Brazil (Minas Gerais) Gold 12,800 Reis 1729-M
Obverse: Laureate bust of John V to right, legend and date around.
Reverse: Coat of arms
Grade: PCGS MS61
Solid detail both sides, a wonderful representation of Brazil's material wealth in the 18th century.
The laureate portrait of John V is to the right, his plump facial features, flowing locks and laurel wreath all combining to convey an impression of regal opulence.
It is seen as seldom in Australia today as it was in Sydney Town in the early 1800s.
The Portuguese first landed in what is now called Brazil in 1500 and, during the ensuing two centuries, discovered vast deposits of gold, much of which was shipped back to the homeland to fill the coffers of the aristocracy.
During this period, Brazil, in fact, produced more gold than all the Spanish colonies in Central and South America, including such well-known gold producers as Mexico, Peru and Bolivia. In the 1700's alone, the gold mined in Brazil was valued by a contemporary numismatist at £2 million sterling.
At this time, Brazilian gold coins were among the most widely used in the world, having an international profile similar to that of the current US dollar. The quantity of gold being produced in Brazil was so huge that in 1722 King John V of Portugal approved the issue of a new series of larger, heavier coins in Brazil to improve the speed at which the gold was coined. These coins, known as ‘Johannas’, circulated extensively throughout the world, particularly in North America, and also in the colony of New South Wales.
In New South Wales in 1800, the average worker earned five shillings a day (in addition to board) and, as we know, Governor King proclaimed the value of the Johanna to be £4. This means that these employees would have needed to work 16 days to earn the equivalent in value of one Johanna.
Even the most frugal Australian today will tell you that it is unheard of for them to save every last penny in their pay packet, let alone if they had a belly full of Bengal arrack and were surrounded by thieves, robbers and pickpockets!
It is highly likely that the only way the average free settler would ever have seen a gold Johanna would have been if they had stolen it from one of the more established colonists. Since these folk were generally armed officers in the New South Wales Corps, the chance of this happening would surely have been slim.
While we have suggested that the average worker would most likely never have seen a Johanna, this does not imply that these coins were not involved in the colony’s economy. In late 18th century London it had been pointed out that ‘Commerce was invoked as a universal instrument that offers itself to everyone, for the Improvement of his fortune’, while the glamour and wealth of the successful merchant provided an incentive to all men of ambition.
The most alluring fields for the speculator were the new settlements outside Europe (such as New South Wales), where there was a steady and growing demand for imported goods.
The dominant private activity in Botany Bay within a short time of its establishment was unmistakably commerce and, almost without exception, trade provided the necessary springboard. It was from this activity that Australia’s early entrepreneurs developed:
"During the first ten years in the colony, market conditions were so favourable that anyone, regardless of ability, with a command of capital was capable of producing a profit. Practically no degree of business acumen, except the most primitive level, was necessary to make a profit in such a monopolistic situation."
From this, we can see that the only thing the ambitious Sydneysider required was access to capital, either in coin or on account.
The Portuguese Johanna, as a solid and unquestioned form of international currency, easily qualified as a rare and highly desirable form of colonial capital.
This particular example has solid detail right across both sides - it does have a modest amount of friction on the high points, but all design elements remain clear.
Many of the large Brazilian gold coins from this era that remain inexpensive today have problems, such as a deep scratch or a rim bump.
This particular example has been rated by PCGS as being in mint-state quality - evidence of this can be seen in the lustre in the devices either side, as well as in the strength of the designs.
Click the PCGS icon below to verify the certificate details for this coin directly on the PCGS website.
PCGS Certificate Number: 39680494
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