The Portuguese real (plural: réis) was the first currency used by the settlers in Brazil, but the 1654 Dutch real was the first circulating money to actually bear that name during the Dutch occupation of northeastern Brazil.
In the mid 18th century, coins of many denominations circulated: 5, 10, 20, and 40 réis coins in copper, 75, 150, 300, and 600 réis coins in silver, and 1000, 2000, 4000, and 6400 réis coins in gold. In 1778, the silver coinage was reconsidered, and coins in 80, 160, 320, and 640 réis were introduced; over the next few years, gold coins worth 800, 1600, and 3200 réis were added to circulation. Copper and silver coins were counterstamped with Portuguese arms in 1809, increasing the value of some coins, and doubling others. In the early 19th century, 8-real Spanish coins were overstruck, creating coins for 960 réis.
When Brazil gained its independence in 1822, the real was retained; despite ever-growing inflation, the real was not subdivided into smaller denominations.During the decade of of 1823 and 1833, Brazilian copper coinage varied widely, including denominations of 10, 37½, 75, and 80 réis coins, amongst others. Copper coins were standardized by 1835; other reforms later in the century standardized gold and silver coins, and reduced the amount of precious metal in each. The currency fell in 1889 after the founding of the Republic, with further devaluations into the mid twentieth century. Cupro-nickel coins were introduced beginning in 1901, with aluminium-bronze coins coming in 1922, and other base metal coins in 1936. The cruzeiro replaced the real in 1942.
In 1942, the cruzeiro was adopted as the currency of Brazil. The term “cruzeiro” refers to the Southern Cross constellation, which is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere, and is a common emblem in Brazilian culture.
The initial cruzeiro was used between 1942 and 1967; according to Wikipedia, it “had the symbol Cr$ or ₢ (in Unicode U+20A2 ₢ CRUZEIRO SIGN (HTML ₢)). The ₢ sign was the only monetary symbol created specifically for Brazilian currencies: All the others used combinations of uppercase letters (in some cases, uppercase and lowercase) and the cifrão ($), including the current Brazilian real, which uses R$.” Cupro-nickel 10, 20, and 50 centavo coins were also introduced at this time, though the coins were quickly switched to aluminium-bronze and finally to aluminium. The centavos were withdrawn entirely in 1964, with other coins following suit by 1968.
The second cruzeiro circulated from 1967 to 1986 after the country suffered economic collapse. Introduced as the “cruzeiro novo” or “new cruzeiro,” it used the symbol NCr before simply being known as the cruzeiro. In 1970, the symbol changed to Cr$; the original ₢ sign was eliminated due to lack of technical support: few typewriter keyboard carried the symbol. (In fact, the ₢ is still available for standard Brazilian keyboards; it can be produced with the key combination AltGr+C.) New coins appeared in 1967: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 centavo coins, with a 1 cruzeiro coin released in 1970. Several of the initial coins were struck in stainless steel; all of the coins were soon switched to steel.
A third cruzeiro was issued in 1990 after a series of currency changes, using the symbol Cr$. All cruzeiros could be divided into 100 centavos. This currency remained in use until 1993, when it was replaced by the cruzeiro real. The cruzeiro real, in turn, was only used for a few months between August 1, 1993, and June 30, 1994. It could be subdivided into 100 centavos, but this was only used for purposes of accounting. 1000 cruzeiros equaled 1 cruzeiro real.
Before the final switch to the current real was made, Brazil used the unidade real de valor, which was held at parity with the United States dollar. This allowed the people to get used to a stable currency before the introduction of the current real.
Currently, the Brazilian real is subdivided into 100 centavos, and was adopted as part of the widespread reform package of the Plano Real in 1994. The real was intended to have a generally fixed exchange rate of 1:1 to the US dollar. In 1999, the real underwent a sudden devaluation and fell to 2:1 against the dollar, reaching as low as nearly 4:1 in 2002. It began to recover, but suffered a setback in 2015 during a domestic economic crisis.
The first new coins were introduced in 1994, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 50 centavos, and 1 real, with the addition of a 25 centavo piece soon after. All coins were struck in stainless steel; the original 1 real coins with dates from 1994-1997 have been withdrawn from circulation, but all others are still in use.