This type of coin is called a cob, probably derived from the Spanish cabo de barra meaning “end of the bar.” Cobs were also called macuquinas, a word probably from the Moorish meaning “certified.” These coins were essentially weights of precious metals and most of them were destined to be loaded on to ships and transported to Spain. Once there they were remelted and made into regular Spanish coins.
Because the blanks were so crude, the most important parts of the design of the coin were placed near the center of the dies. These were the value, the mint mark that was a letter or monogram identifying the place of manufacture, and the initial of the person responsible for the minting of the coins. Of course the weight of the coin had to be correct as the value stamped on the coin was a weight of precious metal.
These coins would be very rare today if all those wooden sailing ships could have crossed the Atlantic successfully. But as the fates would have it, many sunk in storms or hurricanes over the 400 plus years these ships made their way up the coast of North America on their way to Spain. Some of these wrecks have been discovered recently and have gained much notoriety either because of the salvors involved or the richness of the finds. Some notable finds have been the Atocha sunk in 1622 near Key West, the Concepción sunk in 1641 near the Dominican Republic, the Maravillas sunk off the Bahamas in 1656, and the 1715 Plate Fleet sunk off the coast of Florida near Ft. Pierce.
Since many thousands of these coins have been recovered, a regular market has been established by auctions and coin dealers that specialize in these kinds of coins. For example, “common” cob silver eight and four reales are worth between $80 and $250. Common silver two reales are worth from $45 to $100, common one and 1/2 reales are worth from $25 to $100 and silver 1/4 reales are worth from $100 to $250.
“Common” gold cob eight escudos are worth at least $2,000, gold four escudos are worth $1000 to $2,500, gold two escudos are worth $500 to $1800 and gold one escudos are worth $500 to $1200.