Virginia halfpence of 1773 have the unique distinction of being the only fully authorized coins with legal tender status which were specifically minted for all or any part of the English colonies which became the United States of America.
To justify such an assertion it must be realized that Massachusetts Bay Colony had authorized and established a mint for its own silver coinage in 1652 when there was political confusion in England as to colonial control, but subsequently the colony had years of controversy over the coinage because the action was taken and continued without the necessary approval of the English Crown; 1 that the Lord Baltimore coinage for Maryland although originally forced into circulation by a Maryland act passed April 12, 1662, was not made legal tender and after the Mint clerk in London had confiscated all dies and available coin Lord Baltimore was required to appear before the English Council of State for having privately ordered the coinage without the permission of the Crown; 2 that the tin American Plantation 1/24th real coinage was minted in 1688 without royal objection, 3 but had neither royal approval nor any legal tender status; and that the Rosa Americana coinage for American circulation was minted pursuant to a patent granted by the Crown to William Wood on July 12, 1722, but legal tender status was specifically denied. All other coinages made for American colonial use prior to the American Revolution appear to be unofficial token money.
Curiously enough it was not until 1892 that Tatman 4 pointed out that the Virginia halfpenny had any official authorization whatsoever, as Dickeson, Crosby, Atkins, Dye and other outstanding numismatic writers knew nothing about its background and in their publications had assumed that it was a token from a private source. Tatman's pamphlet was limited to its legal authorization. Extensive studies in the economic history of Virginia have included much material on the paper money of Virginia, 5 but have not encompassed the history of the Virginia copper coinage.
The story of the procurement of copper halfpence for Virginia is a series of frustrations arising in spite of continued efforts of Colonial Virginia to have an opportunity to try out the use of copper money for small change in an honest and dignified manner. It shows how delays in communication, political changes, protocol, misunderstandings and economic trends rendered ineffective one hundred and thirty years of careful effort to secure a copper coinage and by the time the coinage was finally obtained many Virginians must have had one more logical reason to believe in the need for an independent government.
Sylvester S. Crosby, The Early Coins of America, (Boston, 1875), pp. 76 f.; Sir John Craig, The Mint, (Cambridge, 1953), p. 377.
Sir John Craig, The Mint, p. 376. American Journal of Numismatics, Vol. XX (1886), p. 56.
Eric P. Newman, "The First Documentary Evidence of the American Colonial Pewter 1/24th Real," in The Numismatist, Vol. LXVIII (1955), p. 713. A recent chemical analysis has shown that original specimens of this coin contain no metal other than tin.
Charles T. Tatman, "The Virginia Coinage," in Plain Talk, (New York, 1892); Reprinted separately (Worcester, Mass., 1894); Reprinted in The Numismatist, Vol. XXIV (1911), p. 233.
William Z. Ripley, The Financial History of Virginia, 1609–1776, (Columbia University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Vol. IV, No. 1, New York, 1893); "Paper Money in Colonial Virginia," in William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. XX, pp. 227–262; Richard T. Hoober, "Financial History of Colonial Virginia," The Numismatist, Vol. 66 (1953), p. 1138; Henry Phillips, Jr., Historical Sketches of the Paper Currency of the American Colonies (Roxbury, 1865), PP. 191f.
In section 10 of the Virginia Charter of April 10, 1606, the patentees were authorized to "establish and cause to be made a coin, to pass current there (Virginia) between the people of those several colonies (in Virginia), for the more ease of traffick and bargaining between and amongst them and the natives there, of such metal, and in such manner and form, as the said several councils there shall limit and appoint." No use of this power was ever made.
The introduction of royal farthing tokens in Virginia was recommended by Sir John Harvey, Governor of Virginia, in a letter dated June 26, 1636, to Secretary Sir Francis Windebank, so that there would be a means of paying labor during the period before the tobacco crop was picked. In due course Charles I proposed to the Virginia Assembly that the royal farthing tokens which were currently in circulation in England should pass in Virginia and that Henry Howard, Lord Maltravers, who owned a patent granted by the Crown to make and sell royal farthing tokens in England, should furnish such tokens in exchange for products of Virginia which were salable in England. The few existing records of the 1637–8 Assembly of Virginia show that the Colonists felt that "said farthings are very much under the value of them in copper", that they would be readily counterfeited and that tradesmen and others would be disheartened to accept coin which was not "somewhat neere the value" of its metal content. Actually the intrinsic value of royal farthing tokens was only 5% of their circulating value in England and counterfeiting them there was a common practice. Instead, the Virginia Assembly requested £5000 per year in an issue of silver coin which would allow 10% profit to those who furnished it. The Crown, nevertheless, in 1638, granted a license to Lord Maltravers to coin farthing tokens for the foreign plantations and on February 16, 1639 granted a license to export English, Irish and Welsh farthing tokens to all plantations except Maryland. 6 No farthing tokens for America were coined and there is no evidence that royal farthing tokens circulating in the British Isles were sent to America.
Although the value of foreign gold and silver coin as used in commercial transactions was regulated by law, by decree or by the merchants from time to time, no copper coin of any kind circulated in Virginia prior to the distribution of 1773 Virginia halfpence. 7 Beginning in the early part of the eighteenth century, English copper halfpence and farthings had been growing in use in the natural course of trade in the northern American colonies without royal objection, but Virginia apparently felt that prior royal approval was necessary. Virginia therefore, from time to time officially sought the same privilege.
On November 20, 1645, the colony passed an act to permit the coinage of 10,000 pounds avoirdupois of copper in denominations of 2, 3, 6 and 9 pence in order to drive tobacco out of circulation as a medium of small change. One pound weight of copper was to circulate for £1 currency even though the copper cost was only 18d and the coining cost was estimated at 12d. Copper coin therefore was to pass for 13⅓ times its intrinsic value. The coins were to have two rings, one for a motto and the other for an annually changing figure to be counterstamped on the coins by appointees in each county. No such coins were issued. 8
An act passed by the Colony of Virginia in the October session of 1710 provided that if her Majesty Queen Anne would permit copper coin to be brought into Virginia it would circulate for the same amount as it does in Great Britain, but no one should be required to accept over 2 shillings 6 pence in copper in payments over 20 shillings or over one shilling as part of a lesser payment. 9 No copper was then being coined in England and the proposed circulation in Virginia was presumably to come from English copper coin in general circulation in England. The law requesting copper coin for Virginia was reenacted by the Virginia assembly in 1727 when the administration of George II had come into power. 10 Nothing resulted from either solicitation.
A suggestion for an American series of coins in various metals was promulgated by Robert Dinwiddie during his term as Lt. Governor of Virginia, when, in a letter dated
February 23,1756, to the Lords of Trade
proposing poll and land taxes in America, he pointed out the mutual advantages of a separate coin for the American colonies
as a whole:
There is an Affair occurs to me th't will make some Difficulties in rais'g the above Taxes, w'ch is the great Scarcity of
Silver and Gold. As Provis's of all kinds will be wanted, those Colonies th't cannot pay in Money may they not supply Provis's
in lieu of Cash? and to be charg'd at the Curr't Price they are sold for? But th's I submit to Y'r Superior Judgem't, or if
tho't proper th't the Money sh'd be coin'd at home for Paym't of all the officers, Civil and Military, to be sent annually
to the different Colonies, th't the Money so coin'd may be with Inscriptions, as may be tho't proper, to distinguish it from
American Curr'cy. This the French have practiced for many years. The Gov't may save 5 p. c't on the Coinage, and be at no
more charge th'n at pres't in pay'g the Salaries, etc., at Home, and the Advantage the Colonies w'd reap is plain, by hav'g
so much Money sent over to them annually, and qualifie them to pay the above Taxes in Cash, and in a few Years w'd put an
end to all paper Curr'cy, so much complain'd of by the merch'ts at home and the subjects, ***
After George III was crowned in 1760 he became interested primarily in gold coinage and England did not issue copper coins with his bust until 1770. In anticipation of his new copper coinage a fourth legislative attempt was made in Virginia by the passage on December 20, 1769, of an act providing that, subject to the consent of George III, the treasurer of the colony was authorized to purchase on behalf of the colony English copper coin at its circulating value in the amount of £2500 sterling. The copper coin was to be paid out or exchanged for other coin at the Virginia treasury at established exchange rates "for the greater conveniency of change in small payments," but was to be legal tender in Virginia currency only up to the amounts designated in prior Acts. 12 This request was intended to be modest, as it could be fulfilled with regular English copper coin either from circulation or newly minted since no special Virginia issue was being sought. Applicable portions of the Act are set forth in Appendix A hereof.
Robert Carter Nicholas, Treasurer of the Colony of Virginia, promptly wrote from Williamsburg on December 28, 1769, to John Norton
Our Countrymen are desirous of introducing Copper Money amongst us & in the last Assembly address'd the Governor to intercede
with his Majesty to allow it to be current. So soon as the King's proclamation appears for that Purpose, I am directed to
import as many half Pence as £2500 st. will purchase; but as I am pretty much a Stranger to a thing of the Sort, I should
be glad of your advice, in the mean Time, how it is to be procured upon the best Terms.
Virginia authorized its first issue of paper money in May, 1755, because of the needs arising in the course of the French and Indian War. 14 Prior to that time commercial transactions in Virginia were contracted for and calculated in "current money" of Virginia which was a money of account consisting of pounds, shillings and pence which had a value different and distinct from those same designations as used in England or in each of the other American colonies. There were no actual Virginia coins or Virginia paper currency with which to make payments in current money of Virginia. In order to settle an amount due, current money had to be converted by calculation into an equivalent in tobacco at a price determined officially or by trade, or into credits in English or other foreign exchange or into Spanish or other foreign coin. After Virginia paper money was issued in denominations of Virginia pounds and shillings, an obligation in current money of Virginia could always be settled by payment of Virginia paper currency.
The current money of Virginia during the portion of the eighteenth century prior to the American Revolution varied substantially in exchange value, weakening to as much as 60% in excess of sterling exchange and strengthening to as little as 15% in excess of sterling exchange. 15 However, during much of the time 6 Virginia shillings or 4 shillings 8 pence sterling were equivalent to a Spanish dollar, 16 thus requiring about 25% more current money of Virginia to be equivalent to sterling. On this basis it would have been natural for English halfpence to pass for ⅝ pence in current money of Virginia and English farthings, if introduced, for proportionately less. One obvious difficulty in circulating English copper in Virginia would have been the confusion and instability caused by fluctuations of the exchange differential. English copper coins would have had to remain at the same circulating value regardless of variations in the exchange and persons accustomed to a fluctuating exchange cannot readily accept adjustments in foreign specie coin and not in foreign copper coin.
In 1748 the scale of fees payable by ships arriving in Virginia was in sterling, with the legal right to collect only 25% more if discharged in Virginia exchange and court judgments based upon contracts payable in sterling could be satisfied by 25% more in such Virginia exchange. 17 During periods of instability of Virginia exchange, payments were generally made or credited in that medium, prejudicing the Colonial government and private merchants with respect to their sterling balances constantly due in England. However, in 1755 the fixed exchange differential was repealed and the courts were given discretion to collect for a creditor more than 25% differential in current money of Virginia in cases where that appeared to be the fair thing to do. 18 In 1761 the differential was steady at 25% (see note 16), but by May, 1764, it had fallen to 60% (see note 15). In 1767, after the mismanagement of John Robinson as Virginia Treasurer and the laxity of his tax collectors had been corrected by a new regime, Virginia began to retire the 54,391 pounds 5 shillings in its outstanding paper currency. Under the efficient control of Robert Carter Nicholas, as Treasurer, the colony by November, 1769, was in a secure enough financial position to issue 10,000 pounds of Virginia paper money at a time when its rate of exchange was the strongest on the American continent and sterling was only subject to a 20% premium in calculating Virginia exchange, and the differential was said to be about to fall to 15%. 19 The anticipated strengthening of Virginia exchange to 15% promptly became a reality and was commented upon in London because it was recalled that it had once been 50%. 20 The 1769 request for copper money was a definite effort toward stabilization of Virginia money by the introduction of more coin into circulation.
The coinage committee of the Virginia House of Burgesses realized that British halfpence should circulate for about 19 to the Virginia shilling as compared to 24 to the English shilling and reported on May 25, 1770, "** as to the Copper Money, which we desire to have circulated among us, our humble request is that it may be current here as in Great Britain allowing for the Difference between Sterling Money and the Currency of this Colony at the Rate of Twenty-five per Cent." 21
Another difficulty in the introduction of copper coin was the risk of its unacceptability because of its lack of sufficient intrinsic value. Gold and silver coins always circulated for the full value of their metal content and so long as the value of current money of Virginia was weak, gold and silver in the colony would tend to be used for payments outside Virginia. Copper coin, if in circulation, would not have a tendency to be so withdrawn, because its circulating value would be fixed far above its intrinsic value.
Sir Isaac Newton during his tenure as Master of the Royal Mint in England promulgated the theory about 1713 that the value of copper metal in copper coin plus the cost of the manufacture and issue of such coin should equal the value at which copper coin passes in circulation. 22 This theory was still being adhered to at the time circulation of copper coin in Virginia was being considered. Since the cost of manufacture and issue in England was almost equal to the metal value of a copper coin the intrinsic metal value of the coin was about half of its circulating value. For that reason the acceptability of copper coin in Virginia was always questionable and reasonable limitations on the amount usable as legal tender were included in the Virginia legislation.
For the reasons above set forth, considerable thought was given in England to the Virginia request. In a letter dated February 11, 1771, from Lord Hillsborough (Wills Hills, Secretary of State for the American Colonies)
to William Nelson, president of the Legislative Council of Virginia,
a tactful indication that standard English copper coinage was not proper for Virginia was expressed:
The Request of the Colony for a Circulation of British Copper Coin will still want some farther Explanation before any Resolution
can be taken upon it.
"The inclosed Papers will inform you of the Method which has been pursued for some Years for supplying the Kingdom of Ireland with Copper Coinage, and which has given Satisfaction & been of great Service to the Inhabitants of that Country. It may
not be improper to communicate them to the Council & I shall be very glad if they may suggest any proposition that may have
the effect to produce what seems so much wished for by His Majesty's Subjects in Virginia.
The papers enclosed, as explained by subsequent correspondence, apparently included one or both of the Royal Warrants of GeorgeII, dated January 26, 1732, and August 17, 1738, respectively, authorizing a special coinage of copper halfpence for Ireland on the basis of 52 weighing one pound avoirdupois. The inference of the enclosures was that Virginia should not circulate English copper coin but should have a copper coinage of its own.
At that time Irish exchange was, like Virginia's exchange, depreciated with respect to sterling. However, it required 8⅓% more Irish currency to equal the value of a sterling unit. Irish halfpence had been coined weighing 52 to the pound since 1733 and English halfpence had weighed 46 to the pound since 1717. Decreases in the price of copper had not been deemed sufficient to adjust the weight of the coins in accordance with Newton's theory. Uniformity of coin was considered more important. The fixed percentage differential of almost 13% between the weights of English and Irish copper coins therefore was at variance with the exchange differential, as well as unrelated to the value of copper.
Nelson submitted Lord Hillsborough's letter to Robert Carter Nicholas as Treasurer of Virginia and to Peyton Randolph as Speaker of the House of Burgesses and responded on May 27, 1771:
*** and upon reading and considering the Warrants, which shew the manner in which the Kingdom of Ireland hath been supplied with Copper Money, the Treasurer agreed that he would appoint an Agent in London, Mr. John Norton,
Virginia Merchant to perform the several requisites for obtaining the quantity that is wanted for this Colony; ***
John Norton, a Virginian, had moved to London in 1764 and his firm was instrumental in obtaining supplies for the Colony, in selling Virginia tobacco and in financing its trade. His firm owned and operated ships which ran principally between England and Virginia. 25 His son, John Hatley Norton, was married to Sarah Nicholas, daughter of the Virginia Treasurer. 26 Although the Virginia Colony had not officially appointed an agent in London as had been customary theretofore, John Norton was relied upon unofficially as such.
Robert Carter Nicholas instructed John Norton to obtain copper coinage weighing 52 to the pound following his and other Virginia officers' belief that 52 halfpence to the pound was the suggestion inferred by Lord Hillsborough's letter of February 11, 1771, and its enclosures. Whether the cause of this error was the ambiguity resulting from the lack of specific instructions in the letter or their own lack of knowledge of English coinage theory or both is of little importance, except that confusion and delay resulted.
Nicholas subsequently explained to Norton that "The mistake in my former letter arose entirely from a Misapprehension of Lord
Hillsborough's Letters & the Papers accompanying it. The President & Council, as well as our Speaker & myself understood that
the 52 half Pence to the Pound mention'd in the King's Warrant to the Mint, were of sterling Value & not Irish currency, as
we now find was intended."
The entire difficulty is thoroughly explained in a letter dated December 2, 1771,
from Lord Hillsborough at Whitehall to Lord Dunmore, the new governor of Virginia:
Mr. Norton a Virginia Merchant came to me this morning to lay before me some Directions which he has rec.d from the Treasurer of the Colony of
Virginia concerning a Copper-Coinage to circulate in that Dominion. I take the Liberty to refer Your Lordship to certain Letters which
have passed between the late Lord Bottetourt and me, and Mr. President Nelson & me, on that subject: These will inform Your
Lordship of the State of this—matter, and you will find that the Directions now sent to Mr. Norton are in consequence of an
Information rec.d by Mr. President Nelson from me of the manner in which the Kingdom of Ireland is supplied with Copper-Coin. But the Treasurer explains the Ideas of the gentlemen who seem to approve of & to adopt that
Mode in such a manner as makes it necessary for me to trouble Your Lordship with some farther Explanation concerning it and
observations upon it.
Mr. Norton and I considered the Treasurer's Letter with all the Attention we could give to it, and we both thought that there
is some ambiguity in his Expressions which gave us room to suppose that the Proposition might be taken in two ways: The first,
that 52 Halfpence being coined out of Copper equal to the Value of two English Shillings, each Halfpenny should still pass
at 25 p Cent, more than an English Halfpenny does in England, although only 48 English Halfpence are coined out of the same Quantity of Copper. But we could scarcely suppose this to be
the Intention, as it would be a manifest Fraud. The other Proposition is not attended with any Fraud, and, as we apprehend,
is this, that the Change of two English Shillings shall be 52 Halfpence instead of 48. This might certainly be done, but it
appears to me that the gentlemen had hastily adopted the Idea of the Irish Copper Coinage without considering the just & useful
Proportion which it bears to the nominal Value of the English Shilling and other English Silver Coins current in that Country;
for, as the English Shilling there is denominated 13 Pence, 26 Halfpence divide it into equal Parts & make the Change most
easy and convenient, and therefore they have chose to coin the Avoirdupoise Pound of Copper into 52 Halfpence equal to two
English Shillings. Now this may be with great Facility adapted to the Case of Virginia, for the two English Shillings passing for 30 Pence Virginia Currency, the usefull Division in the Coinage of Copper would be to make 60 Halfpence out of the Avoirdupoise Pound of Copper
equal to two English Shillings; and if
this Plan should be agreeable to His Majesty's Subjects in that Colony, there is no Objection to it that immediately occurs
to my Mind, and I am of opinion that it would be of very essential Service especially to the poor. I shall however take no
other step in this matter than to obtain all the Information that I can, with regard to a Measure of this sort, from those
Departments of Government to whom it more particularly belongs; and in case no Objections arise from them and Your Lordship
finds what I now mention is agreeable to the Gentlemen on your side of the water, I shall be ready to do my Part in carrying
the Measure into Execution.
I take the Liberty further to observe to Your Lordship, that in the Plans hitherto proposed the Colony has intended to lay
out £2500 in Copper Coinage, and I submit to Your Lordship's Consideration whether this be not too large a Sum for the first
Experiment, and whether it might not be more prudent to make the Trial upon £1000, which you will observe from the Account
I sent over of the Irish Coinage will amount to five Tons of Copper. It will be necessary if the Colony adopt this Measure
to employ Mr. Norton or some other Agent to execute their Commands in this matter, and the Person they employ shall have all
the Assistance I can give him. I ought in Justice to Mr. Norton to inform Your Lordship, that I thought I observed great Disinterestedness
in his Conversation upon this subject.
I have troubled Your Lordship with a very long Letter, but the Matter I conceive is of real Importance to the Colony, and
it will give me the greatest Satisfaction, if I can be the Promotor of any Measure that may conduce so essentially to its
Interest and Advantage as I really think this will do.
"I am &
P.S. There may be such a Proportion of Farthings coined as the Colony shall think proper."
There is an interesting error in Hillsborough's letter when he states in two places that 48 English halfpence weighed one pound when officially and actually 46 weighed one pound. Hillsborough was apparently so anxious to justify the theory that the exchange ratio of 2 shillings English currency equaling 2 shillings 2 pence Irish currency as well as 2 shillings 6 pence Virginia currency should have an inverse ratio to the weight of the English, Irish and Virginia halfpence, namely, 48, 52 and 60 to the pound, that he inadvertently changed the facts to support the soundness of his presentation. An admission that 46 English halfpence then being coined weighed one pound would have entitled both Ireland and Virginia to heavier copper coinage than 52 and 60 to the pound respectively. His protest that what Virginia requested "would be a Manifest Fraud" could have been used as an embarrassing boomerang. Virginia was, however, so anxious to obtain copper coinage that even if Hillsborough's misstatement was noticed it went unchallenged in the tragedy of errors.
In addition to recommending a reduction in weight of the halfpence for Virginia to 60 to the pound avoirdupois to conform to the Newton theory, Lord Hillsborough asked that the quantity of coins be reduced from the value of £2500 sterling to £1000 sterling because he realized that they might not be acceptable for circulation because of their lack of intrinsic value.
Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619–1658/9, edited by H. R. Mcllwaine (Richmond, Virginia, 1915), pp. 57f; Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, 1574–1660, edited by W. Noel Sainsbury (London, 1816), pp. 238, 266, 285, 290; Thomas Snelling, A View of the Copper Coin and Coinage of England, (London, 1766), p. 9.
Two specimens are known of a brass shilling token privately issued in 1714 by someone named Dawson in Gloucester County, Virginia. It is described as a pattern and illustrated in Sylvester S. Crosby, Early Coins of America, page 323 and Plate IX, No. 4. Although not fully readable, it has been tentatively attributed to Rie (hard) Dawson, whose existence has not been confirmed. It may be that the token was issued by a partnership having a name such as Richeson & Dawson, since the names, Peter Richeson and Samuel Dawson, appear separately in Gloucester County records of the period. In the writer's opinion this coin is brass token money rather than a pattern to be struck in silver.
Sylvester S. Crosby, The Early Coins of America, p. 21; W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia (Richmond, New York, Philadelphia, 1819–23), Vol. I, p. 308, 20th Charles I, Act XX, 1645.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. III, p. 503, 9th Anne, Chap. X, 1710.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. IV, p. 218, 1st George II, Chap. IX, 1727.
The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, (Collections of the Virginia Historical Society, New Series, Vol. IV, Richmond, 1884), p. 341.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. VIII, p. 342, 10th George III, Chap. XII, 1769.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. VI, p. 467, 28th George II, Chap. II.
Jamieson Papers, Library of Congress, Vol. XVII, p. 4011.
J. Wright, The American Negotiator or the Various Currencies of the British Colonies in America, (London, 1761 and subsequent editions), p. vi; Gaine's Universal Register, New York, 1775, p. 148.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. V, p. 540, 22nd George II, Chap. XII, 1748; Vol. VI, p. 97, 22nd George II, Chap. XXXVI, 1748.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. VI, p. 478, 28th George II, Chap. VII, 1755.
Sir John Craig, The Mint, p. 220.
English Public Records Office, London, C. O. 5–1349, p. 87–9.
English Public Records Office, London, C. O. 5–1349, p. 197–9.
See: Guide to the Manuscript Collections of Colonial Williamsburg, compiled by Lynette Adcock, (Williamsburg, Virginia, 1954), p. 23.
English Public Records Office, London, C. O. 5–1349, p. 351–4.
The House of Burgesses of Virginia immediately on being presented with Lord Hillsborough's letter of December 2, 1771, resolved its entire body into a Committee to reconsider the copper coinage matter on March 31, 1772. 29 George Wythe profusely thanked the Governor and the King's ministers for their cooperation pursuant to a resolution to that effect. 30 On April 8, 1772, an amendatory act 31 covering copper coin was passed according to which the treasurer was authorized to import as many as may be bought for £1000 sterling value of a special issue of coined copper in a denomination equivalent to a half penny in Virginia currency subject to the consent and regulations of the Crown. Applicable portions of this act are set forth in Appendix B hereof. The weight of the coin, however, was not provided for, probably in consequence of the previous confusion. No farthings were authorized as Lord Hillsborough left that choice to Virginia.
After studying the matter further Virginia Treasurer Nicholas wrote to Norton on June 16, 1772, "we all think that Currency halfpence would be best at sixty to the pound Averdupoise and that it would be advisable to make the first Experiment with no more than £1000 stg value exclusive of Costs." 32 The word "costs," as used in the letter, meant shipping charges.
Suggestions for the motto on the coins were sent from Virginia to England and drawings of the coins were submitted to the colony for comment. A prophetic change in the motto was required by the English. In the above-mentioned June 16, 1772, letter Nicholas stated:
"I have only an Opportunity at present of consulting with the Speaker (Peyton Randolph). We are both willing to give up the Word Peace, as it seems to be exceptionable & I dare say the rest of the Gentlemen will concur in Opinion, so that it may be struck out. We highly approve either of the Designs for the back Front, but of ye two should prefer that which has the vine or branch running up the inner Edge as we think it fills up better & makes the figure more compleat."
In the summer of 1772 John Norton purchased copper for the proposed coinage to the amount of £400 sterling, but since prompt approval of the coinage was not forthcoming Treasurer Nicholas instructed Norton "to charge my private & give the Treasury Acct. credit for £400 Stg in part of the Copper Money." 33
A new period of delay began when John Norton on August 6, 1772, wrote to John Hatley Norton about a contemplated political change and reported "t'is said if it is carried into execution, Lord Hillsborough goes out. I suppose this prevents my being able to get the Affair of Copper Currency fix'd, tho I have been promised by his Lordship it shou'd be done and have frequently attended him for that purpose." The postscript on this letter adds, "L. Hillsborough has resigned and Lord Dartmouth (William Legge) appointed in his stead so that I have a fresh application to make about the copper coin." 34
The new application was filed with Lord Dartmouth, and referred by him to the Board of Treasury and by them to the Master of the Royal Mint on December 3, 1772. 35 The mint recommended the coinage on March 22, 1773, one year having elapsed since Virginia had conformed its legislation to the Crown's wishes.
Virginia Treasurer Nicholas, on April 24, 1773, wrote to Norton, "Many People are very impatient for the Copper Money which I'm in hopes will soon be procured by your friendly Assistance; You'll be pleased to remember that it is to be sent immediately to me as Treasurer & not to any other person." 36
The Crown finally authorized the coinage of not more than twenty-five tons of Virginia halfpence by Royal Warrant 37 issued on May 20, 1773, for the benefit of John Norton, and provided that 60 halfpence weigh one pound avoirdupois and be made at the Tower Mint by the Royal Mintmaster who was to be paid 5 pence sterling per pound for striking and 20 shillings sterling per ton for bookkeeping. The dies were to be prepared at the mint, the obverse having the bust of George III surrounded with the inscription GEORGIUS·III·REX. and the reverse having a modified Virginia coat of arms to which the word VIRGINIA and the date were to be added. Copper sheets of fine quality and proper thickness were to be furnished by Norton for the coinage and the mint was to lend him a planchet cutter to test the thickness of the sheets as a 3⅓% error 38 in coin weight was the limit of permitted variation. The full text of the May 20, 1773, warrant is included in Appendix C hereof because of its full detail of eighteenth century coining procedures.
The arrangement for the copper to be furnished by John Norton was to enable his firm to purchase the metal and have it drawn to proper thickness for as reasonable a price as possible so that the circulating value of the coin less the aggregate of cost of material, minting, bookkeeping, transportation and insurance might give rise to a small profit which would accrue to the colonial government.
The cost of drawn copper bars for coinage of English copper at the Tower Mint during this period was 15¾ pence sterling per pound avoirdupois 39 and could not have varied materially as to the Virginia coinage. Adding the charges for coining, assaying and packing of 5 pence per pound weight and for bookkeeping of 20 shillings per ton, as provided in the Royal Warrant, the total cost aggregated 20.86 pence sterling for each pound avoirdupois of Virginia coppers or .344 pence sterling per halfpenny. Converting the cost to current money of Virginia by adding a 25% differential, the cost of a Virginia halfpenny was .43 pence current money of Virginia or a profit of 16% to the colony before deducting the cost of transport and insurance to America and compensation for John Norton for his years of service. In spite of the fact that the value of the content in metal was half of the proposed circulating value the people of Virginia were to receive the copper coinage close to its actual cost.
In securing the authorization for copper halfpence, John Norton humorously alluded in his letter of May 29, 1773, to his methods of currying favor by commenting, "I have danced Attendance pretty often about it to the Treasury Office." 40
The Royal Warrant authorized 25 tons of coin which was five times the amount the Virginia legislation had approved. The warrant only covered the manufacture of the coin, but did not specifically provide for its circulation. Since the warrant described the coins as "halfpennys," it is difficult to believe that a royal approval of the coining of such money pursuant to colonial legislation was insufficient authorization for it to be circulated, but such was the technical position of Treasurer Nicholas. On June 21, 1773, he reported to John Norton, "I am glad to hear you have got the Copper into so good a Way at last. You'll remember it is to be sent immediately to me & I think it will be necessary to procure a Warrant or Instruction to our Governor to declare it current in this Colony, as you know it is a matter of Prerogative." 41 Apparently Nicholas was concerned about the attitude of the people toward copper coin and the general financial condition of the Colony and wished to use the halfpence in the most effective way to make it acceptable as current money of Virginia. He seemed to fear it might fall into the hands of other officials.
Progress at the mint was slow and on July 31, 1773, John Norton reported:
I have a large Quantity of Copper d'd at the Mint, which is cutting ready for Coinage, but the Engraver is so dilatory that
he has not furnished all the Tools. I still hope to get the Money coined in about a Month or six weeks. I gave Cap.Barron
one of the ps which is the size of a Guinea, & thickness of a half Penny.
Apparently the production dies had not been completed and the specimen given to the captain of one of the ships belonging to John Norton & Sons was from the original pair of dies used for trial pieces. It is designated in the die classification hereafter set forth as 1–A, and illustrated on Plate I.
Virginia halfpence were soon to find themselves used as ship ballast. When the coins were almost ready for shipment to America John Norton reported on September 25, 1773, "I hope to send the copper money or a great part thereof pr. the Virga. which will save some ballast." 43 The VIRGINIA which was one of the ships owned by John Norton & Sons finally brought the coins to America on February 14, 1774. When the news was announced in the February 24, 1774, Virginia Gazette that the VIRGINIA, captained by Howard Esten, had arrived in York River from London with 5 tons of halfpence on board the long hope for small change appeared to be fulfilled. Five long tons consisted of about 672,000 halfpence which could adequately supply the small change needs of the colony. Nicholas, however, in his sincere belief that additional royal instructions were legally necessary to authorize the circulation of the halfpence put them in storage and patiently awaited further official English action.
A further delay of nine months resulted. By royal proclamation dated November 16, 1774, 44 it was recited that five tons of such halfpence were coined and were "ready to be exported" and that "we do accordingly hereby ordain, declare and command that the said pieces of copper money, so coined, stamped, and impressed, as aforesaid, shall be current and lawful Money of and in our said colony of Virginia and of and within the districts and precincts of the same; and shall pass and be received therein after the rate following, that is to say, twenty-four of the said pieces shall pass and be received for the sum of one shilling, according to the currency of our said province of Virginia ***." The maximum to be received in one payment was limited to the same amounts stated in the previous acts of the Virginia assembly, namely up to 60 halfpence in a payment of 20 shillings or more and up to 24 halfpence for smaller payments. The full text of the proclamation is set forth in Appendix D.
The proclamation was so long delayed in issuance that the halfpence alleged to be "ready to be exported" had already been delivered in Virginia over nine months beforehand. The November 16, 1774, proclamation did not arrive in Williamsburg until about three months
later and the text
of the proclamation was published in most issues of the
Virginia Gazette from February 23, 1775, through March 16, 1775. Treasurer Robert C. Nicholas published a notice dated February 27, 1775,
in all issues of the
Virginia Gazette between March 2 and March 16, 1775, announcing:
Observing from the Royal Proclamation, published in the last Gazette, that his Majesty hath been graciously pleased to authorize
the Currency of Copper Money throughout this Colony, agreeable to the terms of an Act of our General Assembly, I do hereby
give Notice that such copper money is now ready to be issued in Exchange either for Gold, Silver or any Treasury Notes. Those
who have Demands, PROPERLY AUTHENTICATED, may receive what Proportions they please in Copper, but are not obliged to take
more than 2/6 in any sum above 20 shillings and not more than 1s in any sum under 20s. Constant Attendance will be given at
this office, every Day in the Week, except Sunday from eight to one o'clock.
The notice continued with a request to those who owed the Treasury money to pay promptly or their names would be published.
John Norton had completed his prolonged and difficult assignment. When Lord Hillsborough had observed that Norton showed "great
Disinterestedness in his Conversation upon this subject"28 it was intended as a compliment with respect to Norton's honesty, but might well have also been a reflection of his disgust
in the negotiations. Norton's policy of avoiding association with English public officials was reaffirmed by his experience
with respect to the coinage and when he was accused of paying a British tax on tea exported to Virginia, the
Virginia Gazette of May 12, 1775, (P) carried his open letter of apology which concluded:
I also farther declare, that so far from having any connexion with the Ministry, my person is even unknown to any of them,
and that I never was in their presence except when I attended about the copper coinage for Virginia in which I was employed, instead of a better agent.
Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, edited by John Pendleton Kennedy, 1770–1772, p. 281.
English Public Records Office, London, C. O. 5–1350, p. 85.
W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, Vol. VIII, p. 534–6, 12th George III, Chap. XVII, 1772.
English Royal Mint Record Books, London, No. 12, p. 201.
English Public Records Office, London, Tome 52–62, p. 379–81.
Only 2½% deviation was permitted in the coinage of English copper coin. See: Sir John Craig, The Mint, p. 250.
Sir John Craig, The Mint, p. 428.
Ibid., p. 332.
Ibid., p. 344.
Ibid., p. 352.
Peter Force, American Archives, Washington, D.C., 1837, 4th Series, Vol. I, p. 982; The Numismatist, Vol. LI (1938), p. 695.
The Treasurer of Virginia during the period the Colony was seeking copper coinage had a series of unpredictable difficulties with the paper currency which affected the exchange value of current money of Virginia. The unprecedented floods of 1771 in Virginia destroyed much of the privately owned tobacco stored in government warehouses, and the colony was obliged to issue 30,000 pounds in new paper currency, in July, 1771, to pay these losses. Slackening of business in England began to be felt in Virginia by July, 1772, but the Virginia exchange held to 25% above sterling. 45
In January, 1773, the Virginia Treasurer announced the discovery of extremely deceptive counterfeit 5 pound notes of both the 1769 and the 1771 paper currency issues and all circulation of paper money came to a stop. 46 To remedy this situation the House of Burgesses in the March 4, 1773, session, authorized a redemption in specie or replacement by new notes of all denominations of the 1769 and 1771 currency emissions. 47 Proper paper for the replacement issue was not available and, in the emergency, the Treasurer located in Virginia a supply of circulating notes engraved in London and originally prepared for use by Colonel Thomas Tabb, and other Virginia merchants, who had endeavored to organize the James River Bank a few years before. 48 The Virginia Treasurer, feeling that these notes could not be counterfeited, eliminated the inapplicable text in these note forms by the use of parentheses, 49 added appropriate language in longhand indicating they were issued by Virginia instead of by the James River Bank, printed the denomination, a border and "Death to Counterfeit" on the blank reverse, dated them April 1, 1773, and exchanged this currency for the older issues which were returned to the Treasury. These James River Bank Virginia Treasury notes are one of the most unusual issues of money in American Colonial history and the front and back of a specimen are illustrated on Plate VI. Nicholas forthwith ordered a supply of large elaborately engraved notes which were prepared by Ashby in London and when they arrived in Virginia in September, 1773, 50 were signed and put into circulation under the March 4, 1773, act. The merchants, in the meantime, in order to restore confidence in Virginia paper currency, set themselves up as experts to pass on the genuineness of the 1769 and 1771 notes used in the course of trade. 51 The exchange dropped to 30% above sterling, but soon returned to 25%.45 A year later the Treasurer's Office announced the discovery of a 20 shilling counterfeit Virginia note of the 1769 issue. 52 Most notes of this issue had been exchanged by this time so that this announcement did not materially affect public confidence in Virginia's paper money.
The independent legislative Convention of Virginia on July 17, 1775, authorized an issue of paper currency to finance Virginia's war expenses. Treasurer Nicolas, who still had on hand some of both the James River Bank note forms and the large notes engraved by Ashby, interlineated the former, omitting the use of parentheses and the printing on the back, and interlineated the latter, using parentheses for word elimination. He also had other notes printed from cuts and type so that the July 17, 1775, emission has three different styles of circulating notes.
Current money of Virginia continued to remain on a basis of 25% over par with respect to sterling and the exchange was pegged at that rate (6 Virginia shillings equalling one Spanish milled dollar, i.e., a piece of 8 reales) during the early years of the Revolution. 53
Virginia Gazette of January 28, 1773 (PD).
Virginia Gazette of February 4, 1773 (PD & R).
Virginia Gazette of April 14, 1774 (PD).
Journals of the Continental Congress, November 3, 1775, Vol. III, p. 319.
In 1775, a few genuine and quantities of counterfeit English copper halfpence were circulating in New England at ⅔ pence New England currency and in the central colonies at ⅘ pence or more in their currencies. 54 Paper currency of the New England states had exactly the same exchange value as Virginia paper currency. Counterfeit English halfpence in circulation in America usually did not contain more copper than Virginia halfpence and often had less. The metal or intrinsic value of all the above-mentioned coppers was in any event less than half of their circulating value. Virginia merchants naturally were aware of all of these conditions. It is therefore logical to assume that those merchants who received Virginia halfpence for the value of one-half pence in current money of Virginia would not wish to spend them for that amount when coin of equivalent size and weight in neighboring colonies could be spent for a far greater value.
Virginia halfpence were first distributed in Virginia during the spring of 1775 when the disputes between Great Britain and the colonies had become aggravated and people felt the imminence of war. In the fall of 1774 the Continental Congress
had met in Philadelphia and another meeting was scheduled for May 10, 1775. Governor Dunmore published a proclamation dated March 28, 1775, in the
Virginia Gazette warning Virginia delegates against attending that meeting.
Virginia planned its own convention of delegates for March 20, 1775 at Richmond to ratify the actions of the Continental Congress and representatives from all counties were being selected. This convention
on March 25, 1775, called for a suspension of the administration of justice in civil suits and recommended "to all creditors
to be as indulgent to their debtors, as may be; and to all debtors to pay as far as they are able; ***"
The removal of the powder from the public magazine at Williamsburg to an armed British schooner on April 21, 1775, by order
of Governor Dunmore enraged the citizenry and a committee of 102 men organized to demand its return. Governor Dunmore promised
only compensation in money for its value and on May 4,1775, after payment was accepted, Patrick Henry in charge of the assembled
committee sent a dispatch to Treasurer Nicholas which stated:
The people here have it in charge from Hanover Committee to tender their service to you, as a public officer, for the purpose
of escorting the public treasury to any place in this colony, where the money would be judged more safe than in the City of
Nicholas assured the group that he had no apprehensions for the treasury and they disbanded.
War began within 50 days after the first announcement of the availability of Virginia halfpence. This turmoil naturally created a desire in some of the people to secure and retain metallic money of all types.
The fear of inflation and paper money depreciation could not be eliminated by law or patriotism. Although copper lacked the
practicability of gold and silver in easily transported value and acceptability, yet it had commercial and war uses. The desire
to retain rather
than circulate copper coin must have been furthered by the publication in the
Virginia Gazette of August 10, 1775 (Pi) of a May, 1775, news bulletin from London which provided:
Orders are sent to all the out ports to prevent the exportation of copper coin to any port of the American colonies, except
on government account.
As the Revolutionary War continued the scarcity of copper tended to prevent the free circulation of Virginia halfpence more than their value. An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette for August 17, 1776 (DH) indicated "Ready Money given for OLD BRASS, at 18d per 1b. and COPPER at 15d ***." Although the weight of one pound of Virginia halfpence would constitute 30d. in circulating value the advertisement showed the need for copper in Virginia and the inability to obtain it through normal trade.
Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on the establishment of a Money Unit and of a Coinage for the United States," The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Julian P. Boyd, (Princeton, N. J., 1953), Vol. 7, p. 178. It is to be noted that a distinction between the value of a copper and a penny caused a revision of this document.
Virginia Gazette of April 1, 1775 (DH).
Some members of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia realized that the purchasing power of the Virginia halfpence had to be increased to make them circulate and at its first independent session held in Richmond the record shows that Thomas Jefferson on November 7, 1776, submitted a "Bill for Altering the Rates of Copper Coin of this Commonwealth" providing that the Virginia halfpence should pass for one penny each of current money of Virginia. He seems to have deemed it necessary to do so "For rendering the halfpenny peices of Copper coin of this Commonwealth of more convenient value and by that means introducing them into more general circulation." This proposal indicates that the only effective means to induce those who held Virginia coppers to spend them was to increase substantially the legal value of each coin. The act was rejected by vote on November 21, 1776. 57 It is to be noted that "introducing them into more general circulation" admitted there was some limited circulation.
In the spring of 1784 when Thomas Jefferson was participating in the plans for a copper coinage for the United States he made certain written suggestions which included a statement which has heretofore mystified numismatists and made Jefferson appear to have been unfamiliar with the authorized copper halfpence of his own commonwealth or their actual use. Jefferson states, "In Virginia coppers have never been in use. It will be as easy, therefore, to introduce them there of one value as of another." 58
When it was Jefferson himself who introduced legislation in Virginia in 1776 to stimulate "more general circulation" of copper halfpence it is obvious that he knew that the coins were in the hands of the public, that they had been distributed by the treasury and were circulating to some extent. His statement, therefore, has been deceptive from a numismatic point of view. It served to support his argument in favor of the decimal system by asserting an unequivocal negative which from an economic point of view was generally not too misleading. If Jefferson had added the word "generally" or "virtually" or similar equivocal language the confusion as to the Virginia halfpence would have been avoided.
Jefferson subsequently clarified some facts and distorted others when he stated in his "Supplementary Explanations" to his
"Notes on Coinage:"
Let us examine facts in countries where we are acquainted with them. In Virginia, where our towns are few, small, and of course their demand for necessaries very limited, we have never yet been able to introduce
a copper coin at all. The smallest coin which any body will receive there is the half-bit, or 1/20 of a dollar. In those states
where the towns are larger and more populous, a more habitual barter for small wants has called for a copper coin 1/90 or
1/96 or 1/108 of a dollar. In England where the towns are many and populous, and where ages of experience have matured the conveniences of intercourse they have
found that some wants may be supplied for a farthing, or 1/208 of a dollar, and they have accomodated a coin to this want.
This business is evidently progressive. In Virginia we are far behind.
Although admitting that an attempt was made to introduce copper into circulation and explaining reasons why the use of coppers was not needed in rural Virginia, Jefferson makes it appear that coppers did not circulate because people refused to receive them. The proposed legislation he introduced in 1776 proved quite the contrary, as his effort then was to induce people to spend Virginia coppers rather than to receive them. The sounder concept is that after people had time to adjust their thinking to the fears, shortages and inflation brought about by war the desirability of coppers reversed itself and halfpence became unacceptable because people were not accustomed enough to their use. Jefferson's statements as to Virginia copper coins may not have needed clarification in 1784, but their ambiguity was the principal factor in stimulating the research for this monograph because they confused the author.
Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, October 1776 session, (Richmond, 1828), p. 45, 46 and 65; See also: Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Julian P. Boyd, (1950), Vol. 1, p. 597.
Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on the establishment of a Money Unit and of a Coinage for the United States" Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 7, p. 178.
Ibid., Vol. 7, p. 185.
In the course of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg the copper coins which have been found from the period prior to the commencement of copper coinage at the United States Mint in 1793 consist of:
Virginia halfpence in private and public numismatic collections are commonly found showing substantial wear from circulation, thereby confirming the archeological evidence.
Virginia halfpence are readily obtainable today in bright red uncirculated condition chiefly because of the discovery over a century ago by the family of Colonel Mendes I. Cohen of Baltimore of a hoard of halfpence in Richmond still in the original keg. Colonel Cohen was an antiquarian and a collector and on the sale of some of his coins in 1875 the existence and source of the hoard was kept somewhat secret. To prevent a collapse in the market price of Virginia halfpence (as collectors' items) the heirs of Colonel Cohen slowly sold halfpence to coin dealers until 1929 when 2200 pieces were sold at auction in one lot. 60
Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson, whose American Numismatic Manual was published in 1859, indicates that a quantity of Virginia halfpence were "dug up from the summit of the hill, on which the college now stands at Knoxville, Tennessee; and quite a number were exhumed from a locality near Easton, Pennsylvania." 61 Disregarding the unreliability of much of Dickeson's information, little can be deduced from such data.
Walter H. Breen, "Survey of American Coin Hoards," in The Numismatist, Vol. 65, (1952), p. 16.
During the Revolutionary War copper in Europe was available at normal prices and the only risk was shipping it to America. As the war continued shipment of metal and other
commodities to America became more reliable and thus as early as 1777 the Continental Congress was considering a mint for coining specie and copper.
On November 19, 1779, Edward Bridgen of the London firm of medallists, Bridgen and Waller, wrote to Benjamin Franklin at Passy,
France, in an effort to secure a copper coinage contract for the United States and referred to Virginia halfpence as follows:
I can deliver them free on Board for Six pounds sterling p. Hundred Weight (id est 112 lbs. p. cwt) Package included and I
can get 8 Ton done p. month. I herewith send you 2 others a little polished to show the Metal in a Better dress the one is
an ounce the other an half ounce weight and if the one was to pass for a halfpenny or the 108th part of a Dollar and the other
for a penny or 54th part of a Dollar they would be less liable to be counterfeited and be 33⅓ p. ct more valuable than the
English copper coin and 58 p. ct more than those coined for Virginia many years ago.
Actually Bridgen's ability to figure percentages was not demonstrated in his letter as the coppers he proposed were 43¾% more valuable than British halfpence (46 to the pound) and 87½% more valuable than Virginia halfpence (60 to the pound), the latter percentage figure after adjusting for the depreciation of current money of Virginia becoming 50%. Bridgen's figures do show at least that copper was plentiful in Europe and copper coin was obtainable there far cheaper than the circulating value of Virginia halfpence.
After the Revolutionary War and before the Constitution was adopted coppers were minted by Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and by the Federal Government. In addition large quantities of counterfeit English halfpence and various copper tokens were introduced into American circulation, but not in Virginia. In 1789, there was a copper panic and the value of all copper coin circulating in the United States collapsed to its intrinsic value as metal. 64 Tons of coppers therefore found their way to the melting pot and many Virginia halfpence no doubt suffered the same fate.
Virginia halfpence had the unique distinction of being considered at first too valuable to circulate freely and subsequently of being of too little value and popularity to circulate freely.
Journals of the Continental Congress, February 20, 1777, Vol. VII, p. 136–8.
Manuscript in the library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Vol. 16, Frame 118.
The Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia) of August 5, 1789; Connecticut Journal of July 28, 1789.
There are four known specimens of a 1774 Virginia coinage in silver 65 and all of them are brilliant proofs. The bust on the obverse is much larger than that on the 1773 halfpence, but the size of the die is not. The legend reads GEORGIVS·III·DEI·GRATIA· instead of GEORGIVS·III·REX· as specified in the 1773 royal warrant and the 1774 proclamation. The text of the obverse legend of the pattern would require on the reverse a title at least with the word REX. The obverse die is identical to one used on the fourth style of the bust of George III found on the obverses of the English gold guineas dated from 1774 through 1786.
The reverse however is exactly the same style and size as the reverse of the 1773 copper halfpence. It is different from all dies for copper halfpence as well as having the distinctive date of 1774. There are eight strings in the harp on the arms of Virginia. No English shillings were minted between 1763 and 1787. The legal weight for the coinage of English shillings if they had been struck would have been 93.74 grains of silver 0.925 fine and it is interesting to note that the 84 to 86½ grain weight of the 1774 Virginia silver pattern is about 10% below the English standard. A further reduction in weight would have had to be made if consideration were to be given to a Virginia shilling which would stay in circulation in Virginia and not be exported from Virginia for its silver value. The introduction of its own silver coinage would have had a strong stabilizing effect on the differential between sterling exchange and current money of Virginia, but there is no evidence of a desire for the coinage of Virginia shillings and no documentary support for any such coinage. Since Virginia copper was being coined during the early part of 1774 with dies dated 1773, the 1774 die may have been prepared for copper coinage, but the quantity of coppers authorized was coined before the 1774 die was needed. In view of the fact that this coin has always been called a "Virginia Shilling" readers will have to determine whether to rename it a 1774 pattern Virginia halfpence in silver. It is illustrated on Plate I.
Specimens are in the collections of F. C. C. Boyd, Johns Hopkins University, Mrs. R. Henry Norweb and the writer. It is very doubtful whether a 1774 bronze proof exists as it is unknown except for reported hearsay in James Atkins, The Coins and Tokens of the Possessions and Colonies of the British Empire, 1889, p. 265.
There are both major and minor die varieties of the 1773 Virginia halfpence. The major difference in the obverses is the existence or lack of a period after GEORGIVS. The major difference in the reverses is the number of strings in the harp on the coat of arms, there being either 6, 7, 8 or 9. The bust of George III on all obverse dies was developed from reproductions of one master puncheon as was the Virginia coat of arms on all reverse dies. The process of making a hand-cut master puncheon with which to sink a matrix was used at that time to make as many production punches from the matrix as were needed. In making dies the production punches were used and the master puncheon was not in danger of breaking. Generally, the same number punches and letter punches were used for cutting the legends into all production dies, and the varying positions of the letters and figures in these legends gives rise to minor die varieties.
A 1773 reverse die and both the puncheon and matrix for the bust on the obverse still remain in the Royal Mint Museum in London. 66 The 1773 reverse die has nine strings in the harp and is described in the accompanying table as reverse RM. (Royal Mint). As yet no halfpence have been found for which it was used. The illustration on Plate VI is from a struck impression made from the die. On a recent examination of the die by the author it showed no wear from production coinage and the authorized issue may have been completed without this die being put into service. The puncheon has a raised head of George III in high relief and the matrix produced from it does not fit perfectly, indicating that the matrix was used for production punches and had customary corrective recutting.
The dies for the coinage of Virginia halfpence, being products of the London Mint, were sharply and carefully cut, probably by either Richard Yeo, chief engraver, or Thomas Pingo, second engraver. There is, however, one pair of dies which is unusually perfect and is designated as 1–A and illustrated on Plates I, II and IV. These dies are used on planchets weighing 135 grains or about 52 to the pound, whereas the weight of all other die varieties ranges between 105 and 128 grains with the great bulk weighing between 115 grains and 120 grains, the legal weight being 116.7 grains or 60 weighing one pound. Coins struck from the die combination, 1–A, have a proof surface and are perfectly struck on planchets having a diameter of 1⅛ inches whereas all others range between 61/64 inches to 1 1/32 inches. These facts and the scarcity of the 1–A variety lead to the conclusion that these are trial pieces struck from the first pair of dies made before the production dies. This is confirmed by the fact that John Norton gave Captain Barron a Virginia halfpence having the size of a guinea before all the tools were completed. (See page 21.) Neither of the dies in the 1–A combination are found combined with any other dies or on any coins weighing 60 to the pound or less. It is therefore probable that the planchet cutter for Irish halfpence was used to make planchets for trial Virginia halfpence because the smaller planchet cutter was not ready and thus variety 1–A weighs 52 to the pound as do the Irish halfpence of the period. After the confusion caused by Nicholas requesting halfpence weighing 52 to the pound, it is ironic that a few trial specimens of that weight exist by mere coincidence. This halfpence has qeen improperly referred to in the past as a "Virginia penny" but more correctly should be described as a trial Virginia halfpenny on an Irish halfpenny planchet. Its principal design features which distinguish it from all other varieties are the small 7's in the date. It is very scarce.
In classifying varieties of the coinage the dies have been grouped so that the minor varieties are subdivisions of major varieties.
As to the obverse dies with period after GEORGIVS it can be noted that the distance between the three periods varies on each die. I have measured in 64ths of an inch from the center of the period after GEORGIVS to the center of the period after III for the first length, from the center of the period after III to the center of the period after REX for the second length and from the center of the period after REX to the center of the period after GEORGIVS for the third length.
As to obverses with no period after GEORGIVS the distance in 64ths of an inch between the center of the two existing periods has been measured. Decimal portions of an inch are not used because a simple scale can be readily used for the measurements.
As to the reverses the dies are first grouped by the number of harp strings. There is one large leaf extending outward from the upper part of each side of the arms on the reverse. The leaf on the right ends opposite various portions of the first I and the leaf on the left ends opposite various portions of A. These differences are noted in describing the varieties.
The horizontal member of St. George's cross in the arms of Virginia is referred to as the horizontal divider and in cutting the lettering into the various dies the upright of the third I in VIRGINIA is sometimes parallel and sometimes not parallel to the line of the horizontal divider. This relationship is noted in describing the reverses.
There is a period after 1773 and a period after VIRGINIA. These periods were intended to be placed midway between the circular base line and the circular top line of the lettering and numbering. Some of these periods are centered; others are higher than the center line ranging up to the top line and these positions are noted. The shape of these periods is not always circular and some appear like flat lumps or dashes, but because of recutting these variations are not used as a basis for die distinction.
As quantities of coins were struck, the wear on the dies produced some die breaks and also made it necessary to recut portions of the lettering. An attempt to point out these minute differences by creating die states or subvarieties does not seem of sufficient importance to be justified.
The following table describes 17 obverse dies and 20 reverse dies which are found combined to constitute 22 varieties:
|obverses with no period after georgivs|
|Obv. No.||64ths of an inch between centers of periods||Special features||With Rev.|
|1||29||Last period much lower than center of letters.||A|
|2||29½||O nearer E than R in GEORGIVS. Period much closer to I than R.||E|
|3||30||Base of first I in III slightly low. Third I of III as close to R of REX as E is. E closer to X than R.||F|
|4||30½||Top of second I of III nearer top of first I than third I. Period slightly nearer I than R. E in REX nearer R than X.||G O P|
|5||31||Third I of III too low.||B Z|
|6||31½||Second I of III farther from third I than from first I. Period nearer R than I. E in REX nearer X than R.||X|
|7||31½||First I in III tilts left. Period after X higher than center and extremely close to X and to curl.||D|
|obverses with no period after georgivs|
|8||31||Second G in GEORGIVS slightly low. In III first I tilts sharply to left and second I tilts slightly to left.||H|
|9||31||Baseline of third I of III higher than baseline of R. Period slightly closer to R than to I. E in REX slightly nearer R than X.||B|
|obverses with period after georgivs|
|20||29 31 50½||Space between tops of first and second I of III wide. Period after III nearer I than R.||X N|
|21||30½ 31 50½||III perfectly spaced.||N|
|22||31 31½ 51||E high in GEORGIVS. O nearer E than R in GEORGIVS.||S|
|23||32 28½ 49||Top of second I and third I in III distant. Period after III higher than center of lettering.||Q R|
|24||32 30 51||Baseline of III rises uniformly to right. Period nearer I than R.||K|
|25||33 28 50||Base of first G low. Top of first and second I in III distant.||M|
|26||35 28 51½||Second I in III tilts left. Center punch mark shows near curls.||Y|
|27||36 28 51½||First G distant from E. Base of first I in III slightly low.||J|
|reverses with 6 string harp|
|Rev. Letter||Special Features||With Obv.|
|A||Small 7's in date. Period after date as near V as 3. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite midpoint between I and R. Leaf ends opposite center of left base of A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. Periods centered.||1|
|B||G distant from R and I. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite space to right of first I. Leaf ends opposite left tip of right base of A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Period near top line of A. Period after 3 centered. In some specimens 4th, 5th and 6th strings from left side of harp are double cut.||5 9|
|reverses with 7 string harp|
|D||V is low and touches leaf. N almost touches arms. Second 7 higher than 3. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends slightly right of center of first I. Leaf ends opposite right tip of left base of A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Period after date near top line. Period after A higher than center.||7|
|E||V is low and close to leaf. Top of G curls up. Top of 7 higher than 3. Horse's lower hind legs not struck clearly. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite point between center and right side of upright of first I. Leaf ends opposite center of narrow A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Both periods higher than center line.||2|
|F||V touches leaf. N is low. Leaf ends opposite center of first I. Leaf ends close to and opposite center of A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Both periods higher than center line.||3|
|G||V is low. First I tilts right. G curls up at top. Leaf ends opposite center of first I. Leaf ends opposite center of A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. Both periods near top of line.||4|
|H||Leaf under V has angular bend to vertical position. N is too low. A tilts right. Large lion touches line. Leaf ends opposite center of first I. Leaf ends opposite left tip of right base of A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. Periods above center.||8|
|J||Right top of V higher at right end. Second I touches arms. A tilts to right and its right base is defective. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite center of first I. Leaf ends opposite center of left base of A. Third I is parallel to horizontal divider. Periods centered.||27|
|K||V touches and second I is very close to arms. A is high. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite center of first I. Leaf ends opposite left tip of right base of A. Right side of third I parallel to horizontal divider. Period above center line of A. Period after 3 centered.||24|
|M||VIR widely spaced. Second I close to arms. Leaf ends opposite left side of upright of first I. Leaf ends opposite center of A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Periods centered.||25|
|N||V is low. G is large and curls up at top. Second I touches arms. Third lion almost touches branch. Leaf ends opposite left side of upright of first I. Leaf ends opposite left tip of right base of A. Third I slopes slightly up to right relative to horizontal divider. Both periods slightly above center line.||20 21|
|O||V is low. Leafs ends opposite left side of upright of first I. Leaf ends close to and opposite right side of left base of defective A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Periods higher than center.||4|
|P||V is low and touches leaf. G is too high and much nearer R than I. Second I shows double cutting. Leaf ends opposite left side of upright of first I. Leaf ends opposite left tip of right base of A. Third I is parallel to horizontal divider. Period near top line of 3. Period after A centered.||4|
|Q||V is low. Top of 3 higher than 7. Left base of A is high. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite left tip of first I. Leaf ends opposite center of A. Left side of third I slopes slightly down to right relative to horizontal divider. Periods centered.||23|
|R||V is low and very close to arms. Second I touches arms. N is low. Leaf ends opposite left tip of first I. Leaf close to and ends opposite right tip of left base of A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Period after 3 centered. Period slightly above center line of A.||23|
|S||V distant from first I. Second I close to arms. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite left tip of first I. Leaf ends opposite center of A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. Period at top line of 3. Period above center line of A.||22|
|reverses with 8 string harp|
|X||V is low, tilts right and is close to leaf. Second I touches arms. Large lion touches line. Leaf ends opposite left side of upright of first I. Leaf close to and ends opposite center of narrow A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. Period higher than center line of 3. Period near top line of A.||6 20|
|Y||V is distant from first I. Second I almost touches arms. N is low and almost touches arms. Third lion touches branch. Leaf ends opposite left side of upright of first I. Leaf close to and ends opposite right tip of||26|
|Y||left base of A. Third I parallel to horizontal divider. Period after 3 centered. Period higher than center line of A.|
|Z||V is low. First I tilts right. Third lion almost touches branch. Leaf ends opposite right tip of first I. Leaf ends close to and opposite center of narrow A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. Flat period above center line of 3. Flat period near top line of A.||5|
|reverse with 9 string harp|
|RM||Period after date nearer V than 3. Leaf ends right of right base of first I. Leaf ends left of left base of A. Third I slopes down to right relative to horizontal divider. (Description covers impression from die in Royal Mint Museum.)||-|
The author will be grateful if readers will check specimens of Virginia halfpence so as to find such new dies and new combinations of dies as may exist. Gaps in the die designations have been left open for that purpose. Crosby indicates that twenty pairs of dies seem to have been used, 67 but that is only an estimate.
Sylvester S. Crosby, The Early Coins of America , p. 339.
William J. Hocking, Catalogue of the Coins, Tokens, Medals, Dies and Seals in the Museum of the Royal Mint, Vol. II, p. 119.
Many of the coins examined are from the superb collection of F. C. C. Boyd without whose continued encouragement and cooperation the author's research in early American numismatics would be drastically limited. The writer also wishes to acknowledge the courtesies of Missouri Historical Society, Harvard Law School Library, New York Historical Society, Virginia Historical Society, American Numismatic Society, Colonial Williamsburg, The Royal Mint of England, The English Public Records Office, Raymond H. Williamson, John J. Ford, Walter H. Breen and Sir John Craig for assistance in gathering source material.
(10th George III, Chap. XII, passed December 20, 1769 at Williamsburg, Virginia )
I. WHEREAS it hath been judged expedient *** to direct an application to be made to his majesty to permit copper money to be imported into this colony, to the value of two thousand five hundred pounds sterling, and pass for the greater conveniency of change in small payments: ***
II. And be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That if his majesty shall be graciously pleased to permit copper money to be brought in, and pass in this colony, the said treasurer shall, at the public expence, cause so much of such copper to be purchased in Great-Britain as at the rates, at which it doth pass there, will amount to two thousand five hundred pounds sterling, and to be imported into this colony; and shall pay the same away at the British rates to any persons having legal demands against the treasury, in such proportions as is directed by an act of assembly, made in the first year of the reign of king George the second, intituled An act for the better regulating and ascertaining the current rates of silver coin with this dominion, and for preventing the evil practice of cutting foreign gold into pieces; or the said treasurer may exchange such copper at the rates aforesaid for other money, with any person desiring such exchange, and such copper money shall thereafter be current, and pass in payment in this colony, according to the directions and limitations in the said last mentioned act. ***
(12th George III, Chap. XVII, passed April 8, 1772 at Williamsburg, Virginia )
I. WHEREAS by an act of the general assembly, passed in the first year of the reign of his late majesty king George the second, intituled An act for the better regulating and ascertaining the current rates of silver coin within this dominion, and for preventing the evil practice of cutting foreign gold into pieces, it is, amongst other things, enacted, that if his majesty, his heirs, or successors, should think fit, at any time thereafter, to permit copper coin to be brought in and pass in this colony, the same should pass and be current at the like rates it doth pass in Great-Britain. And whereas by one other act of assembly, passed in the tenth year of the reign of his present majesty, intituled An act for the better support of the contingent charges of government, it is, amongst other things, enacted that if his majesty should be graciously pleased to permit copper money to be brought in and pass in this colony, the treasurer should, at the public expence, cause so much of such copper to be purchased in Great-Britain, as at the rates at which it doth pass there would amount to two thousand five hundred pounds sterling. And whereas it is represented to this general assembly, that it will be more convenient for the purposes to which copper money is usually applied, to have the same coined into halfpenny pieces of the value of so much current money of Virginia, instead of sterling money of Great-Britain, and that the value of one thousand pounds sterling, in such currency halfpence, will be sufficient to answer the present occasions of the colony: Be it therefore enacted, by the Governor, Council, and Burgesses, of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted, by the authority of the same, That so much of the last mentioned act as impowers the treasurer to import copper money, to the amount of two thousand five hundred pounds sterling, is hereby repealed.
II. And be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That if his majesty should be graciously pleased to authorize the circulation of copper money in this colony, the treasurer for the time being shall, at the expence of the public, import so many halfpence of the value of the current money of Virginia as may be purchased for one thousand pounds sterling, exclusive of cost and charges, to be issued and exchanged, at the public treasury, for the purposes, and under the regulations, prescribed and directed by the said recited acts.
III. Provided always, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to restrain his majesty from regulating the currency of the said copper money within this colony, in such a manner as his majesty, by his royal proclamation, or by his royal instructions to his governor, or commander in chief of this colony, for the time being, shall, from time to time, judge proper and necessary.
Whereas it has been represented unto us by the Petition of John Norton Merchant presented to the Commrs. of our Treasury that our Colony of Virginia did by Virtue of an Act of Assembly past in the 10th year of our Reign make application to Our Right Trusty and Right Wellbeloved Cousin & Councillour Wills Hill Earl of Hillsborough then one of Our Principal Secretaries of State that he would intercede with us for leave to have a Copper Currency in Our said Colony of Virginia And Whereas It has been represented unto us by the Commrs. of our Treasury aforesaid that the said John Norton has proposed to them to undertake the said Coinage and that his Proposal having been referred to you the Master of our Mint for your Consideration You have given your Opinion that the same is proper to be complied with Our Will & Pleasure is And We do hereby authorise and command you Charles Sloane Cadogan Master & Worker of Our Mint in Our Tower of London to receive into Our said Mint from the said John Norton or from such Persons as he shall contract with for that purpose fine Copper in Bars nealed and which when heated red hot will spread thin under the hammer without cracking and which Shall be of a due Size or Thickness to be prescribed by you and out of the same to coin Twenty Five Tons or such lesser Quantity as shall be necessary for our said Colony in Halfpence of such a bigness that sixty of them may make a Pound Weight Avoirdupois excepting such small errors as may happen in and by the unequal sizing of the Bars which errors you shall endeavour that they be not in Excess & Defect above the 30th Part of a Pound Weight and this not by Design but only by accident and if the said Copper Bars do not bear the Assay in Size & Fineness you shall not receive the same but return them back to be manufactured anew and the Quantity of Copper which shall be received by you in Bars from such Contractors as aforesaid shall be redelivered by you by weight either in Monies to such Persons as shall be duly authorized to receive the same òr in the Scissel & Brocage of the said Bars to the said Contractors to be recast & wrought over again at their expence and you shall cause Our Effigies with the Inscription GEORGIUS · III. REX. to be stamped on one side of each Piece & the Virginia Arms on the Reverse with the St. George's Cross leaving out the Escutcheons & Crowns except one Crown at the Top as on the Guinea without Crest supporters & Motto except the word VIRGINIA round the arms with the date of the year and when any Quantity of such Monies shall be coined the same shall be well mixed in a Heap & assayed by counting out sixty Pieces from several parts of the Heap & weighed every Parcel so counted out and you shall also cause the same to be assayed in Fineness by heating some Pieces of the Money Red Hot & Then battering them to see if they will spread thin under the Hammer without cracking 68 and you shall bear & sustain all charges & waste in cutting nealing Flatting scouring blanching barreling coining assaying weighing & delivering the same at Our Mint in Our Tower of London for Five Pence per Pound Weight avoirdupois exclusive of the twenty shillings per Ton to be paid to our Clerk of the Copper Coinage of our said Mint for overseeing the said coinage & keeping the accounts thereof which said Five pence per Pound Weight & 20s p Ton shall be paid quarterly And for the said allowance of 5d. p £ Wt. & 20s p Ton you are to indemnify & save us & this Kingdom from any Charge & Demands whatsoever in respect of this intended Coinage and the moneyers shall not pay vend or distribute any of the said new coined Monies before the same shall be duly assayed & delivered to you the Master or Worker and We do further appoint & order that all Receipts & Deliveries of Copper in Bars or Scissel & all Deliveries of Moneys from the Moneyers to you & from you to such Persons as shall be only authorized to receive the same with the assays thereof shall be entered in Books by the said Clerk who shall see all the assays performed & the Bars & Money & Scissel weighed & one or more Pieces taken out of every Parcel of Monies assayed to be kept in a Box under his Key & the Key of you the Master & Worker in order to be tried at such times before such Persons as the Commrs of our Treasury for the time being shall appoint And our further Will and Pleasure is and We do hereby command & charge all the officers of the Tower aforesaid That all Persons bringing in Copper in Bars to the said Mint or coming thither for money or scissel of Copper shall have free ingress egress & issue by the Gates & thro' the same Tower & Franchises thereof inward & outward at all times without any arresting disturbance letting or gainsaying of the Chief Governor Constable or Lieutt: or the Porter of any other officer or Person whatsoever to be for any Manner of Debt Matter or Cause whatsoever it be & without any thing given to them or any other for to have such entry and We do further command & require the Gravers Moneyers Smith & all others attending on this service to do their Duty with Diligence & application & to observe the Tasks and Directions given them by you the said Master & Worker for coining our said Monies well & with Dispatch and Whereas the Contractors are to deliver Bars so sized that 60 Halfpennys when cut out of the same shall make a Pound Weight without erring either in Excess or Defect above 1/30th Part & it will not be possible to draw the said Bars to so exact a Size without cutting from time to time Halfpenny Blanks thereof and weighing the same. Our further Will & Pleasure is that you do deliver to the sd Contractors one proper cutter they the said Contractors giving proper security to return the same into Our Mint at the expiration of their Contract and for so doing this shall be as well to you as to all others concerned in this Coinage a sufficient Warrant. Given at our Court at St. James this 20th day of May 1773 in the 13th year of Our Reign.
To Chas. Sloane Cadogan
Master & Worker of Our Mint within Our Tower of London.
By His Majesty Command North. Geo. Onslow J. Dyson
A test to show whether copper coins were pure was worked out by Sir Isaac Newton. When heated red hot, copper coins could be beaten thin without cracking. The addition of tin made copper easy to roll, but also made hot copper brittle. This test was to prevent tin and other impurities from being added. This test was in use from 1700 until 1860 in England. See: Sir John Craig, The Mint, page 220.
Whereas, it hath been humbly represented to us on the part and behalf of our colony of Virginia that a currency of copper money within the same colony would be highly beneficial to our good subjects, the inhabitants thereof, for the more easy and convenient making of small payments; and whereas the Treasurer of our said colony, being thereunto authorized by an Act of our Governor, Council, and Assembly of said colony, passed in the tenth year of our reign, hath delivered to the master and worker of our mint, in our tower of London, a sufficient quantity of fine copper in bars, nealed, for the coinage of five tons of the pieces hereinafter mentioned, after making the just and usual allowance to the officers of our mint; and whereas our said master and worker of our mint hath, in pursuance of our warrant for that purpose issued, coined thereout five tons of pieces of copper coin, of such weight that sixty pieces thereof are equal to one pound weight avoirdupois, without erring either in excess or defect above one thirtieth part, and are of the value of two shillings and sixpence, according to the currency of money in our said province of Virginia; and each piece is stamped on one side with our effigies, with the inscription 'Georgius III. Rex.' and on the reverse with the Virginia Arms, with the St. George's Cross, leaving out the escutcheon of crowns, except one crown at the top as on the Guinea, without crest, supporters, or motto, except the word 'Virginia' round the arms, with the date of the year; which are now ready to be exported to our said colony of Virginia. We have therefore, with the advice of our Privy Council, thought fit to issue this our Royal Proclamation: and we do accordingly hereby ordain, declare, and command, that the said pieces of copper money, so coined, stamped, and impressed, as aforesaid, shall be current and lawful Money of and in our said colony of Virginia, and of and within the districts and precincts of the same; and shall pass and be received therein after the rate following, that is to say, twenty-four of the said pieces shall pass and be received for the sum of one shilling, according to the currency of our said province of Virginia, and at and after such rate shall be computed, accepted and taken accordingly in all bargains, rates, payments, and other transactions of money. Provided always, and we do hereby further declare, that no person shall be obliged to take more than one shilling of such copper money in any one payment of any sum of money under twenty shillings, nor more than two shillings and six-pence thereof in any one payment of a larger sum of money than twenty shillings.
Given at Court at St. James, the 16th day of November, 1774, in the fifteenth year of our reign.
God save the King.
No Period after GEORGIVS OBVERSES
Period after GEORGIVS OBVERSES
Virginia Treasury Notes created by interlineation of available circulating notes engraved in England for proposed use by the James River Bank.
Ornamented protective design and legend printed in Virginia on blank back of James River Bank note forms.
EMERGENCY PAPER CURRENCY APRIL 1, 1773