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Wisconsin's Spanish Currency

Spanish Reale coin from the Alden's Corners Post Office Site in Dane County, Wisconsin.
(Museum object #2002.211.8)

In 2002, archaeologists from the Museum Archaeology Program of the Wisconsin Historical Society excavated two cellars and a privy at the location of the Alden's Corners post office, recovering numerous artifacts. Among the personal effects found at the site were several coins, including, surprisingly, a silver Spanish Reale dated to 1781. Visible markings on the reverse include a crest in the center with a crown over it and the words "HISPAN", "ET IND." Two pillars flank the crest with scrolls around each. Much of the crest is obliterated from wear, but a lion in the lower left panel is still visible. The obverse bears the date and the letters "AROLU III" and "GR."

Alden's Corners was a rural hamlet, located on the Sauk Road (whose path approximates that of U.S. Highway 12) midway between Middleton and Sauk City in Dane County, Wisconsin. The roots of the community go back to the early 1850s, when the Alden brothers—John, Abisha, and Jacob—settled at the site. Within a few years a school had been built and in 1860 a post office was chartered. At its peak, Alden's Corners boasted not only these but a store/tavern and several residences.

Economic turmoil in the years following the Civil War, population turnover, as the original Yankee farmers moved west and families from what is now Germany replaced them, together with competition from other nearby communities, resulted in Alden's Corners' decline. The store apparently closed in the mid-to late-1870s and the post office closed its doors in 1880. Except for the school, which remained open until 1933, the community was all but forgotten.

Archaeologists identified the coin as a Charles III portrait coin with a "modified pillar" or "Milled Bust Type" design. The back shows the Spanish crest of arms (lions, castles, pomegranate, and in the center of the crest, three fleurs-de-lis) flanked by crowned Hercules columns. The words around the edge include "HISPAN ET IND REX" (King of Spain and the Indies), an abbreviation for the mint (i.e. Mo for Mexico), the denomination (i.e. 2R for a two reale coin), and the initials of the assayers (i.e. FF, FR). The front bears the words, "CAROLUS III DEI GRATIA" [Charles III, by the grace of God] and the date encircling a bust of Charles III (Carolus), who was the king of Spain from 1759 to 1788. These details have been worn from this particular coin.

There is a hole punched through the coin near the margin. Curiously, this is common to other Spanish coinage found at archaeological sites in the eastern United States. While this might suggest the coin was used as a pendant, the hole in the coin from Alden's Corners is positioned in such a way that, if the coin were strung, it would hang with the design on its side. This suggests that the coin was not used as jewelry. Another possible explanation is that the holes allowed for the coins to be strung or sewn into clothing for ease of transport and safekeeping.

Carl Truehl, one of the post masters at Alden's Corners, fought in the Mexican War in 1848, and it is possible that he brought the coin back as a souvenir. However, Spanish (and other foreign currency) was considered legal tender in the United States until 1857 and, in many parts of the country, such coins remained in circulation until after the Civil War. An unpunched Spanish reale bearing the date 1762 was found during the 1999 Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center excavations at Second Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien.

Research on the Alden's Corners site conducted by MAP on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Other materials recovered by MAP from the Alden's Corners site include charred bread that may date as early as the mid-ninteenth century.

[Sources: Krause, Chester L. and Clifford Mishler, Standard Catalog of World Coins, 19th Century, 2nd Edition, 1701-1800 (Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, Inc., 1997); Hawley, Marlin F., Kimberly Zunker, and Leah Rausch, "The Alden's Corners Post Office Site: Archaeological and Historical Investigations of a Rural Agrarian Hamlet along USH 12 in Northwestern Dane County, Wisconsin," unpublished report, 2004, on file with the Museum Archaeology Program).]

MFH


Posted on October 11, 2007

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