A Coin in Granby

Pit 52 gave us this great 1786 Spanish silver coin. This gives us the opportunity to see just what you could get for the buck by looking at the recently digitized Congarees Store Account Book from 1784. But first, we need to understand the confusing mixture of currencies that existed in Granby during this period.

What would this silver coin buy you in the 1780's?

Spanish dollars were silver coins sometimes called "pieces of eight" because they were worth eight reales (royals). Lacking the smaller coins, Americans often cut the coins into eight smaller pieces or "bits." Spanish dollars remained legal tender in the United States until 1857, but Americans often referred to a quarter as "two bits" well into the twentieth century, and the New York Stock Exchange counted stock values in eighths of a dollar until the 1990s. That's also where the cheers come from "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, All for [school] stand up and holler!"

In Colonial America, the eight-real piece, known in English as the Spanish dollar, had a value of 54d. This is the same as 4s6d where "s" is shilling and "d" is pence. The coin we found in Granby was 1/2 a real or 1/16 of a Spanish dollar. When the English colonists arrived in America they naturally continued to use the monetary units of Britain, namely the pound, shilling and pence for which 1 Pound equalled 20s and 1s equalled 12d. Our Granby coin would have been worth 1/16*54d = 3.375d.

Based on Granby's Congaree Store account book from 1784, 3.375 pence would have bought you one of the following:

250 nails (3 pounds of nails were 3d. Our typical nail weigh .2 ounces or 80 nails in a pound).

1 shoe (a pair of shoes cost 7d).

1/2 a set of knives and forks (a full set cost 6d).

1 ounce of fine thread.

1/5 a pound of coffee.

Almost 1 gun flint (2 flints were 8d).

4.5 ounces of Rum.

4 ounces of Jamacan Rum.

2 ounces of wine.

A tobacco pipe (2d, free if you made a tobacco purchase).

6 ounces of sugar.

Almost 13 cards of a deck of cards (1 deck of playing cards was 14d).