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Philip III ½ real

By Dave Busse

The ½ real coins have an obverse with a centrally located monogram of "PHILIPVS" topped by a royal crown. The legend around the circumference reads: "PHILIPVS III  DEI GRATIA" (the pieces did not always use dots/circles between the words, at times they were in the form of colons, lozenges, diamonds, four pointed stars or other shapes). The mintmark is left of the monogram while the assayer's initial is to the right.

The reverse has a centered cross with balls on the ends (this is an easy way to tell the coin is from Mexico as the balls on the ends of the cross are exclusive to the Mexico City mint). In the quadrants formed by the cross are lions and castles {Castile y Leon). Thelions are usually in the upper right and lower left quadrants with the castles in the lower left and upper right, though there are some error pieces where the layout is reversed (lions in the lower right and upper left and castles in the upper right and lower left). The legend around the circumference reads: "HISPANIARVM: ET: INDIARVM REX :".

All Mexican coins were undated until 1607 when a four digit date was added to the obverse legend. It replaced the "RATIA" of GRATIA. In fact, Grove lists an example that he attributes as a 1607/ ATIA. He lists this date over lettering for every denomination leading one to deduce that 1607 was the first year the Mexico City mint began dating coins. It could be that sources indicating earlier dates such as 1606 or 1607/6 were either referring to trial strikes or misreads, e. g., only the bottom half of the date was visible on a particular coin. Regardless of the ruler, and compared to the total number of known pieces, very few ½ real coins that exhibit a four digit date exist. As a result they are often difficult to attribute. Identifying which Philip - II, III, IV, or V – is represented on the coin frequently becomes a formidable task, since a goodly portion of ½ real cobs lack even the barest of legends. In fact, in most instances even the monograms and/or the central devices are incomplete. The No Date Philip III ½ real is nearly impossible to distinguish from a 1607 or later piece with an assayer initial of F when the date is missing. Incomplete details tend to be the rule rather than the exception on cobs in general, though the larger the denomination the easier the task becomes, primarily because the flan size increases making its surface area more nearly approximating that of the die. (For more on distinguishing between Philip II and Philip III ½ reales, see here).

The following table shows the examples/dates of Philip III ½ real cobs.

Year Assayer  
1598-1607 (ND) F  
1607/ATIA F  
1607 F  
1608 F  
1610 F  
1611 F  
1614 F  
1616 F  
1617 F  
1618/7 D/F  
1620 F  
1620 D