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Note on Weights and Currencies Considerable variations in the values of weights and currencies existed between Europe and its colonial possessions and within speci fic regions over time. The basic unit in the Luso-Hispanic world for the weight of sugar was the arroba. In Spain, the Canary Islands, and Spanish America, the arroba was normally about 25 pounds. Its value in Madeira was 28 pounds until 1504, when it was increased to 32 pounds. In Brazil, the 32-pound arroba was standard. Thus, in terms of comparison the Portuguese arroba was slightly over 20 percent heavier than the Spanish measure. Spanish currency was based on the maravedí. There were 34 maraved ís in a real and 8 reales in a peso de ocho or castellano, which was thus equivalent to 272 maravedís. The more valuable peso ensayado was equal to 450 maravedís or 1.65 pesos de ocho. Other coins also were in use; the ducado of 11 reales or 374 maravedís and the escudo valued at 350 maravedís (raised to 400 after 1566). In Portugal and its overseas settlements the standard currency was the milréis, or 1,000 réis, written 1$000. A coin of 400 réis called the cruzado also circulated. The conversion rate between Spanish and Portuguese currencies varied over time. In 1637 a contract between Pedro Blanco de Ponte of Caracas and Mendes de Setúbal of Lisbon registered in Escribanias Juan Luis, Archivo Registro Principal, Caracas (16 June 1637), indicates that by the decade of the 1630s the standard rate of conversion was 40 Portuguese réis to each Spanish real. Thus there were 320 Portuguese réis to each Spanish peso and 1$000 réis equaled 3.125 Spanish pesos. For a more detailed discussion of this subject readers are directed to John J. McCusker, ‘‘Les equivalents métriques des poids et measures du commerce colonial aux xviie et xviiie siècles,’’ Revue Fran- çaise d’Histoire d’Outre-Mer 61:224 (1974): 349–65; and especially to his Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600–1775: A Handbook (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978). This page intentionally left blank Tropical Babylons This page intentionally left blank ...


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