Colorado Heights University
The Manila Galleons
(1565 – 1815)
There were extremely valuable ships called the “the manila galleons”, traveling between the Philippines and Acapulco, Mexico. As they describe the galleon at the Denver Art Museum “The salt cellar has a cut crystal base, a ship’s pearl-studded rigging, enamel sails, and flags bearing the coats-of-arms of several noble houses, as well as tiny metal figures of seamen in various activities on deck and in the rigging.” This elaborate salt cellar replicates the shape of the Manila Galleon. The ships, usually armed, were the work horses of the commercial activity that united three continents. Their holds were meticulously subdivided for the precious cargo according to strictly enforced contracts.
According to Flynn (1995), the great treasure ships were “the birth of world trade” (p.201). The Manila Galleons were carrying silver to China and luxury goods as silks, spices, and other precious merchandise to New Spain. On the return leg, the precious Asian wares traveled across the Pacific, via the Philippines (colonized by Spain in the late sixteenth century), to Acapulco on Mexico’s west coast. They then crossed Mexico overland for shipment to Spain. Initially the galleon trade consisted of two to three ships a year going across the Pacific. Eventually, it became only one larger ship that linked the continents of Asia, Europe and the Americas continuously for 250 years until in 1815 when the Mexican Independence War put a permanent stop to the galleon trade route.
The Europeans from the Middle Ages and even from the Roman period wanted the luxury goods of Asia: the silks, the spices. The Spanish people were fortunate to find huge amounts of silver in a New World. According to the description of Exotic Cargo at the Denver Art Museum “The coins, minted of Mexican and Peruvian silver,