Spanish Silver or Piece of Eight?

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Connor Shumate holding his metal detector and treasure. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Rising Brownsville second grader Connor Shumate may have found pirate treasure right in his own yard! As Connor was running his Bounty Hunter metal detector around his Old Trail back yard, he heard a ping as he neared the swing set. “It’s a kid one,” said Connor, “but it has two phases. It makes a low bmmm sound if it’s a nail or something usual, but more like a siren if it’s something worth digging for. This time, it was the siren,” he said, demonstrating. He got a shovel and started digging, but needed help. Dad Daniel stepped in for added strength and to make the hole bigger. They ended up sifting through the dug-up dirt with their hands to find a very old, worn metal coin with unusual markings. The coin is metal, so it is not a toy. It is so old that the edges have worn away and the markings have dimmed with rubbing. 

When mom Maryam posted a picture of the coin on the Nextdoor neighborhood chat room, it generated much interest and excitement. Several neighbors with numismatic experience offered theories of what it might be. Marshall Faintich of Old Trail speculated that “this looks like a base metal medieval coin from Europe… possibly from the Iberian Peninsula, but more likely from one of the German states or the Netherlands, roughly 1400-1600s.” Saravan Chaturvedi of Western Ridge mentioned that “the letters along the edge seem to be IPVS. A quick google search shows many Spanish coins with the word PHILIPPVS.” Rob Langdon offered, “I am pretty sure it is a Spanish colonial, Philip V (1700-1746), although I don’t think that shield design was used after 1734.” 

Connor’s coin may be from medieval Europe or the Iberian Peninsula. But how did it get to Crozet? Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Rob Aronson of Old Trail was more specific. “My vote is that this is a replica of a 2 escudo Spanish coin from around the time of Philip II (late 1500s). This, and ones like it, were the so-called gold doubloons of pirate fame. It may also represent a silver Spanish coin from the same era and monarch, perhaps a 4 real (real=royal). Generally, these are collectively known as “pirate cob”… cob being a crude type of coin hand-struck with a hammer and die in the Spanish colonies. At double the value of a 4 real, the 8 real was the most common, known as a ‘piece of eight.’ This particular design is of the ‘crown and shield’ type.”

Maryam did some research on her own. “We think it is from the 1500s. The markings match a Lion and Castile coin from the Iberian Peninsula, now home to Spain and Portugal. It might be a pirate coin!” There are various theories about how it got to Crozet. Perhaps it fell out of the pocket of a settler or explorer, and was brought closer to the surface during the digging of the Shumates’ 8’ basement. Or the builders might have brought in topsoil from elsewhere. Might pirates have ever roamed Crozet’s fields and forests? 

“We are still seeking more information about it,” Maryam continued. “My husband and I both work in the D.C. area. We plan to take it to some antique dealers there to get more background and to verify its authenticity.”

The community will eagerly await the outcome of this quest. Maryam hopes Connor’s experience will encourage kids to get out and try something new during this unusual time of staying at home. Jess Burns of Crozet Park agrees. “As a teacher, I will say that there is SO much history right under our feet here and it is the absolute best way to get kids and teens excited about learning any number of topics. When we can get back together, I’ll be running a series of guided hikes for kids called Beginner’s Guide to Artifact Hunting. As the bulldozers scrape away, it’s important to note and document finds—a lot of artifacts are being tossed up.”

As for what he hopes to do with the coin, Connor said, “I hope it’s worth a lot of money!” 

Maryam Shumate. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

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