Bohemian BeginningsThe origin of the dollar may be found in the early 1500's, when coins displaying the figure of St. Joachim were struck at Joachimstal in Bohemia. Silver, mined in the valley of St. Joachim in what would become Czechoslovakia centuries later, was used for the coins.
Spanish DollarsThe Spanish dollar was at its zenith as one of the world's great trading coins at around the time that Australia was colonised. The coin had begun as a piece of eight reales in 1497 - the real (or royal) was a 13th century coin. In Mexico and along the Andes in South America, the Spaniards found vast silver deposits. A flood of coins reached the world from mints set up in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia.
For 150 years, these coins were cob pieces (cabo de barra translated as 'cut from a bar'), made by placing a measure of silver between upper and lower coining irons (dies) and striking the upper die with a hammer.
Spanish dollars had many names throughout the world. Pirates in the Carribean called them 'pieces of eight', in Asia and the sub-continent they were 'piastres' while the Spanish called them 'pesos'. After 1728, they were known widely as milled dollars. With an obverse design which symbolically represented the Pillars of Hercules (the Rock of Gibraltar and Jebel Musa in Morocco where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic), the coins were also known as 'pillar' dollars.
Australia's Holey DollarThe first Australian dollar was issued in 1813 when Governor Macquarie used Spanish dollars which were holed and counterstamped.
Only one holey dollar struck from a Spanish 'pillar' dollar is known to have survived. The host coin was dated 1757. The other 300 or so which have survived show an obverse portrait of the Spanish monarch - Charles III, Charles IV (or IIII) or Ferdinand VII - and are dated between 1773 and 1810.