The History Files #6: How the 1450s Changed the World

1 hour 19 mins - Published Sun, Mar 29, 2015 by Gordon Frye and Nancy Frye

Gordon and special guest Nancy Frye discuss five major events of the 1450s that shaped our world, after first chatting extensively about historical fiction in film, television, and literature… the good and the not so good.

Addendum: One of the things we didn’t squeeze into the show, while discussing China and silver, was the importance of Spanish silver on world trade. The Spanish “real” was, during the 17th and 18th Centuries, the standard form of exchange between people, nations, and cultures everywhere in the world. Renowned for its purity and reliable weight, these “Spanish Dollars” or “pieces of eight” were hugely important in world trade. Spanish ships carrying silver reals sailed across the Pacific from Peru and Mexico to Manila, which became the primary trade entrepôt for Chinese merchants engaged in commerce with the Europeans, and likewise Spaniards engaged in the China trade. Similarly, the “Spanish Dollar” was the standard form of exchange within all of the American colonies, Spanish and English alike (and I imagine French and Portuguese as well!).

Since small change wasn’t minted, in order to “make change” these silver dollars would be cut into up to eight pieces, thus the “pieces of eight” nomenclature. See also the doggerel “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar…”, being a quarter, half and three-quarters of a dollar respectively. 1/8 of a dollar was 12-1/2 cents in “American money”, as it were, but seldom used. The quarter and half-dollar denominations became standard, even though the name “piece of eight” still referred to the original sum of the parts.

Special outro music: Istanbul not Constantinople, from the Alka Seltzer Show, 1953, performed by Martha Tilton and Kurt Massey and via the Internet Archive.

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The History Files

The History Files is a weekly show dedicated to history of all eras. Join historian Gordon Frye and various guests as they discuss history in the news, in the media, in literature, in politics, and just about anywhere else of interest.

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