March 9, 2012
A Brazilian Coin Gives a Glimpse of Salem’s Maritime Glory Days
“Who has the most interesting job at The Gables, I ask you!” exclaimed our Director of Maintenance and Preservation at The Gables.
“I’d say it’s ME,” he said proudly, as he plunked down a Brazilian coin dated 1803 in front of Gables staff. On one side, the weathered old coin showed a globe of the Earth encircled by lines. After doing minor research, he saw a resemblance between the coin’s engraved image and the image on Brazil’s modern-day flag.
To dispel any doubt, the Latin words, “circumit orbe” (encircling the orb, or world) along with “pecunia” (money) appear along the edge of the coin. On the coin’s other side, the etched letters are harder to read, but a large roman numeral “XX” appears above the date, “1803”.
He described where he found the old coin as he repaired a window in the Phippen House, which is part of The Gables historic landmark site. The coin was in a crack in the window frame, having slipped in there likely after it fell on the floor.
With a little imagination, one can picture a visiting seaman (or a Phippen ancestor) casting off his breeches at the end of a long day, with the coin falling out of the pants’ pocket and rolling across the floor to the edge of the room. It may have wobbled briefly before slipping into a crack along the wall. Over time, the shifting building made the coin “shimmy down” to the top of the window frame in the story below. There it lay for over two centuries, waiting for an appreciative soul to find it.
In addition to the Brazilian coin, other coins have been found onsite at The Gables. These include a Massachusetts penny dated 1783 (significant because it was issued before the Federal Reserve issued copper cents in 1793); a French penny dated 1783; a Spanish piece of eight dated in the late 1700s, and a Canadian two-cent piece. These coins have been inventoried and are part of the archives at The House of the Seven Gables.
This post was written by sperling