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UN-REAL
#1
The Un-Real Eight Reales
By Julio “Jules” Razquin


Most of my metal detecting outings would be preceded by some research, but this one was different: Back in March of 2009 I set out to meet with a friend with whom I’d had many a great detecting adventure, only this time it was not for metal detecting, but with the purpose of checking out a house he was working on that was for rent. You see, things in my life were not exactly going according to plan, and I found myself quite abruptly having to make some serious decisions about my marriage, and life in general.
As anyone reading this knows, metal detecting can be quite therapeutic: there is a lot to be said for time spent alone, or with friends, searching for history in the great outdoors. Sometimes all one needs is some time out alone, doing what one enjoys best, to chew on things and get some perspective.
So, as I am sure most everyone reading this does, I carry my metal detector with me in the car wherever I go. Well, most of the time, anyway. That Saturday morning, as I glanced at my watch while driving, I realized I was way too early for my meeting. I let my foot off the pedal as I drove up the dirt road that back in the 1700’s had been transited by the very first people to settle the town I live in. As I reached a crest, I saw to my left a field I’d already detected, along with a cellar hole which had not provided anything more than nails and the occasional shotgun shell. Having passed the field, something caught my eye on the right side of the road. The thick of the brush and trees could not hide from me the features that bore all the signs indicative to the presence of a cellar hole.
For some of the folk reading this, the term “cellar hole” might only be familiar by way of reading magazines such as this one, or on online forums. Here in New England, much of the wilderness is dotted with these history-rich features, which are testament to the grit and courage of the settlers who helped found this nation. Basically, what you’ll find is a symmetrical manmade depression, sometimes up to six feet in depth, lined with field stone, or cut granite. One look at the handiwork of these people and you’re left in awe of not only the human effort, but the skills and knowledge necessary to construct the foundations of their homes.
I’d not seen this one before, and given the fact that I’d not driven before that far up the road, I excused myself. I wondered if my friend had, and whether he’d detected there before.
With about half an hour to spare, I fired up my machine, and clambered up the embankment, not at all bothered or dissuaded by the thick brush. Reaching the top, I now could see what undoubtedly had been the foundation to a home. I like to think that given my experience I can estimate the age of these by their current state, and the stonework. This one was old: the stones from the surrounding landscape had been put to good use, creating retaining walls on four sides, and a solid center structure meant to serve as the foundation to a hearth. Much of this particular cellar hole had succumbed to nature: the elements and flora had been at work for at least two hundred years, robbing it of its symmetry, toppling stones into what once had been a storage space beneath the home. And yet there it was still, as if the very spirit of those who’d dug and lined the hole were still present, defiantly whispering down the centuries to anyone who cared to see.
Since 2005, I’ve used two brands of metal detectors: Garrett, and now Minelab. In my nine years metal detecting, I came to realize that it matters not what brand machine you use, but how well you know it. The only reason I am mentioning the Minelab SE Pro is context, and to simply get that fact out of the way. It’s the machine which has proved ultimately the best fit for the kind of detecting I perform, and where I do it: simple as that. No matter what machine you use, if you are going to indulge in detecting cellar holes, you are sure to encounter what most call “trash” (iron, iron, and some more iron), and for such occasions it is best to be equipped with a smaller search coil. So, in light of the fact that I expected not only limited swinging space (because of the dense vegetation), but also a vast amount of iron, I opted to use a smaller coil, the FBS 800.
Typically, I perform a slow and meticulous scan of the immediate edge of the foundation, but this was proving to be quite the challenge. After convincing myself that there was nothing to be found there, I eventually opted for the wide and less densely grown area which I assessed to be the “driveway”, a level stretch of ground that lay between the foundation and what I recognized to be where a barn had once stood.
After just a couple of minutes, the unmistakable tone rang through my headphones…
With a bit of effort, I cut a square plug through the soil and myriad of small roots, releasing a smell which I have come to equate with time travel. The moist and musty scent I am talking about is one of the most exciting ever to me, as it always precedes an encounter with history. I knew for a fact that what most likely lay in wait was a coin.
At no more than five inches’ depth, I spotted the verdigris edge of what I knew was a copper coin. Could it be a Large Cent, maybe? No… It was a King George II Halfpenny! As much as there was on the coin to identify it as such, I could not immediately discern a date, but it had to be mid-18th century, for sure. My little impromptu adventure had paid off! I scanned the hole again (just in case, because you never know), and then covered it up as I wondered if there were more such finds in store. Ten seconds later, and no more than a foot away, I had an answer.
From the same depth as the King George coin, came a very deteriorated, yet identifiable Fugio Cent. “It’s a spill”, I muttered to myself. How else could these two coins from roughly the same period be so close together, at the same depth? And without missing a beat, I proceeded to scan much more slowly now the area. Sure enough, another good target!
Digging now a little deeper than the previous two coins, and no more than a foot away from where these had been found, a larger circular shape came into view. The sheer size and weight of this coin immediately overwhelmed me with excitement and curiosity. The size was identical to a Morgan dollar I’d found the year before, but this one showed no silver. The green-brown and sticky patina was nothing like what I’d seen on any coin. I brushed it gently with a toothbrush, and watched as a bust starter to reveal itself. On the other side, a coat of arms began to appear. It was Spanish! Wait a minute! Could it be an Eight Reales!?
Still tingling all over, I realized I was now late for my appointment with my friend. I hustled out of there, the coins tightly packed in a container full of dirt.
My friend and I gently rinsed and brushed the coins: the two coppers were exactly what I’d guessed, albeit in the kind of shape you’d expect in such soil conditions after more than two hundred years. But the Eight Reales was cleaning up much better, as I expected silver should. Still, there was something slightly “off” about its appearance.
As far as silver goes, I knew that old silver would sometimes surface with a dull gray and even black color. I was not about to push the boundaries by applying any more cleaning than I’d already done: the features were distinct and clear, and the date was a glaring 1775. And yet it remained a dull gray, which I wrote off as the effect of age and soil conditions. It was time for me to scan it, and report to Dr. Philip Mossman.
I first came in contact with Dr. Mossman after stumbling onto a website in an effort to educate myself on Spanish silver coins that had circulated in the American colonies. He is a much revered figure in the realm of numismatics in America, and is an author: I highly recommend his book, Money of the American Colonies and Confederation. Via email, Dr. Mossman had asked me to report to him any coin finds predating 1900, and as I’d done before, I submitted to him images of my latest find, along with any other details he might find useful. He has been for years putting together a database consisting of Colonial coin finds in an effort to establish a census and patterns of distribution. Two days later, Dr. Mossman replied: “Congratulations on your find! You do realize that your coin is a counterfeit, right?”…
I searched for images of Eight Reales on the internet, and sure enough, my coin was most definitely different. First off, the image of King Charles III seemed almost cartoonish in comparison to the busts on the images I found. Secondly, there were numerous discrepancies, such as “double strikes” of letters, and other details which further substantiated Dr. Mossman’s conclusion. I have to admit that the realization that my coin was a counterfeit robbed me of some of the excitement of its discovery. That was until a couple of days later, when he sent an email in which he asked if I wanted to be famous.
It turned out that he had forwarded the images I’d sent to a gentleman by the name of Bob Gurney. Mr. Gurney, an expert on counterfeit Colonial coinage, had been for years doing something akin to what Dr. Mossman had been doing: collecting information on as many contemporary counterfeit Spanish silver coins as he could, as well as collecting specimens himself. Mr. Gurney was writing a book on the topic of counterfeit Reales, and he seemed quite keen to include my specimen in his book.
And here’s what Bob Gurney had to say about my coin in an email:
Hello Julio,
After seeing the coin I recalled seeing it from an earlier note.
It is definitely what I would call a Class 1 Contemporary Circulating Counterfeit - an absolutely spectacular find for a dug coin. Most dug examples are very poorly preserved. Can you tell me where you found it and if possible any history associated with the location?
The 1775 date itself is a rare date. There is only one other 1775 Class 1 counterfeit known to exist. Yours is a different die pair. All dates before 1778 are rather scarce.
All together we have assembled a nearly complete date set from 1771 to 1824 - with only 2 years missing 1774 and 1776. The 1774 and 1776 examples we have seen up to this point in time are all modern forgeries.
Phil is editing the final draft of our book on Portrait Mexican Counterfeit coins which includes 538 different varieties in Class 1.
Our book defines 4 Classes of Counterfeits.
Class 1 are the oldest made before 1830 and meant to circulate as coins. (538 listed - which has grown to 550)
Class 2 are the silver restrikes made for use in China between 1830 and 1930 - these coins at times look exactly like genuine coins. (27 varieties - 81 examples)
Class 3 are counterfeits made to defraud collectors - they date from 1930 to the present. (177 varieties - unknown number total in the thousands)
Class 4 are original coins that have been altered to turn them into more valuable coins - Frauds. (Over 1000 that I have reviewed in the past 10 years alone).

If we do another edition with an addendum for recently discovered coins I would love to include your coin. It is unique.
Unfortunately your coin was not early enough to make the book. I have a bunch ready to go in an Update or Addenda volume.
So, needless to say, I was now not feeling at all disappointed in having found a counterfeit coin. As a matter of fact, I was feeling rather smug, and quite proud of the fact, but that’s not the only reason why I am writing this article.
It was only through the interaction with such professionals as Dr. Mossman and Bob Gurney that I discovered an oft-forgotten chapter of coinage in American history, and the provenance of what otherwise would probably have gone down as just another great coin find in my journals. Counterfeit Colonial America coinage is something of an obscure, if not entirely unknown subject to many wielding a detector: once you start learning about it, you can’t help but be left in awe of the lengths people (and even governments) were willing to go to in order to produce such coins as the one I found.
Our responsibilities, as “Relic Hunters”, or whatever other term you might prefer, is to educate ourselves, and educate others. In doing so, not only do we contribute to our community, but to dispelling the myths being woven and used against us. We owe it to each other, and to everyone, to act responsibly, and treat the items we discover with the care and respect they deserve so as to ensure their preservation and educational potentials.
Oh, I almost forgot... Almost exactly a year later, no more than a quarter of a mile from where I’d found the counterfeit Eight Reales, I found a genuine one, bearing the same year! And after studying closer another item I’d found back in 2006, I discovered it was yet another counterfeit Eight Reales, only this one was pewter and had little to show of its former infamous self.
Recommended reading:
Money of the American Colonies and Confederation, By Dr. Philip Mossman
Counterfeit Portrait Eight-Reales: The Un-Real Reales, by Bob Gurney
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