Experienced numismatists are probably familiar with cob coins – even if they don’t have any in their collection. At first glance, cob coins don’t look like much. One might say they can barely be called coins – their radically irregular shape is nothing like the uniformly circle coins we know today. In fact, no two cob coins are exactly the same. Even an organized collection of cob coins looks like a mishmash of dingy, haphazardly stamped gold and silver scraps.
In reality, cob coins are the original “treasure coins.” Doubloons, reales, and pieces o’ eight are all cob coins – traded by pirates, lost at sea, and dense with precious metal content. Silver cob coins are about .930 fine, while gold ones are about .920 fine (22 kt). Historical value aside – they are worth a lot according to today’s precious metal prices.
Cob coins arose in the 16th century when Spain wanted a way to quickly turn the precious metals mined in its colonies into currency. Rather than refining the precious metals into sheets to be stamped into coins, bars were chopped and then manually hammer-struck into coins. That’s why cob coins are all misshaped with off-center pattern strikes.
The results were crude, but effective. Using such a quick method allowed the colonies to ship out coins at an incredible pace, with many coins minted right at the mines. The Spanish called the coins “cabo de barra” – from the “end of the bar.” Hence, the anglicized term, “cob” coin. Their fast mode of production and inherent precious metal value gave cob coins a wide circulation – nearly all over the world!