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Classic coins in context

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"Twenty-four miles from our last station we came to the Maricopas Wells, situated in a large plain of alkali soil and coarse grass. There are, in all, six or eight wells, and the water is very good. We found a number of Indians there, and one of them had the audacity to ask me three bits (37 1/2 cents) for a small melon he wished to sell. I showed him two three-cent pieces, and the insufferable contempt which he gave me would be worth a fortune to an actor if put in the right place. I am sure his melon would rot before he could get another chance to sell it" (The Butterfield Overland Mail. Ormsby, Waterman L. The Huntington Library, 1962, pp. 98-9).


This observation was included in a report dated October 13, 1858, and posted from San Francisco regarding the stage trip between Tucson and Yuma, AZ.


Didn't those savages know that Spanish colonial and Mexican reales were no longer legal tender?! Just because they were in the territories they thought they could continue avoiding decimal coinage?! The outrage!

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  • Member: Seasoned Veteran

I believe that in this context the term "three bits" did not literally mean Spanish coins, but rather was just the price asked, which the writer considered outlandish. His counter-offer of six cents was met by the other party with similar disdain.

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