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by Daniel Frank Sedwick

The name “Royal” is often criticized, for it appears to have been conjured up in the 1960s-1970s as a sales tool, when Hans Schulman decreed one such coin as being “a coin not struck for the public, but for the king only” "Lot 47 … A COIN NOT STRUCK FOR THE PUBLIC, BUT FOR THE KING ONLY … KING PHILIP V’s 1702 “ROYAL” … It has been assumed that a small number of perfectly round, gem mint specimens were struck to be given to the King, very different from the crude cob regular issues. It is for that reason that we call the perfect gem round pieces ROYALS." Spanish Galleon Treasure, Schulman Coin & Mint, Inc. (New York) auction catalog of November 27-29, 1972, p. 27. Note he offers a second example in the next lot as “King Philip V’s second 1702 ‘Royal’,” as if it were the king’s personal property.. Some researchers believe the proper term for these coins is galanos (gallants), a term that appears in mint records from the early 1700s Lazo García, Carlos. Economía Colonial y Regimen Monetario, Peru: Siglos XVI-XIX (1992), but these records do not make it clear what the galano coins are. Earlier U.S. numismatists used to call these coins simply “circulars,” “rounds,” or “presentations.”. But whether or not you believe these special round coins had some regal purpose, the fact is that “Royal” is the term that most properly relays the quality and importance of these pieces, so it has stuck.

So why were they made? The connection to royalty can be dispelled by the fact that so many are known, not to mention that most never left the Western HemisphereTwo Mexican "Royals" were found during the salvage of the Dutch wreck of the Rooswijk, which was on route to the East Indies (hence not in route to Spain for inspection; but perhaps there is still some merit to the idea of Royals being some sort of presentation proofsPoor grammar aside, perhaps Henry Christensen summed it up best: “The few perfectly round pieces with all details must have been specimens struck to prove that they were able to produce them” (The Ubilla-Echevez Collection, Henry Christensen [New Jersey] auction catalog of 8 October 1964 or maybe just teaching tools for master minters to show perfect examples to apprentices.

One theory is that these were specially commissioned pieces produced for ceremonial purposes or special events. One contemporary document discusses specially made coinage that was given out as gifts during a Royal wedding. In this case the men were given 8 Reales, while the women were given 4 Reales. Antonio de RoblesAntonio de Robles, Diario de sucesos notables: 1665-1703{/footnote} records that on 16 May 1703 a comedy in honour of the Viceroy and Duke of Albuquerque was given at the Mint (of Mexico), the cost of which was covered by its Treasurer don Francisco de Medina Picazo, who is said to have given to each of the Viceroys and to their daughter one thousand pesos manufactured in the style of the segovian ones. This is a clear reference to the round pieces of eight struck in Segovia at that time and thus a contemporary description of the Mexican Royal 1703 8 Reales. 

It is curious to note that the great majority of silver Royals are found holed for wearing as pendants, and quite a few of them also come with gilded surfaces, which LazaroLazaro, José Luis. Los redondos de Lima, Méjico y Potosí y otras acuñaciones especiales (1996), p. 11 believes might have been done at the mints themselves.

One final theory is that Royals were commissioned by wealthy individuals who were required to turn their silver ingots into coins but wanted something better than just a bag of crude cobs in return (similar to the practice of striking huge “cincuentín” coins [50 reales] in Segovia, Spain).

At the very least a true Royal should be evenly struck on a round, flat flan. It is clear that each flan used was a hand-selected planchet of excellent quality, cast perfectly round instead of cutting from the end of an ingot (cabo de barra). In addition to the use of special flans, Royals were also struck with special dies that contained differences that were subtle yet distinct, such as the addition of florets to the dies-clearly indicating their lengthy time of production. To further set them apart from their cob counterparts, most of the dies were arranged in medallic alignment (↑↑ rather than ↑ ↓), to make the coin “reversible” when worn as a pendant, and instead of a hastily applied strike, there was clearly a mindful approach applied to the strike's centering and evenness.

Phil Flemming, who has studied the Mexican gold galanos between 1679 and 1705, has come to believe that these coins were struck multiple times on a minting machine, at least during the tenure of assayer Manuel de León (only gold galanos dated 1695, 1698 and 1702 are known under this assayer). Flemming’s assertion seems to be supported by a book from 1819 discovered by Jorge Proctor, in which Manuel de León is said to have been responsible for inventing many “exquisite machines,” including those for the manufacture of coinsBeristáin de Souza, José Mariano; Biblioteca Hispano-Americana Septentrional, Volume 2, Mexico, 1819, p. 181. So at least in Mexico some galano planchets may have been “struck” with devices other than the hammer.

Royals were not made in every year, nor in every denomination within a given year. In fact the years of Royal strikings seem random, with some years totally absent and others with multiple sets of dies known. Some dates are represented by multiple specimens with several different sets of dies while others are unique.

Some royals in fact found their way into circulation more than two centuries later, as evidenced by the few specimens existing with the Guatemala series of revalidation countermarks applied in the 1840s), these pieces were undoubtedly special items. Many of the coins countermarked in Guatemala show little circulation, pointing to their hoarding during the mentioned 200-year interval.