The Mystique of the “Pillar Dollar” – Treasure and World Coin Auction #12
Bogota, Colombia, pillar 8 reales, Charles III, 1770VJ, encapsulated NGC MS 63, extremely rare (14 known). KM-unlisted (39 for type),Calico-1000, Cayon-unlisted. Est: $40,000-$60,000.
Few coins muster the mystique of the “pillar dollar,” known to Spanish-speakers as “columnario,” a truly beautiful coin that was ONLY struck at the Spanish colonial mints of Mexico, Lima, Potosi, Guatemala, Santiago and Bogota. Those from the last two mints are among the rarest crowns in the world, having been struck in only selective years. As the present coin shows, sometimes all the specimens of a year’s mintage are found in one hoard.
What makes the “pillar dollar” so special is that it was a truly worldwide currency, freely traded in all the continents except Antarctica. A well-known fact is that it was legal tender in the United States until 1857. The design itself is also attractive to collectors, as it shows two globes (for the Old and New Worlds) between the Pillars of Hercules draped with PLVS VLTRA (“more beyond”) under a crown and the legend VTRAQUE VNUM (“both are one”). The other side of the coin shows the Bourbon Spanish arms with denomination, assayers’ initials, mintmark and king’s name. This design was universal among the six mints.
The Colombian mint, at the city of Santa Fe de Bogota in the Viceroyalty of Nuevo Reino (“new kingdom”) de Granada, from which the mintmark NR is derived, was traditionally a gold-producing mint, and its silver output was always somewhat less than other mints in colonial days. But the pillar dollars were the least-produced type of all, with emissions known for only three years: 1759, 1762 and 1770. No more than a handful of specimens are known for each year.
The 1770s were unknown until 2006 (or thereabouts), when fourteen specimens were recovered from the original foundation of the Nuestra Señora del Pilar church in Bogota. This church, which was also a convent and school for girls, existed from the 1770s until 1948, when it was set on fire and eventually destroyed during the major riots known as the “Bogotazo,” triggered by the assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitán. The land where this historical building sat then became a parking lot until construction began on a new building in recent years. When the construction crews dug up the parking lot, they found a group of over 100 coins in the old church’s foundation, including the fourteen 1770 Nuevo Reino pillar dollars, reflecting a Spanish tradition of placing coins inside a new building’s first cornerstone. In fact, a contemporary document by Dr. Pedro de Saráchaga records that on October 12, 1770, there were “monedas nuevas que llevaban (doce niñas ilustres) para ese fin” [new coins that were carried by twelve illustrious girls for this purpose], namely the inauguration of the construction of the convent of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. This documentation supports a number of twelve 1770 pillar dollars, to which two must have been added along the line (perhaps carried by the priests). Rumors of a larger census have all proven false but perhaps have triggered conservative grading and sales prices.
Shortly after their discovery the 1770 pillar dollars were all sold to private collectors and museums in Colombia. Most of the coins, however, were purchased by one Colombian collector, who felt the present specimen had the best strike. Of the coins he felt were inferior to this coin, five have been sold at public auction (two NGC MS 64, one NGC MS 62, and two ungraded) for prices starting around $50,000 and well exceeding $100,000 each. Even though the present specimen, which has never been offered before, was graded MS 63 by NGC, it shows a noticeably deeper and choicer strike than the two MS 64s sold at auction, and its full mint luster begs a higher grade anyway. Since several of the fourteen coins were damaged by lime and cement, it is possible that only half the specimens are actually Mint State, and this is the last new Mint State specimen that will ever be offered.
Daniel Frank Sedwick, LLC
About the Auction: Our Treasure and World Coin Auction #12, scheduled for October 25-26 LIVE on the Internet, is on track to be our biggest ever, with many large and important consignments already in our hands, including a 2-kilogram gold bar and an 11-foot gold chain from the Atocha, several cannons and important gold artifacts, and special and large collections of silver and gold cobs and early Peruvian Republic coins. View the catalog and auction lots in person at the ANA’s “National Money Show” in Dallas, October 17-20. To subscribe for our printed catalog, please just send us an email or call us and we will notify you when the catalog is available. Printed catalogs will be available the first week of October and the items will be online around the same time.