Exactly two-and-a-half centuries ago, yet another seagoing victim intent on passing around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope fell to the relentless storms and treacherous currents that batter the coast. Her name was the Reijgersdaal (pronounced REE-jerz-doll), a combination warship and merchantman that was part of the Dutch contingent of sailing ships trading with India, Indonesia, Macao, China and Japan. Heavily laden with nearly thirty thousand Mexican 8 reales or "Pillar Dollars," the ship left Amsterdam in the summer of 1747 to sail around the treacherous Cape on its way to trade in the East Indies.
On the 25th of October, after losing over half of the crew to illness and death over the arduous four months of sailing, the remaining members had hopes of anchoring their ship just off the Cape and rowing in to gather food and fresh water for the remainder of the journey.
With the worsening weather and high waves buffeting the ship like a toy, the severely weakened crew could do nothing to prevent the Reijgersdaal from breaking away from its anchor and slamming against the rocks of an offshore reef. Of the 297 men assigned to her, only 17 survived this tragic voyage. In this year alone, nearly two dozen sisters of the Reijgersdaal fell and lay shattered off this Southernmost point of South Africa.
Two-and-a-quarter centuries slowly passed as the treasure lay undisturbed below turbulent seas and unpredictable weather. Then, in 1979, professional salvers Jimmy Rawe and Arthur Ridge spent countless hours underwater, recovering nearly 6,800 coins, as well as other priceless artifacts from the skeletal remains of the once-proud trader.
The vast majority of coins discovered within the wreck were silver 8 reales, also known as pillar dollars, struck at the Mexico City mint. The beautiful example below is from this find.
Pillar dollars were recognized the world over as a reliable medium of exchange, and were, in fact, America's first silver dollar. The name "Pillar dollar" comes from the two crowned columns on the obverse which symbolize the "Pillars of Hercules" (the Straights of Gibraltar where the Atlantic and Mediterranean Seas meet.) Between the pillars are the two hemispheres, symbolizing the "Old World" of Spain's metropolis and the "New World" of their South American colonies. Upon the columns is the motto "PLUS ULTRA" (More Beyond), indicative of Spain's continuing colonial expansion. The legend UTRAQUE UNUM (Both in One) is an expression of Spain's oneness with its colonies. The reverse displays the crowned Coat of Arms of Spain, along with the Latin legend "PHILIP-V-D-G-HISPAN-ET IND-REX" (Philip V - By the grace of God; King of Spain and the Indies.)
Coins are only a medium of exchange unless they have a story to tell. The hands they possibly passed through, the places they've been, or the era they were from add adventure to what otherwise is just a disk of metal.
If they could only speak.