S is for skint, stoney-broke and sitting on

Since I have a load of work to do, and not very much time in which to do it, I have decided to take the easy way out and continue with my series of coin photographs. This time I found these old Portuguese escudo coins - throwbacks from the pre-Euro age. The small silver coin was worth 2.5 escudos, and was called the 'dois quinhentos', which may give you some idea as to the coin's age (not this particular coin, I hasten to add). Dois quinhentos means 'two fivehundred' or two escudos and 500 reís. The old Portuguese currency is a minefield for translators, since it was by no means straightforward (although it was nowhere near as complicated as the good old British pounds, shillings and pence). Simply put, there were 1000 reís in one conto, and one conto was equal to one escudo. So, back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, 20 contos was 20 escudos, etc. (at that time the reís was the main unit of currency). With the precipitous devaluation of the Portuguese currency during the late-1910s and early-1920s, the reís became absolutely valueless, the escudo became the main unit of currency and the reís disappeared to be replaced with the centávo, which was worth 10 of them. Now, with the escudo taking the place of the reís as the main unit of currency, use of the term conto to mean 1000 continued. Only now the situation was more complicated. As any Briton over the age of 40 will tell you, up until recently it was quite common to hear people call 50p 'ten bob' and 10p 'two bob'. Well it was much the same in Portugal with some people preferring to continue talking in reís, whilst others talked in escudos. Hence the difficulty for translators: when they say 50 contos, do they mean 50 escudos or 50,000 escudos!!! The memory of another reís coin, the tostão (which I think was 5 reís), continues in modern colloquial Portuguese. When someone says 'não tenho nem um tostão', they are saying that they don't have any money... but that's another story. Back to our little silver 2$500 coin. Although worth (when it was legal tender) two escudos and fifty centávos, everyone just called it a 'dois quinhentos'. As for the two 10 'paús' coins in the picture...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

20 escudos was 20.000 reis
50 escudos was 50000 reis
50 contos was 50.000 escudos

1 escudo was equivalent to 1000 reis.
I'm sorry for the correction but I am portuguese and I know what I am talking about.
I like The article. Very constructive.

4:11 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home