Coinage of the American confederation period

Mossman, Philip L. (Writer on coinage)
Coinage of the Americas Conference
American Numismatic Society
New York
Worldcat Works




Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.


Table of Contents




It is with great pleasure that I introduce the papers delivered at the 1995 Coinage of the Americas Conference. This was the eleventh such annual event, first gathered in 1984, for the expressed purpose of presenting an in-depth focus on a specific topic in American numismatics. The 1995 program, "Coinage of the American Confederation Period," embraces a brief but extremely active numismatic era in American history. We are not just concerned with coins as a metallic medium of exchange, but rather we visualize numismatics as an eclectic science which draws upon history, politics, economics, art, biography, linguistics, metallurgy, physics and chemistry. Without doubt, the papers in these Proceedings reflect this broader definition of numismatics as we explore the diverse coinages current in the Confederation period.

The Confederation period was a time of change and challenge as the young, recently freed country, strove to establish its own national identity. The new nation had no currency of its own and of necessity continued to rely on the same foreign coins which had freely circulated here since the earliest colonial times. As a consequence of the economic stagnation which followed the Revolution, the country was crippled by a major post-war depression when all gold and silver virtually disappeared from commerce. In distinct contrast, the small change medium remained abundantly stocked with token coppers, especially counterfeit English halfpence which had been in circulation for years. As a reaction against these many spurious light weight coins, several states minted their own good quality, token coppers during the Confederation period with the expectation that popular rejection of the light weight, inferior issues would drive them from circulation. For this reason, the many state copper which enrich the numismatics of this period came into being.

These Proceedings are a collection of papers which describe several aspects of the profuse coinage minted in the period after the Revolution and prior to the establishment of the Federal mint ; to 1993, some 693 different die varieties of domestic coppers have been identified with the list ever expanding as new discoveries are made. 1 The immense variety and sheer numbers of Confederation coppers have stimulated much attention and research, and rightly so. Investigators have been hampered and frustrated in their efforts since there are no surviving artifacts used in the manufacture of these coins. Thus, all our information must be extrapolated from the examination of the existing coins themselves and from literary evidence published in contemporary newspaper accounts and other documents. But this lack of immediately available data should not deter us from the continued pursuit of information about this numismatic era. Many years ago, Damon G. Douglas , well known for his research into the Fugio cents, stated it very succinctly. "The copper coinages of that critical period in American history, the first decade after the Revolution, still present unexhausted fields for fruitful research." 2

Thus, there are many challenges before us for continued numismatic research but we must remain humble in the fact that we do not have all the answers about these intriguing coinages. I believe it is safe to say that there is more that we don't know than we do know. As a result, investigators must possess the wisdom to separate appealing speculation and unsubstantiated numismatic tradition from confirmed fact. In regard to Confederation coppers, except for a few notable exceptions, we know painfully little about the mints, the mintmasters, their business associates and practices, and just how the money entered circulation. I expect that new genealogical discoveries and documentary evidence will disclose important clues as to the lives and activities of some of the individuals whose roles in these Confederation coinages have remained enigmatic. There are still untapped literary sources yet to be discovered, as exemplified in these Proceedings by Eric Newman's identity of the party responsible for the Nova Constellatio tokens. Mint attributions for many of these coppers are still unsettled; in the past, many mints were assigned based solely on the basis of deductive reasoning, some of whose logic has collapsed under closer scrutiny. Newer technology such as computer image enhancement, improved photography, and high energy, non-destructive, planchet analysis may assume a leading role in deciphering some of these mysteries.

Numismatists in general are just beginning to appreciate the counterfeit English halfpence as the most prevalent copper of the period. This new awareness has unfortunately spawned a temptation to view any crude counterfeit English halfpenny as an American product based on no firmer evidence than a rough appearance. While there is literary evidence to support American "blacksmith" type counterfeits, 3 we cannot identify them as to type and it remains inaccurate to assign every barbarous counterfeit halfpence to this side of the Atlantic. Contemporary newspaper accounts 4 reveal that local entrepreneurs did cast counterfeit halfpence which, by their nature, leave no telltale evidence as to site of origin. Thus, many cast counterfeit halfpence found in this country today may well be of domestic origin, a fact we can neither prove nor disprove. Except for the proven Machin's Mills imitations, it becomes problematic to designate other struck counterfeit halfpence as American when one considers the sophisticated and complicated infrastructure required to mint coppers. The sheer magnitude of such an operation to smelt ore, to prepare, roll, and anneal planchets, to engrave dies, and to strike coins, would have been a major business venture available to but a few in pre-industrial America . But these considerations should not deter one from continued inquiry into the counterfeit English halfpence, both domestic and imported. In fact, two important papers in these Proceedings deal with these fascinating, but humble, coppers, coins whose importance is just now earning recognition as important players in early American numismatics.

Another interesting American series, generally of English origin but contemporary to the Confederation period, includes the Washington pieces. While these tokens enjoyed no official status, it was obvious that many circulated. We are pleased to have a complete catalogue of Washingtonia by George Fuld included in these Proceedings .

To this point the emphasis has been placed on the money circulating between the end of the Revolution and the advent of the Federal mint . Whereas the coins in our cabinets today are the survivors of the economy of those times, we have another body of contemporary history documented by the medals struck to commemorate significant events of the period. As Frederic H. Betts wrote in the introduction to his brother's posthumously published book, "One is to look upon a cabinet of Medals 'as a treasure, not of money, but of knowledge'... ." 5 With the sensitivity that the holistic approach to the study of numismatics includes an appreciation of all the events and factors that shaped the history of the era under study, Alan M. Stahl has provided us an inventory of the Comitia Americana medals authorized by Congress to honor the heroes of pre-Federal America .

I wish to thank all the participants in this year's Coinage of the Americas Conference for their contributions of time, effort, and knowledge. The editorial assistance I received in preparation of these Proceedings from James C. Spilman and Michael Hodder is gratefully acknowledged. Finally, we all express our gratitude to the staff of the American Numismatic Society for making this symposium possible as a medium through which we can share our interest in this fascinating and engaging period of American history with numismatists everywhere.

Philip L. Mossman , M.D.
Conference Chairman

End Notes

Philip L. Mossman , Money of the American Colonies and Confederation , ANSNS 20 ( New York , 1993), p. 203.
CNL 5 (1963), p. 67.
Gary Trudgen , "Gilfoil's Coppers," CNL 76 (1987), pp. 997-1000; "TN-111," CNL 77 (1987), pp. 1019-21.
Mossman (above, n. 1), p. 121.
Frederic H. Betts , American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals ( New York , 1894).

The American Confederation: The Times and Its Money

Philip L. Mossman

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996


The American Confederation, extending from 1781 until 1789, can be considered the period of our national adolescence. These seven years spanned the time frame between our emergence as a nation from the cocoon of infant colonialism until our start on the road to maturity as a Federal Republic. It was a "betweentimes" when our country went through all the growing pains expected from a post-pubescent, gangly teenager, such as the evolution of character and self-reliance, the development of trusting relationships with peers, and the assumption of adult responsibility. It is the monetary history of this fascinating epoch which is the focus of this year's Coinage of the Americas Conference. 1

One cannot speak of the Confederation period as an isolated historical event but rather one must consider the prior experience of colonialism which shaped our nation's adolescent personality. From 1607, with the first permanent settlement in Jamestown , until 1749, with the settlement by the English military of the garrison at Halifax , 14 British colonies were founded on the North American mainland . These colonies were very different in composition and character from one another with distinct economic, geographic and climatic diversity. In the North, the economy was dominated by forest products, fishing and small farms, whereas in the South, large plantations worked by slaves were scattered over the countryside. The population was generally concentrated in cities along the eastern seaboard. Beyond these coastal communities, occasional towns and villages of a few dozen houses punctuated the largely forested and rural landscape. Travel, communication, and commerce between the colonies, except by sea, was very difficult and tedious. Roads were poor or nonexistent; even in the best of conditions the New York to Boston stagecoach could make only 40 miles a day traveling from three in the morning to ten at night. 2 Rarely did people stray more than 20 miles from their birthplace. The population was largely of English extraction, generally illiterate, and lived on farms at a subsistence level of economy. 3 British North America was not a single country but rather a collection of "several distinct regional economies, most of them tied more closely to Great Britain than to each other... ." These "regional differences among the colonies were so sharp and ties between them so weak that it is misleading to speak of an 'American economy' or an 'American population' early in the colonial period." 4

Moreover the governments were dissimilar; only Connecticut and Rhode Island were true republics where all public officials were elected by the people. In three others— Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland —the lords proprietary selected the governors; and in the remaining nine (including Nova Scotia ), the governor was appointed by the monarch. The varied political structure of the colonies notwithstanding, England looked on these North American plantations in the same way. The natural resources and economic development of every colony were to be regulated from London and any potential profits were to be directed toward increasing the wealth and power of the mother country under a system called mercantilism. To this end, a series of restrictive laws was passed by Parliament, collectively known as the Acts of Trade and Navigation, which were designed to ensure that the colonial economies remained subservient to that of the mother country and that English interests were protected. However onerous these controls might appear at first glance, the colonies also benefited from membership in the British Empire with a large free-trading area, naval protection, easy credit, and restricted foreign competition. The negative aspects of mercantilism included suppressed colonial manufacturing, restricted foreign markets, and the export of earned specie to pay for manufactured necessities and luxuries. 6

From 1689 to 1763, the colonies became entangled in the North American extension of a series of European conflicts as continental governments continued a ceaseless drive for power. England's war machinery was fueled to a large part by raw materials from North America , consistent with its mercantilist policies. In addition, Parliament expected that the colonies would bear some of the financial burden of the so-called French and Indian Wars. 7

Until 1763, the Navigation Acts had little practical impact on the colonies since they were largely ignored or effectively circumvented by experienced smugglers. In spite of these restrictive laws on the books, the local economies expanded and prospered. But, with the peace following the final French and Indian War, the scene changed. England , in 1763, had now emerged as the most powerful nation in Europe , but with a massive war debt. To bolster its economy and recoup its strength, England now turned its attention across the Atlantic with renewed vigor and began to enforce the old Acts of Trade and Navigation in an attempt to squeeze from their plantations all their natural wealth. George III and his Tory government looked on the colonies not as political communities but simply as chartered companies and crown possessions where any freedoms or popular assembly existed only at the king's pleasure. For the first time, England stationed a permanent standing army in the colonies which was three times larger than that deployed on the battle front during wartime. It was evident that the presence of such troops was intended "to control rather than to protect." 8

Parliament passed even more unpopular laws which were designed to benefit English rather than colonial interests. As if this increased control was not bad enough, the colonial economies were crippled by an oppressive post-war depression when foreign trade and revenue from exports virtually ceased. The use of paper money in the colonies, which since 1690 had been helpful in financing local initiatives, was severely regulated in 1751 and again in 1764 by laws specifically engineered to ensure that English merchants be paid in hard currency rather than unstable paper. Parliament, still operating under the tenants of mercantilism, was always ready to manipulate the colonies for England's benefit but rarely inclined to assist their overseas dominions for their sake alone. Now sugar, tea and other imports were heavily taxed as an additional revenue measure. If it had been enforceable, the Stamp Act would have severely encumbered all local enterprises. Common law rights to trial by peers in the colonies were abrogated. Taxation without representation became the rallying cry as the Stamp Act Congress asserted that the colonists had the same native rights as all free Englishmen. The maturing colonies had outgrown their dependence on England and resented this increased control over their lives which London was now exerting in the postwar period after 1763. Unfortunately the British government "lacked the wisdom and the political genius" to recognize the liberties of its overseas citizens as defined and protected under the English Constitution and blindly perceived no need to reconfigure their imperial organization to accommodate these natural freedoms. The colonies did have some vocal support in Parliament, notably from William Pitt and Edmund Burke . Pitt's advocacy was duly acknowledged by a medallet struck in his honor. While George III interpreted the rebellious actions of the colonists as "insufferable disobedience" "requiring disciplining," Pitt , in his wisdom, recognized that if violence ever erupted, any peaceful resolution or reconciliation would be difficult. His conciliatory efforts were constantly thwarted by a king dominated Tory Parliament. Push came to shove on April 19, 1775, at the Battles of Lexington and Concord when the British attempted to seize colonial munitions. A skirmish escalated into a full fledged war just as Pitt had predicted. By the summer of 1776, there was no vestige of royal authority in any of the colonies which had become openly hostile toward all forms of centralized power. Their basic conflict was not primarily to gain political and economic independence from England but rather the colonists wished to retain those historical freedoms of free Englishmen which they had enjoyed from the beginning and now were threatened by an insensitive and autocratic monarchy and Tory Parliament. 9 While many colonial Tories remained loyal and hoped for a reconciliation, other factions pressed for complete autonomy. 10

This is an incomplete thumbnail sketch of the economic and political scene in North America at the outbreak of the Revolution, a conflict whose causes were multifactoral and cannot be explain ed by any single circumstance. All of a sudden a unique situation was at hand in North America . For the first time, 13 diverse, suspicious, self-sufficient colonies were forced into a position where they had to cooperate with one another to repel a tyranny which would have destroyed them individually. It was an easy task to burn the midnight oil and draft a Declaration of Independence which asserted their autonomy from an oppressive metropolitan regime. But after this proclamation which severed the bonds of colonialism was signed, sealed and delivered, these 13 colonies, who had had minimal prior interaction, still viewed each other with such mistrust they could come to no immediate consensus as to how they would govern themselves. It took until March 1781 for them to agree upon a form of self-rule which was set forth in the Articles of Confederation. And even after this polity was drafted, it was not ratified until just seven months before Cornwallis surrendered.

The Articles of Confederation were conceived as an instrument to bind the states in a firm league of friendship, but it did not establish a single nation. The collective states under the Articles of Confederation were unwilling to abdicate to a central government any more authority than they were willing to accept from their colonial masters. The financial, foreign policy and war powers set forth in the Articles of Confederation were jealously guarded by the states since nine votes out of thirteen were required for passage of most measures. While the individual states did retain the sole authority to levy taxes, they did agree to share with Congress the parallel authority to establish a mint and emit paper money. To finance the war effort, the states were unwilling to assert their prerogative and levy taxes, but instead pursued an alternative solution with a printing press and issued reams of unsecured paper money. Congress, without any taxing authority, had no alternative but to circulate bills of credit very early in the war to meet government expenses.

The monetary principles expressed in the Articles of Confederation reflected the paranoia which had been conditioned from years of English control over colonial fiscal policy. Throughout the colonial experience, hard money supplies fluctuated depending upon the strength of the individual colonial economies. Even at best, small denominational silver was always in demand for local trade. During periods of war, when the export of raw materials and supplies was brisk, earned specie became more plentiful as the economy prospered. These times of plenty were followed by cycles of postwar recession as the export market contracted and hard money became in short supply as trade languished. During such intervals of economic slowdown, when circulating hard money was scant, alternative solutions were devised to ensure adequate currency so that local commerce could continue. Such successful measures included the use of wampum in the 1600s, the development of regulated commodity monies, the minting of Massachusetts silver, and more commonly, the emission of paper currency by colonial governments either as unsecured bills of credit, as fiscal instruments backed by the value of land, or notes emitted against anticipated tax receipts.

During the Revolution, hard money was particularly scarce, driven out of circulation by an excess supply of depreciated, unsecured paper money. Directly following the war, there was a sudden abundance of specie from those areas occupied by foreign troops who had been paid in hard money. This surplus was short-lived since the country went on a buying-spree and soon the specie was returned to Europe to pay for many imported commodities and luxuries which had been in short supply during the war. As would be anticipated from prior experience, in 1784 a devastating postwar depression followed the Revolution with effects which were nearly as crippling to the country as those witnessed in 1929. 11 Exports faltered, credit was expensive, merchants were burdened with a glut of unsaleable imported goods, hard money was just not available, and many experienced financial ruin. Barter, as a medium of exchange, was revived in several areas; bankruptcies were commonplace. In Massachusetts , returning war veterans, unpaid for their years of military service, were now obliged to meet their tax bills in non-existent hard currency or face financial ruin with threats of foreclosure and debtors prison. An armed encounter between these disgruntled farmers in western Massachusetts and the militia ensued in the notorious Shays's Rebellion. To the north, the state of New Hampshire itself was bankrupt and in other legislatures there was agitation for cheap paper money to release citizens from the burden of personal debt. 12

Some historians have characterized the postwar Confederation with such labels as "the critical period" 13 of American history or "the period of peril" 14 since they speculated that the new nation was on the brink of anarchy and dissolution. Another commented that Shays's Rebellion frightened George Washington out of retirement into politics. 15 At any rate, the times were difficult. It did not take long to realize that this new government established under the Articles of Confederation was completely inept to lead the emerging nation and the need to mend its multiple defects soon became evident. This would have been an impossible task since a major flaw in the structure of this code required that any amendment must receive the unanimous approval of all the states. Instead, the entire document was discarded in favor of the Constitution of 1787. This new Federal government has stood the test of time, enduring now for more than 200 years. But this final union did not occur until the young nation resolved its serious problems of adolescent bickering and mutual mistrust. With these internal conflicts dispelled, the 13 colonial infants could now emerge "from many into one" and with this new spirit they launched themselves into young adulthood where united they faced the new and different challenges of the next century.


To this point, there have been some passing references to the currency which circulated during the Confederation. The following table summarizes the principal monies of the period:

1. Paper currency a. Some Revolutionary War issues continued to circulate into the Confederation period. 17
a. old issues b. By 1786, nine states had issued specie money to provide a local currency. These were: Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Georgia .
b. new issues, state specie money
2. Foreign gold Spanish doubloons, pistoles and fractional parts French guineas
Portuguese Johannes , moidores and divisions English guineas
3. Foreign silver Spanish milled dollars and fractional parts English crowns, shillings
French crowns
4. English regal coppers These had been imported in great numbers since early colonial days.
5. Virginia halfpence These 1773-dated coppers were legally authorized but did not circulate in any numbers prior to the Revolution.
6. Counterfeit English coppers These coins of English origin had comprised the greatest part of the small change medium for years. Following the Revolution, importation resumed and some were struck in New York State at Machin's Mills.
7. Counterfeit Irish coppers 1781 and 1782 dated coppers were common in the states.
8. State coppers In an attempt to rid commerce of the large number of counterfeit coppers, several states between 1785 and 1788 issued their own money under the authority of the Articles of Confederation in anticipation these good state coppers would be preferentially received and thereby drive the "vile" counterfeits out of circulation.
a. Connecticut
b. New Jersey
c. Massachusetts
d. Vermont
9. Federal coppers The 1787 Fugio cents issued under the authority of Congress.
10. Tokens of English origin The 1783 and 1785 Nova Constellatio coppers; various Washington issues.
11. Miscellaneous American token coinages These would include the Immunis Columbia pieces, and the many New York issues.

During the Revolution, the states and Continental Congress had resorted to bills of credit to finance the war but these notes rapidly became valueless. Now in the postwar period, most legislatures witnessed an agitation to resume printing bills of credit so at least there would be some form of currency for local commerce and the alleviation of private debt. Many states, having learned their lessons from unsecured paper money during the war, resisted this temptation to solve their fiscal ills by notes unbacked by specie. Some of the more successful paper that held its value did continue to circulate.

As in the prior colonial period, dependency continued on Spanish and French gold and silver, Dutch silver and Portuguese gold. Since there had been a chronic coin shortage in England for many years, the export of specie coins, even to its own overseas plantations, had always been forbidden.


1. Exchange rates for European specie coins in Massachusetts monies of account current as of October 23, 1784 (Courtesy of Eric P. Newman Education Society) .


2. Exchange rates current in 1793 (Courtesy of Eric P. Newman Education Society) .

Nonetheless, this restriction was successfully circumvented and English gold and silver did make its way to this side of the Atlantic . The values of these diverse foreign currencies, in terms of local monies of account, were commonly published in tables to assist the public in commercial transactions. Fig. 1 , printed in 1784 and representative of such broadsides, is of particular interest since it also enumerates the value of English far things and halfpence in relation to Massachusetts copper. 18 Even into the early Federal period, after the decimal system had been officially adopted, the states still continued to calculate the value of their coins in the old colonial monies of account system denominated in pounds, shillings, and pence. Typical of such conversion tables is fig. 2 , published in 1793 by Samuel Sauer (Somer) of Germantown, Pennsylvania , which reckoned the value of common specie coins of the day in the several colonial monies of account as well as in terms of the new Federal denominations. 19 Although the 1793 table is dated after the Confederation Period, it was selected to demonstrate the concurrent use of the new Federal and old colonial notations, a practice which continued well into the next century. The cyclical shortage of hard money previously described, while definitely troublesome, did not necessarily suspend commerce since many large transactions, both local and overseas, could be satisfactorily transacted using bills of exchange. 20


3. Common foreign silver coins in use during the Confederation period.

(a) Mexico : 1766 pillar eight reales of Charles III

(b) Mexico : 1753 half real of Ferdinand VI also called a half bit, medio or picayune.

(c) Spain : 1719 cross pistareen of Philip V.

(d) England : 1695 crown of William III .

The Spanish American milled dollar, first minted in Mexico City in 1535, was the most important silver coin on this continent from the first settlements until the middle of the last century. Over its 351 year history, the eight reales piece remained the world's silver standard due to its uniformity. Its fractional pieces, including the bits, levies, and picayunes, formed the backbone of our silver small change medium. Although never recognized with legal tender status due to its lower silver content, the pistareen, a debased two reales coin from mainland Spain , was another very important player in our colonial and Confederation periods ( fig. 3 ). Spanish, Portuguese, English and French gold commonly traded as high denominational specie coins for the first 250 years of our history ( fig. 4 ). Since the early Federal Mint could not keep up with the demands of the coinage requirement for the United States , these foreign gold and silver specie coins continued as legal tender in this country until demonetized by the Act of February 21, 1857. 21


4. Common foreign gold coins in use during the Confederation period.

(a) Mexico : 1762 doubloon of Charles III.

(b) Brazil : 1767 half Johannes of four escudos of Joseph I.

(c) France : 1641 louis d'or ( French guinea ) of Louis XIII.

(d) England : 1688 guinea of James II.

During the Confederation, the copper small change medium was plentiful in direct contrast to the hard coin money which was in short supply during the devastating post-Revolutionary War depression. Whereas the circulating gold and silver money was from the countries described above, the copper money was regal English since there was no prohibition against the export of Tower halfpence and farthings. In fact, from 1695 to 1775, about 17% of the copper output from the Tower Mint was exported to the North American colonies, amounting to some £69,000. In 1749 alone, 10 tons of cop- pers, about a quarter of the year's production of farthings and halfpence, were included in a large sum of money sent to Massachusetts by Parliament as partial repayment of the debt incurred during the French and Indian Wars. The only legitimate copper of the Revolutionary period was the Virginia halfpenny minted for the colony in England . These coppers were delivered just weeks before the War broke out and so were withheld from general circulation until hostilities ceased ( fig. 5 ).


5. 1773 Virginia halfpenny, Newman 25-M (118.4 grains).


6. (a) 1737 regal halfpenny of George II (152.1 grains).

(b) This crude cast counterfeit (98.6 grains) is easily identified due to rough surfaces and the telltale cud above the kings head where the metal was poured into the mold. It is smaller due to shrinking of the molten metal upon cooling.

Since the currency value of regal English coppers was about double the intrinsic value of the metal plus the minting costs, significant profits were available not only to the king but also to the counterfeiters who surfaced in great numbers to make their fortunes. These clandestine forgers had little to fear from the authorities since the punishment, if apprehended, amounted to a virtual slap on the wrist. At first bogus coppers were sand cast but soon these illegal operations began striking counterfeits in presses from engraved dies. By 1753 in England , it was estimated that about half the circulating copper was counterfeit. The large numbers of regal English coppers, sent legally to the colonies, were quickly followed by the spurious ones. Soon commerce was flooded with these light weight, counterfeit issues which were accepted by a generally uncritical public whose only concern was that they receive full value in commerce for their token coppers. The importation of these coppers, interrupted by the Revolution, resumed again after the War and figured even more prominently during the Confederation (figs. 6 , 7 ).


7. (a) 1775 regal halfpenny of George III (154.9 grains).

(b) Struck contemporary counterfeit (121.1 grains) from engraved dies.


8. "1787" Machin's Mills imitation halfpenny (Vlack 18-87C)

Since the counterfeit copper industry in England was so profitable, as evidenced by the vast numbers which circulated on both sides of the Atlantic , it was only natural for this illegal activity to spread into British North America . Original research on counterfeit George III halfpence was presented in the symposium by Charles W. Smith . Many counterfeit English halfpence of domestic manufacture have been identified, the largest source believed to have been Machin's Mills in Newburgh, New York ( fig. 8 ). Similarly, Irish halfpence and farthings were extensively counterfeited. Both the false and regal issues were exported to America in large numbers as substantiated by a 1787 report from New York . In fact, 1781 and 1782 bogus Irish halfpence were commonly used as planchets for several Vermont state issues ( fig. 9 ). The exportation of these counterfeit halfpence from Ireland and England into British North America is examined in detail by John M. Kleeberg .


9. (a) 1782 regal Irish halfpenny of George III (141.0 grains).

(b) 1782 contemporary struck Irish counterfeit halfpenny (92.1 grains). The latter were commonly used as host coins for certain Vermont coppers.

In 1786, one estimate asserted that nearly half the coppers in circulation for the previous 20 to 30 years were counterfeit. The new Articles of Confederation empowered both the state and national governments to coin money and, under this authority, Connecticut in 1785, New Jersey in 1786, and Massachusetts in 1787 commenced to mint their own copper coinages with the expressed goal of ridding commerce of the vile, base coppers, which were perceived as inflicting financial injury, especially upon the poor. The plan was to mint state authorized coppers of consistent quality with the expectation that the citizens would only accept these new, true weight coppers while rejecting the counterfeit halfpence which comprised the bulk of the money.

Although not a member of the Confederation, Vermont also adopted the same practice in 1785 and issued its own coppers. The early history of this republic and the background of its mint are the subject of a paper by Pete Smith . The attractive landscape coppers, whose reverse motif is similar to the Nova Constellatio issues, were products of the Rupert mint in 1785 and 1786. Later bust issues are thought to have been inspired or directly copied from Connecticut designs. Certain bust right issues were struck over unnegotiable 1785 Nova Constellatio coppers and counterfeit Irish halfpence.

In 1786 the New Jersey Assembly strove to improve the quality of the small change medium by authorizing three million legal tender coppers of 150 grains each, for which privilege the licensees would return a 10% royalty to the state. The official contract was shared by two mints but several clandestine operations have also been identified making a total of 139 New Jersey die varieties with a total combined coinage of about four million pieces. The earlier issues from Rahway and Morristown were typically of high quality but soon there appeared lighter weight coppers which discredited the integrity of the full weight coinage ( fig. 10 ). These inferior coppers included the 1788-dated issues attributed to Morristown and others, overstruck on light weight host coins, believed to be from Elizabethtown . Recent work by Hodder has added much to our understanding of this complex series. 22


10. New Jersey coppers: (a) 1786 Maris 14–J from the Rahway Mint (147.8 grains).

(b) 1788 Maris 50–f, one of three horse head left varieties (141.7 grains).

(c) 1787 Maris 56–n, struck over a 1787 Connecticut Milller 30–hh. 1 (129.6 grains).

There are 355 die varieties of Connecticut state coppers included within 26 distinct bust types dated from 1785 to 1788 with an estimated total production of about seven million. The only authorized mint was the Company for Coining Coppers of New Haven which struck coppers from dies engraved by Abel Buell . Their franchise may have passed legally to James Jarvis and Co. on June 1, 1787, who continued to mint Connecticut coppers on stock designated for the Federal Fugio contract. Besides these two mints, at least five or six prolific clandestine operations existed which increased their profit margin by ignoring the 5% royalty payable to the state and by minting coppers considerably below the prescribed 144 grains ( fig. 11 ). The end result was that the abundant light weight counterfeit Connecticut coppers just added to the glut of inferior coppers already in circulation rather than to replace them with a proper coinage. Thus the attempt to rid commerce of light weight coppers only resulted in more inferior coins being added to the copper medium which already was far larger than the economy required. James A. Goudge presented a discussion of certain die varieties within this very popular Confederation series.


11. Connecticut coppers: (a) 1785 Miller 3. I-L from the Company for Coining Coppers (129.7 grains); typical Mailed Bust Right issue from dies engraved by Abel Buell .

(b) 1787 Miller 20–a.2 also from the Company for Coining Coppers (142.9 grains); this standard Draped Bust Left design from both the Company for Coining coppers and the Jarvis Mint is the most common Connecticut design.

(c) 1788 Miller 2–D (114.0); this Bust Right issue is typical of those attributed to Machin's Mills weighing well below authorized 144 grains.

Whereas the three previous states awarded franchises to private individuals, Massachusetts constructed a state-run mint which produced excellent coppers of consistent quality in 1787 and 1788. These coins adhered to the new Federal standard of 157 grains. The mint operated at a loss, and this expense was one reason it was closed in 1788 ( fig. 12 ).

In addition to the coppers actually minted by the several states already mentioned, many pattern issues were also struck during the Confederation by competing contractors in anticipation that a coveted franchise would be awarded to the winner. Other issues during this period include the familiar Immunis Columbia pieces and the several New York coppers. 23 Other speculative coinages were urged for which no patterns were ever struck. Some interesting proposals, which were only visions in the imaginations of their advocates, are discussed by Richard G. Doty .


12. 1788 Massachusetts cent, Ryder 11-F (157.9 grains).

Numismatists have long observed the appearance of similar letter punches within the various state series, particularly noting those with obvious flaws or breaks. It has been intriguing to speculate that such broken punches, when identified, belonged to an individual die sinker. Thus, the temptation has evolved to treat these observed defects like the signature of the engraver and the attempt made to assign a particular artist or mint of origin to many of the state issues described above. This approach has not withstood the test of time and its deficiencies are reviewed in detail by John Lorenzo in regard to James Atlee and the broken "A" letter punch.

Soon after the peace treaty, a large number of copper tokens arrived in this country from England which circulated widely. These Nova Constellatio coppers were lighter than the state issues yet to come and were frequently used as host coins on which to overstrike Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey coppers. Eric P. Newman has newly discovered facts concerning these important coppers. Another large series of tokens dated from 1783 to 1795, primarily of English origin and collectively termed the Washington coppers, appeared immediately after the Revolution. George Fuld has prepared an extensive study of the Washingtonia minted during the Confederation period.

We have seen how the state mints failed to drive the light weight counterfeit coppers out of circulation and in most cases just contributed to the plethora of inferior coins. So, as one might expect, when the Federal government tried its hand at the same game, it also failed miserably. The Fugio coppers, the first United Stated authorized coin, were minted under a contract awarded to James Jarvis , the minter of most of the 1787 Connecticut series ( fig. 13 ). Only a small percentage of the authorized amount was ever minted and these were released in the summer of 1789 in New York at a time known as the Coppers Panic when coppers ceased to circulate, an episode in the numismatic history of the Confederation worth noting.


13. 1787 Fugio, Newman 11-B (165.3 grains).

In 1789, the nation still remained in the clutches of a serious postwar depression. Although earned money from exports was scarce and there was a dearth of circulating specie, the small change medium was still flooded with inferior grade coppers. Merchants were overwhelmed with large quantities of this mostly counterfeit, token coinage, which were only negotiable in small sums. It had no legal tender status, it could not be exchanged for gold or silver; in short, no one wanted it. In the summer of 1789, public confidence in this token copper medium collapsed and overnight the exchange rate plummeted from 20 to 48 coppers to the New York shilling. It was an economic calamity for the poor whose entire wealth was invested in this unstable medium. Copper coins were not even valued as scrap metal because the world price for copper had fallen to an all time low. This coppers panic primarily involved the area within the economic orbit of New York and Philadelphia . New Jersey coppers were received preferentially because of their legal tender status and soon traded again at 24 to the shilling. As the world price for copper dramatically rose into the next decade, faith in copper coins returned and the once discredited issues were called back into circulation while new ones were minted by the Federal government.

In the meanwhile, the New Constitution of 1787 had been ratified since it was recognized that a more stable federal system would be necessary if this new republic were to survive as a single country rather than as a collection of 13 bickering siblings. A priority on the national agenda was to respond to the need for a standardized national currency. Included in this plan was the blueprint for a Federal Mint which opened in 1793 to provide for the monetary needs of the new republic. It took several years before the output of the new Federal Mint could satisfy the demand for money and so foreign gold and silver remained legal tender until 1857. In the interval, the state coppers and other pre-Federal coins and tokens took up the slack in the small change medium and continued to circulate in some parts of the country as late as 1856. Many worn Confederation coppers succumbed to a less noble fate and ended up as scrap metal for sleigh bells, buttons and frying pans. Other monetary changes were also slow since old habits die hard. For many years people continued to calculate in the old colonial money of account notations of £, s ., and d.

This overview of Confederation coinages has been just that; a summary of the first episode of our national numismatic heritage. Considering the economic and political complexities of the period, it becomes easy to understand the factors that gave rise to this vast copper coinage which so enriched this era and continues to stimulate interest and research today.

End Notes

The author is grateful to Eric P. Newman for his critical review of the manuscript and for the use of figs. 1 and 2.
John Fiske , The Critical Period of American History ( Cambridge , 1899), p. 61.
Dan M. Lacy , The Meaning of the American Revolution ( New York , 1964), pp. 46-48, passim.
John J. McCusker and Russell R. Menard , The Economy of British North America ( Chapel Hill , 1985), p. 12.
Fiske (above, n. 2), pp. 64-65.
McCusker and Menard (above, n. 4), pp. 50, 354; Lacy (above, n. 3), p. 37.
These conflicts, collectively called The French and Indian Wars, included King William's War (1689-97), Queen Anne's War (1702-13), King George's War (1744-48), and lastly the French and Indian War (1754-63).
Lacy (above, n. 3), pp. 37, 83; quote p. 83.
This was the major difference between the American Revolution and the soon-to-follow French Revolution where the common people had a long term history of economic and political oppression. These two revolutions were entirely different in their complex causation and neither is explained by any single factor. See George Rude , The French Revolution ( New York , 1988), passim.
Lacy (above, n. 3), pp. 69, 85, 121-27, 128, 132-33; quotes pp. 69, 128.
McCusker and Menard (above, n. 4), pp. 373-74.
This state specie money, slanderously termed "rag money" by its critics, was unsecured emergency money issued to provide circulating currency during this monetary crisis. See Eric P. Newman , The Early Paper Money of America ( Iola, WI , 1990), p.18
Fiske (above, n. 2).
James Phinney Baxter , "A Period of Peril," Historical Addresses ( Portland, ME ), April 30, 1889.
Merrill Jensen , The New Nation. A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781-1789 ( New York , 1950), p. 250.
This section is only an introduction to a very involved era of numismatic history. A complete treatment of this subject is found in Philip L. Mossman , Money of the American Colonies and Confederation , ANSNS 20 ( New York , 1993).
Joseph B. Felt , Historical Account of Massachusetts Currrency ( Boston , 1839), p. 198, states that the January 26, 1779 small change notes "are still issued plentifully by our Commonwealth...thus far, they appear to have been sustained in their credit." See also Newman (above, n. 12), pp. 188-89.
See Eric P. Newman , "1764 Broadside Located Covering Circulation of English and Farthings in New England " CNL 100 (1995), pp. 1531-33, for a recent discussion of this sujbect.
Figs. 1 and 2 are courtesy of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society.
Reduced to its simplest terms, a bill of exchange is created when one party purchases from another party a portion of his credit balance which is held by a third party. American merchant A has a credit balance with London merchant A; American merchant B wants to buy some English goods from London merchant B, but he has neither credit nor specie coin to send by ship. Therefore, American merchant B purchases from American merchant A a portion of the latter's credit balance held by Londoner A. American B remits this bill of exchange, purchased from American A, to London merchant B to pay for his goods. American B pays American A with local paper money of account which was probably unnegotiable in England .
See Oscar G. Schilke and Raphael E. Solomon , America's Foreign Coins ( New York , 1964), for a definitive discussion of this interesting topic.
Michael Hodder , "The New Jersey Reverse J, A Biennial Die," AJN 1 (1989), pp. 195-237 and " New Jersey Reverse 'U': A Biennial Die," The American Numismatic Association Centennial Anthology ( Colorado Springs , 1991), pp. 19-34.
Michael Hodder , "The 1787 ' New York ' Immunis Columbia ; A Mystery Re-Ravelled," CNL 84 (1990), pp. 1203-35.

The English George III Contemporary Counterfeit Halfpenny Series: A Statistical Study of Production and Distribution

Charles W. Smith

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996


Even the most casual collector is fascinated by a counterfeit coin. Perhaps part of this fascination is based upon the fact that a counterfeit coin has a story to tell that goes far beyond government production quotes and conversion of moneys of account. It has a personal component to its history and seems to struggle to speak out with an individual voice. I have often heard colleagues remark, when inspecting a George III counterfeit halfpenny, "If only this coin could talk!" In my opinion, to a certain extent, coins can tell us much about themselves if we ask the right questions and listen carefully and critically. 1

The purpose of this study is to look at the contemporary counterfeit George III halfpenny from a scientific and statistical point of view. There exists a growing and exciting literature on both the taxonomy (classification by style and die type) and socio-economic basis for the production of these counterfeit coins. 2 Catalytic to these recent studies is the continuous flow of excellent scholarship documented by the Proceedings volumes of the Coinage of the Americas Conference, sponsored annually by the Ameican Numismatic Society, ANS Museum Notes (now American Journal of Numismatics) and the Colonial Newsletter.

I became interested in the British George III contemporary counterfeit halfpenny series about ten years ago, but it was only in 1992/93, when on sabbatical at the University of Oxford , that I began to look at this series from a new perspective. In the summer of 1992, I was offered a number of counterfeit examples by a local coin dealer in Oxford . I mentioned to him that this coin series not only circulated in his country, but it also circulated during the colonial and confederation periods in my country. An interesting conversation followed in which he informed me that the most common date in the counterfeit series was 1775, but that was not the case for the regal series they were imitating. He was also of the opinion that the counterfeits were substantially lighter in weight, on average, than the halfpence produced by the Royal Mint . A cursory examination of my handful of coppers supported his observations.

Compelled by scientific curiosity to get a more quantitative picture of the series, I approached a colleague in the Department of Materials, where I was studying, to sponsor me for a library card (reader's ticket) for the numismatic library in the Ashmolean Museum , which he kindly did. For many weeks thereafter, I spent my spare time systematically going through the numismatic literature trying to answer the simple question, "Of the six years 1770, 1771, 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775, what is the relative frequency of occurrence of the counterfeit halfpence?" There were some tantalizing hints but apparently no one had carried out a careful date analysis study per se. I found detailed information about the production of the series by the Royal Mint , but mostly anecdotal information about the counterfeits. By mid-winter, my spare-time interest had grown into a project. It had also expanded in scope to include a plan to assemble a collection of counterfeit examples while in England , and a comparative assembly collected back in the U.S. from sources not directly traceable to English sources. In addition, I soon came to realize there were examples with dates outside the regal interval (1770-75), interesting questions on weight and size, and virtually no information on elemental composition as it applies to mining and smelting sources. These topics address issues of production and distribution. Guided by the old scientific adage, to measure is to know, I set out to try to find answers to this ever-growing list of questions. The results of some of my studies are incorporated in this paper.

The Study Methodology

Collecting, analyzing, and presenting data, in a broad sense, is what is meant by statistics. It is a very practical way to understand a large population, by looking at a smaller sub-group of the population, called a sample. For instance, by shaking out a few piles of M & Ms from a bag, we can pretty much assure ourselves (infer from the sample) that the number of red M & Ms in the bag is the same as the number of green M & Ms in the bag, even though we have not examined the entire contents of the bag (the population). However, for the sample to be a fair representation of its population, care must be exercised in how the sample is taken. (We wouldn't want to hire a color-blind M & M statistician!) We also need to know whether the population we are sampling is biased. (Did someone get to the bag before it was sampled and eat some of the green M & Ms?) These are major issues in any statistical study and since we know that a coin collection can be a highly biased group of examples, not at all characteristic of the general population from which it was assembled, the challenges of using a fair sampling technique and assuring that the population is unbiased, are formidable.

Collections, by their very nature, are assembled with specific goals in mind. I have a friend who collects shillings. It makes a beautiful collection but it is certainly not representative of the general population of British coinage, or even the population of British monarchs. He also specializes in coins of Charles I and thus his shilling collection incorporates this interest (is biased in this regard) and therefore does not evenly represent the population of all British shillings.

To minimize both sampling error and population bias in this study, I have taken the following measures. First, I assembled a collection of 300 counterfeit examples under controlled situations, sampled as fairly as I could—without regard to grade, date, or cost. I would look at the George III counterfeits available at coin shops or market stalls throughout England and I would either buy all that were offered or buy none. The point being, I did not pick and choose by grade, date, or any other criteria. In addition I regularly purchased examples from two coin dealers who acquired large lots for me using this all or none technique. The only criterion for rejecting examples was based upon damage, excessive corrosion or coins with unreadable dates. Since I was interested in date analysis as well as weight and size, damaged coins (holed, bent, or deeply pitted) were of no use. It took two years to assemble The Study Collection used for this project. At the same time, and in a similar way, I put together a smaller collection of regal examples.

I have also inventoried a medium size private English collection and a large private U.S. collection, each assembled, to my satisfaction, in an unbiased manner. 3

Upon returning to the U.S., I assembled an inventory of examples of George III contemporary counterfeit halfpence with no known direct English sources. This was very difficult and after considering nearly 300 coins, I have chosen to include 60 examples in this inventory. These include coins from the archaeological record (sites prior to 1857 in northern New England ), coins through bequest to historical societies (small groups with no systematic effort to "round out" the holding), and purchased coins for which I was able to trace at least three owners in the U.S. previous to me having no known mail order component to their collecting hobby, and no military service in Europe .

A statistical study of these collections, as well as others, and a discussion of the elemental metallic composition of both counterfeit and regal examples will be presented in the sections that follow.

Date Analysis

We begin this section with a look at the regal production of George III halfpence. In response to both a lack of sufficient silver coinage in circulation and "after London Tradesmen had petitioned for a supply of new copper coin, in order to throw counterfeits out of circulation," 4 the Royal Mint resumed minting of copper in 1770. This "Experiment of a Temporary Relief to the Public" 5 continued for six years. The output of halfpence from the Royal Mint during this period, in long tons, was: 1770, 9.0; 1771, 55.0; 1772, 50.5; 1773, 39.7; 1774, 24.0; and 1775, 22.8 for a total of 200.95 long tons. In terms of percentage of total production, the values are: 1770, 4.5%; 1771, 24.0%; 1772, 25.1%; 1773, 19.8%; 1774, 11.9% and 1775, 11.3%. These values are illustrated as a histogram in fig. 1 . We see from these numbers that the regal production of George III halfpence was concentrated in the years 1771, 1772, and 1773, with over 70% of the output during that period.

We turn now to the date distribution of counterfeit George III halfpence with the same date range as the regal issue, namely 1770-75. However, one must keep in mind that the date on a counterfeit coin represents only the earliest hypothetical date of circulation and not necessarily its actual earliest date of circulation or its date of production. We will return to this point at the end of this section.

We first consider The Study Collection identified above. This is a medium size collection of 300 coins assembled in such a way as to represent, as closely as practical, the extant population in England today. The distribution by date for The Study Collection is 1770, 4; 1771, 13; 1772, 10; 1773, 55; 1774, 51; 1775, 167 or by percent 1770, 1.3%; 1771, 4.3%; 1772, 3.3%; 1773, 18.3%; 1774, 17.0%; and 1775, 55.7%. These values are illustrated as a histogram in fig. 2 and stand in dramatic contrast to the regal production values in fig. 1, in at least two significant ways. The most obvious difference is that over 50% of the counterfeit pieces are dated 1775. Secondly, nearly 90% of the counterfeit pieces are concentrated in the last three dates. One, of course, might say that we should not expect the production of counterfeit examples to correlate in any way with the production of regal examples. However, this is not what the merchants of London had expected when they petitioned the Royal Mint for a new coinage. They expected precisely the opposite effect, namely, that the new coinage would drive the counterfeit coinage from circulation! This was definitely not what happened.

Contemporary accounts of the profound extent of counterfeit production are numerous. Matthew Boulton of Soho, in a letter to Lord Hawkesbury dated April 14, 1789, states: In the course of my journeys I observe that I received upon an average two-thirds counterfeit halfpence for change at toll-gates, etc. and I believe the evil is carried into circulation by the lowest class of manufacturers who pay with it the principal part of the wages of the poor people they employ. They purchase from subterraneous coiners 36 shillings worth of copper (coins in nominal value) for 20 shillings, so that the profit derived from the cheating is very large.


Fig. 1. A Date Distribution Histogram of Royal Mint Production of the English George III Halfpenny Series


Fig. 2. A Date Distribution Histogram of English George III Contemporary Counterfeit Halfpence in The Study Collection

In a letter to King George III , ca. 1800, the Earl of Liverpool writes: It is certain that the quantity of counterfeit copper coins greatly exceeds the quantity of legal copper coins: the Officers of the Mint were of the opinion, in the year 1787, that even then they exceeded the legal copper coins. Their number has certainly increased ever since: the quality of these counterfeit copper coins is in truth beyond calculation.

To estimate the amount of counterfeit coinage in circulation, the Royal Mint examined a sample in 1787 and found that only 8% had a tolerable resemblance to the kings coin, the remainder being characterized from blantantly inferior to trash. 6

Before discussing the implication of the date distribution of counterfeit examples dated 1770-75 within their contemporary historic context, Table 1 sets forth below the results of four additional date distribution studies.

Date The Study Collection 300 Coins Large U.S. Private Collection 1443 Coins Med. Priv. English Collection 256 Coins Bramah Survey 145 Coins Yale Coll. Ca. 1886 60 Var. Defaced London Hoard 129 Coins
1770 1.3 1.5 1.2 0.7 0.0 2.3
1771 4.3 5.2 4.7 7.6 6.7 2.3
1772 3.3 3.3 4.3 5.5 5.0 3.1
1773 18.3 17.6 21.0 20.7 15.0 16.3
1774 17.0 17.0 18.8 14.5 15.0 14.7
1775 55.7 55.1 50.0 51.0 58.3 61.2

The Study Collection requires no further description at this point. The large U.S. Private Collection (third column) was put together over a 15-year period using English coin dealers as the source of examples. This collection was essentially set aside as it was accumulated and only recently (July 1995) a systematic statistical analysis by date and weight was carried out. The date distribution of this collection stands in remarkable agreement with that of The Study Collection.

The medium size English collection was inventoried in 1993 and was put together by a private collector over a period of about 10 years. As can be seen, the date distribution of this collection is in good agreement with respect to the previous two collections.

The Bramah Survey of 1929 is the name I give a "grab sample" of George III halfpence described by Ernest Bramah . 7 To get an estimate of the ratio of regal coins to counterfeit coins and a distribution by date, Bramah states, without elaboration, "For sake of comparison an analysis is here given of an assortment of the issue, got together promiscuously." Whatever "got together promiscuously" means, I consider it a "grab sample" from the extant population in 1929 and include it in Table 1, feeling its historic uniqueness outweighs its slightly less than scientific sampling methodology. The full details of The Bramah Survey are included as Appendix A. This survey, given its sample size, is in good agreement with The Study Collection.

The Yale Collection was inventoried by C. Wyllys Betts , and included as part of an address to the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society in April 1886, entitled "Counterfeit Half Pence Current in the American Colonies and their Issue from Mints of Connecticut and Vermont ." 8 Three points must be made clear to understand its inclusion in Table 1. First, the number of coins in the collection is not specified by Betts, only the number of die varieties. Secondly, Betts, in discussing the Yale Collection states, "The Yale Collection, which is the chief source of information on this subject (i.e., ca. 1886), contains counterfeits of the following dates...." Betts then enumerates the collection by date but does not state that they are all British counterfeits. Third, we are not informed how the Yale Collection was put together, that is, the sampling methodology employed. However, we see a remarkable agreement between the date distribution for the Yale Collection and The Study Collection, especially when the size of the Yale Collection is taken into consideration. Thus I have included it in Table 1 for its unique and important historic perspective.

The rightmost column in Table 1 is an inventory of the Defaced London Halfpenny Hoard. Enumeration of the entire hoard, found in an archaeological site in London in 1981, is described in Appendix B. The 129 dated George III counterfeit examples are included in Table 1. As can be seen, Table 1 establishes the relative frequency, by date, for the British George III contemporary halfpenny series.

The Study Collection, as well as all the other collections, shows 50% or more of the examples are dated 1775: a remarkable result that invites interpretation. If we assume that the collections are fair samples of the population of coins produced, we are led at once to at least two hypotheses: 1) either counterfeit coin production nearly tripled from 1774 to 1775 and then abruptly stopped; or, 2) counterfeit coin production did not change substantially in 1775, but continued for several years employing the date 1775. Several indications support the second hypothesis. If we imagine, for the moment, we are in charge of a mint making counterfeit coins toward the end of 1775 or early in 1776 and our last reverse die finally fails, in order to continue production we must have new dies cut. However, we do not know if the Royal Mint plans to produce coins dated 1776. (It is not even clear if the Royal Mint knew in 1775 if it would produce copper coins dated 1776.) We can order our new dies dated 1775, we can request a die design that hedges the issue by using a 5 that looks like a 6, or we can speculate and order dies with the new year, 1776. In fact, it appears all three options were exercised.

Counterfeit halfpence dated 1776 are only about one-half as scarce as those dated 1770 (discussed below). Far more common are examples with a 5 that looks like a 6, as illustrated in fig. 3 . Here the top bar of the 5 is tilted up and the base of the 5 curls around until it almost, but not quite, forms a closed loop. This leads one to ask, if the production of counterfeit halfpence did continue past 1775, then when did production cease? There does not seem to be a definite answer to this question but, as can be seen from fig. 4 , dies with the date 1775 were still being used as late as 1797! Fig. 4 shows a counterfeit George III halfpenny struck over an English token ( Middlesex 363, J.Palmer/Mail Coach) 9 of 1797. These overstrikes are quite scarce (perhaps less than 12 known) but nonetheless provide a vivid example of the fact that the date on a counterfeit coin does not indicate its year of production.

Coin Error Analysis

With the substantial number of coins represented in the first three collections listed in Table 1 (about 2,000 examples), one can form a reasonable impression of the types and relative frequency of coin production errors. Of the 205 error coins examined, the most frequent error, 39%, is the double strike. This type of error occurs, as the name implies, when a struck coin is not fully ejected from the press and the dies are brought together again, making a second impression on the coin. Brockages account for 29% of the error examples. A brockage occurs when a struck coin is not ejected from the press, but a blank is fed in and struck between one of the dies and the previously struck coin.


Fig. 3. Date Styles of George III Contemporary Counterfeit Halfpence Illustrating the Transition from 1775 To 1776


Fig. 4. A George III Contemporary Counterfeit Halfpenny, Dated 1775, Overstruck on a 1797 J.Palmer Mail Coach Token, type Middlesex 363

Reverse brockages are nearly twice as frequent as obverse brockages, 63% compared to 37%, respectively. This may indicate that it was common practice to load the coin press with the reverse die on the bottom and the obverse die on top. Thus, when a coin is struck but not ejected, because it sticks unseen to the upper die, it presents its reverse to the next blank fed in, with the reverse die facing the other side of the blank from below. Remarkably, 90% of all brockages examined were full brockages, meaning the blank is fully registered over the lower die. This might indicate that some type of blank centering fixture was employed in the press feed technology and as long as the initial coin remains stuck to the die, a full brockage results. This is further borne out by the fact that off-center strikes are unusual, accounting for only 6% of all production errors. In counting off-center strikes, I did not include examples less that 5% off-center, assuming that amount of misalignment was probably within contemporary production standards. Incomplete blanks or clipped examples account for about 10% of all production errors. This results if the operator of the blank cutter fails to advance the copper sheet more than a full blank diameter or unknowingly reaches the end or the edge of the sheet. A menagerie of multiple errors, uniface examples, tab or edge pinches, and a few triple strikes make up the remainder of the error types. I was quite surprised to find five press loading errors: four examples of coins with an obverse on both sides from two different dies (not a brockage, but two fully struck obverse impressions) and one double reverse example, with each die dated 1771.

The above analysis, expressed as percentages, is based upon a population of 205 error examples. However, it would be inaccurate to conclude that because I examined about 2,000 coins, one coin in ten is a production error. Collectors tend to hold on to novel examples and even actively seek them out. Since I had control of the sampling methodology for The Study Collection, it is only from that source that I can venture an estimate of absolute error frequency. Of the 300 coins in The Study Collection, eleven are error examples: four double strikes, three off-centers, two brockages, and two incomplete blanks for an absolute frequency estimation of about 4%.

Using the dated examples of error coins, one can test the hypothesis that the generation of an error coin is an accidental happenstance. Another way of saying this is if the hypotheses is true that the generation of an error coin is a random event, then the percentage of error coins, by date, should track with the percentage of all coins by date. Using the dated double strikes, off-centers, and brockages, this hypothesis does appear to be true: 1770, 0%; 1771, 10%; 1772, 2%; 1773, 15%; 1774, 18%; and 1775, 55%; from a sample size of 152 dated errors. (Of the 205 error coins 152 were dated; all obverse brockages, and several off-centers and double strikes were without date impressions.) The match to the percentages in Table 1 for the population as a whole is not perfect, but for the small sample size it is still very good. The year 1771 stands out as errorful. This might be a consequence of the fact that, although counterfeiting of George III halfpenny series began in 1770, large scale counterfeit operations lagged by about a year, based on the number of die varieties and extant examples from 1771 as compared to 1770. Thus technical problems associated with enhanced production first showed up in 1771.

It should be noted that I have not included die cutting errors, such as misspelled legends, reversed letters, etc. in the above error analysis. Unlike a double strike or an off-center, each of which is unique, a miscut die produces innumerable identical examples. This type of error must be analyzed using entirely different statistical techniques than those employed in this project. A study of this type is planned.

Weight and Shape Analysis

The average weight of the coins in The Study Collection are listed by date in Table 2.

Date Average Weight (Grains) Standard Deviation
1770 127.95 7.79
1771 111.65 14.69
1772 121.33 9.96
1773 119.63 12.89
1774 121.60 14.70
1775 104.70 13.18
1770-75 151.20 4.83

One can see that as the practice of counterfeiting continued, lighter examples were accepted by merchants and tolerated by consumers. The trend to lighter coppers continued beyond the George III halfpenny series into the remaining decades of the eighteenth century with the proliferation of all types of commercial tokens as well as the evasive halfpenny series, the latter being of even lighter weight on average than the 1775 counterfeits. 10

At first glance it might seem to be a simple matter of careful measurement to determine whether a smaller than average blank or thinner than average sheet stock was employed in making a light weight coin. However, the thickness of a coin, considering the various aspects of the design, is not a well defined concept and the diameter of the blank is not the same as the diameter of the coin produced from it. In fact, coins struck without a collar, as the George III, 1770-75 halfpenny series was, are not round.

Metal movement during striking depends upon the coin design, among other factors. The metal in the field areas of the design, where the dies come closest together, is pushed radially outward more than in areas of high relief, like the device area. On a weakly struck coin, one can often see this effect in that the roller marks from the sheet mill on the undisturbed surface of the blank at the bust area show a rough, pocked texture, even though the field areas are smoothly struck. Thus, unless the coin design is concentric on both obverse and reverse, coins struck without a collar are not round. The Fugio series, having essentially concentric designs on both obverse and reverse, tend to be round although struck without a collar. Coins of the George III, 1770-75 halfpenny series are wider than they are high. That is, when held with the date horizontal, the horizontal diameter of the coin is larger than its vertical diameter by as much as several percent. This is because the field areas on both obverse and reverse are oriented left/right and the metal pushes out more in the horizontal direction than it does in the vertical direction. The extent to which this noncircularity takes place depends upon the operating pressure of the coin press and the softness of the blank, but the direction is determined by the coin's design. The softness of copper can be controlled during coin production. Mechanical working of copper, called work hardening, for example while drawing an ingot into a bar or rolling a bar into a sheet, makes it harder. Heating the copper, called annealing, resoftens it. A bar of copper might be annealed several times during processing to make the sheet from which the blanks are punched. Since punching is easier to carry out with hardened copper, the sheet is not annealed during the final stage of rolling just prior to blanking. The blanks are annealed before striking to soften the copper in order to help assure a well-defined image.


Fig. 5. A Correlation Plot of Weight, in Grains, versus Vertical Diameter, in Millimeters, for The Study Collection. Examples dated 1775 are shown as solid circles and 1770-74 as open circles. Regal examples, 1770-75, are shown as solid diamonds


Fig. 6. A Correlation Plot of Weight, in Grains, versus Noncircularity, in Percent for The Study Collection. Examples dated 1775 are shown as solid circles and 1770-74 as open circles. Regal examples, 1770-75, are shown as solid diamonds

If short cuts are taken, like infrequent annealing, cracks, delaminations, and shallow strikes result and inferior coins are produced.

We now consider the hypothesis that counterfeiters used inferior production equipment and naive technologies as compared to the equipment and technologies used by the Royal Mint . These technologies might include, but are not limited to, inferior coin presses resulting in reduced and irreproducible striking pressure and improper annealing procedures during rolling, blanking, and before striking. To test this hypothesis let us consider two pairs of correlation plots.

Fig. 5 shows a correlation plot of the weight of each coin in The Study Collection against its corresponding vertical diameter, i.e., its size. We see, not surprisingly, a strong correlation between weight and size. The interesting feature in this figure is that the solid circles are examples dated 1775, while the open circles are examples dated 1770-74. Note that the lighter 1775 coins are smaller. If coiners were unable to control the rolling process, producing copper sheet of varying thickness from edge to edge or from sheet to sheet, we might expect far more scatter of the data and little correlation between size and weight, even when smaller diameter blank cutters were employed. The solid diamonds in this figure show the correlation of weight versus vertical diameter for a small collection of regal examples. Even though the weight range of the regal examples is narrower than that of the counterfeits, the scatter in the size is essentially the same. This scatter is a measure of the variability of the production process and this figure implies, among other things, that the technical level of the counterfeiters in controlling their rolling technologies was comparable to that of the Royal Mint's ability to control its rolling technologies. I assumed in this analysis that the production of blank cutter tools, being a straightforward lathe operation, was completely controlled as far as choosing the diameter of the cutter is concerned.

Fig. 6 shows a correlation plot of the weight of each coin against its corresponding noncircularity. Noncircularity is defined as the ratio of the difference between the horizontal diameter and the vertical diameter, to the vertical diameter, expressed as a percent. Again, the 1775 examples are shown as solid circles and the 1770-74 examples are shown as open circles. Weight and noncircularity are not as correlated as weight and size. Here the scatter is a measure of the variability of press pressure and adherence to the practice of annealing the blanks prior to striking. The solid diamonds in this figure show the correlation of weight versus noncircularity for regal examples. We see a narrower weight range for the regal examples but essentially the same scatter in noncircularity. This implies that the ability of the counterfeiters to control their press and annealing technologies was similar to the Royal Mint's control of their press and annealing technologies. Thus the hypothesis that the counterfeiters used inferior production equipment and naive technologies is apparently not supported by extant coin samples. It also suggests that the lighter coins were intentionally manufactured lighter as production of counterfeit coins continued through the latter part of the eighteenth century in what appears to be well-controlled and systematic use of production technologies.

Because the various counterfeiting operations were not necessarily coordinated, there was no attempt to work within a specified range of size or weight, beyond what would be accepted into circulation. The Royal Mint did a much better job in this regard, adhering well to a prespecified weight range, 140.9-167.9 grain; average 153.4 grain and size range, nominally 28.5 mm-30.0 mm; average 29.1 mm. In all other respects the counterfeiters appear to have been technically as skilled and perhaps as well equipped as the Royal Mint . To quote C. Wilson Peck , discussing facsimile George III counterfeit halfpence, " is a fatal mistake to judge a specimen solely on its general appearance, as the workmanship and weight of some of the counterfeits are almost as good as the genuine ones and it is only by comparing the details (of the designs) that the spurious piece is discovered." 11

A Collection of Examples not Directly from English Sources

As described above, a small inventory of counterfeit examples was assembled in the U.S. from sources with no known direct English connections. The operative word here is direct. One would like to think, that by being sufficiently careful in sampling, a collection so assembled would represent examples of counterfeit George III halfpence that actually circulated in New England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. No doubt some examples in the inventory fall into that category but it is not clear what fraction of the inventory they represent and thus it would be naive to label the entire inventory as such. These coins are simply a collection assembled using a different sampling technique; the history of each coin being scrutinized as far back as practical to verify the criterion "not directly from English sources." This stands in contrast to the random sampling technique employed in assembling The Study Collection from verified English sources. It also represents a collection assembled from a different population of extant coins.

In both North America and England these coins circulated for several decades. In England , contemporary records tell us that attempts were made to pull counterfeit coppers out of circulation. However, these efforts were not very successful and, because copper coinage was essential for small scale commerce, from 1814 onward, the Royal Mint agreed to accept at face value the 1719-75 issues of contemporary counterfeits "as could not be excluded without skilled scrutiny." 12 In North America these coppers were circulating along with state coppers. Crosby , in discussing coppers circulating in New York , notes "A very great number of pieces in imitation of British halfpence...generally called by the name Birmingham Coppers...are made there and imported in casks under the name of HardWare or wrought copper." 13

The purpose of assembling a collection in the U.S. , using this type of controlled sampling, was to determine if it would somehow differ from The Study Collection assembled directly from English sources. One might expect that it would differ, but how it differs and to what extent, are the major issues of interest. It could be argued that since the ultimate source of these coppers is, after all, English manufactories, the population would not differ significantly in England and North America once released into circulation. However, one must test this hypothesis in order to know and, as can be seen from Table 3, nothing could be further from the truth.

Date "U.S. Collection" (Not Directly from English Sources) 60 Coins The Study Collection (English sources) 300 Coins
1770 0.0 1.3
1771 13.8 4.3
1772 5.0 3.3
1773 18.3 18.3
1774 23.3 17.0
1775 40.0 55.7

At least two major differences exist between these collections. Perhaps the most significant being the larger percentage of 1771 examples in the "U.S. Collection"; the other being the reduced representation of 1775 examples. (The exchange of the order of 1773 and 1774 examples in frequency of occurrence is probably not statistically significant in a population this size.)

To understand the reasons for these differences is a challenge, however some historic issues may bear on this puzzle. On the one hand we know that in England the production of counterfeits accelerated in 1771, following commencement of the George III halfpenny series in 1770. We also know that new laws regarding counterfeiting were passed in that year under Statute 11, George III , Chapter 40, page 231, stating that coining of false copper money, once punishable as a misdemeanor, was now deemed a felony. Punishment was also extended to buyers and sellers of counterfeit coins.

If any person after 24th June 1771, shall buy, sell, take, receive, pay or put off any counterfeit copper coin, not melted down or cut in pieces, at or for a lower rate or value than the same by its denomination, imports, or was counterfeited for, he shall be adjudged guilty of felony. 14

It is quite possible that, at least temporarily, the combined effects of a substantial upturn in production accompanied by new laws attempting to govern trafficking may have resulted in increased export to North America . It was not until 1798 that a law was passed explicitly forbidding export (Statute 38 George III , Chapter 67, page 81, 1798, "false coin, including copper, could not be exported or put on board any ship"). The extent to which these two events enhanced export activity is yet to be fully documented.

We are certain that a profound decrease in export occurred in 1775, and for a considerable period thereafter, as the War for Independence brought the mercantile economy of the colonies to an abrupt halt. This may account for the reduced percentage of examples with this date in the "U.S. Collection."

For completeness, I should add that regal halfpence and farthings were scarce in North American commerce. Bad money drove out good and regal coinage of all denominations was taken back to England at every opportunity. Furthermore, the farthing as a denomination had no North American counterpart (except for limited production of the half cent in Massachusetts ) and apparently did not circulate here in any meaningful way. 15

A Comparative Rarity Analysis of Coins Dated Outside the Regal Interval, 1770-75

George III counterfeit halfpence exist with dates other than 1770, 1771, 1772, 1773, 1774 and 1775, although these coins are rare. Because of the rarity of coins dated outside the regal interval, their relative importance would have been completely lost if they had been included in the statistical analysis by date above. Furthermore, because of their relatively small sample size, a statistical analysis by date of this population would carry little validity. Fortunately, for small subpopulations of this type, analysis can proceed using the technique of comparative evaluation. For this purpose I have chosen the least frequent date, 1770, as the basis for comparison, giving it a value of 100. Thus a coin outside the regal interval which occurs one fourth as frequently as counterfeit coins dated 1770, would have a comparative rarity of 25%.

We begin by defining the population of George III counterfeits to which this comparative rarity analysis will be applied. This is most easily done by exclusion. Since certain well-defined numismatic populations stand separate from the topic of this study, they should not be included. These groups are the Mould-Atlee Tory Coppers dated 1771, 1772, 1774, 1775, 1776 and 1777, the Machins Mills Coppers dated 1776, 1778, 1787, 1788 (and of course the Connecticut and New York mules in this series which do not have the Britannia reverse), and the Bungtown Coppers dated 1784 and 1786. 16

The results of the comparative rarity analysis are shown in Table 4. Overspecification is avoided by using broad comparative rarity ranges.

75% 50% 25% 10% Less Than 5%
1781 1776 1777 1785 1741
1794 1747

Increasing Rarity →

It should be mentioned that an explicit study of the dates 1781 and 1785 has been carried out by Eric P. Newman . 17 My studies support his conclusion in that I did not find a single example dated 1785 in any of the private or museum collections I examined in England . The date 1781 is found both in English and American collections.

I am fairly sure that other dates will be added to Table 4. Any omissions are purely the result of the limited nature of this study and the collections that I have thus far inventoried.

It is difficult to draw any strong conclusions from Table 4 but a few points of interest should be noted. The dates 1776 and 1777 were discussed above as possibly stemming from the incorrect assumption by counterfeiters that the 1770-75 series would continue. The date 1781 coincides with the resumption of striking of Irish George III halfpence by the Royal Mint after a five year lapse and perhaps anticipation that the British series would resume resulted in an output of counterfeits with that date. Some evasive coppers are also dated 1781. For the less frequently occurring dates, I have no explanation beyond the remarkable tolerance of a large sector of the population to offer and accept coppers without regard to design detail. 18

Coin Composition and the Melting Hypothesis

It is not difficult to find opinions in the numismatic literature, some rather strongly stated, that counterfeit halfpence are frequently encountered in copper of inferior quality, that is, highly impure or intentionally debased. In this section I will show that this is not the case and discuss some of the possible reasons why. It is certainly true that many examples come to us in a very poor state of preservation, perhaps from having been in the ground for a long period of time. Moreover, there is no lack of examples with delamination flaws and occasional silicaceous inclusions, but these are not primarily debasement issues.

I have had the opportunity to measure the elemental composition of both regal and counterfeit George III halfpence using x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and I have found that the vast majority of the counterfeit examples measured were not only of good quality copper, but over 60% were, for all practical purposes, the same quality copper as the regal examples measured. However, having said that, I do not wish to give the impression that the analysis of elemental composition is a simple task or that my studies in this area, at the time of this writing, are complete.

I became interested in the elemental composition of the George III halfpenny series in the context of what has become known as the melting hypothesis. The melting hypothesis simply states that it was possible to make a profit as a counterfeiter by melting regal halfpennies and producing light weight counterfeits from the copper so derived. 19 For example, if the average weight of counterfeits produced is 100 grains instead of the nominal regal weight of about 150 grains, one could melt 5 regals to make 7 counterfeits (even with some wastage) for an apparent profit, at face value, of 40%. Because this rough estimate does not account for capital investment, labor, or supplies (equipment, dies, fuel, etc.) it is clearly an overestimate. However, it has been further proposed that to support a reasonable margin of profit, scrap metal was added to the melt along with the regal halfpence. This is where compositional analysis can help clarify the situation. Using scrap metal to increase the volume of the melt sounds simple (just toss in the odd horseshoe, a handful of used glazing lead, and some broken bronze marine hardware) but there are several metallurgical and economic reasons why this was not done as a standard large-scale practice, although it probably was tried on occasion out of desperation or ignorance.

Copper ores are complex, often containing small amounts of other metals such as lead, iron, zinc, tin, silver, arsenic, antimony and nickel, along with silicon, calcium, sulfur, carbon and oxygen. In fact, rich copper ores might only contain 5 percent copper. Smelting, the process that extracts the metallic copper from the ore, is a rather violent thermo-chemical process. In the eighteenth century copper ores containing sulfur were roasted in air to make copper oxide and then reduced to metallic copper using carbon monoxide, derived from charcoal, in a high temperature environment. For example, chalcocite, Cu 2 S, is first roasted in air, Cu 2 S + 2O 2 = 2CuO + SO 2 to produce copper oxide, CuO, and then reduced to copper, Cu, following the equation CuO + CO = Cu + CO 2 . Oxygen containing copper ores were reduced directly to copper using carbon monoxide in a similar manner. Malachite, Cu 2 CO 3 , for example, follows the equation, Cu 2 CO 3 + CO = Cu + 2CO 2 . In the smelting process, certain elements from the ore, such as silver and nickel, readily disolve in molten copper and thus tend to be concentrated, while others, like zinc, are usually lost entirely in the fumes. Iron, often in the form of iron pyrite in the ore, is oxidized and makes up a major portion of the discarded rock-like slag. Arsenic and antimony behave chemically similar to copper in the smelting process and thus occur in the smelted copper in approximately the same ratio as they appeared in the ore. Tin and lead are lost to some extent but, because they tend to alloy with copper, they are usually present in the smelted copper if present in the ore. Thus the level of purity of smelted copper tends to be high, without further refining technologies being employed. Smelted copper might contain a few percent of tin or lead, a few tenths of a percent of arsenic and antimony, and trace amounts of silver, nickel, iron, and zinc, the exact proportions depending on the ore source, the smelting process and the skill of the workers. This is essentially the composition of the regal halfpence of George III and the vast majority of the counterfeits. However, the details of the ore smelting process alone do not account for the fact that apparently counterfeiters did not employ substantial additions of scrap metals to the melt. We must look for other reasons to understand this observation.

Iron melts at 1540°C, a substantially higher temperature than the melting point of copper at 1150°C. In addition, only small amounts of iron will normally alloy with copper, so tossing the odd horseshoe or bucket of nails into the melt simply just will not work: they won't melt.

Brass, an alloy of copper with zinc, was expensive in eighteenth century Britain, due to the difficulty in producing zinc and the complicated technique of making brass directly from a mixture of smithsonite, ZnCO 3 , and granular copper. Because of its ease of machining, the industries of clockmaking, watchmaking, and the production of scientific instruments kept the demand for brass, and thus the price, high well into the nineteenth century.

Bronze, the most common alloy of copper, incorporates tin, or tin together with lead, to produce a hard corrosion-resistant material. Bronze was by far the most important non-ferrous alloy for industrial purposes in eighteenth century Britain and available in large quantities due to the native deposits of its constituent ores. However, the scrap price for bronze, like the scrap price for brass, was substantially greater than the scrap price for copper.

Lead, due to the availability of its ore and ease of smelting, was less expensive than scrap copper and thus a possible candidate as a debasing component. But, because of its very low melting temperature, 327°C, as well as other metallurgical issues, it is difficult to get substantial amounts of lead to alloy with copper as a homogeneous mix. The way this is accomplished in practice is to add tin, along with lead, and usually starting from the ores, not the metals per se. However, this results in a bronze that can be brittle and very difficult to roll into sheet.

Tin, at about the same scrap price as copper, offered no economic advantage as a debasing material. In addition, copper-tin bronzes approach the hardness of a coin die, hardly a desirable feature.

We can conclude from this brief discussion of metallurgical issues that extensive debasement of copper was either technically impossible or economically out of the question. But, even if all the regal halfpence were melted to make counterfeits, it would not begin to account for the magnitude of counterfeits in circulation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

We are therefore left with both an explanation of the relatively high quality copper used by eighteenth century counterfeiters (it was both the practical and economical material of choice) and a conclusion concerning debasement of copper for coinage. Debasement was probably carried out to a limited degree, perhaps experimentally, perhaps out of ignorance, or perhaps out of desperation, but it was not carried out as a large-scale common practice. Thus, it is not surprising that after measuring 10% of the coins in The Study Collection, I found the composition of the majority of them the same as the composition of the regals I measured. When I did find departures that were significant, it was higher than usual iron content, perhaps indicating melting in iron containers and/or ore sources with very high iron pyrite content, and higher tin/lead values, perhaps indicating some use of scrap bronze. However, in no case did the departure (debasement) from the composition of copper used for the regal issues exceed more than 10%.

And what about those delaminations and silicaceous inclusions occasionally found in counterfeit coins? These result from taking shortcuts in the production processes and quality control; for example, the careful elimination of slag from the melt and other oxides from the ingot before drawing the ingot into a bar. Not annealing the bar at different stages in the drawing process and/or rolling process to prevent work hardening and crack propagation, will lead to delamination. These are not primarily debasement issues. My studies in this area are not yet complete and much work remains to be done. It is not even clear in detail what mines and smelters were suppliers to the Royal Mint during this period, let alone who the counterfeiters were and where they obtained their materials. But one can conclude that the counterfeiters did not use copper of inferior quality. Perhaps they used less than the best available, but definitely, it was not extensively debased as a large scale practice.

Concluding Remarks

The English George III contemporary counterfeit halfpenny series represents a unique chapter in Anglo-American numismatics. The number of these coins circulating in both economies was enormous as well as functionally essential to small scale commerce. What at first appears to be the product of amateur efforts turns out to be a large scale, technically competent, well-managed enterprise, rivaling if not matching the Royal Mint by almost every measure of engineering competence of the time.

From the data presented herein, I would suggest the following interpretations.

Responding to formal petition from the business community, the Royal Mint resumed production of copper coinage in 1770. Counterfeiting of this new series began in earnest the following year and continued for over two decades. From examples extant today, the counterfeiters' efforts, taken together, appear to have outperformed the Mint by somewhere between 5/1 and 8/1, producing facsimile light weight coinage of comparable composition. It is likely that the sources of copper ore and the smelting operations employed by the counterfeiters were the same as those employed by the Mint . It is probable that in some years the contracts by various counterfeiting operations for materials and services could have exceeded those of the Mint . Production technologies and equipment also appear to have been comparable. In two areas the Royal Mint was exceedingly successful: the very high degree of die-making craftsmanship and artistry, and the ability to stay within production constraints of weight and size. In all other respects, the counterfeiters of the late eighteenth century were working at the state of the art of production engineering in what stands as one of the largest clandestine manufacturing operations in pre-industrial revolution England .


The Bramah Survey 20

"For the sake of comparison (a numerical comparison) an analysis is here given of an assortment of the issue, got together promiscuously:

Date Total Number of Specimens Genuine Forgeries
1770 12 11 1
1771 27 16 11
1772 25 17 8
1773 41 11 30
1774 27 6 21
1775 83 9 74
215 70 145
Date Total Number of Specimens Genuine Forgeries
1771 1 1 0
1773 26 21 5
1774 10 6 4
1775 24 6 18
61 34 27

"This corroborates Montagu's experience—that the year 1775, and particularly for halfpence, was the most prolific of forgeries. Those who may be inclined to be skeptical about these proportions might submit their own specimens to a careful scrutiny and comparison. There are two ready tests of genuineness: weight and appearance. The former is the less important, for although true specimens are of full weight, unfortunately, so is a certain proportion of forgeries, though there are farthings of such flimsy fabric that they will float on water. But appearance imposed a harder task and the various efforts to reproduce the official expression of George III , and the correct pose and visage of the lady on the reverse, have resulted in a gallery of unintentional caricatures that makes a good collection of these pieces a very entertaining series."


Inventory of the Defaced London Halfpenny Hoard

In March 1981, a hoard of about 325 defaced counterfeit halfpence was discovered in the City of London at a building site being cleared prior to archaeological excavation. Each coin had been cut into two or more pieces. This defacement was probably the work of an official, removing the coins from circulation, and rendering them for scrap resale. The coins are now in the Museum of London .

English Counterfeit Halfpence
Monarch Enumeration and Notes
William III Type 1 or 2 (1695-99) dates unclear, 2
George I 1724, 2 (one cast)
Second Issue (1719-24) dates unclear, 5
George II 1730 (one weakly struck), 3
1733, 1
1734, 1
1735, 1
YH (1729-39) dates unclear, 5
1743 (one double struck on O.), 2
1744, 1
1745, 3
1746, 1
1751, 2
1752, 2
1753, 7
1754, 3
OH (1740-54) dates illegible, 28
YH or OH otherwise illegible, 15
George III 1770, 3
1771, 3
1772, 4
1773 (one countermarked with an R with serifs), 21
1774, 19
1775, 79
dates unclear, 32

George I, George II , and/or George III , otherwise illegible, ca. 25

Anglo-Irish Counterfeit Halfpence
Monarch Enumeration and Notes
George II 1760, 1
George III O.Type 1 (1766 or 1769) dates clipped off, 1
O.Type 3 (1774-83), 1
Monarch Enumeration and Notes
Blanks 51, 26-28 mm diameter, some with file marks around the edge
End Notes
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the following persons who have so kindly supported this research project: Philip L. Mossman, Mike Ringo, David W. Ruskin , and Carolyn I. Smith .
Recent works that come immediately to mind include: Studies on Money in Early America , Eric P. Newman and Richard G. Doty , eds. ( New York , 1976); Walter Breen , Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins ( New York , 1988); and Philip L. Mossman , Money of the American Colonies and Confederation: A Numismatic, Economic and Historical Correlation , ANSNS 20 ( New York , 1993); not to mention the classic work by Sylvester S. Crosby , The Early Coins of America ( Boston , 1875).
Although somewhat arbitrary, I found it helpful to term a collection of less than 100 examples a small collection, between 100 and 500 examples a medium size collection, and greater than 500 examples a large collection.
C.E. Challis , ed., A New History of the Royal Mint ( Cambridge , 1992), p. 436.
See above, n. 4.
John Craig , The Mint ( Cambridge , 1953), p. 253.
Ernest Bramah , English Royal Copper Coins, A Guide to the Varieties and Rarity of Charles II to Victoria ( London , 1929), pp. 71-73.
This address was published as a pamphlet and reproduced in full, with annotations, "The Annotated Betts," CNL 1981, pp. 747, Betts-1 to Betts-17.
R. Dalton and S.H. Hamer , The Provincial Token-Coinage of the 18th Century , repr. ed. ( Cold Springs, MN , 1990).
M.I. Cobwright , Evasives ( Nottingham, England , 1993).
C. Wilson Peck , English Copper, Tin, and Bronze Coins in the British Museum, 1558-1958 , 2nd. ed. ( London , 1970), p.233.
Craig (above, n. 6), pp. 266-67.
Crosby (above, n. 2).
Michael Rhodes , "A Hoard of Defaced Forged Halfpence of the Reign of George III ," BNJ 59 (1989), p. 215.
Eric P. Newman , "1764 Broadside Located Covering Circulation of English Halfpence and Farthings in New England ," CNL 1995, pp. 1531-33.
For a discussion of these groups, see Breen (above, n. 2).
Eric P. Newman , "Were Counterfeit British Style Halfpence Dated 1785 Made Specifically for American Use?," ANSMN 33 (1988), pp. 205-23, pls. 24-25.
A listing of other dates outside the regal interval and several very interesting plated coins are given by William T. Anton , Jr. and Bruce P. Kiesse , The Forgotten Coins of the North American Colonies ( Iola, WI , 1992).
An early reference to the melting hypothesis can be found in an article by F.P. Barnard , "Forgery of English Copper Money in the Eighteenth Century," NC 1926, p. 346.
Reproduced entirely from Bramah (above, n. 7), pp. 72-73.

The Shipwreck of the Faithful Steward : A "Missing Link" in the Exports of British and Irish Halfpence

John M. Kleeberg

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996

A substantial portion of the counterfeit halfpence in circulation in the United States in the 1780s was imported. 1 This paper will examine some of the evidence as to how they were imported, by whom they were imported, and from where they were imported. Since the Second World War, there have been numerous discoveries of coins on shipwrecks, particularly of Spanish treasure fleets. 2 Lacking was a hulk of a ship carrying not Spanish silver treasure, but rather counterfeit halfpence.

Such a shipwreck—or to be more accurate, the coins from such a shipwreck—has in fact been found. Around 1930, the Coast Guard dredged the Indian River inlet on the coast of Delaware . Shortly after this, massive numbers of copper coins began to be washed up on the beaches near Rehoboth Beach , in particular on " Coin Beach ." Children filled buckets with these copper coins. I read about this in a book on treasure and shipwrecks, 3 and I wrote to Julius Reiver inquiring whether he had any more information about the coins and the wreck. Not only did Jules send me information about the wreck, he sent four coins to me in the post, of which he wanted to keep the best for himself and the other three he donated to the American Numismatic Society. None of these coins is in good condition, but enough detail remains so that it is clear that all four are counterfeit British halfpence. Until then all I had read about the coins from the wreck was that they were "British and Irish halfpence." Jules wrote to me as follows: Before World War II I had a tremendous bout with hay fever every year. It started the middle of August, and diminished slightly, until the first frost. Living at the seashore brought great relief, because of the lower pollen content of the ocean air. So I went to Rehoboth every year... . I spent a fair amount of time at Coin Beach . Using no equipment but a broken tree limb or a stick washed up on the beach, I dug into a lot of sand. Never did a decent coin appear. The salt water had corroded every coin. I probably gave away many of the coins. Years later, when I became interested in British coins, I found some of the coins I had found, and did get some others from friends... . I think that I remember seeing the remains of the ship just barely in the water (at low tide). The wreck was good for something else. There were quite a few girls in Rehoboth in the summer. It was a simple way to get a first date. "How about going to Coin Beach and see what we can find?"... . I do remember that the best time to search was just after a storm. The surf churned things up and brought new sand to the top. 4

From what shipwreck do these coins come from? Traditionally, they have been assigned to the Faithful Steward , which sank in 1785. John Potter , in his Treasure Diver's Guide, suggests that some of the coins found on " Coin Beach " may have come from a sailing ship, the Three Brothers, which sank in 1775. Another important shipwreck in the area is HMS De Braak, which sank in 1798. De Braak, however, can be eliminated because it sank inside Delaware Bay , not outside it. Dr. Spencer Peck has published a narrative of the shipwreck of the De Braak which says that when she sank, "her boat [was] alongside for the Captain who intended to go ashore at Lewes Town." De Braak must have already rounded Cape Henlopen to be anchored off Lewes. 5 If the report of the find of a British guinea dated 1782 on " Coin Beach " is accurate, then that eliminates the Three Brothers. Of the various possibilities, the Faithful Steward is clearly the likeliest. This is because of the date of the latest coin found so far (1782); the Faithful Steward sank at a peak period of importations of counterfeit halfpence into the United States ; and finally because of the Irish halfpence which were found, which fit very neatly with the Faithful Steward , because it had departed from an Irish port, namely Londonderry . It is also worthy of note that Robert Marx's Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere , which is often more accurate than Potter , 6 does not list the Three Brothers at all, so the Three Brothers may just be a "ghost shipwreck." 7

Neil Rothschild has made some very interesting comments about the wrecks in this area. He has dived off the Indian River inlet, which is no mean feat, because during the change of tide the currents are quite swift in and out of the inlet: I have dived and photographed a number of wrecks off the Indian River Inlet. I have never found a coin, although I have to admit I have never seriously looked for coins. I can say that there are a large number of wrecks off Indian River; wooden schooners of anonymous identity and many unidentified wrecks piled up on the Fenwick shoals, a shallow area 10 miles or so off the Inlet. There are literally wrecks piled up on top of wrecks. Most of the wrecks date from the mid-1800s and earlier. Most have been demolished by the wave action, with only a few wooden ribs or metal parts left. 8

Rothschild's point is an important one: this is an area with numerous wrecks which are intermingled. It is not a matter of ab- solute certainty that the coins on Rehoboth Beach come from the Faithful Steward . But the balance of the probabilities is that the coins are from the Faithful Steward .

The swift currents in and out of the inlet which Rothschild has experienced help explain why the coins were swept onto the beach following 1930. When the Coast Guard dredged the inlet, it strengthened the strong currents, and the currents then swept the coins onto the beach.

I have looked through numerous United States , Irish, and British newspapers for accounts of the shipwreck of the Faithful Steward ; most do report the wreck, but they also all report the same shipwreck narrative, verbatim. In the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, newspapers followed a practice which the French and Germans call colportage: the verbatim copying of articles from other newspapers, sometimes giving the other newspapers credit, sometimes not. For example, it is not unusual for a Berlin newspaper like the Vossiscbe Zeitung to report news from Silesia by saying, "The Schlesische Zeitung reports..." and then give a word-for-word quote from the Schlesische Zeitung. Nowadays this would be called plagiarism, although our newspapers still have many verbatim accounts if they re-use the reports of wire services, if they buy features from national syndicates, or if they reprint press releases without rewriting them. If there is an air disaster nowadays, the New York Times will publish one story, the Daily News another, and the New York Post still another, and if you buy all three papers you will have three stories from slightly different perspectives. This is not the case with the reporting of the shipwreck of the Faithful Steward in three Philadelphia papers, the Daily Universal Register of London, England (which became the Times) and in the Dublin Journal, which all contain this identical account of the disaster which befell the Faithful Steward Connoly M'Causland , 9 Master, from Londonderry , bound to Philadelphia : On the 9th day of July last, said vessel sailed from Londonderry , having on board 249 passengers of respectability, who had with them property to a very considerable amount. They had had a favourable passage, during which nothing of moment occurred, the greatest harmony having prevailed among them, until the night of Thursday, the 1st instant September, when at the hour of ten o'clock, it was thought adviseable to try for soundings, and to their great surprise found themselves in four fathoms water, though at dark there was not the smallest appearance of land. The consternation and astonishment which then prevailed, is easier conceived than described, every exertion was used to run the vessel off shore, but in a few minutes she struck the ground, when it was found necessary to cut away her masts, &c. all of which went overboard. On the morning of the 2d, we found ourselves on Mohoba-bank, near Indian river, about four leagues to the southward off Cape-Henlopen. Every effort was made to save the unhappy sufferers, who remained in the wreck during the night, although distant from shore only about 100 yards. The same evening she beat to pieces. The sea running extremely high, the boats were with difficulty disengaged from the wreck, but before they could be got manned they dashed ashore, therefore all relief was cut off, except by swimming or getting ashore on pieces of the wreck, and we are sorry to add, that of the above, only 68 persons were saved, among whom were the master, his mate and 10 seamen. During the course of the day, the inhabitants came down to the beach in numbers, and used every means in their power to relieve the unfortunate people on board, among whom were about 100 women and children, of whom only 7 women were saved. Several persons who escaped from the wreck are since dead from the wounds they received, and others are miserably bruised. With great pleasure we learn, that several humane and public spirited gentlemen of this city [ Philadelphia ] are raising a SUBSCRIPTION, for the relief of the unhappy people who were saved from the wreck of the Faithful Steward ; and there can be no doubt of their meeting with great [support?] from the benevolent Inhabitants, who have never been backward in affording assistance to the distressed. About the same time a French brig from Ostend, bound to the same port, foundered in sight of the above ship, but the crew taking to their boats, were saved. We have not learned her name, or any other particulars. 10

The "French brig from Ostende" is almost certainly the St. Louis , captained by Havel , bound from Dunkirk to Philadelphia , reported lost in New-Lloyd's List of November 15, 1785. 11 Dunkirk is the first French port south of Ostende .

Although the contemporary press reprinted the same verbatim account, there were certain nuances in how they reported it. New-Lloyd's List noted the disaster with commercial terseness: "The Faithful Steward , M'Causland , from Londonderry to Philadelphia , is totally lost in the Delaware , and 200 People perished." 12 The Belfast News-Letter printed the article on the front page, at the top left corner, and noted that this was not the first such disaster to an Ulster ship: about two years ago the Philadelphia Packet from Belfast had been lost at "Sine-puxent," near Cape Henlopen , and around the same time and at the same place the ship America from Newry was lost. 13

"Sine-puxent" may refer either to Sinepuxent Bay, near Ocean City, Maryland , or to Sinepuxent Beach , which is on the barrier island south of Ocean City . The location is approximately 40 miles south of Cape Henlopen .

When the ship Friendship, captained by Miller , arrived in Londonderry from Philadelphia on November 15, 1785, after a passage of five weeks, Londonderry learned that the citizens of Philadelphia had donated a thousand pounds to aid the shipwrecked passengers. 14 It is not specified, however, whether that was British sterling, Irish sterling, or Pennsylvania currency.

The Dublin Journal of November 24-26th, 1785, commented, "The vast emigrations from the Northern parts of this kingdom, is a circumstance truly alarming, scarce a packet or any other intelligence comes over from America, but we hear of numerous families arriving there to settle in that continent, many of whom bring off considerable properties, in order to carry on the linen and other manufactures." After reviewing the danger from Indians, the Dublin Journal continued, "Even the dangers of the deep are also to be dreaded, as is evident from the loss of the vessel from Londonderry , with 249 passengers of respectability that were going to reside in that part of the Western Hemisphere ." 15

Even as the passengers on the Faithful Steward met their tragic end, more immigrants were disembarking from other ships. For example, the Daily Universal Register reported from Philadelphia with a dateline of September 14th: "Monday last arrived the ship Congress, Capt. M'Clenaghan , from Londonderry , with near five hundred passengers; a number of which she landed at Newcastle ." 16

I have come across two alternative shipwreck narratives. One account is by the diver Robert "Frogfoot" Weller , which is clearly based on the contemporary account quoted above, but with some impossible embellishments. One embellishment is that the male passengers "tried to swim through the surf with their mouths full of silver sovereigns," a non-existent coin. Weller also asserts that there was then a lighthouse at Cape Henlopen , although this is not mentioned in the contemporary narrative. Weller says that the Faithful Steward was carrying 360,000 copper pennies, which is quite believable once we read "halfpence" instead of "pennies." Weller mentions among the coins which have been found, copper British and Irish halfpence (he calls them "pennies") dated 1776 to 1782. Most of those coins would be counterfeits, judging by the dates, since 1775 is the last genuine date for British halfpence. Weller also says that "recently" (i.e. shortly before 1990) some gold coins had been found as well. 17

Philip Zbar Trupp gives a rather different shipwreck narrative. He says that the number of passengers on board was 360 (contemporary newspapers say 249); that the captain was William McCausland (contemporary newspapers call him Connoly M'Causland ); and that 298 passengers drowned (contemporary newspapers say 68 out of 249 survived, which would mean that 181 drowned). Trupp says that the passengers and the crew were on deck celebrating the first wedding anniversary of a passenger, John McGreg , and were intoxicated when the ship ran aground. These contradictions with the newspaper account lead me to set Trupp's account aside, until confirmation in a contemporary source turns up. 18

Trupp does have interesting information about the coins recovered on the beach. He says that schoolchildren filled buckets with the coins and that one reporter wrote that the coins were "as numerous as clam shells." He mentions that a recent treasure hunter found one hundred coins in five days, of which fifteen were gold. The coins included guineas dated from 1766 to 1782, British and Irish halfpence, some with holes drilled through them, and Spanish reales. The drilling of holes through coins is often done to cancel counterfeit coins, and is probably the purpose here; having then been rejected in Ireland , the cancelled counterfeit halfpence were shipped out to try their luck in the New World . 19

The name of the ship, the Faithful Steward , is an interesting choice. It appears to recall a phrase in a sermon by a Protestant prelate, Edwin Sandys , the Archbishop of York (1516-88): "God hath made him rich, that he as a faithful steward might bestowe those rich blessings vpon the familie... of God." 20 The phrase is a good choice, not only for the Protestant associations, but also because Archbishop Sandys's two sons, Sir Edwin Sandys (1561-1629) and George Sandys (1578-1644), helped to settle the colony of Virginia . When George Sandys was in Virginia in 1621-31, he spent the time translating Ovid's Metamorphoses, which must be one of first works of classical scholarship done in what is now the United States .

Unlike the Spanish treasure fleets, it was not profitable to export counterfeit halfpence as the sole or chief freight of a ship. There had to be a pre-existing, profitable trade upon which the counterfeit halfpence could piggyback. Such trades had to be two ways, because only a very profitable one-way trade can afford to have ships return in ballast. Such a two-way trade existed with northern Ireland because of the boom in flax growing and linen weaving; the United States exported flaxseed, flour, and tobacco to Ireland and imported linen, provisions and immigrants.

Although immigrants were the most profitable freight, their destination was determined by the flax trade; in the eighteenth century, when most flaxseed was exported from the Delaware bay ports, the immigrant ships would go to Philadelphia, Newcastle , and Wilmington . This pattern could change if a different port offered a profitable return freight: on the last reported arrival in Londonderry of the Faithful Steward , in April 1785, she had sailed not from Philadelphia , but from Rhode Island . 21 On the other hand the Congress, captained by M'Clenaghan , which arrived at Londonderry at the same time and may have been a sister ship of the Faithful Steward , had sailed from Philadelphia . 22

After 1790, when the flaxseed trade shifted to New York , most of the immigrant trade shifted with it. By the first years of the nineteenth century, Charles W. Janson claimed that much of the American trade to Ireland was smuggling. The Americans would bring some legitimate goods: flaxseed, tobacco, and lumber, but they would chiefly smuggle in contraband, namely tea in chests, nankeens in bales, tobaccos in rolls, bandannas and other silk handkerchiefs, and spices. The return freight was immigrants. 23 The most popular port to emigrate from was Londonderry . 24

Londonderry 's linen weaving industry experienced a boom during the period 1783-1813; it declined after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Ordnance Survey commented, "It may indeed, be safely asserted, that, taking both into consideration, viz., the prosperity of the trading interest, and the spirit of gay and social intercourse of its principal inhabitants, the latter years of the period—were among the brightest that the City had yet enjoyed." 25

Irishmen of all faiths began emigrating to North America in 1718; there were Catholics and Anglicans among them, but most probably were Presbyterians . 26 Before R.J. Dickson's 1988 study, earlier works tended to use the American War of Independence or the year 1800 as a caesura, with eighteenth century Irish immigrants being described as Presbyterians (the "Scots-Irish") and nineteenth century Irish immigrants being described as Catholics. This distinction was an attempt, generally successful, by the American descendants of Irish Presbyterian immigrants to describe their ancestors as "colonists," and thus equal to the "WASPS," and distinct from the later Irish Catholic "immigrants." This distinction was not known to the eighteenth century immigrants themselves. It does seem as though most Irishmen in this period saw themselves as Irishmen first, and Catholics or Presbyterians second; it was only in the nineteenth century, during the bitter debate over Catholic emancipation, that divisions between Presbyterians and Catholics deepened. 27

In this context it is important to remember that the plantation of Ulster and the plantation of North America —the creation of Protestant commonwealths in Northern Ireland , in Bermuda , in Virginia , in Massachusetts —were simultaneous, parallel events. The Oxford English Dictionary gives two book titles using the word "plantation" in 1610: A Direction for the Plantation in Ulster and A true and sincere Declaration of the Purpose and Ends of the Plantation begun in Virginia . 28 The history of Ulster and the history of British North America have been intertwined from the very beginning.

Although the Presbyterians took a prominent part of the defense of Londonderry during its siege by James II , the legal settlement which followed the Glorious Revolution did not work to their benefit. The Church of England , with an Anglican rite, became the established church in England ; the Church of Scotland , with a Presbyterian rite, became the established church in Scotland ; but the Church of Ireland , the established church in Ireland , followed the Anglican ritual. In 1689, "An Act for Exempting Their Majesties' Protestant Subjects Dissenting from the Church of England , from the Penalties of Certain Laws," commonly known as the Toleration Act, was passed by the English Parliament; but this did not apply to Ireland, which was governed by a separate parliament. In 1704, the Irish parliament passed "An Act to Prevent the Further Growth of Popery," commonly known as the Test Act. This required holders of public offices to take the sacrament of communion in their local Anglican parish. This compelled twenty-four members (out of thirty-eight) of the Corporation of Londonderry to resign, because they were Presbyterians . 29

In the colonial period the rate of emigration to North America was about three thousand a year. Londonderry was the chief port for the Irish emigrants. In July 1729, a Londonderry businessman reported that twenty-five ships had left the port that summer; each ship had 140 passengers on board. In 1759, three thousand people left from the ports of Londonderry and Coleraine . A report to the Irish Customs Commissioners said that in 1772 and 1773 about six thousand emigrants had left from Londonderry . The Maryland Journal of October 16, 1773, said that 3,500 people had left from Londonderry in the previous twelve months. 30

The chief destinations for these emigrants were South Carolina, Nova Scotia , and above all, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania became the Scots-Irish center in America because of its favorable geographic position. The emigrants would land at either Lewes or Newcastle in Delaware , or at Philadelphia . In the 1770s, the cost of passage from Londonderry to Philadelphia was three guineas (£3 and 3 shillings). 31

After the hiatus of the Revolution, emigration recommenced at once, and 1784 was a record year: over ten thousand emigrated from Ireland . 32 The cost of passage from Londonderry to Philadelphia was £3 10 shillings in the 1780s, although it rose to £10 10 shillings by 1801. 33 The conditions on the ships were terrible; Charles Janson observed in 1807 that "Guinea-men with slaves were never crowded like the American ships from Londonderry to Philadelphia with Irish passengers. A small ship of 215 tons took on board five hundred and thirty passengers, who first paid the captain above 5000 l . for their passage. To these must be added the ship's crew, making five hundred and forty-two souls, being nearly double the number ever attempted to be stowed in a slave ship of that burthen." 34 In 1790, the Irish Society of Philadelphia got the authorities to prosecute Captain Robert Cunningham of the brig Cunningham of Londonderry because the ship ran out of food and the passengers were on short rations for three weeks prior to arrival in America . Furthermore, there was almost no vinegar to keep the vessel clean. Robert Cunningham was fined £500 Pennsylvania Currency and then remanded to gaol when he failed to pay the fine. 35 The poor condition of the ships may in part explain the wreck of the Faithful Steward . It may also explain the questionable actions of the captain and the crew, who rescued themselves, but left the women and the children to drown.

Many Federalists looked upon the influx of the Irish with great dismay. Harrison Gray Otis commented, "If some means are not adopted to prevent the indiscriminate admission of wild Irishmen and others to the right of suffrage, there will soon be an end to liberty and property." 36 And Uriah Tracy of Connecticut commented about the Scotch-Irish in Pennsylvania : "With very few exceptions they are United Irishmen, Free Masons, and the most God-provoking Democrats this side of Hell." 37 Although these people were mostly Presbyterians , they were also Irish nationalists; the leadership of the United Irishmen uprising of 1798 was largely Protestant too. Wolfe Tone, the leader of the United Irishmen rebellion, temporarily emigrated to the United States in the 1780s. A very extreme United Irishman was Dr. James Reynolds , who fled from Belfast to Philadelphia in 1794. He hanged an effigy of George III from the yardarm and gave rum to the crew so that they might "drink the confusion of despots and the prosperity of liberty all the world over." 38 The Federalists introduced a naturalization act to slow the increase in Irish voters, but the Alien and Sedition Acts failed, and the Irish voters went over en bloc to the Democratic-Republicans. Philip Livingston claimed that it was the poor Irish and the French in the Sixth and Seventh Ward of New York City which enabled Jefferson to carry New York City , and hence New York State , in the presidential election of 1800. 39

The history of the United States is the history of immigration, and this is no less true for numismatics. The names of Henry Voigt , John Reich and Christian Gobrecht remind us of the contribution of German immigrants to the technology of the early mint. 40 California fractional gold was made almost exclusively by French immigrants. 41 The California coining firm of Wass, Molitor & Co. was set up by refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49. 42 I have already pointed out the important role of French immigrants in New York City and the involvement of one of them, Marc Isambard Brunel , in the design of the First Park Theatre (which is depicted on the New York Theatre token) and in the Castorland project. 43 The Faithful Steward is one of many examples of U.S. numismatic history which is intertwined with the history of Ireland . 44

Importation of counterfeit halfpence was an illicit operation. There are no advertisements in American newspapers of the time saying, "Just arrived, fresh halfpence from Birmingham ." Walter Breen has suggested that the term "hard-ware" was used as a euphemism for counterfeit coppers. 45 The advertisement of the ship Grange gives us an idea of the typical imports into the United States . In October 1785, the Grange advertised for sale in the Philadelphia papers "Coal, Queen's Ware, China , Hyson Teas, Pipes, Whiting, Chalk, Copper in bottoms and sheets, coarse Woollens and a General Assortment of MERCHANDISE." 46 I suspect that the agents for this cargo could sell kegs of counterfeit halfpence too, but they conceal that under the rubrics of "Copper in bottoms and sheets" and "a General Assortment of MERCHANDISE."

Coins From the Faithful Steward

I shall now review the various coins found on the wreck. The coins which Reiver sent us are all British counterfeit halfpence dated 1775 ( figs. 1 - 4 ). I have been told that one collection of coins found on the Faithful Steward also includes a Voce Populi coin of 1760 ( fig. 5 ). If this is confirmed, this is a very exciting discovery, because this is the first find of a Voce Populi in the United States known to me. There were also numerous Irish halfpence on the Faithful Steward , and they were almost certainly counterfeit as well.


1. Counterfeit British halfpenny, 1775, from the Faithful Steward .


2. Counterfeit British halfpenny, 1775, from the Faithful Steward .


3. Counterfeit British halfpenny, 1775, from the Faithful Steward .


4. Counterfeit British halfpenny, 1775, from the Faithful Steward .


5. Voce Populi halfpenny , 1760, Breen 232.

Where were these coins manufactured? There is a natural tendency to ascribe any counterfeit British coin to " Birmingham ." It certainly is possible that the large number of counterfeit coppers in circulation in Ireland in this period was made in Birmingham and then exported via Liverpool across the Irish Sea to Dublin and Belfast and Londonderry . By 1820, Belfast's source of hardware (namely metal products, not counterfeit coins) was Scotland , so some of the halfpence in Ireland could have come from there; but the main port for cross channel trade with Belfast was Liverpool . 47 There certainly was much coastwise shipping of counterfeit halfpence. The Daily Universal Register, which later became the Times, said on October 12, 1786: "A large coinage of halfpence has been discovered in the west of England , on board a vessel, where that coin, amounting to 1000 l ., was found concealed. It is suspected to be a consignment from the dock-yard men at Plymouth to those of Bristol , ingeniously wrought out of waste copper sheathing." 48

But Ireland , too, had its own copper coinage manufactories. In 1790, by the best estimates, the population of Ireland was larger than the population of the United States . Kenneth H. Connell estimated Ireland's population in 1790 at 4,591,000; 49 the 1790 Federal census of the United States reports a population of 3,929,625. 50 Although the histories of the Irish economy in this period do not mention a non-ferrous metals industry, 51 it is not surprising that Ireland , densely settled with a skilled population, should be a center for manufacturing counterfeit halfpence and other coins, tokens and medals in its own right. There had to be the skills to make coins in Ireland , or James II would not have been able to issue his gun money. There was a rash of issuers of tokens in Ireland in the 1720s and 1730s—it is a parallel phenomenon with Wood's coinage controversy—and these tokens were very likely made somewhere in Ireland . Their fabric and their style are totally unlike British coins of the day. These tokens have a dumpy fabric and they use animals as obverse coin types, with an inscription on the reverse ( fig. 6 ). 52 Another Irish coin and medal manufacturer was John V. Roche of King Street, Dublin , who diversified from making buttons for the army to making the Voce Populi coppers, and who also made medals of Dean Swift, of the Convention of Pardo, and in honor of the great hero of the day, Admiral Edward Vernon ( fig. 7 ). 53


6. Belfast , Hugh Magarragh twopenny token, 1736, Davis 8.


7. Admiral Vernon medal, 1739, by John Roche of Dublin .

Curiously, there is a copper of the period which appears to be specifically directed toward a Londonderry audience. This is the Colonel Percy Kirke evasive halfpence of 1796 ( Atkins 64; fig. 8 ). 54 It is directed toward a Londonderry audience because Colonel Kirke is an obscure character, most famous for relieving the siege of Londonderry in 1689. The name is spelled "Percie Kirk" on the halfpence, but the Dictionary of National Biography gives his name as Percy or Percie Kirke . We can assume that some of these coins came to America , because the hoarder Aaron White of Connecticut struck a new version of the token in the 1860s, but it has the wrong date, 1686 rather than 1689 ( Atkins 65; fig. 9 ). 55 The explanation for the wrong date is not hard to discover: the diesinker held the punch upside down. Aside from the literary and shipwreck evidence of the Faithful Steward , the Colonel Percy Kirke tokens point to the importance of Londonderry in the distribution of coppers.


8. Colonel Kirke evasive halfpenny, Atkins 64.


9. Aaron White restrike of Kirke evasion halfpenny, Atkins 65.

The Faithful Steward is also important in that it brings out that the circulation of British and Irish halfpence was commingled. Britain had sought to impose a steadily rising nominal value and inversely related falling intrinsic value on coinage as one moved from the metropolis to the periphery. Irish sterling was valued at 8 1/3% over English sterling; New York currency was valued at 77.8% over English sterling. The distinct British and Irish coin types for halfpence should have kept each variety circulating within its home island, or if not that, halfpence would at least flow from London outward. But this did not happen. By the late eighteenth century, the scarcity of regal coppers and the prevalence of counterfeits caused the exchange differential to break down so that counterfeit Irish halfpence circulated in Britain to a small degree, counterfeit British halfpence circulated in Ireland to a slightly larger degree, and both counterfeit British and Irish halfpence circulated extensively in the United States and what would become Canada , with British halfpence outnumbering Irish anywhere from 3:1 to 20:1. This is clear from the evidence of hoards and excavations. The City of London (1981) hoard contained three Irish counterfeit halfpence out of a total of 325 counterfeit halfpence, although if the exchange differential had held up properly by rights there should be no Irish halfpence in England . 56

A hoard of 206 counterfeit halfpence found near Jonesborough , County Armagh , now in the Ulster Museum, had twenty-seven British halfpence of a total of 206; 170 pieces were Irish. 57 Of the halfpence found during the excavations for a highway in Philadelphia , thirty-three (excluding the special case of the 362 William III 1699 counterfeits) were British halfpence, ten were Irish. 58 Finally, a Quebec city hoard of coppers deposited around 1835-37, contained 500 counterfeits of British halfpence and 25 counterfeits of Irish halfpence. 59

Further evidence for the commingled circulation in the United States of British and Irish halfpence is provided by the undertypes of Confederation coppers. Philip Mossman has published a useful list of the overstruck coins. 60 There are eight die marriages which occur on Irish undertypes; seven die marriages which occur on British undertypes; and six die marriages which occur on both British and Irish undertypes, as may be seen from the following tables:

Connecticut: 1787 Miller 5-P
New Jersey : Maris 17-b
Maris 40-b
Vermont : Bressett 16-U, Ryder-Richardson 25
Bressett 20-X, Ryder-Richardson 35
Bressett 22-U, Ryder-Richardson 29
New York : Nova Eborac, Breen 986 61
Massachusetts : Apocryphal pattern with Indian, Breen 702 (not included by Mossman ) 62
New Jersey : Maris 34-J
Maris 35-J
Maris 58-n
Maris 70-x
Maris 71-y
Vermont : Bressett 9-I, Ryder-Richardson 15
New York : Albany Church Penny , Breen 1170
New Jersey : Maris 56-n
Maris 72-z
Maris 73-aa
Vermont : Bressett 19-X, Ryder-Richardson 18
Bressett 21-U, Ryder-Richardson 28
Bressett 21-Y, Ryder-Richardson 33

Guineas have also been recovered from the Faithful Steward . Touring the United States in 1793-1807, Charles Janson remarked, 63 The English emigrants are not so numerous, yet the property they carry with them is estimated higher than that drained from Ireland . Hence, English gold is in circulation in all parts of the United States .

Janson made a basic error in supposing that English guineas could have only come over in the hands of Englishmen. But even if English guineas were not uncommon in this period, many of them were counterfeit. I have been unable to confirm whether or not these guineas recovered from the Faithful Steward were counterfeit, but I suspect they are. Some flotsam from an unknown wreck of the same period, found on the beach at Mantoloking, New Jersey , includes spade guineas and half guineas of 1789, all of them brass counterfeits. 64 There are numerous contemporary counterfeits of the guineas of this period, which are quite difficult to distinguish from the genuine pieces. One of the most remarkable examples of U.S. circulation of counterfeit half guineas is provided by the countermark of Ephraim Brasher , who countermarked a counterfeit half guinea of 1766 (figs. 10 and 11 ). Parallel to the manufacture and import of counterfeit halfpence occurred the manufacture and import of counterfeit guineas and half guineas, joes and half joes. 65 Further evidence for the circulation of counterfeit half joes in Britain is provided by a single find at Yelling in Cambridgeshire of an apparently counterfeit Brazilian half joe, 1751, from the Rio de Janeiro mint. 66 There certainly was counterfeiting of gold coin in Ireland . The Daily Universal Register reported from Cork, with the dateline of November 11, 1785: 67


10. Great Britain, half guinea, 1776, probably genuine.


11. Ephraim Brasher countermark on clipped counterfeit half guinea of 1766.

Yesterday, John Hogan , James M'Cule , and Francis Milled , were committed to the North Goal , for uttering counterfeit guineas at the fair of Carrigoline; and Brian M'Mahon, Maurice Sullivan, John Dempsey, Bartholomew Bourk, Hannah Bourk, Alice M'Mahon, Mary Power , and Paul Hogan were committed to [line missing] with the first three in uttering and coining bad money.

When I first began researching the Faithful Steward , I thought that the shipwreck might give us some easy answers; in particular, I was hoping that there might be a 1785 counterfeit halfpence among the coins found. 68 Alas, no, although I have not given up hope. As is so often the case, this research answers a few questions, but it also opens up even more questions for further research.

First, it shows us one method whereby the counterfeit halfpence were imported: they were brought in by immigrants, not wholly dissimilar to the drug mules of today. Secondly, it focuses our attention on Ireland , as a center of circulation, distribution and probably manufacture of counterfeit halfpence. Thirdly, it reminds us that there was a parallel counterfeiting operation in gold alongside the better known counterfeiting operations in copper. Fourthly, there seems to have been a breakdown in the differential between British and Irish coppers, so that they circulated at par. British halfpence circulated in Ireland , as did Irish halfpence in Britain , and both circulated, apparently indiscriminately, in the United States and Canada . And finally, the Faithful Steward provides us with some counterfeit halfpence with a clear terminus ante quem. It was in reaction to these floods of imports that the states began to take steps to coin their own coppers.

Much effort has gone into determining which coppers are "American," and which are not. This question is not as important as is usually thought. Although each of the four major copper circulating jurisdictions involved— Britain, Ireland , the United States and Canada —sought at times to cut itself off from the others, the coinage systems were so similar and the trade so extensive that the copper coinage of the four areas was extensively commingled. When we study counterfeit halfpence, we are not studying separate U.S. , British, Irish and Canadian coins, but a quadripartite system with extensive interlocks. Coppers flowed where there was a demand: to the United States in the 1780s, to Britain during the 1790s, to Ireland during 1800-1820 and finally to Canada .

End Notes

This paper would have never been written without the very useful information provided by Julius Reiver . In addition to Jules , I would also like to thank F. Gordon Frost, Robert Heslip, John Huffman , Dr. Philip L. Mossman, Eric P. Newman, Neil Rothschild, Mike Ringo and Charles K. Smith for their assistance and suggestions. The staff of the New York Public Library, the Yale University Library, the Newspaper section of the British Library ( Colindale ) and the Guildhall Library ( London ) were very helpful.
Roger C. Smith , "Treasure Ships of the Spanish Main: The Iberian-American Maritime Empires," George F. Bass , ed., Ships and Shipwrecks of the Americas. A History Based on Underwater Archaeology ( London , 1988), pp. 85-106.
Philip Z. Trupp , Tracking Treasure: Romance & Fortune Beneath the Sea and How to Find It! ( Washington, DC , 1986), pp. 200-202.
Julius Reiver , letter to the author, Wilmington, Delaware , July 18, 1995.
Spencer Peck , "The Treasure Ship De Braak," Plus Ultra. Quarterly Newsletter of Florida Treasure Brokers , vol. 5, no. 1 (1987), pp. 7-10.
Because Potter was sometimes overly optimistic in his guide to treasure ships, his book eventually became known as "the home wrecker," for the number of people who had mortgaged their homes, let their marriages break up, invested in treasure hunting corporations—all for nothing. Robert Daley , Treasure ( New York , 1977), pp. 61-62.
F.L. Coffman , 1001 Lost, Buried or Sunken Treasures. Facts for Treasure Hunters ( New York , 1957), p. 246; John S. Potter , Jr., The Treasure Diver's Guide: Revised Edition ( New York , 1972), pp. 484-85, 527-28; Robert F. Marx , Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere ( New York , 1971), pp. 163-64; Trupp (above, n. 3), pp. 200-202.
Neil Rothschild [], "CNL ONLINE, No. 4: COAC NEWS," COINS Maillist [], November 11, 1995.
The name is not uncommon in Londonderry as a Protestant name: an M. M'Causland was twice sheriff of Londonderry , in 1815 and 1825. Robert Simpson , The Annals of Derry ( Londonderry , 1847), pp. 206-7.
The Pennsylvania Gazette ( Philadelphia ), September 14, 1785. Other verbatim versions: Pennsylvania Evening Herald and the American Monitor ( Philadelphia ), September 14, 1785; The Independent Gazetteer; or, the Chronicle of Freedom ( Philadelphia ), September 17, 1785; The Dublin Journal, November 17-19, 1785; The Belfast News-Letter, November 18-22, 1785; The Daily Universal Register ( London ), November 22, 1785; The Daily Universal Register ( London ), November 24, 1785.
New-Lloyd's LIST ( London ), November 15, 1785.
New-Lloyd's LIST ( London ), November 18, 1785.
The Belfast News-Letter, November 18-22, 1785.
The Belfast News-Letter, November 22-25, 1785.
The Dublin Journal, November 24-26, 1785.
The Daily Universal Register ( London ), November 22, 1785; The Belfast News-Letter, November 18-22, 1785.
Robert "Frogfoot" Weller , "Famous Shipwrecks: Faithful Steward - 1785," Plus Ultra. Quarterly Newsletter of Florida Treasure Brokers, vol. 8, no. 4 (1990), pp. 10-11. See also Spencer Peck , "Coppers for the Colonies," Plus Ultra. Quarterly Journal of Florida Treasure Brokers, vol. 9, no. 1 (1991), pp. 1-2, which attempts to correct the confusion of the halfpence being called "pennies," and points out that they are probably counterfeits.
Trupp (above, n. 3), pp. 200-201.
Trupp , (above, n. 3), p. 201. When two holes are drilled through a coin, it may have been used as a child's toy which makes a whizzing noise, a "humdinger," but state coppers and counterfeit halfpence are found so frequently with single holes that there must be another explanation. Cancellation seems to me the likeliest reason. See Edward R. Barnsley , "Humdingers and Buzzers," CNL 3 (1962), pp. 49-50.
OED, s.v. " Steward ."
New-Lloyd's LIST ( London ) April 12, 1785.
New-Lloyd's LIST ( London ), April 15, 1785.
Charles W. Janson , The Stranger in America 1793-1806. Reprinted from the London Edition of 1807 , Carl S. Driver , ed. ( New York , 1935), p. 470.
Maldwyn A. Jones , "Ulster Emigration, 1783-1815," Essays in Scotch-Irish History , E.R.R. Green , ed. ( London , 1969), p. 49.
Simpson (above, n. 9), pp. 218-19.
R.J. Dickson , Ulster Emigration to Colonial America 1718-1775 ( Belfast , 1988).
Jones (above, n. 24), p. 67.
OED, s.v. "Plantation."
Brian Lacy , Siege City: the Story of Derry and Londonderry ( Belfast , 1990), pp. 147-48.
Lacy (above, n. 29), pp. 148-49.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, A Century of Population Growth from the First Census of the United States to the Twelfth, 1790-1900 ( Washington, DC , 1909) map on p. 122; Henry J. Ford , The Scotch-Irish in America ( Princeton , 1915) p. 261; Lacy (above, n. 29), pp. 148-49.
Jones (above, n. 24), p. 49.
Janson (above, n. 23), p. 462.
Janson (above, n. 23), p. 462.
Erna Risch , "Immigrant Aid Societies Before 1820," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography , vol. 60, no. 1 (1936), p. 31.
Samuel Eliot Morison , Harrison Gray Otis 1765-1848. The Urbane Federalist ( Boston , 1969), pp. 107-9; Jones (above, n. 24), pp. 65-66.
Jones (above, n. 24), p. 66.
Jones (above, n. 24), p. 65.
Jones (above, n. 24), p. 67; Eugene P. Link , Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800 ( New York , 1942) pp. 86-91.
Walter Breen , Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins ( New York , 1988), pp. 169, 177, 433-34.
Breen (above, n. 40), pp. 641-42.
Breen (above, n. 40), p. 653.
John M. Kleeberg , "The Theatre at New York ," The Token: America's Other Money, Richard G. Doty , ed. ( New York , 1995), pp. 30-34.
Cf. Breen (above, n. 40), p. 36, where he draws a parallel between the struggles of both North America and Ireland against British rule.
See his glossary: "Hard Ware: British 18th century euphemism for privately made coppers, especially in ships' bills of lading." Breen (above, n. 40), p. 702; and pp. 27, 36, 43, 92, 95-96, 107, 125-27, 139, 146.
The Independent Gazetteer; or, the Chronicle of Freedom ( Philadelphia ), September 17, 1785.
Philip Ollerenshaw , "Industry 1820-1914," Liam Kennedy and Philip Ollerenshaw , An Economic History of Ulster, 1820-1940 ( Manchester , 1985), pp. 63-64.
The Daily Universal Register ( London ), October 12, 1786.
K.H. Connell , The Population of Ireland 1750-1845 ( Oxford , 1950), p. 25.
Bureau of the Census, Population Growth 1790-1900 (above, n. 31), p. 55.
There is no mention of such an industry in Kennedy and Ollerenshaw , Economic History of Ulster , for example.
W.J. Davis listed these tokens as a supplement at the end of his catalogue of British and Irish tokens of the nineteenth century. W.J. Davis , The Nineteenth Century Token Coinage of Great Britain, Ireland , the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man ( London , 1904), pp. 229-39.
Philip Nelson , The Coinage of Ireland in Copper, Tin, and Pewter, 1460-1826 ( Liverpool , 1905), pp. 45-49; British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals, Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland ( London , 1904-11), 154.5, 11, and commentary on pl. 155; L. Forrer , Biographical Dictionary of Medallists ( London , 1912), vol. 5, pp. 143-44; Breen (above, n. 40), pp. 36-38.
James Atkins , The Tradesmen's Tokens of the Eighteenth Century ( London , 1892), p. 285.
Woodward , May 26, 1884 ( Levick ), 2478; Frossard , July 20, 1888 ( Aaron White ), 1-235; B.P. Wright , "American Store or Business Cards," The Numismatist 1899, pp. 256-58; John F. Jones , "The Aaron White Hoard of Coins," The Numismatist 1938, pp. 111-12; Walter H. Breen , "Survey of American Coin Hoards," The Numismatist 1952, pp. 107-9.
Michael Rhodes , "A Hoard of Defaced Forged Halfpence of the Reign of George III ," British Numismatic Journal 1989, pp. 214-16.
Robert Heslip , Ulster Museum, Belfast , private communication to the author, September 28, 1995.
Peter P. Gaspar and Eric P. Newman , "An Eighteenth Century Hoard from Philadelphia ," Coin Hoards 4 (1978), pp. 127-30; Eric P. Newman and Peter P. Gaspar , "The Philadelphia Highway Coin Find," The Numismatist 1978), pp. 453-67 (includes a thorough inventory).
Robert W. McLachlan , "A Hoard of Canadian Coppers," The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal 1889, pp. 27-34.
Philip L. Mossman , Money of the American Colonies and Confederation: A Numismatic, Economic, and Historical Correlation , ANSNS 20 ( New York , 1993), pp. 267-73.
Breen (above, n. 40), p. 94. Discovered by Anthony Terranova .
The identification of the undertype as Irish was made by Mike Ringo .
Janson (above, n. 23), p. 471.
Robert I. Nesmith , Dig for Pirate Treasure ( New York , 1958), pp. 21-23; Robert I. Nesmith and John S. Potter , Jr., Treasure...How and Where to Find It ( New York , 1968), pp. 53-54. The coins found at Mantoloking do appear to be contemporary counterfeits, not the gaming counters known as "spade guineas" with the motto "In Memory of the Good Old Days." The gaming counters bear the dates 1788 (for half guinea sized counters) and 1797 (for guinea sizes). Furthermore, the bust on the gaming counters is much cruder than the bust on the counterfeits found at Mantoloking. Both of the books by Nesmith have a photograph of the counterfeits found at Mantoloking.
Robert Chalmers , A History of Currency in the British Colonies ( London , [1893]), p. 396; Oscar G. Schilke and Raphael E. Solomon , America's Foreign Coins ( New York , 1964), pp. 28-29; Ralph C. Gordon , West Indies Countermarked Gold Coins (n.p., 1987), pp. 40-43, 91-96. On the production of full weight imitations of Charles IV doubloons in 1821, see Henry Russell Drowne , "An Unrecorded Coinage," Proceedings of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society...1892-1893 ( New York , 1893), pp. 41-43.
Barrie J. Cook and Edward M. Besly , "Coin Register 1991," BNJ 61 (1991), p. 155; coin number 164.
The Daily Universal Register ( London ), November 24, 1785.
The North American circulation of 1785 halfpence was argued by Eric P. Newman , "Were Counterfeit British Style Halfpence Made Specifically for American Use?" ANSMN 33 (1988), pp. 205-23.

New Thoughts on the Nova Constellatio Private Copper Coinage

Eric P. Newman

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996

The NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage embodies the radiant enthusiasm of the United States as a new nation and features the goal of liberty and justice which inspired the achievement of independence. The design and the legends were derived from the 1783 U.S. patterns arranged for the United States by Robert Morris as Superintendent of Finance and developed primarily by Benjamin Dudley as the master craftsman. 1 The rays emanating from the Eye of Providence toward a constellation of 13 stars were adapted from the emblem designed by Francis Hopkinson and first used on the face of the $40 denomination of Continental Currency paper money issued pursuant to the April 11, 1778 Resolution of the Continental Congress. 2 The legend, NOVA CONSTELLATIO, was the Latin form of the words "a new constellation" used in the June 14, 1777 Resolution of the Continental Congress as to the design of the flag.

Because of a lack of substantial historical data on the background of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers, the early numismatic researchers and writers steadily presented new ideas and findings in the hope of reaching sound conclusions. Joseph B. Felt , in 1839, mentioned the coins as did Eckfeldt and Dubois in 1842. Charles B. Norton advertised and described one in 1857. In 1858 John H. Hickcox described both dates of the issue. Eckfeldt and DuBois as well as Norton attributed the issue to Massachusetts , misinterpreting Felt. Montroville W. Dickeson , in 1859, listed some of their varieties, but in 1875, Sylvester S. Crosby presented a classification of their dies and combinations which has not been superseded. 3


Initially it seems desirable to justify the use of the name NOVA CONSTELLATIO rather than CONSTELLATIO NOVA. Prior to 1973, numismatic writers, collectors and dealers routinely had used NOVA CONSTELLATIO in that word order ( Alexandre Vattemare in 1861 being an exception). 4 Because in 1973, I had republished a short item quoting a 1786 English newspaper article which used "CONSTELLATIO NOVA," 5 Walter Breen seized upon this word order and supported it in an erudite presentation. 6 This word order change was adopted by a steady stream of others (including myself) on the assumption that it was the proper or preferred Latin adjectival placement and that the position of the eye might control the word order. 7 My present opinion is that there is unequivocal evidence to the contrary and the change might have been an exercise in scholarly fun rather than being influenced by pedantic thinking. If Breen had been aware of all of the evidence, he probably would have changed his mind on the basis of reasons which follow.


The legend NOVA CONSTELLATIO in its circular form on one side of the 1000 unit 1783 U.S. silver pattern has one rosette centered in the angular space in front of the word NOVA and after the word CONSTELLATIO, whereas a similar sized space after the word NOVA and in front of the word CONSTELLATIO is blank. This clearly shows the intended word order as NOVA CONSTELLATIO. In one variety of the 500 unit 1783 U.S. silver pattern there is an angular space of about 120 degrees in front of NOVA and after CONSTELLATIO compared to a less than 10 degree angular space after NOVA and in front of CONSTELLATIO. Just as on the 1000 unit piece there is one ornament in front of NOVA and following CONSTELLATIO and no ornament following NOVA and in front of CONSTELLATIO. In the other variety of the 500 unit silver pattern, a circle of stars replace the legend NOVA CONSTELLATIO. The 100 unit piece has a similar spacing relationship of the legend to that of the first variety of the 500 unit piece but one stop or period closely follows CONSTELLATIO while another stop is directly between NOVA and CONSTELLATIO. The 5 unit 1783 U.S. copper pattern has a very large angular displacement in front of NOVA and after CONSTELLATIO and an ornament after CONSTELLATIO and before NOVA much larger that the stop in the space in front of CONSTELLATIO and after NOVA. The spacing and ornamentation on all denominations of the 1783 U.S. patterns clearly show the word order selected was NOVA CONSTELLATIO and not CONSTELLATIO NOVA ( fig. 1 ).

Samuel Curwen's diary entry of May 15, 1784, used NOVA CONSTELLATIO to describe the 1783 U.S. copper pattern presented to him. Rathmell Wilson in a May 28, 1872 letter to John W. Haseltine used NOVA CONSTELLATIO in describing the full provenance of the two 1783 U.S. silver patterns he had acquired. 8


The subsequent private coinage of copper pieces dated 1783, which generally copy the design of the 1783 U.S. patterns, confirms the NOVA CONSTELLATIO word order by having a star or quatrefoil in front of NOVA and after CONSTELLATIO or CONSTELATIO, whereas there is only a single stop or period of much smaller size following NOVA and in front of CONSTELLATIO or CONSTELATIO ( fig. 2 ). This is also true of the Crosby variety 1-B of that coinage dated 1785. As to the other varieties dated 1785, there is no ornamentation or punctuation between the two words. The angular sweep between the two words on all such coppers dated 1783 and 1785 is more or less equal, eliminating that factor from being determinative of word order. It has been pointed out that the position of the central eye might determine the word order but that is overruled by the spacing and the ornamentation ( fig. 3 ).


The evidence of intended word order on the private coppers happens not to be as strongly convincing as that on the 1783 U.S. patterns, but the two groups cannot be treated differently when one is copied from the other.

Latin grammar allows a choice of word order.

To show that the NOVA CONSTELLATIO word order was normal it is well to point out that in other American coinage of the same period, NOVA precedes the noun in the legends NOVA EBORAC and NOVA CAESAREA. NOVA EBORACA COLUMBIA is used in that order on the Brasher doubloon gold coinage. In commonly used geographical names, NOVA ANGLIA and NOVA SCOTIA reinforce NOVA as properly and commonly being the first word. If I believed in the reversed word order the title to this study might be "COMMENTARII NOVI on CONSTELLATIO NOVA."

English Publicity

The first known publicity concerning NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers in England appeared in The London Chronicle , The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser and in The Public Advertiser for March 11-14, 1786, as follows: 9 The American Congress have lately made a copper coinage, which is now in general circulation: one side of the halfpenny bears the circular inscription, "Libertas et Justitia" round a central cypher U.S. On the reverse is a Sun rising amidst Thirteen Stars, circularly inscribed "Constellatio Nova."

This technically described those coppers dated 1785, because ET does not appear on the pieces dated 1783. An immediate contradiction of portions of the March 11-14, 1786 commentaries followed in The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser for March 16, 1786: 10 A correspondent observes, that the paragraph which has lately appeared in several papers, respecting a copper coinage in America is not true. The piece spoken of, bearing the inscription "Libertas et Justitia, & C" was not made in America, nor by direction of Congress. It was coined in Birmingham, by order of a Merchant in New York , many tons were struck from this dye, and many from another; they are now in circulation in America, as counterfeit half pence are in England .

No further rebuttal in English newspapers seems to have occurred so that the accuracy of the corrections seems to have been accepted.

The original English announcement and its contradiction raised several perplexing problems.

(a) If the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers dated 1783 had been in circulation when dated or a reasonable time thereafter the matter would not have been newsworthy in March 1786.

(b) Two pairs of dies were recognized and since at that time only types of design rather than specific die varieties were all that were referred to, there is no indication as to whether these two types were intended to be distinguished by (1) block letters in U.S dated 1783, or script letters in US dated 1785; or (2) pointed rays or widening bifurcated (blunt) outer rays, each type of rays occurring with both dates.

(c) The name of the merchant in New York was not disclosed.

(d) The amount of the coinage was only roughly estimated by the use of the words "many tons."


Fig. 4, Gentleman's Magazine, October 1786.

The curiosity in England as to circulation of these coins in the United States continued when Gentleman's Magazine of October 1786, published an illustration of a 1785 NOVA CONSTELLATIO copper with pointed rays and with US in script letters ( fig. 4 ), along with the following description:

Mr. Urban ,
Oct. 21.

OBSERVING in your last Magazine a representation of a copper, the coin of the renowned Protector, I beg leave to transmit to the public, through the same very entertaining channel, a description of a halfpenny lately struck by the United States of America , which, although of a late date, will, I presume, be thought no less curious, being the first of a kind I have seen in this kingdom.

Considering the principles that actuated the revolt of the English colonies in America, and that which brought about the Protectorship in place of a royal government, the representations of the two coins would have been proper companions, had they met on the same plate : but, should you favor my halfpenny with a place in your next, I shall esteem it no less fortunate to find them in the same volume in your repository. On one side, encircled within a wreath of LAUREL, exceedingly well executed, are the letters U S in cypher, surrounded with an inscription, LIBERTAS ET JUSTITIA; date 1785. On the reverse, in the center, is a CONSTELLATION, from which issue THIRTEEN illuminated RAYS and between each ray is a small STAR, expressive of the THIRTEEN UNITED STATES; round these rays and the stars is the following inscription: NOVA CONSTELLATIO. The new American halfpenny is in weight as three to two of the English coin.

The United States , as appears by the inscription on the front of their coin, have erected the standard of liberty and justice. But, from what we have lately heard concerning American politics, both one and the other, I fear, are known only by name throughout that vast, and once flourishing, continent.

Yours, &c.


It is a little remarkable that, contrary to antiquarian principles, and the practice of all other states and kingdoms. they have adopted the vowel in preference to the consonant.

The writer ( W.B. ) was comparing the piece to a coin of Cromwell as Protector and thought that the NOVA CONSTELLATIO copper was an official coinage. He was unfamiliar with the London newspaper items published earlier that year. He also promoted his Latin scholarship by pointing out that he felt that the vowel U in JUSTITIA should have been written as a consonant V (JVSTITIA). He had an entertaining point of view.

A further comment in the December 1786 issue of Gentleman's Magazine read:

Mr. Urban ,
Nov. 30.

In the description of the American halfpenny, p. 868, no notice is taken of the central object, which in the plate has the resemblance of an eye. Might not the artist design to insinuate, that this new constellation of thirteen stars was formed by Providence?

W. & D.

Two years later an engraved copper plate illustration of a 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO copper with pointed rays and U.S in block letters was published in the Gentleman's Magazine for October 1788, with two separate brief comments ( fig. 5 ):

Fig. 4 is a new American coin.

American Halfpenny


Fig. 5, Gentleman's Magazine , October 1788.

The editor, Sylvanus Urban , did not realize that he had already published an example of the coinage two years beforehand. Oddly the coin dated 1785 was published in 1786, and the coin dated 1783 was published in 1788, as a "new" American coin.

American Newspaper Articles

During the year 1785, and prior thereto, no American newspaper or other reports relating to NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage have been located. The earliest publicity in America made reference to, but did not mention, NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers by name. It is dated March 13, 1786, and emanated as news in Worcester , Massachusetts . It was on the subject of counterfeit halfpence and the need for Massachusetts to authorize its own copper coin. It stated that New York , Connecticut and Vermont had authorized copper coinage and "numbers of them are now in circulation; they are in general well made, and of good copper, those of New York in particular." 11 Since there was no coinage officially authorized by New York , this comment must have been referring to NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers which were superior in quality to those of Connecticut and Vermont . There was no copper coinage relating to New York in circulation in 1786, or prior thereto, the rare 1786 NEO-EBORACENSIS copper being struck as a trial in too small a quantity to have been put into general circulation.

The use of the expression "now in circulation" indicated a recent introduction and that is corroborated for Connecticut and Vermont in late 1785 by their first dates of mintage. The so-called New York coppers would not have been included with Connecticut and Vermont coppers if the New York coppers had not been introduced at about the same time. This is additional evidence that NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers first appeared in general circulation in late 1785 and coincides with the date of the first English publicity.

All subsequent American reports on the NOVA CONSTELLATIO subject during 1786 are directly or indirectly based upon the English newspaper articles previously quoted and none are from information originally gathered in America . Each such rehash of English news resulted in several literal errors. These American articles began about two months after the first of the English news reports, a period sufficient for the English newspapers to reach the American press. The apparent errors consisted of substituting Greenwich for Birmingham as the source of the coppers and substituting "forty tons" for "many tons" as to the amount of coinage from one die pair.

The New-Haven Gazette , and the Connecticut Magazine for May 4, 1786, stated: 12 New-Haven , May 4. We are informed, that at Greenwich in England forty tons of copper is now coining into half-pence, for the use of the American States: on one side an Eye of Providence, with thirteen stars; the reverse U.S. for United States .

This excerpt was rewritten and used by the Massachusetts Centinel in Boston on May 10, 1786, but began with "It is said" instead of "We are informed" and changed "is now coining" to "have been coined." It then added "Better these than that bane to honesty—paper money." 13

The Connecticut Current in Hartford on May 15, 1786, copied verbatim the May 10, 1786 article in the Massachusetts Centinel. The Newport Mercury of May 29, 1786, copied The New-Haven Gazette , and Connecticut Magazine of May 4, 1786, with no changes.

These articles introduced the Greenwich source and the forty ton quantity. They show no direct knowledge.

As further proof of press inconsistency the Massachusetts Centinel of May 17, 1786, not realizing the newspaper had already published NOVA CONSTELLATIO news on May 10, 1786, copied the original March 11-14, 1786 London newspaper story verbatim, not being aware of the March 16, 1786 London newspaper correction. To the credit of the Massachusetts Centinel , however, it added a following paragraph describing in detail the 1776 Continental Currency coinage in pewter, asserting that it was "the first money struck by Congress in America ."

The Daily Advertiser of New York , on May 26, 1786, then copied the corrected English news of March 16, 1786, naming Birmingham as the source and "many tons" as the amount of coinage.

There probably are more news articles on the subject to be found in the American press, but the above group fully demonstrates some carelessness. Not only did American newspapers copy the English press with no investigation, but they copied one another in America in the same manner, and were sometimes unaware of what they had previously printed.

They left intact the corrected English news source of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage. They also indicated the coins were something new and therefore newsworthy.

It has been pointed out by Walter Breen and by Philip L. Mossman that 40 tons of copper coin from one pair of dies would be over 5,000,000 pieces, an impossible feat. Was this to stimulate reader-ship by asserting that there was a large specific weight of coppers rather than "many tons?" In the Oxford English Dictionary , the second definition of the word "forty" is "Used indefinitely to express a large number." As an example of such use, Shakespeare's Coriolanus (Act III, Scene i, lines 243-44) is cited in which Coriolanus is bragging about his fighting ability by saying "On faire ground I could beat fortie of them." In American colloquial usage the expression "like forty" is cited as meaning "with immense force or vigor" or "like anything." A quotation from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) reads, "I has principles and I sticks to them like forty." These prominent usages show that "forty" is not always used as a specific number but can be used as a substantial indefinite amount. The American newspapers were apparently using such a slang meaning.

It is surprising that all specific American comment on the NOVA CONSTELLATIO coinage took place during the month of May 1786, and then seems to have been forgotten. The next mention of the coin in print in America seems to have occurred in 1789, when John Beale Bordley of Maryland proposed a new coinage system for the United States and in describing what had been in circulation included the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO copper coin under the name " U.S. " and gave its weight as 145 grains. 14 The part of that coinage dated 1785 was not mentioned as date differences were not then considered of sufficient importance.


In 1995, Mike Ringo presented his discovery that certain identical number and letter punches were used in preparation of the dies for Crosby variety 1-A of the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers, for the 1783 GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO copper ( fig. 6 ) and for some English and Irish counterfeit halfpence. 15 This is particularly evident in the deformed 3 in the date of the two first mentioned pieces. He also shows that stylistically some of these coins have similar features. There is virtually no possibility that the dies for the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coppers would have been prepared in America because pieces of satirical coinage in the category of evasion halfpence which were extensively produced in England and Ireland with humorous and unofficial legends had no American raison d'etre. 16


Fig. 6, Georgivs Triumpho 1783.

Some difference of opinion has existed as to what message the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coppers were intended to convey. It is obvious that the 1783 date corresponds with the date of the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution but it was then an amusing and obvious double entendre to be vague in indicating which George won , George Washington or George III . The reverse device is also deliberately ambiguous. The enclosure of 13 vertical bars is intended to be subtle with the fleur de lys on each of the four corners of the enclosure. This design represents the 13 former English colonies and the assistance the French gave to the United States during the American Revolution. Behind the enclosure is a female figure with a sprig in one hand and a staff in the other. If it were a figure of free America there should be a liberty cap on the top of the staff and if a representation of Britannia a trident on top of the staff. The top end of the staff has a slight bulge leaving a choice as to whether the enclosure is protecting a figure of free America or is restraining Britannia.

The interrelationship of the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coinage and the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage is important evidence of the English production of both coinages. If the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coinage is of English manufacture then this is another reason not to challenge the English source of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage since some of their characteristics are the same.

The GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coppers were said to have circulated first in Georgia , then Virginia , next in Jamaica and later in Florida . 17 No factual support for these comments has been found for their first promulgation and, therefore, they should not be accepted without further justification.

It is of interest to note that the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coinage spells its motto VOCE POPOLI in Italianate style instead of using VOCE POPULI which is more appropriately spelled on the 1760 Irish halfpenny tokens. Similarly by error an L is omitted in CONSTELATIO in the 1783 obverse variety 3, such die being reused on the 1785 obverse variety 1.

The date 1783 on the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO coins appears to be used to correlate with the legends and devices rather than be the date of their production and circulation just as the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers dated 1783 appears to be copied from the 1783 U.S. patterns rather than be the date of their production and circulation.

A Change of Artisans

When variety 1-A of NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers is compared to other 1783 varieties it can be noted that variety 1-A is independent in punches and in quality of workmanship. There is a major die defect in the NOVA CONSTELLATIO obverse variety 1, there being a large raised line running under TI and into the adjacent O and having small dentils extending from one side of it. Of the many examples of this coin which are known, all have this defect. It appears to have been caused by a hardened gang punch for small dentils having fallen accidentally on an unhardened completed NOVA die. The resulting shape of the defect is not curved sufficiently to have been caused by a gang punch usable for the die on which it fell, but the punch seems to have been made for some larger coin or medal.

The NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage other than 1783 variety 1-A is of superior die and planchet quality. This improvement indicates a change of artisans and may have been demanded by the purchasers or by happenstance. This could have easily occurred in Birmingham where many diesinkers were at work. The past assertions that Thomas Wyon or a member of that highly skilled Wyon family working in Birmingham was responsible for the improvement seems justified but so far is without the extent of proof which researchers seek.

In 1965, Robert A. Vlack stated that the Thomas Wyon attribution was valid because identical letter punches were used on other British made dies known to be cut by Thomas Wyon for American coppers with various other legends and dated 1785, 1786 or without date. Bushnell merely uses the name Wyon . Crosby credits Thomas Wyon with the die-related IMMUNE COLUMBIA pieces and Breen credits George Wyon III. 18

In what he calls "An Exercise in Fact and Supposition," Everett T. Sipsey in 1965 asserted that "three definitely and four possible" letter punches used on the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO variety Crosby 2-B and on the NOVA EBORAC variety Crosby 1-A were identical, but this position should be disregarded as it seems to be without foundation. He also alleges that the reverse of the 1785 Vermont copper coinage and the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers had "almost identical device punches," a self destructive comment. While die punches might have been brought from England to America this statement was the result of wishful thinking arising from an effort to Americanize the production of the latter coinage. 19 Unfortunately, supposition was apparently favored over fact in these situations.

Vermont Coinage Relationship


Fig. 7, Vermont 1785.

Vermont copper coinage also furnishes evidence relating to the period when the first NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage was brought from England to America . Vermont coppers were originally authorized on June 15, 1785, but the legislation was modified on October 27, 1785, to reduce the weight of copper content ( fig. 7 ). The first Vermont coppers were struck with the lower weight standard. That coinage did not take place until after October 27, 1785, but the first dies could have been prepared at any time after the original June authorization. The Vermont coppers commenced with Green Mountain obverses, three varieties dated 1785, followed by another three dated 1786. The reverse dies featured Vermont 's desire to be recognized as the fourteenth state, using "STELLA. QUARTA. DECIMA." in that order as shown by the placement of stops between the words on the reverses of coppers dated 1785 (not 1786). The device had the Eye of Providence with 13 sets of rays and 13 stars, but it might have been better promotion for Vermont to have used 14 sets of rays and 14 stars in its design. It is important to note that the three reverses of the 1785 Vermont Green Mountain coppers ( Bressett A, B, and C) have widening bifurcated rays and the two reverses of the 1786 Vermont Green Mountain coppers ( Bressett D and E) have pointed rays ( fig. 8 ). There were no widening bifurcated or blunt rays on the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO U.S. patterns prepared by Benjamin Dudley, only pointed rays, and, therefore, the Dudley patterns could not have influenced the first Vermont reverse designs unless there were abandoned alternate Dudley drawings (no drawing of any design is known).


Fig. 8, Vermont 1786.

The widening bifurcated long rays on the three reverses of the 1785 Vermont coppers are similar to the widening bifurcated long rays on obverse 3 of the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers (identical to obverse 1 of the 1785 NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers). A major difference between them however is that the three reverses of the 1785 Vermont coppers have 13 short bifurcated rays whereas the obverse of 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO variety 3 has 26 short separated linear rays.

The chronology of the use of the widening rays on the first Vermont coinage makes it reasonable to conclude that William Coley of New York , the first Vermont diesinker, saw an example of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage with widening bifurcated rays before making the 1785 Vermont dies rather than vice versa. This must have occurred in the latter part of the year 1785, a time frame which coordinates with the March 1786 English newspaper accounts of the appearance of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage in America and which takes into account the normal delays of a personal trip or sending mail or dispatches by trans-Atlantic shipping to England . It follows that the pointed ray design on the 1786 Vermont Green Mountain coppers was copied from one of the 1783 or 1785 NOVA CONSTELLATIO pieces with a pointed ray design. 20

In the September 26, 1787 entry in the diary of Rev. William Bentley of Salem , Massachusetts , there is a description of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers (using CONSTELLATIO NOVA in that word order) and attributing the coins to the authority of Vermont . This error was obviously caused by the similarity of the 1785 and early 1786 Vermont reverses to the NOVA CONSTELLATIO obverses.

The Design Goes to England

As to how the examples of or designs for NOVA CONSTELLATIO coins came to England in time to be copied for the private production of those coppers, one need only realize that at least three of the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO Robert Morris patterns did actually go to Britain. The 5 unit 1783 copper pattern was described in an entry on May 15, 1784, in the diary of Samuel Curwen (originally from Salem , Massachusetts ) who as a sincere Tory was living in England and was presented with the coin by "a young Bartlet [ sic ]," a merchant from Salem , Massachusetts , who had just come from America . 21 Whether the messenger was a relative of Josiah Bartlett , a signer of the Declaration of Independence for New Hampshire and a dedicated and politically powerful patriot, is not ascertained. Josiah Bartlett was in New Hampshire at the time.

One of the two 100 unit 1783 U.S. patterns with a decorated edge first appeared in a Scottish auction in 1884, and was previously unpublished and new to numismatists. It had been found in a London pawn shop. The 100 unit 1783 U.S. pattern with a plain edge surfaced as part of the John G. Murdoch collection when it was auctioned by Sotheby in England in 1903, and was previously unpublished and unknown to American numismatists. 22

The three above described 1783 U.S. patterns which first appeared in Britain after being struck in Philadelphia had not remained with the 500 unit and 1000 unit patterns which the family of Charles Thomson, the first Secretary of the Continental Congress, had retained and which came into the numismatic market in 1872 through John W. Haseltine . Crosby , in 1875, knew that a 5 unit U.S. pattern had existed and that a 100 unit U.S. pattern probably existed, but had no information on any of the three 100 unit pieces.

Thus a decorated edge 100 unit U.S. pattern and the plain edge 100 unit U.S. pattern could easily have been sent to England by Robert Morris or by anyone to whom he had given their possession. These and the 5 unit piece were the lowest denominations in the pattern series and thus were of insignificant intrinsic value and importance. There seemed to be no effort for the ownership of the 1783 U.S. patterns to be retained by the United States as Charles Thomson and his heirs handled the 500 and 1000 unit pieces as personal belongings without concern or challenge. The period when the 100 unit pieces could have been sent to England could easily have been more or less contemporary with the sending of the 5 unit piece to Curwen in 1784.


The 1785 IMMUNE COLUMBIA coinage is tied into the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage and is helpful in showing the English source of the private coinage as well as reinforcing the conclusion that the 1783 dated NOVA CONSTELLATIO pieces were produced in 1785 ( fig. 9 ). Three varieties of NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage obverse dies were used in combination with the known IMMUNE COLUMBIA die ( Crosby obverses 2 and 3 of 1783 and obverse 3 of 1785) for experimental copper coinage and not made for production purposes.


Fig. 9, Immune Columbia 1785.

On the known 1785 IMMUNE COLUMBIA die (referred to by Crosby as the reverse), the graceful seated female figure of an independent Columbia or free America holding a flag is a very skillfully cut device and carries out the same symbolism as the LIBERTAS JUSTITIA legends on the private copper reverses. To convey the idea of LIBERTAS, there is substituted a liberty cap at the top of the flag staff and for JUSTITIA, there is substituted an equal arm balance held in the left hand of the female figure. The dies for NOVA CONSTELLATIO pieces with the LIBERTAS JUSTITIA reverses must have been cut prior to the pieces with the known IMMUNE COLUMBIA reverse because the former were copies of the 1783 U.S. patterns and the latter were not. Apparently the IMMUNE COLUMBIA pieces were made with the hope of obtaining a coining contract from the United States . The known IMMUNE COLUMBIA die was brought or sent to the United States about 1787 and was used at Machin's Mills in combination with an American made counterfeit British halfpenny as well as a crude Vermont obverse die. These resultant copper coins were poorly struck, perhaps deliberately to avoid simple recognition.

The superb quality of the known IMMUNE COLUMBIA reverse die was far beyond the skill of any American diecutter and thus was obviously of English production as the only alternative. Being used in coinage combination with some NOVA CONSTELLATIO obverses, one must conclude that the cutting of those NOVA obverses was also done in England . 23 Crosby felt so strongly about it that he attributed that die work to Thomas Wyon .

Heretofore only one IMMUNE COLUMBIA die has been recognized in genuine IMMUNE COLUMBIA coinage. In investigating that coinage for its NOVA CONSTELLATIO relationship, it was observed that another genuine IMMUNE COLUMBIA die had also been used. One of those uses was in combination with a genuine NOVA CONSTELLATIO die which was also heretofore unrecognized. The differences between each of these two newly recognized dies, and the dies similar to them, are set out in Appendix 1, along with the characteristics of the false dies attributed to Dr. Francis S. Edwards .

The newly recognized genuine NOVA CONSTELLATIO die has not been observed in combination with any LIBERTAS JUSTITIA or LIBERTAS ET JUSTITIA reverse die.

The existence of two genuine IMMUNE COLUMBIA dies and the existence of a new NOVA CONSTELLATIO die seems to require a restudy of all such strikings in copper, silver and gold, whether over host coins or not, whether with or without decorated edges, and including casts, electrotypes, forgeries made from cut dies, forgeries made from dies created by transfer from genuine or false coins, or a combination of both. Hopefully this research will soon be undertaken. 24



Fig. 10, 1786.

The few examples of the crudely struck 1786 NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers from poorly prepared dies and planchets have caused many to believe that they may be counterfeit ( fig. 10 ). While this may be true, it is also possible that a less skilled artisan (even an inexperienced Wyon ), in 1786, undertook the work in anticipation of obtaining a further order of coppers from the original purchaser of the prior pieces. The 1786 pieces do not affect the facts and observations as to the NOVA CONSTELLATIO pieces dated 1783 or 1785.

1785 Counterfeit NOVA CONSTELLATIO

The counterfeit 1785 NOVA CONSTELLATIO is much cruder than the 1786 pieces. 25 The 1785 counterfeit maximizes errors by omitting the E in LIBRTAS, by having only 12 sets of rays and 12 stars, by the leaf stem joinders pointing counterclockwise instead of clockwise and by having two stops after the word CONSTELLATIO and before the word NOVA. Its style indicates American manufacture ( fig. 11 ).


Fig. 11, 1785.

Who is the Merchant?

In the March 16, 1786 issue of Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, as previously quoted, it is stated that the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage was "by order of a Merchant in New York ." The identification of that person was apparently first proposed in the handwritten numismatic notes of Charles I. Bushnell of New York , which Crosby quoted and which are lost. The notes change the purchaser's description from "Merchant" to "gentleman." Gouverneur Morris since then has been widely accepted numismatically as the most likely candidate and no one has been proposed in his stead.

The fact that Gouverneur Morris was neither a merchant nor in New York has been clearly pointed out. 26 Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) was a well educated descendant of an aristocratic seventeenth century American family which had built and lived in a mansion house named "Morrisiana" on the north shore of the junction of the Harlem and East Rivers in what now is the Borough of the Bronx in the City of New York . Gouverneur Morris was devoted to the cause of independence and served as a representative of New York to the Continental Congress (1777-79) in Philadelphia , where he remained to practice law. In February 1780, he wrote and had published in Philadelphia , a series of essays on finance. When Robert Morris became Superintendent of Finance of the United States from 1781 through 1784, Gouverneur Morris became his assistant and was the ghost writer of the January 15, 1782 coinage report of Robert Morris . Gouverneur Morris was listed in the first Philadelphia city directory of 1785, as living on Market Street, between Second and Third, and at no time from 1783 through 1785, was he living in New York . He even represented the State of Pennsylvania in the United States Constitutional Convention of 1787, and participated in the debates. He was known primarily as a public servant, an economist, and a lawyer but never as a merchant.

Gouverneur Morris's visits to New York from Philadelphia were infrequent but in January 1786, he went to New York for the funeral of his mother and remained there until March 1786, when he again returned to Philadelphia . He developed a desire to buy Morrisiana and return to New York , but having insufficient funds to do so, he undertook to negotiate a loan for a down payment from James McComb of New York , who was a business partner of William Edgar . Edgar and William Constable , both friends of Gouverneur Morris , had married sisters. Gouverneur Morris completed the purchase of Morrisiana from his brother, Staats Long Morris , subject to a mortgage, on April 4, 1787, and moved to New York . He soon changed his mind and left New York for Europe in December 1788, on private business and pleasure and did not return for nine years. 27 Thus the terms "merchant" and " New York " could not properly have been applied to Gouverneur Morris at the time when they were used in the English press in March 1786.

With the full research cooperation of Elizabeth M. Nuxoll and Mary A.Y. Gallagher , coeditors of The Papers of Robert Morris , William Constable is the best candidate for the purchaser and distributor of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage who has been located. On May 10, 1784, Robert Morris , Gouverneur Morris and William Constable formed a "joint Copartnership as Merchants," under the name of William Constable & Co., to operate in a "House of Commerce at New York ," with William Constable to conduct the business. The capital for each partner was set at £5,000 in Pennsylvania currency in specie at 7 shillings 6 pence per Mexican Dollar for a total of £15,000 Pennsylvania currency. Each Morris signed the agreement in the presence of Joseph Stretch and Robert Heysham, both employees of the U.S. Finance Department in Philadelphia . Robert Morris advanced the capital for Gouverneur Morris . William Edgar advanced the capital for William Constable . The full text of the agreement is added as Appendix 2 to this study and the original is in the manuscript archives of the New-York Historical Society. John Rucker of London was added in the document as a partner in June 1784, and the name of the firm changed to Constable, Rucker, & Co. Unfortunately the letter book and accounts from late 1784 through 1786 seem to be missing and only a few documents from that period have survived; none relate to coinage. Rucker left for France about September 1784, and promptly thereafter established himself in England where he worked for the firm until his death in 1788, when he was visiting New York City. The New York office of the firm operated at Constable's residence on Great Dock Street (now Pearl Street ) and later on Mill Street (now South William Street ).

If one has to make a decision based upon circumstantial evidence to determine the identity of "a merchant in New York ," it would be William Constable of the firm of Constable, Rucker & Co. because:

  • William Constable & Co. described itself as "Merchants" to operate a "House of Commerce at New York ."
  • William Constable was the principal executive of Constable, Rucker & Co. (the immediate successor of William Constable & Co.) at its office on the waterfront in New York City.
  • John Rucker was the resident partner of the firm in London and in a position to handle a coinage contract in Birmingham .
  • Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris (no family relationship) each had a major ownership interest in the firm.
  • Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris had worked together closely on coinage and other monetary problems for many years in Philadelphia for the Government of the United States and otherwise and on January 15, 1782, had presented an extensive coinage report under the name of Robert Morris .
  • Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris were fully familiar with the profits in importing counterfeit copper halfpence into America .
  • Robert Morris had such confidence in his friendship with Gouverneur Morris that Robert Morris had loaned to Gouverneur Morris the funds for his capital in the firm and wanted to find income sources for Gouverneur Morris who had minimal assets.
  • Robert Morris , having been in charge of the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO U.S. pattern project, would have no reason to relinquish the coins or their designs to anyone else for use in a private profit making coining enterprise without participation in the decision.
  • Robert Morris , in spite of his work for the United States as Superintendent of Finance from 1781 through 1784, had reserved the right to operate a private world-wide trading business from Philadelphia , which was then under the name Willing, Morris & Swanwick . The previous principal trading partnerships of Robert Morris had been Samuel Inglish & Co. and prior to that Willing & Morris . If he had wished to undertake a copper coinage operation in his current partnership he could have done so.
  • Robert Morris must have felt that others including Gouverneur Morris would be needed to make it successful or were deserving to share in it. Perhaps he wished to avoid an open participation in a private coinage project because of his previous official connection with the 1783 NOVA CONSTELLATIO U.S. pattern coinage.
  • The time frame for Constable Rucker & Co. operations and the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage overlaps completely from May 1784 through 1786.
  • The Bushnell suggestion that Gouverneur Morris ordered the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coins seems to be only a partial error because Gouverneur Morris was actually one of the participating partners.

As a Host Coin

After NOVA CONSTELLATIO coins, along with other halfpence size coppers, had lost their normal circulating value beginning in the middle of 1787, several varieties of NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers were used as planchets or as host coins for Vermont , Connecticut and New Jersey coinage dated 1787 and 1788. Such use has been extensively detailed in Philip L. Mossman's Money of the American Colonies and Confederation. It is curious to note that John H. Hickcox , writing in 1858, stated as to the NOVA CONSTELLATIO pieces dated 1783, "they were frequently struck over other coppers," when he apparently intended to say exactly the opposite.


  • NOVA CONSTELLATIO is the correct name of both the 1783 U.S. Patterns and the private copper coinage, and not CONSTELLATIO NOVA.
  • One or more examples of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO 1783 U.S. patterns (probably not a drawing of one) was sent to England for copying. This occurred in late 1784 or the early part of 1785, after the North American mint project was abandoned.
  • The NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage was minted in Birmingham , England and not Greenwich, England , or elsewhere.
  • NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage dated 1783 was not coined or circulated in 1783 or 1784. No one would strike copper coinage in 1783 or 1784 and hold it for distribution until late 1785.
  • The date 1783 on the first NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage was copied from a pattern coin submitted to the Birmingham diesinkers rather than using the current date of 1785 when the dies were cut.
  • The amount of NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers coined was "many tons" but can be only roughly estimated now from average die life, host coin use and survivorsrhip of examples.
  • The NOVA CONSTELLATIO 1783 die variety 1-A is the work of a different diesinker and coiner than other such coinage dated 1783 and all 1785 dated coinage.
  • The NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage dated 1783 was struck by the middle of 1785 and the coinage dated 1785 followed in due course as production continued. Mossman shows that planchet weight deviation for 1783 dated coinage was reduced by the time the 1785 dated coinage was prepared.
  • The first publicity of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage circulating in America took place in England on March 11-14, 1786, and was a fresh news dispatch, letter or personal delivery from America, having taken normal winter trans-Atlantic shipping time before arrival.
  • The inclusion in the English article concerning the alleged authorization by the American Congress of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO copper coinage was immediately corrected by someone in England who was very familiar with the English source of the private coinage.
  • The American publicity on NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage in May 1786, only attempted to repeat the English publicity of March 1786, introducing inaccuracies and adding nothing pertinent.
  • The timing of English publicity on NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage showed that it was in American circulation in reasonable quantity in late 1785.
  • The Vermont copper coinage reverses on pieces dated 1785 were substantially copied about October 1785 from NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage (1783 3-C and 1785 1-B) brought or shipped to New York at that time. The Vermont reverses on Green Mountain pieces dated 1786 were copied a few months later from other NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coinage.
  • The New York merchant best qualified to be the person who ordered the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private copper coinage was William Constable of New York City, 28 the principal operating executive of the firm of Constable , Rucker and Co. in which Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris were partners, each having a 25% ownership interest.
  • The belief of Charles I. Bushnell that Gouverneur Morris was the merchant or gentleman who ordered the NOVA CONSTELLATIO private coppers was unreliable because Bushnell was unaware that Gouverneur Morris had any fractional beneficial interest in the operations of Constable Rucker & Co.
  • The 1786 NOVA CONSTELLATIO coinage was the work of a much inferior diesinker and coiner than the pieces dated 1785, leading to the belief that such 1786 coinage was either anticipating an order as part of the private coinage enterprise or was prepared for an unauthorized or counterfeit issue.


This study began in 1958, resulting in publications by the author in 1960, 1972 and 1973, attempting to carry the project forward. For this current segment I am grateful for the helpful cooperation of Kenneth Bressett , Frank Campbell , Robert Dubinsky , Mary A.Y. Gallagher , Michael J. Hodder , Wayne K. Homren , John M. Kleeberg , Philip L. Mossman , Evelyn E. Newman , Elizabeth M. Nuxoll , The Papers of Robert Morris , Mike Ringo , Thomas Serfass and Harvey Stack . Any supplementary material or ideas which are made available by others will be more than welcome.

Appendix 1

Newly Recognized Dies

Newly Recognized Genuine Die Previously Known Genuine Die Crosby, pl. 7, 30-32; p. 312, figs. 53-54; p. 186, fig. 36. Breen 1119-21. Dr. F.S. Edwards Forgery Crosby, pl. 10, 26; p. 371. Breen , p. 120.
image image image
Arm holding scale not parallel to base line and slopes down pointing to left upright of M. Arm holding scale is parallel to base line and points to left upright of M. Arm holding scale not parallel to base line and tilts upward pointing to space between UM.
Top of scale pans in line with center of base of B. Top of scale pans in line with left side of upright of B. Top of scale pans in line with left side of upright of B.
Adequate space between bottom of C and top of head. C very close to top of head. C very close to top of head.
Liberty cap wider than its height. Height of Liberty cap greater than its width. Height of Liberty cap greater than its width.
Top of date parallel to bar above. Top of date slopes down to right relative to bar above. Top of date virtually parallel to bar above.
Period after date. Period after date. No period after date and with ornament over that space.
Inner rectangle of safe is flat and has no raised outline. Inner rectangle of safe has clear raised outline. Inner rectangle of safe has clear raised outline.
First of two ornaments to right of date is entirely below top of 5 and second ornament extends slightly above top of 5. Half of ornamentation to right of date is above top of 5. Only one ornament to right of date and almost all below top of 5.
Neck of 5 almost upright. Neck of 5 slants about 30° right of vertical. Neck of 5 slants almost 45° right of vertical.
First ornament left of date is thin and points just above middle of adjacent 1. First ornament left of date is thin and points just above middle of adjacent 1. First ornament left of date as tall as adjacent 1.
Dentil opposite middle of bottom of 7. Dentils opposite each side of bottom of 7. Dentil opposite middle of bottom of 7.
Continuation of pole line downward would graze lower left side of 8. Continuation of pole line downward would graze lower left side of 8. Continuation of pole line downward would graze upper and lower left side of 8.
Newly Recognized Genuine Die With no Ornamentation Between Words Most Similar Known Die Crosby, p. 332, no. 3 of 1785 and fig. 76; pl. 8, 31; p. 312, fig. 53. Breen 1119. Dr. F.S. Edwards Forgery Crosby, p. 371; pl. 10, 26.
image image image
Top of E is low relative to adjacent letters. Top of E normally placed in curved legend. Top of E normally placed in curved legend.
Central bar of E horizontal. Central bar of E slopes down to right. Central bar of E horizontal.
Lower serif of S extends left of left side of upper body of S. Lower serif of S does not extend left of left side of upper body of S. Lower serif of S does not extend left of left side of upper body of S.
Right serif of A in NOVA is normal. Right serif of A in NOVA extends too far to right. Right serif of A in NOVA is normal.
I is closer to adjacent T than to adjacent O. I is equally spaced between adjacent letters. I is equally spaced between adjacent letters.
Bottom horizontals on LL abnormal ly long. Bottom horizontals on LL of normal length. Bottom horizontals on LL of normal length.
Outside point of nearest star aims at space between NO of NOVA. Outside point of nearest star aims at right side of N in NOVA. Outside point of nearest star aims at space between NO of NOVA.
Outside point of nearest star aims at right side of top of V. Outside point of nearest star aims at lower portion of V. Outside point of nearest star aims at lower portion of V.

Appendix 2

Articles of Partnership, Robert Morris , Gouverneur Morris and William Constable

May 10, 1784

Be it remembered that Robert Morris , Gouverneur Morris , and William Constable , through a mutual Confidence in each other, have enterred into a joint Copartnership as Merchants, under the firm of William Constable & Company; the said Partnership to commence on the day of the Date hereof, and to continue for Seven Years thence next ensuing, if the Parties shall live so long, and be mutually content to continue the same. And they have thereupon settled the following Articles or Conditions.

Article 1st

Each of said Parties shall advance and putt into the Stock of this House the sum of Five thousand pounds Pennsylvania Currency in Specie, at the rate of seven shillings and six pence for a Mexican Dollar, which Sum making in the whole Fifteen thousand Pounds shall be the trading Capital of said Copartnership. But as the whole of the said Capital is not immediately necessary, each of the parties shall putt into the Hands of William Constable his Note to William Constable & Co. for the said Sum, and the same shall be paid as the Business may require.

Article 2d

The said trading Capital or Stock shall be employed by the said Wm Constable in a House of Commerce at Newyork in such lawfull Commercial Business and Adventures as shall be mutually approved of by the said Parties.

Article 3rd

A sett of Books shall be provided at the Expence of the Copartnership in which shall be kept by the said William Constable regular and fair Entries of all the Business, and Accounts of the said Company; He being to account fairly and honestly for all the Dealings and Transactions of said Company, and also for all Monies and Goods which they may receive and all Debts which may become due to them during the term of this Agreement. And He shall settle the Cash Account at least once a Month, and Balance the Books at the end of every year.

Article 4tb

The other Parties shall always have full and free access to all the Books and papers relating to this Concern, and no Adventure shall be undertaken, or purchase or Sale made which shall be objected to by either of the Parties; and the said Wm. Constable shall furnish the said Robert Morris every Month with a Copy of the Waste Books.

Article 5tb

The said William Constable shall conduct the said business to the best of his skill and Abilities for the Interest and Honour of the Parties, and shall not during the continuance of the Copartnership engage in any Business other than what shall appertain thereto, or be for the benefit thereof.

Article 6th

The said William Constable shall annually draw out of the Cash of the said Company Four Hundred and fifty pounds money aforesaid as an Allowance towards the extra Expences of House keeping occasioned by his being resident where the Business of the House is transacted, which Sum together with the rent of Stores, Clerk hire, Stationary, and other incidental Expences attending the Business shall be charged to Profit and Loss in the Company's Books, and be equally borne by the Parties hereto.

Article 7tb

Each of the Parties shall be paid a Dividend of Seven Hundred and fifty pounds of the Money aforesaid annually for their Subsistence from the Cash of the Company; the Sums so paid to be charged to the respective Accounts of Stock of the Parties in the Company's Books, but the said Dividend shall arise only upon the actual payments of Money made on the Notes abovementioned, and in proportion to such actual payments. And it is further understood that neither of the said parties, except the said William Constable , shall draw the full amount of the said Dividend if the profits shall not be sufficient for the payment thereof, but in such Case they shall only draw in proportion to such Profits, so as not to reduce the Capital Stock.

Article 8th

All Commissions arising or to arise from Consignments, Orders or Business done or transacted of any kind whatsoever by the said William Constable for the said Company, as well as all Profits,

Article 9th

If either of the Parties shall choose to decline or dissolve the Copartnership before the expiration of the term of Seven Years, He shall be at liberty so to do after giving notice of his intention and desire to the other Parties at least twelve Months before, at the end whereof and not before or without such previous notice the Partnership shall be dissolved, as it also shall be upon the Death of either of the Parties hereto, unless that upon the Death of the said Robert Morris He should direct by his will that the said Partnership be continued to the end of the term for the benefit of his Heirs or any of them, and it shall be agreeable to the other Parties to continue, in which Case the said partnership shall be continued, notwithstanding the Death of the said Robert Morris .

Article lOth

At the termination or dissolution of said Partnership, no new Contract, Adventure, purchase, or undertaking shall be made or engaged in, but all the Accounts and Business of the Company shall be closed as soon as the nature and Circumstances of the Business will admitt; and after payment of all just Debts of the said Company the remainder of the Monies, Stock and Effects shall be equally divided as fast as the Circumstances will permitt amongst the said Parties Viz one third to each of them, or their proper legal Representative; and in like manner in Case of Loss the same shall be equally borne; it being understood that all Losses, Charges and Expenses of the Company are to be brought to the Debit of Profit and Loss Account each Year, all Commissions, Profit and Gains to the Credit of it; and the Account of Profit and Loss is to be ballanced by charging or Crediting, as the Case may require, the Stock account of each party with one third of the Balance of the said Profit and Loss Account; whereby it will be seen each Year how far the Stock of the respective Parties is encreased, or diminished.

Article 11th

In Case of the Death of William Constable before the termination or dissolution of the Copartnership, the surviving Partners shall at the joint Expence of the Partnership employ some capable, carefull and responsible Person (to be approved by the Executors or Administrators of the said William Constable ) to wind up and close the Affairs of the Copartnership, and after paying the just Debts to make due Division as aforesaid.

Article 12th

The said parties shall each of them exert his outmost Abilities to fulfill the Engagements by Him above stipulated, so as to promote the true Interest of the Copartnership. And for the due performance of the said Engagements Each of the said Parties doth bind Himself, his Heirs, Executors and Administrators in the penal sum of Twenty thousand Pounds Current money aforesaid.

In Witness whereof the Parties to these Presents have hereunto interchangeably sett their Hands and Seals this tenth Day of May in the Year of our Lord One thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty four

Sealed and Delivered

Robt Morris

In the presence of

Gouv Morris

Jos: Stretch

Wm. Constable

Robt Heysham

Articles of Copartnership

Inter. Robert Morris

Govr. Morris

Wm. Constable


John Rucker

dated 10 June 1784

to continue 7 Years from that date

Octo to Dec 88 ... 381
The Year 1789 ... 1441
D 1790 .... 1282
Jany to Aug 1791.. 1600

£ 1600 per A

End Notes

Sylvester S. Crosby , The Early Coins of America ( Boston , 1875), pp. 307-12; Walter Breen , Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins ( New York , 1988), pp. 113-16.
Eric P. Newman , The Early Paper Money of America ( Iola, WI , 1990), pp. 45, 46, 54.
Joseph B. Felt , Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency ( Boston , 1839), p. 206, n.; Jacob R. Eckfeldt and William E. DuBois , A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins ( Philadelphia , 1842), p. 141; John H. Hickcox , An Historical Account of American Coinage ( Albany , 1858), pp. 76-78; Charles B. Norton , Norton's Literary Letter , No. 2 ( Philadelphia , 1857-58), p. 41; Montroville W. Dickeson , The American Numismatical Manual ( Philadelphia , 1859-), pp. 91-93; Crosby (above, n. 1), pp. 331-33.
Alexandre Vattemare , Collection de monnaies et médailles de l'Amérique du Nord de 1652 à 1858 ( Paris , 1861), Second period, item 5.
Russell Rulau , editor, and Eric P. Newman , contributing author, "Morris Blazes Trail with Patterns," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine 1972, pp. 598-609; Eric P. Newman , "RF-52," CNL 38 (1973), p. 422.
Walter Breen , "Constellatio Nova [TN-46]," CNL 41 (1974), pp. 453-55.
Philip L. Mossman , Money of the American Colonies and Confederation: A Numismatic, Economic and Historical Correlation , ANSNS 20 ( New York , 1993); Michael J. Hodder , "More on Benjamin Dudley , Public Copper, Constellatio Nova's and Fugio Cents [CS-3]," CNL 97 (1994), pp. 1447-50; Eric P. Newman , "Were Counterfeit British Style Halfpence dated 1785 Made Specifically for American Use," ANSMN 33 (1988), p. 205; Breen, Encyclopedia (above, n. 1), p. 117-18; various auction sale catalogues.
Crosby (above, n. 1), pp. 311, 312.
Rulau and Newman (above, n. 5), p. 602; Newman , CNL (above, n. 5), p. 422; Breen , Encyclopedia (above, n. 1), p. 117.
Text republished in the Daily Advertiser ( New York ) May 26, 1786; The Historical Magazine ( Morrisiana, NY , 1869), vol. 5, p. 118; AJN 1872, p. 20; Eric P. Newman , "The Source of the Nova Constellatio Copper Coinage," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine 1960, p. 6; 1972, p. 602.
Repeated in Essex Journal and Massachusetts and New Hampshire General Advertiser of March 29, 1786; Newport Mercury of March 17, 1786; See Newman , NSM (above, n. 10), p. 7.
Crosby (above, n. 1), p. 331; Newman , NSM (above, n. 10), p. 7.
AJN 1894, p. 105; Newman , CNL (above, n. 5), p. 402.
Mossman (above, n. 7), pp. 297-301.
Mike Ringo , The Georgivs Triumpho Token," CNL 100 (1995), pp. 1515-20.
Listed as No. 232 in James Atkins , The Tradesmen's Tokens of the Eighteenth Century ( London , 1892), p. 390; Eric P. Newman , "American Circulation of English and Bungtown Halfpence," Studies on Money in Early America , Eric P. Newman and Richard G. Doty , eds. ( New York , 1976), pp. 151-53.
Robert A. Vlack , "The Washington Coppers of 1783," CNL 52 (1978), p. 651; Mossman (above, n. 7), p. 198.
Robert A. Vlack , Early American Coins , 2nd Edition ( Johnson City, NY , 1965), p. 77. See Breen , Encyclopedia (above, n. 1), p. 118, for broadening the identity of the diesinkers to George Wyon III and his sons, Thomas Wyon and Peter George Wyon .
Everett T. Sipsey , "Dies by Wyon, An Exercise in Fact and Supposition," CNL 16 (1965), pp. 13-17 [154-59]; 17 (1966), pp. 27-31 [168-72]. See also Walter Thompson , "The Mint of North America and its Coinage," Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine 1959, pp. 2709-17.
Mossman (above, n. 7), p. 183; Breen , Encyclopedia (above, n. 1), p. 61.
The Papers of Robert Morris , Nov. 1, 1782-May 4, 1783, Vol. 7 ( Pittsburgh , 1988), p. 741, n. 6. See Andrew Oliver , editor, The Journal of Samuel Curwen; Loyalist ( Cambridge, MA , 1972).
John J. Ford , Jr., Coin World, January 9, 1980, interview; Breen , Encyclopedia (above, n. 1), pp. 113-16. Richard Margolis , "A Scottish Pedigree Revisited," CNL 91 (1992), p. 1297; Stack's, May 1, 1991, pp, 25-28.
See Bowers & Ruddy Galleries , Oct. 1, 1980 (Garrett, Part 3), 1332-35.
See Crosby (above, n. 1), pp. 313, 371, pl. 10, no. 27; Richard D. Kenny , "Struck Copies of Early American Coins," Coin Collector's Journal 1952, p. 12; Eric P. Newman , " George Washington's Unique 1792 Pattern in Gold," Studies on Money in Early America , Eric P. Newman and Richard G. Doty , eds. ( New York , 1976), pp. 207-8; J. Bruce Jackson , "Immune Columbia Patterns and Mules," The Numismatist 1992, pp. 54-60, 95-96.
Breen , Encyclopedia (above, n. 1), p. 90.
Hodder (above, n. 7), pp. 1447-50.
William A. Davis , " William Constable : New York Merchant and Land Speculator, 1772-1803," Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1955; Donald G. Talby , "Chapters from the Career of William Constable , A Merchant of Post-Revolutionary New York ," Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1961.
William Constable was subsequently a principal in the promotion of a sale to a French group of a large tract of New York land called Castorland. That group, in 1796, arranged for the Castorland token to be issued. See Theodore E. Leon , "The Castorland Token," The Numismatist 1919, p. 150 and Victor Morin, "Castorland," The Numismatist 1924, pp. 717-20.

Vermont Coppers: Coinage of an Independent Republic

Pete Smith

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996


Vermont , as an independent republic, issued copper coins during a period when the United States were struggling without a Federal coinage. Vermont coppers predate the much needed state coppers produced before the establishment of an American Federal mint. Several excellent references on Vermont copper coins have been previously published. This paper will not duplicate die variety descriptions found in other sources but will instead attempt to place these coins in their proper historical context. The iconography of the designs will be discussed to learn what message the coins made or attempted to make. In the end, the coinage lost the meaning implied by the inscriptions.

Early History 1 1

On July 4, 1609, the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain ("the father of New France"), discovered the lake that was named for him. On July 30, he fought the Iroquois , the first of many battles for control of the waterway. The lake and the Hudson River formed part of an important water transportation corridor between New York City, with its harbor on the Atlantic , and Montreal on the St. Lawrence River . Forts were established along this route at Ticonderoga and Crown Point . To the west stretched the Adirondack Mountains . The land to the east of this route was dominated by the Green Mountain, named Vert Mont in French. The name of the area became Vermont . The Crown Point military road crossed Vermont between Charlestown , New Hampshire , and Crown Point , New York .

The eastern side of the Green Mountains drains south down the Connecticut River. The western watershed flows north by Otter Creek and Lake Champlain down the Richeleau River to the St. Lawrence. A small area in the southwest corner slopes south down the Hudson River. The typography, somewhat like the population, was pulled in several directions.

Control of Lake Champlain was an important military objective during the French and Indian Wars. On July 8, 1758, the French defeated a larger British force at Fort Ticonderoga. A year later, on July 26, 1759, the British won control of the lake. The city of Montreal fell to British troops under Lord Jeffrey Amherst on September 8, 1760. With a sense of security, settlers began to move into the territory now known as Vermont . The royal governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, made 131 land grants between 1749 and 1763, known as the New Hampshire Grants.


Fig. 1. The American Colonies and the Proclamation Line of 1763

New York claimed the same area which they granted to others. New York ceded large tracts to wealthy owners who leased parcels to tenant farmers. The New Hampshire model, typical of New England , favored small farms operated by resident owners. The land dispute was presented to King George III who recognized the New York claims in 1764 and ordered holders of New Hampshire Grants to surrender their lands or pay New York . In 1770, the New York Supreme Court invalidated all New Hampshire Grants.

Ethan Allen and his brothers had speculated heavily in lands in the eastern Champlain valley and by 1772 they owned 77,000 acres. The Green Mountain Boys were organized under the leadership of Ethan Allen to resist New York authority. The Green Mountain Boys destroyed or confiscated property, administered whippings, and sent the victims back to New York . The Yankees considered them to be patriots while the Yorkers called them outlaws. The actions of the Green Mountain Boys were more symbolic than military victories. No armed force from New York was ever sent against them and no lives were lost. Any action was generally taken against individual sheriffs, surveyors, and justices of the peace by large groups of armed men where resistance would have been futile. The land holders successfully defended their claims against the agents of the New York landlords.

The Champlain basin was on the Quebec side of the Proclamation Line of October 7, 1763, the boundary that separated the American colonies from Canada and forbade settlement west of the Appalachians. The trade routes from the New Hampshire Grants led to Quebec and the St. Lawrence River and thus the area had a stronger allegiance to Quebec than to New York .

At the time, the residents of New York outnumbered the settlers in Vermont by about four to one. New York , which had greater economic power and the strength of law, considered the use of force against Vermont but this was more talk than action. They were generally apathetic about the New Hampshire Grants whose residents were tenacious in defense of their claims. What they lacked in numbers, they possessed in spirit.

The Revolution

By 1775, there was growing colonial resistance to the authority of England . The British General, Thomas Gates , who was ordered into Massachusetts to capture colonial military supplies stored at Concord, was met by the colonial militia at the Battle of Lexington fought on April 19, 1775. It was the opening engagement of the American Revolution.

Ethan Allen received instructions from Connecticut to lead the Green Mountain Boys against Fort Ticonderoga. Benedict Arnold was commissioned as a colonel by Massachusetts for the same purpose of raising a regiment to take the fort. Allen, although without a military commission, had willing troops under his command, while Arnold, who had a commission, arrived in the area without troops. The two vied for leadership and reached a compromise of necessity. On May 10, 1775, 83 Americans under the joint leadership of Allen and Arnold demanded the surrender of the 45-man garrison of British troops at Fort Ticonderoga, much of which burned in 1773, and had been all but abandoned. The fort was taken without a shot being fired. The next day colonial troops under Seth Warner captured another weak objective at Crown Point. Arnold took Fort St. John on May 18. It was the first offensive campaign of the Revolutionary War and opened the way for an American expedition against Montreal.

The Champlain valley fell under the control of the Allens in the name of the Continental Congress. Two hundred British cannon, captured along with other crucial military supplies, were dragged across Massachusetts to be used by Washington in the siege of Boston against the forces of British General William Howe. That victory was recognized with the first medal authorized by the Continental Congress. Allen hoped that the Continental Congress would also recognize an obligation and support the New Hampshire Grants in their dispute with New York .

Ethan Allen participated in the American expedition against Montreal. The strategy was for Allen and Colonel John Brown to land on the island before dawn and attack Montreal from opposite sides. Brown failed to land his troops and the unsupported Allen, unable to retreat across the river in daylight, was easily defeated. He was captured on September 25, 1775, and sent to England in chains. After two years, he was returned to America in a prisoner exchange. The Americans eventually captured Montreal in November 1775, but the offensive stalled at Quebec. Montreal was recaptured by the British in July 1776.

Thirteen American colonies declared their independence on July 4, 1776. Vermont was not among them. New York still claimed land as far east as the Connecticut River, while New Hampshire claimed the land from a line 20 miles east of the Hudson River. These two claims overlapped to include the area that became Vermont .

The British strategy for the northern campaign was to split the New England states from the rest of the country. Once New England was brought into submission, the southern states would follow. General William Howe attacked New York on August 27, 1776, but his intended drive north to Albany was thwarted by strong resistance from the troops of General Washington .

General John Burgoyne's expedition with 9,000 troops marched from Montreal to meet Howe in Albany. His troops retook Fort Ticonderoga, July 5, 1777, and marched south. A rear guard action, fought at Hubbardton on July 7, 1777, was the only battle in what is now Vermont . The British won the battle but the colonists were granted time to regroup. German mercenaries under Colonel Fredrich Baum marched to Bennington , Vermont , on a foraging expedition. They were met by American troops near Bennington where they were defeated by New Hampshire militia under Seth Warner, August 16. Although this took place about four miles west of the present border of Vermont , it is considered a Vermont battle and is commemorated by monuments in Vermont . For the 1927 Sesquicentennial of the event, a commemorative half dollar was struck honoring Ira Allen on the obverse and the battle of Bennington on the reverse. August 16 is a legal holiday as Vermont honors Bennington Battle Day. The state clearly claims the battle beyond its border.

The weakened forces of Burgoyne ran into those of General Horatio Gates in battles at Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights. Rather than moving north to support Burgoyne, General Howe withdrew from New York and relocated to the Chesapeake Bay region near Yorktown. Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga October 17, 1777. The northern offensive failed and the loss of a British army was a severe blow. This increased confidence in the American cause brought France into the war officially in June 1778.

Vermont was not threatened again during the Revolution. One reason may have been the lack of military objectives while another was the negotiations and diplomacy of Vermont leaders.

Independent Vermont

At the Westminister Convention, on January 15, 1777, the citizens of the disputed territory declared their independence and named the republic New Connecticut . Pinched between New York and New Hampshire, they may have believed that "New" was a requirement for their state name. The Windsor Convention, held between July 2 and 8, 1777, wrote the constitution and renamed the republic Vermont . The new Constitution granted the vote to all male citizens and forbade slavery.

There had been previous boundary disputes between Connecticut and New York , Massachusetts and New York , and Massachusetts and New Hampshire.


Fig. 2. The Vermont Republic 1777-1791

Residents of the New Hampshire Grants had divided loyalties. A majority had moved to the area from Connecticut and strongly identified with that state to the south. Those who had paid Governor Wentworth for land supported the claims of authority made by New Hampshire to the east. Many Americans who remained loyal to the British during the Revolution, would have identified with the government of the neighbor to the north. Almost no one favored the authority of New York , to the west, although that state had the strongest legal claim. While being torn in all directions, perhaps independence was the inevitable choice.

American independence was not secured by the Declaration of Independence but had to be defended in battle, verified by a treaty with England and consolidated under a written Constitution. In much the same way, the sovereignty of Vermont only started with the declaration of independence. They fought for that independence against the British and the authority of New York . They produced a written constitution and governed under its provisions. Vermont was aggressive in expanding territory under its control, annexing towns across their borders with both New York and New Hampshire.

Vermont bills of credit, issued in 1781, featured a design showing a chain with thirteen links and a fourteenth unconnected link, symbolic of the proximity to, but lack of, connection to the Union. Other attempts to authorize paper money failed to get the approval of the Vermont Assembly. Much trade was conducted by barter and attempts were made to establish a cash value for various commodities. In the conduct of business, the monetary standard used was frequently based on the value of a bushel of wheat.

Thomas Chittenden , involved with the organizing conventions, was elected first governor in 1778. He lost the election in 1789 to Moses Robinson but was returned to office in 1790, where he served until 1797.

Ethan Allen, with the support of his brothers Ira and Levi , and Thomas Chittenden , entered negotiations with Great Britain. The publicly stated reason was to mediate a prisoner exchange but these controversial Haldimond negotiations also involved the prospect of British recognition of Vermont and acceptance of Vermont as a British province.

If Vermont had been one of the American states, such contact with the enemy would have been treason, but as an independent republic, they had the right to negotiate an independent peace. The Haldimond negotiations may have been an attempt to pressure the United States to recognize Vermont .

One of the most active industries in the republic was the practice of law. The government and its people were frequently plagued with lawsuits over property rights and the collection of debts such that the desire to "kill all the lawyers" had popular support. In 1786, the self styled "Regulators" attempted to disrupt the conduct of the courts and took over a courthouse in Rutland . The rioters were repulsed by hastily mobilized government troops.

In 1787, Alexander Hamilton introduced a bill in the New York Assembly to recognize the independence of Vermont but it was defeated by the Senate. Ethan Allen and Governor Chittenden supported continued independence for Vermont . Congressional representatives from northern states felt favorably toward Vermont statehood while representatives from southern states supported the admission of Kentucky, a slave state. The concept of balancing admission of a northern state with a southern state was established early in the history of America .

The issues that divided Great Britain and the United States were not fully resolved with the end of the War of Revolution. In the event of another war, an independent Vermont had little defense. Caught between the much stronger United States and British Canada , an ultimate alignment with one of the sides was inevitable.

Ethan Allen died February 12, 1789, and some of the spirit of independence died with him. On October 7, 1790, a meeting in New York City set the present western boundary for Vermont . The land claims were settled with a payment by Vermont of $30,000. A levy of one-half penny per acre was assessed to raise these funds. A conventio in Bennington ratified the Constitution of the United States , January 6, 1791, and Vermont petitioned for statehood. George Washington presented the Vermont petition to Congress on February 9, 1791, and signed the Act granting statehood nine days later.

Vermont , an independent republic for 14 years, became the fourteenth state in the Union on March 4, 1791. The citizens celebrated under a flag with not 14 but 15 stars and stripes. Although Kentucky was not to be admitted until June 1, 1792, they were already acknowledged as part of the Union. The Republic's childhood was a continual nerve-taxing rumpus, a hurly-burly of shaken fists and half drawn swords, of outraged yells and threatening bellows, of contusions and lacerations which should have turned any young thing, including the infant Hercules, into a jittering neurasthenic, a depraved bully, or a corpse. 2

Review of the Literature

Vermont copper coinage has been well described in the literature. Reprints are available for several of these sources where the originals are scarce.

In 1859, Montroville W. Dickeson produced the first encyclopedia of American coins, The American Numismatical Manual of the Currency or Money of the Aborigines, and Colonial, State, and United States Coins, with Historical and Descriptive Notices of each Coin or Series. He included coinage of Vermont in the section on Colonial Coins. He described the obverse as including an eye, symbolic of Supreme power.

Dickeson wrote, Nothing could be more beautifully expressive that the device upon these coins. A supreme overruling power had truly cast the rays of approval upon the thirteen infant States of the American confederacy, in their contest for liberty and the just rights of humanity, against the then, as now, leading power of the world. The rays of Omnipotence protected them, and finally led them from vassalage to victory.

This eloquent interpretation of the design failed to acknowledge that Vermont was not part of the 13 states of the Confederation.

Sylvester S. Crosby included text of the significant documents in the standard reference, Early American Coins , published in 1875. He identified eight major types and 28 die varieties. Crosby referred to Vermont as a state although he acknowledged that it was not part of the Union until 1791.

Hillyer Ryder wrote "The Colonial Coins of Vermont ," included in The State Coinage of New England (1920). This was essentially a study of the die varieties and listed 31 such varieties. In calling Vermont "the first State to authorize a coinage," he perpetuated the state coinage fallacy.

John M. Richardson , who wrote "The Copper Coins of Vermont ," for The Numismatist of 1947, increased the number of die varieties to 35. Vermont die varieties are frequently referred to by RR numbers honoring Ryder/Richardson . Howard Kurth's introduction provided a good overview of the status of Vermont as an independent Republic.

Kenneth E. Bressett wrote " Vermont Copper Coinage," included in Studies on Money in Early America (1976) His study described 38 die varieties.

The standard reference on all U.S. coins, R.S. Yeoman's A Guide Book of United States Coins (the Redbook) lists 13 of the most significant varieties under Section 6, "Coinage of the States."

Walter Breen 's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins (1988) distilled the list to 25 significant die varieties. Vermont coinage is found under "State Coinages."

Coins of the World , by William D. Craig , one of the standard references for world coinage of the period, lists Vermont coins under the United States of America as state coinage along with those of Connecticut , Massachusetts , New Jersey and New York .

Vermont Coinage

The General Assembly of the Freemen of the State of Vermont originally (June 15, 1785) set the weight of Vermont coppers at one third ounce (160 grains) or 48 per pound. The standard for British halfpence was 46 to the pound or about 152.2 grains. A federal resolution of July 6, 1785, set a standard of 157.5 grains for future cents, although none were produced until 1787. When Vermont learned that their coppers exceeded the Confederation standards, the weight was reduced to four penny-weight fifteen grains (111 grains). The reduced Vermont standard was in recognition that many of the coppers then circulating were underweight.

Vermont was then, and remains, sparsely populated. They were neither a significant producer of products for sale outside the republic nor a major consumer of products produced in the United States . Vermont coppers circulated well within the republic but little beyond the borders.

Production from the Rupert Mint was crude even by colonial standards. High quality steel needed for coin dies was not available. The copper coinage suffers from lamination defects indicative of impure copper or unsophisticated smelting techniques.

The Landscape Coppers

The Vermont coppers of 1785 show on the obverse the sun rising over the tree covered Green Mountain with a plough in the foreground. The obverse legend, VERMONTS RES. PUBLICA, refers to the Republic of Vermont . One 1785 obverse die has the legend VERMONTIS . The 1786 obverse has the legend VERMONTENSIUM RES. PUBLICA.

The reverse design on these coins features the all-seeing eye with 13 long and 13 short rays pointing to 13 stars, a design quite similar to that seen on NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers. The reverse bore the legend QUARTA DECIMA STELLA meaning the fourteenth star.


Fig. 3. Vermont Landscape obverse and reverse

Design of the first Vermont coppers is attributed to New York goldsmith and diecutter Colonel William Coley, indicating that Vermont was still somewhat reliant upon New York .

The obverse was an excellent symbol of local identification. The Green Mountains were the dominant feature of local geography while the rising sun symbolized the emergence of the republic. Breen believed the rising sun was derived from Paul Revere's rising sun on 1779 paper money of Massachusetts but it also is possible that both are derived from earlier images. Vermont was not then and is not now a significant producer of cultivated crops. The trees represented the state economy better than the plough, which was an optimistic symbol of agriculture for a state with timber as its prime export.

While art should not be interpreted too literally, the sun rising over the mountains can, in retrospect, be interpreted as symbolic. This is a view from the western side of the mountains, the region that led the fight against New York and for independence.

Later writers would comment that the reverse legend indicated the desire of Vermont citizens to become the fourteenth state in the American Union. Another interpretation would be that the legend was not so much a statement of desire as a statement of fact. Vermont was the fourteenth star in the new constellation. Vermont was a part of a loose economic union with the neighboring states. Trade across the borders was not impeded by tariffs and the currency of the American states was accepted in trade in Vermont .

Vermont was not subject to the jurisdiction of the American Confederation. Some Vermont residents had fled from the Union to escape debt or the law. One such resident was colonial coiner Samuel Atlee who fled to Vermont to escape debts in the United States . There was some justification for considering Vermont as an outlaw state.


Fig. 4. Vermont Portrait obverse and reverse

The Portrait Coppers

On October 24, 1786, the Vermont Assembly passed a bill authorizing coinage with "on the one side, a head with the motto auctoritate Vermont ensium, abridged—on the reverse, a woman, with the letters INDE: ET: LIB:—for Independence and Liberty." The new design was an imitation of Connecticut coppers that clearly resembled circulating British coppers.

The 1786 portrait designs have an obverse bust facing left and the abbreviated legend AUCTORI VERMONT meaning By the Authority of Vermont . The Connecticut coppers had the legend AUCTORI CONNEC. meaning, similarly, By the Authority of Connecticut .

The obverse portrait was not identified as an individual, a situation highly unusual in coin design. The similarity with King George should not be interpreted as support for the British monarch. Instead it was a symbol of conformity to the appearance of the accepted circulating coppers.

The reverse design had a seated figure representing "the Genius of America ," or alternately "the Goddess of Liberty," virtually indistinguishable from the seated Britannia seen on British coppers. The shield on most pieces showed the combined cross of Saint George , Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick seen on the familiar Union Jack flag. On one reverse die, the shield design had four sheaves of wheat, a slight accommodation toward an American design.

While the landscape coppers proclaimed independence by their design, the portrait coppers proclaimed independence by their legends. The feeling of the citizens of Vermont was turning from support for independence toward support for admission to the Union.


Fig. 5. Vermont RR-13 obverse and reverse

Unauthorized Coinage

America was plagued with counterfeit and unauthorized copper coins and Vermont was not exempt. The last coinage was struck at the mint at Machin's Mills at Newburgh , New York . Several of the collectible die varieties were stuck outside of the Republic.

One of the rarest counterfeits (RR-5), which copied the landscape design, is from an unidentified mint frequently included under the generic term of "Bungtown" mint.

Two die varieties struck at Machin's Mills defy the authorizing legislation. The imitation of British designs reached a climax with a 1788 obverse with the legend Georgius III Rex muled with a reverse of standard design (RR-31). Another muled a standard obverse with a reverse with the almost indistinguishable legend Britannia (RR-13). The reverse die was mutilated to disguise its earlier legend.


Fig. 6. Vermont RR-31 obverse and reverse

Dickeson (and later Breen ) referred to these as Tory Coppers. Dickeson wrote, Two years after the acknowledgment of our independence by Great Britain, this coin—from the date—was thrust in some way upon republican America . It is peculiar that there should have been such persistence in doing what, at the time, could not have been agreeable to the mass of the people; and then, in the designs—assuming a connection between George III, and the Goddess of Liberty—is an act difficult to be either comprehended or accommodated.

These pieces represent what may be the logical conclusion to the story of Vermont coppers. The muling of dies from independent Vermont with Britain designs does not represent a political union. Rather they indicate a total disregard for the concept that the image stamped on a coin made it money. These were nothing more than round pieces of underweight copper pretending to be money.

The circulating copper coins of the era had no government backing. By July 1789, there was a surplus of coppers in commerce. Any that were accepted in trade were severely discounted. By 1790, states repealed their authorization of coppers, partially to avoid receiving coppers as taxes. The public rejection of copper coinage at a value above its weight made Federal coinage a necessity.

Perhaps the unauthorized coinage represents the republic as well as does the authorized pieces. A defiance of centralized authority characterized the republic and its individual citizens.


Previous attempts to put Vermont coppers in a category have failed to recognize their true status. The term "Colonial" coinage is not appropriate for Vermont pieces as well as for many of the other pieces lumped under that term.

Kurth wrote , "It is customary for American collectors to refer to the copper coins of Vermont as 'colonial coins.' This is a deeply rooted error, due not so much to our ignorance of history as to our careless habit of allowing our speech to be unduly influenced by what we repeatedly read in catalogues." The message of Kurth has been largely ignored.

"Early American Coinage" works if America refers to the continent rather than the country. However, coinage for what would become Canada is usually not included in the same category.

Including Vermont coppers with State coinage seems obvious, perhaps, but is still incorrect. Previous writers have frequently mentioned that Vermont was not yet a state but still include Vermont coinage with the coinage of other states.

The coinage of Vermont truly deserves a category of its own. The coins were struck under the authority of an independent sovereign republic and as such are unique among the coins that preceded coinage of the United States Mint.

End Notes

References for the historical information presented herein include: Charles M. Thompson , Independent Vermont ( Boston , 1942); Frederick F. Van de Water , The Reluctant Republic, Vermont 1724-1791 ( New York , 1941); Chilton Williamson , Vermont in Quandary, 1763-1825 ( Montpelier , 1949).
Van de Water (above, n. 1), p. 221.

The So-Called Atlee Broken "A" Letter Punch

John Lorenzo

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996


When Sylvester Crosby published his seminal work on early American coinage in 1878, 1 he called attention to the "same peculiar letters [that] appear in several different dies," and concluded that "the natural inference is that all these dies were made by the same person." He went on to describe an "A" "broken near the top," an "N" "irregular on the underside of the sloping line," and a "P" "imperfect at the left of its foot." Crosby extended his examination to certain issues of Vermont and Connecticut coppers where what appeared to be the same defective "A" and "N" letters were seen. He deduced that the dies, from which those coppers with the same letters were struck, were sunk by the same individual. Crosby could not determine whether the dies for these "different mints were made at one place, or whether the artist followed an itinerant practice, and visited the mints as the occasion required." Crosby ended his discussion with the premise that James F. Atlee must have been responsible for many of these dies.

The identification of Atlee as the engraver in question was based on the April 18, 1787, Machin's Mills indenture which reads: "and the said Samuel Atlee , and James F. Atlee being possessed of certain implements for carrying on said trade, do agree to lend them to the parties to these presents for and during the continuance of their copartnership without any fee or reward for the same." 2 Michael Hodder has touched upon the statements in this indenture in a 1991 research paper published in CNL. 3 The Atlees' trade was a "manufactory of hardware" which has been traditionally accepted as a minting operation. The only existing literary confirmation of James Atlee as a die puncher or engraver was contained in a letter from Thomas N. Machin , the coiners grandson, to Dr. F.B. Hough of Albany , New York , by the reference to "Atlee, the engraver..." 4 Also the implements which the Atlees supplied to this partnership were never defined and Crosby determined they must have been die-cutting tools, an interpretation which most later writers have accepted. Crosby's assumption that Atlee was a die sinker whose broken "A" letter punch appeared across several copper series led him to attribute many Connecticuts , Vermonts , New Jerseys , New York -related issues and imitation British halfpence to him. Sipsey was probably the first to point out that Atlee was not encountered in any literature as a silversmith, and, therefore, questioned Crosby's assignment of Atlee as the likely die engraver. 5 Sipsey's references to Cary Dunn, Abel Buell and Daniel van Voorhis as possible silversmiths as suppliers of various puncheons to these state coinages still needs to be developed. The exact role of James Atlee in this early enterprise remains the subject of continuing investigation.

Walter Breen , in his Encyclopedia, 6 names James Atlee as the die engraver of many colonial coppers based primarily on the letter punch evidence first described by Crosby as noted above. This paper's main purpose is to examine critically the value of such evidence and demonstrate why it is dangerous to interpret these defective letter punches as James Atlee 's signature. As a corollary to this position, this current research will also point out the pitfalls in using letter punches as primary evidence for mint attribution of Confederation coppers. Michael Hodder , in his referenced paper, discusses a conversation he had with Breen , 7 who indicated that unless you consider all the coinages which contain a broken "A," the confirmation of James Atlee as the die engraver will not be apparent. This article will disprove the hypothesis that all the coinages with this broken "A" letter punch ( BALP ) have a common basis.

James Atlee the Die Engraver?

It's again relevant to reiterate Hodders conclusions concerning James Atlee and the BALP :

  • Atlee was not listed in any of the authorizing coinage acts;
  • The dates on the New Jersey coinage are not relevant (most of the time) to when they were issued, and
  • There is no basis linking James Atlee as a die engraver, only an assumption from previous researchers.

The Identical Matrix Punch Principle

A research article by Peter Gaspar is of great importance in the study of die punch linking. 8 He demonstrates that punches for sinking coin dies were being mass produced from a single matrix for decades before the 1780s and therefore the occurrence of similar punches is entirely inadmissible evidence for establishing personnel or equipment links among different mints. In other words, coins struck at different times and from various mints may look for all the world as though they were made from dies sunk with the same punches, whereas they may only have been sunk by punches which, themselves, were raised from an identical matrix. Thus punch linkages are now less meaningful evidence, because there could easily have been several sets of identical punches in use at different mints, all at the same time! This punch manufacturing technology was English and there is evidence that American silversmiths brought their steel punches from England . 9 Based on the above information, the BALP can still be utilized as a secondary tool, but as primary evidence to identify a die engraver or die sinker, its use must be interpreted with caution. One needs to support any punch style evidence with other important factors such as planchet weight, die state analysis, obverse and reverse die sharing, and overstriking data.

There are other indications that engravers had a common source of letter punches available to them. The concept that each engraver was obliged to make his own set of tools has been discarded not only by Gaspar but by other contemporary literary evidence. In his book on Abel Buell, Lawrence Wroth, quotes an excerpt from the April 16, 1801 American Mercury in which Buell offered punches and dies for sale. 10 These references strengthen the idea that this individual did indeed make his own punches instead of purchasing them from other sources such as silversmiths and/or estate sales. 11

The Confederation Coppers with a Broken "A"

The following Confederation coinages possessing a broken "A" will be examined. A standard 14 power Whitman Magnifier loop was utilized for all of the reported observations.

  • New Jersey state coinages involving Maris obverses: 3, 13, 15, 18, 23, 26, 28, 32, 33, 41, 42, 52, 68 and 69;
  • Connecticut obverses: Miller 1-A, 1.1-A, 2.1-A, 2.1-D, 2.2-D, 3-D and 3-D;
  • Vermont Ryder obverses: 1, 12, 16, 17, 19, 29, 30 and 39;
  • New York Related coinage and imitation British halfpence.

New Jersey Coppers

This investigator will first look at the New Jersey state coinage. Within this grouping we see a broken "A" punch ( BALP ), with an intact thick right side and thin left side whose constant flaw at the upper part progressively deteriorates from its partially broken ( PBA ) state to fully broken ( FBA ) (see Table 1 below). Within the New Jersey series, we do see a progressive disintegration of the BALPs based on die emission. As an example, as one proceeds away from the early Rahway New Jersey coppers, the BALP becomes more fully broken for this type of BALP (figs. 1 , 2 ). The only major exception was the different punch style in NOVA for the 26-S, 68-w, and 69-w varieties involving a thin left side, thick right side and with "wavy" bases.

These wavy bases require further explanation. This is the "bifurcation" phenomenon previously described in New Jersey coppers by Bressett 12 in response to an observation by Barnsley 12 who had reported the occurrence of two distinct styles on the bottom serifs of the R and I of PLURIBUS on the Maris 67-v, presenting the appearance of a recut die.


Fig. 1: Maris 13-J showing a partially broken A in CÆSAREA (early Rahway)


Fig. 2: Maris 23-r showing a fully broken A in CÆSAREA (mid to late Rahway).


Fig. 3: Maris 26-S showing a FBA in NOVA. Due to the "bifurcation" effect it is dissimilar to all other BALPs in the New Jersey series except 68-w and 69-w. Only the first "A" in NOVA shows the effect (i.e., curved bases).

Bressett explained that these changes were not the result of a recut die, but rather an artifact which occurred during striking, since none of these early coppers had the benefit of a retaining collar to stop the blank from expanding. Because the coins were struck on a manually operated press, the pressure was liable to vary according to the force exerted, and occasionally, when subjected to excessive stress, the flan would spread more than usual in a radial direction. Under such conditions, the toothed borders (on New Jersey coppers) would elongate and the serifs on the letters tended to curl upward toward the periphery producing a cleftlike appearance. This distortion occurs to a lesser degree on coins struck under normal pressure and is due to the fact that the periphery of the planchet spreads more rapidly than the more central portions, especially when there is no collar. It is interesting to note that within the broken "A" New Jersey coppers, only 26-S, 68 and 69-w exhibit the bifurcation phenomenon.

The broken "A" letter punch noted above exists in two major styles—one which is fully broken ( FB ) and the other being partially broken ( PB ). Only one distinct broken "A" letter punch exists, within the New Jersey series as previously discussed (figs 1- 3 ). The evidence compiled by this writer is presented in Table 1. The PB/FB transition from an early to a late Rahway emission seems to conform to all die state evidence retrieved for these die varieties. In the coppers listed in Table 1, it appears that the flaw in the "A" die progressed with use over time, thereby going from PBA to FBA from the early to the late state emissions for the obverse varieties at Rahway Mills or early Elizabethtown. The previously described singular matrix principle does not seem to interfere within the New Jersey series; however we can never be certain that there was just a single letter punch involved that deteriorated under constant use.

One must be mindful of another theoretical circumstance, occurring at the time of die sinking, which could alter the appearance of the broken "A", or any letter for that matter, in the legend of the struck coin. A variable expression of any letter can be due to the chisel-like shape of the letter punch whose actual profile, as it is sunk into the die, may be modified depending on the depth to which it is sunk. The deeper the punch penetrates the die, the broader one might expect the legs of the letters to appear. If a broken punch is sunk below the position of a punch defect, then the flawed part of the letter in the final die may appear different. This situation is not diagnostic of the different letter styles between 26-S/68-w/69-w and the other varieties listed on Table 1 concerning the first "A" in NOVA. These are different "styled" puncheons.

The reader should consider the following major points while reviewing Table 1:

  • There is no variation within the non-broken (NB), FB or PB "A"s when comparing similar New Jersey varieties. As an example, during the preparation of Table 1, the writer compared five different Maris New Jersey 13-J specimens; no variation occurred between the first, third, and fourth "A"s (the second A which is linked to E in CÆSAREA is considered not applicable, since it always remains unbroken).
  • It is interesting to note that the earlier emission varieties have a higher percentage of being NB/PB than being in a FBA status. As an example, compare 13-J, a known early Rahway variety, based on its early reverse J die state with an intermediate issue (i.e., 33-U), and finally a late Rahway issue (i.e., 26-S). Note how it proceeds from an NB/PB combination to a PB fate and finally to a FB existence. The "A"s eventually seem to fall apart in the punches with time, and make their way to a FB state. Does the Gaspar singular matrix principle introduce an extraneous PB or FBA punch into the picture? Possibly, but it seems not to interfere to any degree in this state coinage, since all other evidence to date from other research studies complies with the die emission sequence of Table 1 (i.e., when comparing the findings of Hodder in his paper on the New Jersey Reverse J die 14 and the well-documented 33-U/15-U backdating event). In this case, the 1787 33-U was struck predominantly before the 1786 15-U variety based on reverse die state analysis. The PB/FB data in Table 1 confirms this emission sequence.
  • The Maris 26-S variety shows a distinctive BALP, different from all other BALP s. The BALP is the first "A" in NOVA. The typical New Jersey BALP has a thicker right side and thinner left side with straight bases. As fig. 3 depicts, both sides are thinner and both bases "wavy." This phenomenon, however, is the result of bifurcation which was previously described in fig. 3 .
  • The consistency of the NB, PB, and FB "A" letter punches is intriguing. It does hint a singular letter punch which broke over time.
  • The only major difference noted within these BALP s occurred within the first "A" of NOVA for the varieties 26-S, 68-w and 69-w. The fully broken "A" here is the result of bifurcation. The typical New Jersey BALP has a thick right side, a thin left side and the broken part is on the upper left side. The broken "A" on these three varieties is similar except that the serifs on both bases show the effects of bifurcation.
  • The gradual deterioration in the punch flaw does not discredit the Gaspar theory in my opinion. It only shows that all punches demonstrate the ravages of continued use. The numismatist must also consider that the depth to which a punch is sunk may alter the expression of the break, especially if it is partial.

Refer to Table 1 and fig. 3 for details on these differences. Several different styled BALP s within each series have been confirmed. See figs. 1-7 for an overview of the major types.

The Broken "N" and "P" Letter Punches

The broken "N" and "P" are the two other letter punches which were not resurrected from Crosby by Walter Breen . Crosby described an "N" irregular on the underside of the sloping line, and a "P" imperfect at the left of its foot, the serif being broken from that side. 15 These additional letter punches were also examined to give the reader a complete examination of these broken punches originally introduced by Crosby and to portray their remarkable consistency within the New Jersey series and their inconsistent appearances on the Connecticut and Vermont coinages. Refer to Tables 3 and 4 for a respective overview of the BALPs and the broken "P" and "N" letter punches for both the Connecticut and Vermont series.

Connecticut Coppers


Fig. 4: 1786 Miller 1-A with a NBA in AUCTORI. Different in style from the New Jersey BALP.

The Connecticut varieties with the broken "A" letter punch are, in general, of a different style than the New Jersey BALP. Additionally, not all Connecticut varieties listed as having a BALP and assigned to James Atlee by Breen and other previous investigators were confirmed during this review.


Fig. 5: Miller 2.1-A with a broken "A" but at the bottom left base of the "A."

When we refer to the Frederick B. Taylor sale of Connecticut coppers, we read that the dies for the Connecticuts were made by Abel Buell and James Atlee, as evidenced by comparing the letter punches with other of their known works. While most of the 1785 coins were probably struck at the New Haven mint, a number of later issues, particularly those which were quite light in weight, were undoubtedly struck at Machin's Mills near Newburgh , New York . 16 Breen attributed the 1786 bust right issues to James Atlee. He lists the following Miller varieties to Atlee based on die-punch linking other evidence:

  • 1786 Miller 1-A (large head, ET LIB INDE)
  • 1787 Miller 1.4-WW (legendary liberty seated right variety)
  • 1786 Miller 2.1-A (medium head, ET LIB INDE)
  • 1786 Miller 2.2-D 2 (broad shoulders, INDE ET LIB)
  • 1786 Miller 2.1- 3 (narrow shoulders)
  • 1786 Miller 3-D 1 (tallest head; colons in obverse legend)
  • Interestingly the writer also found Miller 1787 1.1-A with a broken "A" letter punch. This has been classified as a Machin's Mills coin.

Table 3 identifies the only Miller varieties possessing a BALP. These are: 1786 Miller 1-A, and the 1787 Miller 1.1-A, and 1.4-WW as having broken "A"s. The broken "A"s were not similar to the broken "A"s found on the New Jersey coppers. Compare figs. 1, 2 and 4 . These are the same cross-pictorial conclusions Hodder had viewed during his write-up of the 1787 IMMUNIS COLUMBIA. 17

The comparison of the BALP with other state coinages ( New Jersey and Vermont ) proved dissimilar; all the so-called broken "A"s are not the same, indicative of several defective punches. Thus it is inaccurate to perpetuate the notion that the same punches attributed to James Atlee for the New Jersey series were used again for the Connecticut series and vice versa. The systematic punch linking just by examining these two series indicates to the numismatist that more concrete evidence is needed before such a claim can be substantiated.

Could these 1786 issues ( Breen 742-46) be of Newburgh origin and be backdated and produced in 1787? Interestingly, none of these Miller varieties exhibited the broken "N" as seen on several New Jersey varieties. If these were Atlee's punches one would expect to see at least one broken "N" among seven Miller varieties. Since the "A"s are of a different style between the New Jersey and Connecticut coppers, the evidence, i.e. Atlee , which links these two series is becoming more tenuous.

Vermont Coppers

Breen reports: 18 "On June 15, 1785, the Vermont legislature granted to Reuben Harmon , Jr., of Reuport (later Rupert), Bennington County, an exclusive franchise to make copper coins, no limit being set on amount... Harmon set up his mint on Millbrook , a stream emptying into the Pawlet River, near the northeast boundary of Rupert. He hired as diemaker Colonel William Coley , a New York City goldsmith, [from the firm] of Van Voorhis, Bailey and Coley , 27 Hanover Square ." After the operation was in progress for a time, Colonel Coley , who was "disappointed in the receipts,...joined his New York silversmith partner, Daniel van Voorhis (later of Machin's Mills, Newburgh , New York ) in petitioning the New York state legislature for a coinage franchise..." 19 . In desperate need for dies, Harmon was receptive to approaches from the newly formed Machin's Mills firm. On the following June 7, Harmon signed a contract with the latter giving them 60% of all profits from his Vermont operations in exchange for 40% of the profits from all other Machin's Mills operations on the condition that Machin's designer-engraver James Atlee would furnish the Vermont mint with sufficient dies; Crosby quoted the contract in full, Newman analyzed its terms. 20


Fig. 6: Ryder 12 with a FBA. Dissimilar to the BALPs of the New Jersey and Connecticut series.

The Ryder varieties with the so-called Atlee broken "A" of Machin's Mills origin are as follows:

  • Ryder 1: VERMON AUCTORI obverse legend with the IMMUNE COLUMBIA 1785 reverse called by some non- Vermont reverse variety due to the IMMUNE COLUMBIA reverse inscription. Refer to the Vermont Historical Society listing as an example.
  • Ryder 12: standing bust right design: obverse VERMON AUCTORI; reverse inscription INDE ETLIB 1787; die state later than Ryder 14 but earlier than Ryder 32
  • Ryder 16: standing bust right design: obverse VERMON AUCTORI; reverse inscription INDE ET LIB 1788. Bressett proposes the dies are used later at Machin's Mills with Ryder 14 and Ryder 30. 21
  • Ryder 17: standing bust right design: obverse VERMON AUCTORI; reverse inscription INDE ET LIB 1788. This reverse was next used with obverse Ryder 16.
  • Ryder 19: standing bust right design: obverse VERMON AUCTORI; reverse inscription INDE ET LIB 1788. This reverse eventually used in Ryder 20.
  • Ryder 29: standard bust right design: obverse VERMON AUCTORI; reverse inscription INDE ET LIB 1788. Interestingly, Bressett gives the die emission of this Ryder reverse as 28/31/29 die state progression
  • Ryder 30: 1788 backward C in AUCTORI variety.
  • Ryder 39: this variety is a muling of the Connecticut obverse, Miller 1.1. (The Connecticut variety previously found PB on the Miller 1787 1.1-A with a Vermont reverse.) The reverse is Bressett reverse U which subsequent to this issue was used on Ryder 25 and 29.

Fig. 7: 1787 IMMUNIS COLUMBIA with a fully broken "A." Similar to the New Jersey BALP s.

Table 4 identifies the Ryder varieties with the broken "A." There is also a listing if the letter punch is similar in design to any New Jersey or Connecticut broken "A." An assessment also is given if the Crosby broken "N" was encountered on any of the Ryder varieties. Bressett mentions the following varieties supposedly produced at Machin's Mills by Atlee . These varieties are Ryder 13, 27, 18, 35, 33, 28, 29, 24, 25 and then the rejected, worn and muled dies consisting of Ryder 1, 30, 31 and 39.

New York Series

The so-called New York -related issues with a broken "A" letter punch are the following:

  • 1786 NON VI VIRTUTE VICI, large and small head varieties; and the
  • 1787 Indian LIBERNATUS EXCELSIOR, New York arms issue.

No analysis was performed on these issues other than that these issues possess a BALP not similar to the other "STATE" coinages.


This investigator is able to make the following points about the so-called Atlee broken "A" punch:

  • The 1786 IMMUNIS COLUMBIA, Heraldic Eagle type issue is probably the first issue of a broken "A" letter punch, which may have been struck in pre-Rahway, in the time frame from 1785 to November 1786, when New Jersey coppers were first struck. The letter punch seems similar in style to the NJ BALP (i.e., thick right and thin left side, being broken at the upper left).
  • The NB/PB/FB "A"s are consistent within each New Jersey variety examined. Early Rahway was denoted by a NB/PB status, whereas late Rahway issues exhibited a FB status. This phenomenon strengthens one theory that the "A" punch may have broken further with time and use, yielding the NB/PB/FB transition. The depth to which the punch was sunk into the die is the other possible theory.
  • New Jersey Maris varieties 68-w and 69-w and New Jersey variety Maris 26-S in their "A"s in NOVA have similar "A" punches due to the "bifurcation" phenomenon. Other letters in the obverse and reverse motifs for these three varieties also indicated punches with curved bases. These are not new letter punches but is the result of metal flow, since these coins were not struck within a collar.
  • The writer concurs with Michael Hodder's conclusion that different "A" punches do exist between the "state" coinages. Hence, systematic mint attributions utilizing the broken "A" punch, or any other letter punch for that matter, as the only evidence, is to be discarded, since we can never confirm the fact that any individual punch was not unique to that mint due to the availability of a common supply.
  • Not all Connecticut coppers have the broken "A"s as previously identified. Also, some Connecticuts as the Miller 1-A did not consistently contain a broken "A." Currently this phenomenon, which is not seen within the New Jersey series, is under a separate investigation.
  • Finally, the reader should now understand that punch-linking by itself is of no real consequence as an attribution tool, but is only of a secondary value. Punch linking, coupled with stronger and more reliable evidence such as overstriking, die state analysis, planchet weight and diameter readings, and obverse and reverse die sharing, are the primary tools needed to create the long term confident attribution in all areas of future colonial coin research.
Pedigree NJ Maris Obverse P in PLURIBUS Broken? Varieties Examined Current Mint Designation 1st A 2nd A 3rd A 4th A N in NOVA Broken?
1. Beach-Canfleld-ANS 13 Yes 13-J Rahway NB NA NB PB Yes
2. ANS 33 Yes 33-U Rahway NB NA PB PB Yes
3. Henry Miller-Lorenzo 33 Yes 33-U Rahway NB NA PB PB Yes
4. Beach-ANS 33 Yes 33-U Rahway NB NA PB PB Yes
5. Douglas-ANS 23 No 23-P Rahway NB NA FB PB No
6. Lorenzo 23 Yes 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
7. Beach-ANS 23 Yes 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
8. Douglas-ANS 23 Yes 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
9. Rinaldo-ANS 23 No 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
10. ANS 23 No 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
11. Lorenzo 23 No 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
12. Beach-Bull-ANS 23 No 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
13. Beach-ANS 23 No 23-r Rahway NB NA FB PB No
14. Beach-ANS 18 Yes 18-J Rahway NB NA FB FB No
15. Beach-ANS 18 Yes 18-M Rahway NB NA FB FB Yes
16. Lorenzo 18 Yes 18-M Rahway NB NA FB FB Yes
17. Canfield-NJHS-ANS 18 Yes 18-M Rahway NB NA FB FB No
18. Ringo-Lorenzo 18 No 18-N Rahway NB NA FB FB No
19. ANS 18 No 18-N Rahway NB NA FB FB No
20. Griffe-Lorenzo 52 Yes 52-i Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
21. ANS 52 Yes 52-i Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
22. Rock-Lorenzo 32 No 32-T Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
23. Beach-ANS 42 No 42-c Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
24. Terranova-Lorenzo 42 No 42-c Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
25. ANS 42 No 42-c Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
26. Douglas-ANS 26 Yes 26-S Rahway FB NA FB FB No
27. FCC Boyd-Lorenzo 26 Yes 26-S Rahway FB NA FB FB No
28. Beach-ANS 15 Yes 15-J Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
29. Beach-Bull-ANS 15 Yes 15-J Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
30. Frontenac-Lorenzo 15 Yes 15-J Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
31. Beach-Bull-ANS 15 Yes 15-L Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
32. H. Garrett-Lorenzo 15 Yes 15-L Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
33. Beach-Bull-ANS 15 Yes 15-T Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
34. Breen -Lorenzo 15 Yes 15-T Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
35. Beach-ANS 15 Yes 15-U Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
36. Beach-ANS 15 Yes 15-U Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
37. Taylor-Lorenzo 15 Yes 15-U Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
38. Canfield-NJHS-ANS 15 Yes 15-U Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
39. Beach-Bull-ANS 28 Yes 28-L Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
40. Mituzas-Lorenzo 28 Yes 28-S Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
41. ANS 28 Yes 28-L Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
42. Lorenzo 28 Yes 28-L Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
43. Rock-Lorenzo 28 Yes 28-L Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
44. ANS 41 ? 41-c Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
45. Lorenzo 41 No 4l-c Rahway FB NA FB FB Yes
46. Norweb-Lorenzo 68 Yes 68-w ? FB NA FB FB No
47. Canfield-NJHS-ANS 68 Yes 68-w ? FB NA FB FB No
48. Douglas-ANS 68 Yes 68-w ? FB NA FB FB No
49. JWG specimen 69 Yes 69-w ? FB NA NA FB ?
50. FCC Boyd-WC 69 ? 69-w ? ? ? NA ? ?

NB—Not Broken; PB—Partially Broken; FB—Fully Broken; NA—Not Applicable.

Maris 68-w Pedigree Diameter (mm) Weight (grains) Die State Description
1. Stacks 3/94 26.5 203.7 Raised rims-milling; heaviest known NJ copper.
2. EAN: Orlando '92 26.5 ? 5% off center, no break above CÆ.
3. EAN: March '92 29.0 ? All devices show! IDS-LDS, break above CÆ.
4. Spiro-Oechsner 26.5 117.4 LDS; break above CÆ; weak central devices.
5. Cole: 1253 26.5 163.2 EDS; on a thick(?) planchet.
6. JWG: 1473 28.2 176.5 IDS; typical weak central devices.
7. Boyd-Ryder 26.3 130.0 LDS; lettering typically off planchet, except for No. 3.
8. Taylor : 2274 26.5 92.0 Terminal LDS; later than 69-w below.
9. H. Garrett : 1453 26.5 132.8 EDS; struck from perfect dies.
10. Taylor : 2273 26.3 158.7 EDS but shows some diagonal weakness.
11. Norweb 27.0 131.7 LDS with some severe central bulging.
12. Frontenac 26.8 148.2 EDS; obverse die perfect while reverse shows rust.
13. Saccone 27.0 134.1 LDS with unusually sharp reverse.
Maris 69-w Pedigree Diameter (mm) Weight (grains) Die State Description
1. JWG: 1474 28.5 131.7 Blundered obverse legend, NOVA * CESAREA.
2. FCC Boyd-WC ? ? ?

EDS—Early Die State; IDS—Intermediate Die State; LDS—Late Die State.

Connecticut Var. Miller No. First "A" in AUCTORI Broken? Similar to NJ or VT Broken "A" Comments
1. 1786 1-A Yes, partially broken No, but similar Rahway type broken "N"s Broken "A" unlike NJ or VT BALP
2. 1786 2.1-A No, but left base of "A" broken As above, Rahway type broken "N" No similarities
3. 1786 2.1-D.3 No specimen available
4. 1786 2.2-D.2 No NA NA
5. 1786 3-D.1 No NA NA
6. 1786 3-D.4 No NA NA
7. 1787 1-A Partially broken As above, Rahway type broken "N" No similarities
8. 1787 1.4 and 3 No specimen available
Ryder No. Broken "A" in AUCTORI? "A" Punch Like Any Other? Comments and Observations
1.1 Yes, fully broken in most specimens; Roper: 316 an exception No Broken "N" present
2. 12 Yes, fully broken No None
3. 16 Yes, partially broken No None
4. 17 Yes, partially broken No None
5. 19 Yes, fully broken No None
6. 29 Yes, partially broken No None
7. 30 Yes, fully broken No None
8. 39 Yes, partially broken No None

End Notes

Sylvester Crosby , Early Coins of America and the Laws Governing Their Issue ( Boston , 1875), pp. 191, 287-88.
Crosby (above, n. 1), p. 193.
Michael Hodder , "The 1787 ' New York ' IMMUNIS COLUMBIA : A Mystery Re-Raveled," CNL 87 (1991), pp. 1203-35.
James C. Spilman , "An Overview of Early American Coinage Technology," CNL 64 (1983), p. 806.
Everett T. Sipsey , "New Facts and Ideas on the State Coinages," CNL 13 (1964), pp. 120-29.
Walter Breen , Walter Breen 's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S . and Colonial Coins ( New York , 1988).
Hodder (above, n. 3), pp. 1203-35.
Peter Gaspar , "Coinage and Die-Making Techniques in the 17th Century," Metallurgy and Numismatics, Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 33 ( London , 1993).
The above text based upon Michael Hodder , personal communication, December 31, 1994.
Lawrence C. Worth , Abel Buell of Connecticut ( Middleton, CT , 1958), p. 73.
See also, Carl Williams , The Silversmiths of New Jersey , 1700-1825, with Some Notice of the Clock-makers Who Were Also Silversmiths ( Philadelphia , 1949) and Rita S. Gottesman , The Arts and Crafts in New York 1726-1776 ( New York , 1938).
Kenneth Bressett , "Letters," CNL 5 (1961), p. 34.
Edward Barnsley , "A Re-Cut New Jersey Reverse, Maris 'V'," CNL 4 (1961), pp. 18-20.
Michael Hodder , "The New Jersey Reverse J, a Biennial Die," AJN 1 (1989), pp. 194-98.
Crosby (above, n. 1), p. 287.
Bowers and Merena , Mar. 26, 1987 (The Frederick B. Taylor Sale), Connecticut introduction, pp. 190-91.
Hodder (above, n. 3).
The above passage quoted from Breen (above, n. 6), p. 61.
Feb. 16, 1787, Journal of the New York Assembly, 1787, p. 53.
Eric P. Newman , "A Recently Discovered Coin Solves a Vermont Numismatic Enigma," ANSCent. Publ. , ed. Harald Ingholt ( New York , 1958).
Kenneth Bressett , " Vermont Copper Coinage," Studies on Money in Early America , ed. Eric P. Newman and Richard G. Doty ( New York , 1976), pp. 173-98.

Coinage During the Confederation: Two Near Misses for Matthew Boulton

Richard G. Doty

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996

The links between the Birmingham , England firm of Boulton , Watt & Company and the United States of America embraced the half century between the 1780s and the 1830s. Most of the contact bordered on the prosaic, involving nothing more exciting than the sale of copper cent and half-cent planchets to the United States Mint. 1 But there were occasional hints at greater prospects—possibilities of coinage, or even the sale of a new, steam-powered coining apparatus for the ramshackle Philadelphia Mint.

Such glittering opportunities had been forecast by events during the Confederation period, for in the middle and closing years of the 1780s, no fewer than three chances for a Soho-made American coinage emerged and disappeared again, leaving no concrete products in their passing.

Two of the three possibilities involved the state of South Carolina , and they were fostered by the nature of our first national compact, the Articles of Confederation. Drawn up in 1777 and effective from 1781, that document was a direct reaction to the immediate past—or how most Americans chose to see it. According to the prevalent view, a power-mad central government in London had attempted to curb local freedoms in America, provoking a just War for American Independence. Armed with this interpretation, the majority concluded that any domestic central government which might be set up must be kept weak, so as not to infringe on individual or state autonomies. The Articles of Confederation, therefore, reserved most rights to the states; and this included the powers to emit bills of credit and circulate coinage. A number of the sovereign states—and the soi-disant Vermont Republic—were taking advantage of the moneying possibilities by the middle of the 1780s. When South Carolina decided to join the group, a link between Charleston and Soho would be forged.

On March 22, 1786, the state's legislature passed an ordinance authorizing the creation of state coins in four denominations—pence and halfpence, and shillings and sixpence. The former two were to be made of copper, the latter two of silver. The halfpence were to be struck "according to the standard of British half pence," while the two silver coins "shall be of the same weight as English shillings and sixpences, and contain an alloy proportioned to that of the French crowns"; a logical stipulation, in light of the fact that the French had settled the area around Charleston and still enjoyed some influence there. The standard applied to the copper penny was left unstated, for no such coin currently existed in England .

Some £10,000 worth of coppers were to be struck, divided equally between the two denominations. They would join £20,000 in silver coins, in a proportion of three shillings to every sixpence struck. The man responsible for this new state coinage would be a certain Charles Borel. 2

Borel was currently a resident of Charleston. His preferred means of expression seems to have been French—a not-insurmountable barrier in a French-influenced city. He had gone into business and prospered, and it was Borel who had made the coining proposal to the state, not the other way around. The Act he secured gave him the responsibility of importing the coinage from abroad (for there was never serious thought of creating it in South Carolina , or even in America ); he had fifteen months to obtain it, and, if it passed muster with the Governor, Borel would receive South Carolina paper of a value equal to the coins he had imported. While he seems to have been put to a great deal of trouble for no profit, Borel was public-spirited and besides realized that a viable metallic currency would be good for business.

As it was granting Borel the right to import a contract coinage, the state was also setting about creating the paper medium against which the new coinage would be exchanged. This explains the existence of the excessively rare state notes bearing an issue-date of May 1, 1786, engraved and printed in Charleston by Abernethie.


1. South Carolina , £2, May 1, 1786 (reduced).

Four denominations were issued—for £1, £2, £3, and £10. Today, one of the £2 notes survives—in the collection of the American Numismatic Society. And two of the £3 have been traced. But the other members of this fairly sizable issue have disappeared, presumably all redeemed—but not by the contract coinage of Matthew Boulton .

We do not know why Borel thought of this industrialist: his first overture to Soho bore a date of August 19, a time when Boulton was yet to begin his first coining project, copper money intended for the East India Company's holdings in Sumatra; and there is no indication of a prior acquaintance. But Soho had been tapped for the Sumatran assignment in June 1786, 3 and the upcoming coinage would have been common knowledge in London financial circles by the time of Borel's letter, which was written from London . That letter was brief: it simply asked whether Boulton were interested in creating five tons of copper coins for America—with no mention of silver coinage, or specific reference to South Carolina .

Boulton's reply has not survived, but he was receptive to the project and evidently replied around the end of August, discussing possible terms, asking for more information. He then left for Cornwall on personal business and in search of copper for the upcoming Sumatran coinage. Borel's second and last letter was addressed to him there, on September 14.

A problem had arisen. Borel wished to return to America in early October, and he wanted most or all of his coppers ready at that point to carry back with him. We may sympathize with him: a clock was ticking, and if he were late, his agreement could be annulled. But we may sympathize with Matthew Boulton as well: the latter was desperately searching for copper for the much larger Sumatran order, was attempting to create a makeshift mint at an East India Company warehouse in London , and was learning his new craft as he went along. He could not undertake Borel's work prior to the end of October. And that was too late for Borel.

What happened next is both obvious and unclear. This Charleston merchant received no coins—at least from Matthew Boulton . But Sylvester S. Crosby has him receiving coins from someone. Writing in 1875, Crosby quotes an article from the Massachusetts Centinel of October 18, 1786, reproducing an account received from Charleston dated September 29: 4 [The South Carolina ] Government has received information that Mr. Borel has compleated his contract of coinage for this State, in Switzerland , and may be soon expected here by the way of London . The stipulation was for 30,0001. in silver and copper, to be exchanged for the paper medium.

This quote obscures more than it illuminates. The quantity noted dovetails with the requirements set down in the ordinance, and it mentions silver coinage as well as copper. But the timing is impossible. Even if we were to concede that Borel had given up on Boulton and immediately sought someone else, the news could not possibly have crossed the Atlantic between the date of his second letter to the coiner and the publication of the news in Charleston—or its republication in Boston . And Switzerland ? Was Borel from Neuchâtel?

It seems unlikely that Crosby's sources were correct—and indeed this would not be the only instance of something mentioned by that author but not seen elsewhere. In any case, a new man was about to make his entrance, and he, at least, believed that Borel had abandoned his plans without bringing them to fruition. This new man wanted an opportunity to take up precisely where the old had left off. This new man was a fellow-Charlestonian named John H. Mitchell .

We know a fair amount about this second businessman and his dealings with Matthew Boulton because an eventual descendant with an antiquarian bent published Mitchell-Boulton Correspondence, 1787-1792: Relative to Coinages for South Carolina and the United States . While Clarence B. Mitchell made occasional exclusions on behalf of the good name of his ancestor, we nonetheless have a reasonably detailed account of the second connection between Matthew Boulton and the state of South Carolina —one which can be expanded by Birmingham materials not included in the 1931 book.

John H. Mitchell was nothing if not enterprising, and he always thought in grandiose terms. At a time when he had not yet informed the Governor or the General Assembly of his plans (let alone secured their agreement to them), he was already in contact with Matthew Boulton , soliciting the latter's participation in a revived Carolina coining project.

Mitchell made his proposal through two of Boulton's business associates at the end of July 1787. The prospectus was tempting: Mitchell wanted no fewer than £20,000 worth of copper halfpence—nearly ten million coins. He sent along proposed designs on August 4: they closely copied the South Carolina state seal, but the current date would be substituted for the date 1775 on the obverse. A second letter was sent out on the thirteenth, asking for specimens based on the designs sent nine days previously. If at all possible, Boulton was to prepare patterns so that Mitchell could send them along with his formal proposal to Governor Pinckney. If Boulton's coins and Mitchell's overtures could leave on a ship scheduled to sail on the twentieth, there was a chance that they would reach Charleston in time for the Governor to lay them before the legislature. But Mitchell could not remit his proposal until the end of August (and even then, he had to be content with inclusion of a few specimens from the Sumatra coinage: Boulton had not been able to create the new patterns in time). And timing was everything: a tardy reception of Boulton's coins and Mitchell's prospectus might make it less likely that the state would embrace either.


2. John H. Mitchell to Matthew Boulton , Aug. 4, 1787 (enclosure). Courtesy Matthew Boulton Papers, Birmingham Reference Library.

But they would struggle against greater odds than that: just as John H. Mitchell was counseling celerity upon Matthew Boulton , the new Constitution being drawn up in Philadelphia posed a far greater threat. To be sure, it must be ratified by most of the states, but such passage was very likely, given a changed climate of opinion concerning the blessings of liberty versus the attractions of order.


3. Bank of South Carolina , $100, 1812 (detail).

At present, the climate was warming to the proposed new federal compact—which would take a very dim view of the very sort of state coinage which Messrs. Mitchell and Boulton were seeking to create.

Mitchell encountered the chilly atmosphere as soon as he arrived back in Charleston in the spring of 1788: 5 I waited on the Governor the day after my arrival, who informed me that my proposals were read to the House of Assembly and the French Crown [ Jean-Pierre Droz 's famous pattern écu, with its lettered edge struck in collar: Boulton had engaged Droz for his own coinage and would enlist his services for South Carolina as well] shewn them which met entirely with their approbation. But they could do nothing in the business until the new Constitution was either adopted or exploded—which cannot be ascertained until the Convention had met to consider of it, which was appointed to be the thirteenth of the next month, so that I cannot expect an answer before the middle of July, which as soon as I receive shall transmit you.

The ratifying convention duly met; within a few days, it embraced the new federal compact (thereby showing as much enthusiasm for getting into the Union as it would one day demonstrate in getting out of it). As the Constitution forbade coinage by (or circulated under the aegis of) the states, this second South Carolina proposal was null.

But John H. Mitchell was a persistent and optimistic man. Rebuffed on the state level, he turned to the federal; and he carried Matthew Boulton part of the way with him.

In September 1789, Mitchell visited the temporary national capital, New York City. There, he had a long meeting with President Washington concerning a new national coinage—and he incorporated Soho into his speculations. Mitchell was back in Charleston by early October, sending Boulton a quick survey on the ninth and a more extended report on the following day. The proposal he sketched was for an enormous quantity of coinage—not less than £200,000 worth of money, divided equally between gold, silver and copper. And this would merely be the first installment, as "I have the preference of supplying Congress with their first Coinage," and that body clearly saw "the impracticability of coining in America, when they can get it so much better made in Europe and cheaper." 6 But speed was again essential. Like Borel, Mitchell had a strict deadline; Congress would reassemble on the first Monday of 1790, and Boulton's proposal must be received by then at the latest.

His correspondent was somewhat skeptical, based on past experience with the ebullient Charlestonian . But the money involved was simply too large to be ignored, and he dutifully prepared an estimate, sending it to Charleston on November 25, 1789, only a few days after hearing the news. With luck, it would reach Mitchell in time to be laid before Congress; but what would happen then was anyone's guess.

Boulton restricted his remarks to copper coinage, upon which he was becoming something of an expert. He could make it for the Americans for £46.13.4 per ton, including freight to Bristol . That would be the price if the Americans got their own copper; if he had to get it for them, it would cost them another £84 per ton, at current rates. Mitchell would have to come up with his own designs, perhaps in consultation with General Washington . Boulton thought that the arrangement employed on the Fugio coppers was attractive (an irony: Boulton was very nearly involved in the production of that coin too, in treaty with the rascally James Jarvis at the very time he was corresponding with John Mitchell ). But he believed the Fugio designs could be improved upon, perhaps with the addition of Washington's head or an allegorical figure.

As for the matter on both men's minds: how was Mitchell , or Congress, to pay for the coins? Boulton's suggestions betray the shaky nature of his industrial empire, as more and more of its capital was being invested in a still-unproductive Soho Mint. For he would accept whatever local products he could get by way of payment—indigo, rice, wheat or tobacco. They could be consigned to him or to his London agent, William Matthews , and the proceeds raised from their sale would be credited against what the Republic owed for its coins.

You will recall that Mitchell wanted an answer by the first of the year. This was unrealistic even in times of good sailing weather. In the event, he had to wait until March 17 for Boulton's reply. It was not all that he had hoped, but he submitted it to Congress nonetheless, assuming that Boulton's reputation would give his tardy proposal more consideration than another's timely one. But he reckoned without certain members of the new national government.

Chief among them was Thomas Jefferson , Secretary of State and the leader of an emerging anti-Federalist bloc. Jefferson was somewhat anti-British, distinctly pro-French; 7 but his conclusions concerning John H. Mitchell and the Birmingham magnate who stood behind him transcended parties and pettiness.

Jefferson received Mitchell's proposal (but not Mitchell : the latter had unwisely remained at Charleston ) about the seventh of April. Within a week, his reply, the "Report on Copper Coinage," had been written and submitted to President Washington . Coming at a very crucial time, it would fix the identity of the coinage circulated in the United States from that day forward.

Jefferson's report of April 14, 1790, acknowledged that Boulton could coin in the manner which he and Mitchell claimed: Soho's coinage really was the finest in the world, far superior to anything else on either side of the Atlantic . It agreed with Boulton's tenets, that the technological and artistic perfection which Soho could provide were the surest defenses against counterfeiting; to be successful and secure, any future American coinage must embrace these same qualities.

But technical expertise, artistic perfection, and the security against forgery that they made possible must yield to national interest and national security. This Mitchell/Boulton proposal was admirable, provided it could be carried out in America . If it had to be effected in Great Britain, it must be declined.

It could not be so entertained because it was far too risky. Just then, the world was at peace; but the previous record of the eighteenth century and the drift of current events in France strongly argued that peace was a temporary thing, not to be relied upon by the United States . And in a time of war, vessels laden with coin for America would inevitably make tempting targets for adversaries of every stripe. 8 Even in times of peace, such cargoes would always run the risk of mutiny and piracy by the crews to whom they were entrusted—and a surreptitious landing and quick dispersal of such coinage at any of hundreds of points along the long Eastern Seaboard could not have been prevented, given the rudimentary state of law enforcement and communications at this time.

But Jefferson's report went deeper than security considerations. As he succinctly observed "Coinage is peculiarly an attribute of sovereignty. To transfer it's [sic] exercise into another country, is to submit it to another Sovereign. 9

How could America , whose nationality was still in process of formation, conceivably transfer coinage to the safekeeping of another nation, especially one against which a war of liberation had so recently been fought? Jefferson's reply to the Mitchell/Boulton proposal listed other arguments against the idea, and very good ones indeed. But he had already delivered an unanswerable blow to the scheme. There would be no national coinage involving John H. Mitchell , or Matthew Boulton .

Mitchell heard the bad news in early May 1790, and he wrote his proposed partner almost immediately, attempting to put the best face on a miserable situation. He observed that Jefferson had by no means closed the door to a Boulton connection with America : indeed, the Secretary had said that whenever a Federal Mint was established: 10 The superiority, the merit, and means of the Undertaker [ Boulton ] will suggest him as the proper person to be engaged in the establishment and conduct of a mint, on a scale which, relinquishing nothing in the perfection of the coin, shall be duly proportioned to our purposes.

From Mitchell's point of view, all was most certainly not lost, and if Boulton "thought it practicable to establish one of your machines here, you may be assured we shall get the conducting of the whole of the coinage business in this country." 11 But Boulton was unprepared for such a move: his squabbles with Jean-Pierre Droz had dissolved into the acrimony of legal proceedings; he was in process of securing a patent for his minting machinery; and he was now aware that whatever the American potential might be, John H. Mitchell was not the man to secure it. The latter was a dreamer, more interested in turning a profit (by means of a complicated scheme, if possible) than in reforming a coinage. The correspondence between the two men continued, but Boulton would henceforth restrict it to the more prosaic articles of the Anglo-American trade.

Some years later, Boulton's nephew visited the United States on business, and he made a point of dropping by Charleston to visit his uncle's old acquaintance. He found him charming as always, but still possessing "the unlucky talent of trying to preserve the splendour of a Gentn [Gentleman] without adequate means." 12 In short, not the man to act as midwife to an American coinage by Matthew Boulton .

Just as this relative was penning his observations about Mr. Mitchell , an interesting event was taking place in Philadelphia . An Act passed the previous year had ordered the creation of a federal Mint, and it was now striking its first coins in a new decimal system of dollars and cents. These maiden efforts were not handsome, and there were not very many of them; but they were incontrovertibly American. And once the first of them entered commerce, the connections between Boulton , Watt & Company and the United States of America changed for all time.

End Notes

Those interested in the planchet trade may wish to consult my "Early United States Copper Coinage: The English Connection," BNJ 57 (1987), pp. 54-76.
Statutes at Large of South Carolina , Thomas Cooper , ed., vol. 4 (1752-1786) ( Columbia , 1838), pp. 743-44.
The report of the East India Company's Committee of Warehouses bears a date of June 16, 1786. Boulton's assistance was enlisted in drawing up the document; his role in the project was confirmed by letter later that month (see Matthew Boulton Papers [hereafter MBP] 411, East India Company coinage).
Reproduced in S.S. Crosby , The Early Coins of America ( Boston , 1875; reprinted 1983), p. 144.
MBP 244, Letter Box Ml, John H. Mitchell to Matthew Boulton , May 6, 1788.
MBP 244, John Hinckley Mitchell to Matthew Boulton , October 9 and 10, 1788.
Along with Matthew Boulton and James Watt , Jefferson had witnessed the coining innovations of a brilliant-but-difficult Swiss named Jean-Pierre Droz at the Hôtel des Monnaies at the end of 1786. Droz's prowess with the segmented collar, which allowed raised lettering to be applied to the edges of his coins as they were being struck, interested both Jefferson and Boulton . Both had attempted to lure the Swiss from his Paris ian post in 1787. Boulton succeeded, to his eventual chagrin. But Thomas Jefferson's interest in Droz for a new American coinage had by no means abated at the beginning of the 1790s; and it played a definite role in the fate of the Mitchell/Boulton proposal. See the "Editorial Note" to Jefferson's "Report on Copper Coinage" (April 14, 1790), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson , Julian P. Boyd , ed. ( Princeton , 1961), vol. 16, pp. 335-42.
When we consider what happened after the mid-nineties, when American ships were seized by both France and Britain , we must concede Jefferson's point.
Jefferson , "Report on Copper Coinage," (above, n. 7), p. 347.
Jefferson , "Report on Copper Coinage" (above, n. 7), p. 348. Mitchell sent along a true copy of the document with his letter to Matthew Boulton of May 16, 1790, announcing that the scheme had collapsed (see MBP 244, Letter Box Ml).
MBP 244, John H. Mitchell to Matthew Boulton , May 16, 1790.
MBP 360, Zacchaeus Walker , Jr. to Zacchaeus Walker , Sr., February 19, 1793.

Coinage Featuring George Washington

George Fuld, NLG

Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York

October 28, 1995

© The American Numismatic Society, 1996

Coinage with a portrait of George Washington has been accepted as part of the early American coinage, although none had any official status. Some Washington coins did circulate in England , and others were in use as currency in the United States as late as the middle of the nineteenth century. The first to appear was the Georgius Triumpho copper token of 1783. Four types dated 1783 were struck but after 1815. There is one piece, dated 1784; three pieces of the Confederatio-Immune Columbia series of the 1785-86, some being dated; American-made Peter Getz half dollars dated 1792; and finally a group of English commercial issues dated 1791, 1792, 1793 and 1795. One exception is the American-made Peter Getz half dollars dated 1792. 1

A classification system has been devised for the series, designated WA , combining: date of issue; variety designation; metal (blank- copper, Ag-silver, Au-gold, Br-brass, Bz-bronze, Pb-lead, Pt-platinum, WM-white metal); known overstrikes (indicated by lower case o). 2 A list of the varieties appears in Table 1.

The historical background of the Washington coinage has been researched and commented on by Crosby , Breen , Julian , 3 and Taxay 4 and is consolidated in this study. A detailed summary of the material coordinated by Breen follows each basic series.


1. WA. 1783.1, Georgivs Triumpho Cent


Baker 7, Vlack 30-Z. 5 The Georgivs Triumpho coins were struck in England , probably in Birmingham . Historically they were believed to be an ambiguous combination of a rude head of George III (copied from the 1774-76 and 1781-82 Irish halfpence, Seaby H236-40, 6 and a Birmingham -made counterfeit British halfpenny style die. The legends were evasive regardless of the outcome of the Revolutionary War: in praise of King George if the British won, in praise of Washington if the Americans won. The familiar devices would ensure circulation either way.

However, closer attention to the facts shows that by 1783, King George had no possible triumph coming. The legend VOCE POPOLI (Italianate spelling of VOCE POPULI "By the voice of the people") would have been colossal irony if the Americans had not already won.

The head on the vast majority of evasion halfpence was intended to be King George III also. The head on the Triumpho piece was also intended to be both George III and Washington . The fabric resembles Bungtown tokens. 7 The date, 1783, is significant as it is the date of the Treaty of Paris which formally concluded the Revolutionary War. A recent article by Ringo shows die punch linkage of the Georgivs Triumpho with several 1775 English counterfeit halfpence, and the Nova Constellatio variety 1-A. 8 Even the figure of Britannia on a 1775 counterfeit and the Triumpho have a common hub. This data further confirms the issuance date of the Georgivs Triumpho as soon after 1783.

It is reported that the Triumpho piece served as a host coin for the Elizabethtown-mint New Jersey copper, which was put in circulation during the period between June 1788 and June 1789, when that Mint was operational. Table 29 of Mossman indicates that two New Jersey coppers, Maris 35-W and 56-n, are overstruck on Georgivs Triumpho pieces, while a 1783 Nova Constellatio 1-A is overstruck by a Maris 72-z (see die linkage above). 9 The reliability of the identification of the undertype of these pieces has been raised by both Ringo and Mossman because they have not seen the coins.

The weight of the Georgivs Triumpho coins is approximately 110 to 135 grains, similar to the Nova Constellatio coppers. 10 The coin's reverse is a fence-like frame with 13 vertical, a direct allusion to the United States . Completing the design, the corners of the cage are sealed by four fleur-de-lys, alluding to the French aid in America . This undoubtedly means that the obverse device attempted to represent Washington because no copies of engraved portraits were accessible. Fuld , in 1964, argued that the Georgivs Triumpho were fully contemporary. 11 Mossman and Vlack reported that they circulated in Georgia, Virginia and Florida , but because of the distaste for the George III -like bust, many were mutilated and then exported to Jamaica . This assumption is without any support and should be rejected for the time being. Paul Bosco repeats similar information, and adds that the coin is listed in Atkins as number 232, further reinforcing its English origin. 12 It may be assumed that they circulated in England like any other evasion halfpence.


2. WA. 1784.1, Ugly Head Cent


Obverse: Around, WASHINGTON THE GREAT D.G., with crude profile head of Washington (?) facing right. The reverse shows 13 rings with the initials of the states similar to the concept of the Continental dollars of 1776. It differs from the dollar design by having C ( Connecticut ) between R.I. and N.Y. instead of just to the right of M.B. ( Massachusetts Bay). In the center, in two lines, (17)/84, the 17 being very weak. Copper, 93-102.3 grains. Snowden 74, Appleton 48, Crosby , pl. 10, 3, Baker 8, Breen 1185. Very rare, with four different specimens being verified: 1) Discovery piece, Smithsonian Institution ex Dr. Gibbs , U.S. Mint Cabinet (before 1860); 2) Cogan , Apr. 7, 1863, 116, Appleton , MHS, 102 grains (this specimen has the Royal Navy's Arrow and Cross countermark, the only non- U.S. association for this piece); 3) Gilbody (ca. 1960), Roper 369, D. Groves , 93.0 grains; 4) K.L. Stockdale , 98.24 grains, pierced (found by a teenage boy under a porch in Ijamsville, MD , in the late 1930s). A specimen is illustrated in Vlack , 13 but the location or identification of the original coin is not known. The illustration in the Redbook 14 is from a copper electrotype formerly in the author's collection—the original coin from which it is copied is also not identified.


Same dies as preceding, but struck in white metal, 125.5 grains. Breen 1186 says unique, ex I.F. Wood (1894), Nicholas Petry , Ellsworth , J.W. Garrett , Johns Hopkins University (JHU), Garrett 1700.

Special Note: WA.FA.1784.1

For some years, especially since 1952, a so-called specimen of the "Ugly Head" in silver has been discussed in the literature toward the possibility that this fabrication is genuine. 15 Its pedigree is Cy Hunter , Arthur Conn , Gould , Fuld (1952), Gould , Groves . In June 1952, the author purchased this piece from Maurice Gould of Boston for what today would be a nominal sum. The authenticity of the coin (or token) seemed unclear, so I took this coin to the 1952 ANA Convention in New York for verification. This was long before non-destructive X-ray techniques were available. Four dealers, Messrs. John Ford , Walter Breen , Richard Picker and Harvey Stack , studied the piece, and all agreed it was some kind of an electrotype. At that point, it was returned to Gould and a full refund was made.

Gould was not convinced, expressing his opinion in the 1954 article cited above. After Gould's death, the piece was acquired for the Donald Groves collection, and was the subject of a presentation made at the 1984 COAC held at the ANS, and later published in the Proceedings volume (above, n. 15). The thesis, that the coin, ascertained to contain 56% silver, was struck on a cast planchet, is faulty. It is telling that Walter Breen did not list this "silver" piece in his Encyclopedia (although he was fully aware of its existence).

Let's examine how this piece was made. Undoubtedly it is a full electrotype, using silver, which plates out as well as copper in the conductive wax mold. The flan thickness varies from .80 mm to 2.05 mm; ruling out any possibility that the coin was struck, even on a cast planchet. If a one-inch die, with separate obverse and reverses, were struck, the alignment of the dies from side to side off parallel by 1.25 mm would yield a striking that was extremely weak on one side—which is not the case with the "silver" piece. The X-ray analysis of the piece is misleading, as the obverse and reverse surfaces would be pure silver (electroplating alloys are unlikely), while the soft metal fill into the shells with a mixture of lead and tin would account for their presence. The X-ray data presented by Partrick is the average of the overall metal composition. Theoretically, the composition of the surface only, and of the center only, could be determined, but it is doubtful that it would be worth the expense.

Confederatio-Immune Columbia Series WA.1785.1, WA.1786.1, WA.1786.2

The Confederatio-Immune Columbia coinage of 1785-86 yielded three very rare Washington pieces.

As noted in Breen , Thomas Jefferson , in "Propositions Respecting the Coinage of Gold, Silver, and Copper," May 13, 1785, (written while he was in Paris ), recommended the device of an Indian dian trampling on a crown, with MANUS INIMICA TYRANNIS "This hand is hostile to Tyrants." 16 A deleted paragraph of the Report of the Grand Committee of Continental Congress suggested the name "decad" for the larger copper coin, valued at 1/100 Spanish milled dollar, and for its device a sketch of the union of 13 stars in a circle with a serrated border representing rays, surrounded by CONFEDERATION 1785. 17

That paragraph was deleted from the printed report either by acting chairman Hugh Williamson , or by vote of the committee. Jefferson knew of the Committee's inner workings, and he would have known of the proposed designs (if indeed he was not the instigator), as well as Wyon's facilities. Jefferson was the most logical go- between for transmitting the recommended designs and inscriptions presumably to Wyon , even for patterns for a possible contract coinage, should satisfactory mint equipment not be available. If Wyon was the engraver, how did the dies reach the United States ca . 1785-86?

There are various patterns, involving seven obverse dies and six reverses, most of which were eventually muled with each other in some 14 combinations. Of interest here is Breen Obverse 4 showing the uniformed bust right, GEN. WASHINGTON . This comes combined with the reverse later used on New Jersey copper coinage (broad shield in center, E PLURIBUS UNUM around, Maris 4-C, 18 Baker 11). It also occurs with the same obverse 4 combined with Breen reverse D, with circle of 13 large stars within long rays; Crosby obverse 2, one die supposedly brought to U.S. by Mould . As stated below this "fact" is unlikely. The third Washington muling, the rarest of the series, has the obverse of Breen 4, with reverse G showing an eagle displayed, on his breast a shield argent, six pales gules, a chief azure; a bundle of arrows in his right talon, and an olive branch in left hand; about his head, 13 stars, around, * E • PLURIBUS • UNUM • 1786. Breen based his assumptions as to the engraver of these dies on the fact that Mould worked in Birmingham , from which he concluded he worked for Wyon (a stretch of course)—his presence in Birmingham was in 1783, thus making it nearly impossible for him to obtain vintage 1785 or 1786 dies. 19 Certainly this die was not conveyed by Walter Mould to the Morristown Mint and muled with another coarse obverse. There is no reason to reject the fact that Maris reverse C was not engraved at the Morristown mint. Certainly it is crude enough and not worthy of Wyon's expertise. As Hodder points out, some of Breen's suppositions are based on slim foundations, but have become unsupported facts. These three pieces, per Breen's notation, are 4/ Maris C; 4/D and 4/G. There are deceptive Bolen copies of some Confederatio's, but none with the Washington bust. Certainly further evidence is required before concluding that Wyon of Birmingham made most of the dies for these three issues, which were extensively muled together. All the Confederatio patterns are denoted "decads" as proposed by the Continental Congress, valued at 1/100 per Spanish dollar. This nomenclature was deleted from the final report, although some designs were proposed. 20


3. WA.1785.1, Washington /Confederatio Cent


Obverse uniformed bust right, GEN. WASHINGTON around. Reverse, the Confederatio cent, dated 1785, shows a cluster of 13 large stars upon a central field of 13 mm, within a glory of 24 groups of fine rays. Legend is CONFEDERATIO •1785•. Listed as Appleton 12, Baker 9, Breen 4-D/1125. Six or seven specimens are now known, i.e. specimens sold in Garrett 1331; Roper 216; Stack's May 1994, 48; extremely fine example in collection of William Anton ; J. J. Ford , Jr. ex Boyd .


4. WA.1786.1, Washington /Immune Columbia Cent (Photograph courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society)


The second version has the common obverse, using an eagle reverse from the Confederatio series, and is the rarest of the three pieces. Obverse same as the others, reverse an eagle displayed, on his breast a shield argent, six pales gules, a chief azure, a bundle of six arrows in his right talon, and an olive branch in his left; about his head are 13 stars. Legend, * E * PLURIBUS UNUM *, below 1786. Listed as Appleton 13, Baker 10, Breen 4-G/1130. The discovery piece was sold by Mason & Co., Oct. 9, 1870 ( Fewsmith ), 1559; Appleton ; MHS, where it still resides. The other specimen, in rather poor condition, was in the Robert R. Prann collection, Kosoff, Aug. 26, 1947 (ANA), sold to A.M. Kagin .


5. WA.1786.2, Washington/New Jersey Cent


The third type is a mule of the New Jersey Maris C reverse with the GEN. WASHINGTON profile bust—the same obverse was used for all three Confederatios. This piece, of which three are known, was discovered by John W. Haseltine about 1875 and sold in his Crosby Sale, 1165, for $620 (undoubtedly an all time record for a U.S. coin at the time), bought by Lorin G. Parmelee and resold, New York Coin & Stamp, June 1890, to H.P. Smith, Ten Eyck 761, Newcomer 2945 and hence to Garrett 1390. The second known piece has a pedigree of F.C.C. Boyd; J.J. Ford , Jr. The third specimen, with a hole at the top of the obverse, is Parsons 221, Garvin ; New Netherlands Coin (NNC), The Numismatist 1951, p. 91; Fuld; Picker ; Roper 298; Stack's May 1993, 49 (the Redbook plate coin); illustrated in ANS 1914, pl. 39. Maris 4-C, Baker 11, Breen 4-F/1126. Weight 128.5 to 130.8 grains.

NOTE: These three Confederatio pieces are called patterns by Breen .


6. WA.1786.3, Non Vi Virtute Cent (Photograph courtesy Bowers and Merena )


The New York issue of the NON VI VIRTUTE VICI cent showing Washington was issued in limited quantities in 1786. The obverse legend translates "I conquered by Virtue , Not by Force." The reverse NEO EBORSCENSIS is a Latin revision of the name for the Roman settlement of York in England . 21 This legend is still used on the seal of New York State . It is speculated that these were patterns for New York coinage made at Machins Mills. Obverse has a apocryphal profile to the right of Washington , with the reverse NEO EBORSCENSIS above with liberty seated to the right. It is rather rare, as only about 25 specimens are known. It is extremely rare in high grade. Eliasberg 56, fully uncirculated with some mint red; Newcomer 2909 called EF, may be same specimen. Baker 12.


7. WA.1786.4, Non Vi Virtute Counterfeit Cent


Similar design, probably a contemporary counterfeit. Same legends, but no real similarity to the normal piece. Discovery piece is New York Coin & Stamp, June 1890 ( Parmelee ), 450; NNC; Fuld (1967); Picker in only Fair condition. Another specimen was discovered by Boyd , now Ford in extremely fine condition.


8. WA.1786.5, Non Vi Virtute/ New Jersey Counterfeit


This is the combination of the counterfeit obverse die as on WA.1786.4, with a New Jersey shield reverse. It was first listed as Baker 12, being in the collection of Lorin Parmelee . It passed to T.H. Garrett , JHU, and was presented as Garrett 1388. It is unique. Surprisingly not listed in Maris (resembles Maris rev. K).

As mentioned previously, most of the balance of the Washington coinage is English tokens of the extensive "Conder" series. 22 The initial pieces are the "small eagle" and "large eagle" cents of 1791, engraved by John Gregory Hancock , Jr. (1775-1815) of Birmingham . He was a juvenile prodigy and became one of the finest artists in the history of eighteenth century British diemaking. 23 Ford (below, n. 29) states that Hancock was an employee of Obadiah Westwood of Birmingham , who ran a large private mint there. Hancock received the honorific assignment of making dies for two types of cents, portraying George Washington . These were to be samples of a proposed Federal contract ordered by W. and Alex. Walker of Birmingham .

Walker shipped a cask (conjecturally one hundred weight = 112 lbs, about 4,000 cents, estimated to be 2,500 Large Eagle and 1,500 Small Eagle) to the firm's Philadelphia associates, Thomas Ketland & Sons, for distribution to cabinet officials, senators, congressmen and other VIPs. 24 These pieces arrived during the debate of the Morris bill, which initially proposed the coins to portray President Washington , and most committee members objected to any private coinage contract. This doomed the British proposal, but the 1791 cents went into circulation. Large Eagle cents are found uncirculated; Small Eagle cents rarely uncirculated; both issues very elusive in red uncirculated condition. The portrait was modeled after Du Simitiere's drawing. There is a series of all unique patterns or die trials of this group, the largest holding being offered in the Garrett sales. The regular issues all have the edge lettered UNITED STATES OF AMERICA , while many of the trials have typical "Conder" type edges from other English eighteenth century tokens or plain edges. The ten or so patterns of the Large and Small Eagle cents known are listed below. This series of 1791 and 1792 was discussed in some detail by Breen in a serial article in 1973. 25


9. WA.1791.P1, Large Eagle Pattern


Reverse die trial of Large Eagle cent. Copper, 190.3 grains. Very similar to adopted die, but there is no outline around the shield as on the regular issue. Top of O of ONE is closed. Every other detail is identical to the regular issue, leading to the possibility that this trial die was altered to the regular die. The reverse is blank, but rough, with scratched on numbers "41474" which may refer to the job or shop number of the piece. The edge is lettered BERSHAM BRADLEY WILLEY SNEDSHILL, indicating that a blank, convenient, lettered "Conder" flan was used for striking. From Hancock's widow, Capt. Davenport (1862); George F. Seavy , Colburn 2271; Bushnell 1243, Woodward, Oct. 13, 1884, 1284; T. H. Garrett, John W. Garrett , JHU, Garrett 1701, Ford. Certainly unique. Breen 1214. Reference note in Harpers New Monthly Magazine, March 1860, p. 474, to effect that two specimens of the Large Eagle cent bear this edge, which is unlikely to mean regular specimens.


10. WA.1791.P2, Large Eagle Pattern


Washington Large Eagle reverse die trial. Copper, 167.6 grains. Identical to the reverse of the adopted cent with blank irregular reverse, with open O in ONE. Edge inscribed PAYABLE AT SHREWSBURY , representing blanks for Salop Woolen Manufactory halfpence, D&H Shropshire ( Shrewsbury ) 19-21 by Hancock . Similar pedigree to preceding, i.e, Hancock's widow, Davenport; Seavy, Colburn; Bushnell; Woodward, Oct. 13, 1884, 1285; Garrett 1702, Ford . Second specimen A. Hepner ( Washington, DC ), Jerry Tralins , A.M. Kagin , private collection. Breen 1215.


11. WA.1791.P3, Large Eagle Pattern


Early die trial of Large Eagle cent, similar to WA.1791.P1 before lettering added and without ribbon through eagle's beak. Hand punched where ribbon would be is UNUM E PLURIBUS with some letters reversed. Reverse is plain with beveled edge. Copper, plain edge, 161.8 grains. Ellsworth , J.W. Garrett , JHU, Garrett 1703, Ford and unique. Breen 1213.


12. WA.1791.P4, Small Eagle Reverse Pattern (Photo courtesy R.H. Norweb , Jr. Trust)


Reverse die trial of Small Eagle cent, struck about 5% off center to Kolit 12. Reverse blank, with "icicle" shaped small vertical raised segment. In Norweb collection, no pedigree available and undoubtedly unique. Edge not determined. Ex E.M. Norweb , R.H. Norweb , Jr. Trust estate.


13. WA.1791.P5, Large Eagle/Thin Pattern


An oddly struck pattern, apparently showing the regular Washington obverse date 1791, with a Large Eagle die trial reverse struck on a very large flan of 32.3 mm diameter. The flan is very thin, about 1 mm, and the edge of the beading of the obverse and reverse is at least 1 mm in from the edge. The coin has been canceled by a small burred roller leaving about 6 mm groves, and then apparently machine canceled. In the outside area between the beads and the rim, appears PLURBUS E UNUM in raised letters, in mirror image and hand cut. There is no trace of the shield on the eagle's breast, although the cancellation may have obscured it. There is a ribbon in the eagle's beak, but only an incused M from UNUM and E on the right side are apparent. Struck in copper, but the obverse is fire gilt, with much worn away, while traces of gilt appear about the edge of the reverse. Traces of lettering on the edge, with only ABLE discernable. Weight 127.5 grains. Ex. A. Hepner , Jerry Tralins , A.M. Kagin , private collection. Clearly the most unusual of the Washington patterns.


14. WA.1791.P6, Large Eagle/ George III Mule


Regular Large Eagle cent reverse with obverse showing George III , the obverse of Peck 924. 26 Obverse, laureated bust of George III facing left, around, GEORGE III DEI GRATIA. Copper. First known from Clay 996, James E. Root , Isaac F. Wood (1894), Ten Eyck 840, Newcomer 2770, Col. E.H.R. Green , B.G. Johnson , F.C.C. Boyd , NNC, Dec. 3, 1968, 491, W.B. Blaisdell , Schulman-Kreisberg , Stack's, D. Groves . This is quite a strange muling, probably a piece de caprice with the George III die. Certainly unique. Weight 215.4 grains, Breen 1216.


15. WA.1791.P7, Large Eagle, no ONE CENT


Regular Large Eagle combination with unfinished reverse-no ONE CENT. This cent, gleaned from a coin show by Breen , has seen circulation, but is clearly a pattern issue. Edge inscribed BERSHAM BRADLEY WILLEY SNEDSHILL , on blank for Hancock's John Wilkinson Iron Master tokens, D&H Warwickshire 332-445. Again unique. Gilbody, Bromfield Stamp & Coin, Mar. 1, 1959; Breen, Fuld ; Picker, Kagin , Aug. 16, 1983 (ANA), 105; ANS. Copper, 182.7 grains.


16. WA.1791.P8, Uniface Obverse Punch Trial


Uniface obverse device punch trial, Macclesfield edge. Unique. Crosby, p. 352, pl. 10. Edge PAYABLE AT MACCLESFIELD LIVERPOOL OR CONGLETON •X•. No coat buttons, queue and epaulets are unfinished. This edge represents blanks for Roe & Co., Macclesfield halfpence, D&H Chesire 8/60 (also by Hancock ) 194 grains for Macclesfield standard. Hancock's widow, Clay 992, Crosby 299, Klein "Vicksburg Cabinet," Mills 144, Ryder . Illustrated in ANS 1914. Crosby, p. 352, 1, Breen 1211. Pictured in Crosby, pl. 10, 4, see also AJN 21 (Oct. 1886), p. 44.


17. WA.1791.P9, Small Eagle Obverse Trial, No Buttons


Small eagle obverse trial. Copper, 192.4 grains. Identical to the regular issues, but there are no buttons on the jacket of Washington . Queue and epaulets are unfinished. Uniface, with irregularly flat blank reverse. Edge again from Conder blank flan, inscribed PAYABLE AT THE WAREHOUSE OF THOS. & ALEXR. HUTCHINSON. Blank originally intended for Hutchison's 1790-91 Edinburgh halfpence by Hancock , D&H Lancashire (Edinburgh) 22-37. No whisper of a duplicate. Hancock's widow, Capt. Davenport (1830); Colburn 2270; Bushnell 1242; George F. Seavy ; Woodward, Oct. 13, 1884, 1283; T.H. Garrett , JHU, Garrett 1707, Ford. Crosby , p. 352, 1, Breen 1221.


18. WA.1791.P10, Large Eagle Obverse Trial (Photograph courtesy of R. Henry Norweb Jr. estate)


Uniface trial of completed obverse of Large Eagle cent, reverse plain. No period after T of PRESIDENT, no buttons, no edge ornaments. Edge PAYABLE AT MACCLESFIELD LIVERPOOL OR CONGLETON • X •. Unique, A.H.F. Baldwin ( London ), E.M. Norweb , R. Henry Norweb Jr. estate. Breen 1212

The Large and Small Eagle cents of 1791 must have achieved wide circulation both in England and the United States . That they are contemporary is borne out by their inclusion in several English token books of the 1790s. 27 Proof specimens have been reported of the Large Eagle cent, but none are confirmed for the small variety. They are listed in D&H as Middlesex 1049-50.


19. WA.1791.1, Large Eagle Cent


The large eagle cent has a bust of Washington facing left, around, WASHINGTON PRESIDENT; in exergue, 1791. Reverse large eagle, compact wings with ONE CENT above, on ribbon in eagle's beak E PLURIBUS UNUM. Edge, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA •X•. Denton 118, Baker 15, D&H Middlesex 1049, Breen 1206. Weight 196 grains, or 35 5/7 per lb., 30 mm dia. In 1907, Edgar Adams reported a specimen of the large eagle cent in gold, 28 but this has never been confirmed although a few gilt pieces are known. No number is assigned to the gold piece.


Struck on small thin flans from rusty dies. Weight 166.8/170.45 grains, possibly 41 2/3 to the lb. Obverse die rusted and cracked. Specimens known: Norweb , R. Henry Norweb Jr. estate; NNC, Dec. 3, 1968, 490; NNC/Seaby, Nov. 6, 1970, 432. Other references: Elder Feb. 5, 1924, 1722; Mar. 19, 1924, 2688; Oct. 9, 1924, 726; June 28, 1926, 2302 ( Norweb coin?); Breen 1207.


Same as preceding, but plain edge. Untraced, W.A. Lilliendahl , H.A. Smith , J.N.T. Levick , Jencks-Paine 1787. Beware cast or electrotype pieces. Breen 1208.


20. WA.1791.2, Small Eagle Cent


The small eagle cent has similar hubbed obverse, WASHINGTON PRESIDENT, with no date. Reverse is a smaller spread eagle, above, ONE CENT, below, 1791. Edge lettering same as on large eagle cent. Regular issues weigh 190 to 200 grains in copper. Generally comes with broken obverse die, with die failure below WAS and a wavy line below second N of Washington . Presumably the gilt specimens are not contemporary. A few genuine proofs are known, one in original case, Woodward, Bache 3273. Baker 16, Atkins Washington 174, D&H Middlesex 1050, Breen 1217.


At least two edge variations of the small eagle cent are known, reading PAYABLE AT MACCLESFIELD LIVERPOOL OR CONGLETON, and are listed as D&H Middlesex 1050a. Very rare. Copper, five known, Appleton , MHS; and Bushnell 1236, Parmelee 613, Miller 1676, Boyd, Ford ; Garrett (?Stacks); Krugjohann 65, James D. King , Hatie 175, possibly same as preceding. Breen 1218.


Same dies as preceding, edge reading PAYABLE AT THE WAREHOUSE OF THOS. WORSWICK & SONS. Listed as Atkins, Washington 174a, untraced but listed as D&H Middlesex 1050a. May not exist as Baldwin thinks misattributed, and Coctayne, according to Breen , says may never have existed. Blank would be D&H Lancashire ( Lancaster ) 9-28. Breen 1219.

WA 1791.2.Br.

In addition, two specimens of the small eagle cent in brass are known from regular lettered edge dies. They are distinctly brass and not a light colored copper. One piece is possibly Hancock's widow, unnamed British source, Capt. Davenport, Bache 3273, Colburn 2268, George F. Seavy , Levick (1864), Lightbody 717, Bushnell 1237, unnamed intermediate sources, Ellsworth , John W. Garrett , JHU, Garrett 1706, Collins (1989), Collins 24; the other NNC, Fuld , Picker (weight 188 grains), Roper 373, 188.0 grains.


21. WA.1791.3, Liverpool Cent


The last 1791 coin is the Liverpool halfpenny, a clear muling of an English Conder piece with the Washington obverse. The obverse die appears to be identical to the obverse of the large eagle cent, but all known specimens are struck on smaller flans truncating the tops of the lettering. Obverse reads, WASHINGTON PRESIDENT; in exergue, 1791. The reverse shows fully rigged ship to the right with wreath below. Above, LIVERPOOL HALFPENNY. Edge is lettered PAYABLE IN ANGELSEY LONDON OR LIVERPOOL•X•. Known to be a rarity since the 1860s, perhaps 25 specimens now are known, with all showing some degree of wear. Most specimens have come from England in the last 60 years. Struck in copper with weights in the range of 130-140 grains. A specimen from the Baker collection at the PHS was stolen, later recovered and returned to the museum in 1975 (see discussion under WA.1792.1) Denton 118, Crosby , pl. 10, Baker 17, Atkins Washington 175, D&H Lancashire 116, Breen 1223.


Same as preceding, with plain edge. Unique. A.H.F. Baldwin ( London ). Beware of plain edge electrotypes. Breen 1224, copper.


22. WA.1791.P11.WM, Liverpool Pattern, WM (Photograph courtesy of R.H. Norweb , Jr. Trust estate)


A single die trial is known in white metal with a slightly different reverse as used on D&H Lancashire (Liverpool) 88-89 (1791) and 100-102 (1792). It has a plain edge. It first appeared in Hans Schulman , Apr. 26, 1951 ( B.G. Johnson ), 1077; NNC, Nov. 10, 1951, 557, to Oliver Futter ; Mehl ; Norweb ; R. Henry Norweb Jr. estate. Weight 156.5 grains, Breen 1222.

The Getz 1792 Coinage

The Getz coinage, engraved by Peter Getz of Lancaster, PA , was made in Philadelphia in accordance with the Morris Coinage proposal of December 21, 1791. John Ford summarized the then current knowledge about the Getz coinage in 1975. 29 His information is abridged herewith. Per Don Taxay , Robert Birch (of the 1792 Birch cent fame) supervised Getz's work on the dies and sank the punches for the date and legends. 30 All the regular Getz coins (copper or silver) have a common obverse and reverse, except for a unique piece showing a large eagle ( Baker 23). All authorities ( Breen , Taxay , Ford , Fuld ) agree that the 1791 Birmingham issues of Westwood-Hancock served as a model for the Getz issues.

It is unanimous that the only coins struck in the United States in this period are the Getz issues. The half dollars accurately represent the devices and legends required by the Morris bill of December 21, 1791. This is the original bill that Washington objected to since it proposed his likeness. After several modifications, it was signed into law by Washington as Statute One on April 2, 1792.

Whether silver or copper issues were struck first has had several diverse advocates. Taxay stated that the silver half dollars were struck first (which is unlikely) so that they could be presented to members of the Senate when the Morris bill was discussed. Baker felt that copper pieces were struck for presentation to the Morris committee during their deliberations. Breen tended to agree with Baker and estimated some 100 copper pieces were struck for the 29 Senators and 65 Representatives, serving from December 1791 to March 1792. Breen based his conclusion that copper came first on comments in Snowden , but his opinion is not unanimous. However, Hodder concludes that the copper was struck first on the basis of lack of die rust on stars of the reverse, while silver pieces all have rust to varying degrees. 31 In addition, he feels that the window of striking from December of 1791 to early April 1792 is narrow enough to make multiple strikings a mute point. First impressions were taken in the basement of John Harper's saw factory, located at the corner of Sixth and Cherry Streets, Philadelphia . The second strikings were made on a press constructed by Adam Eckfeldt , who was for many years the Chief Coiner of the Mint. The Eckfeldt press was in an old coach house on Sixth Street, above Chestnut Street, also in Philadelphia . The precise location on Sixth is not clear. The 1792 half dismes and dismes were also struck in Harper's basement, albeit on a smaller press. Which came first is academic and resembles the classic "chicken and egg" puzzle.

Jack Collins is currently compiling pedigree data on all Getz pieces, with illustrations wherever possible. 32 It is estimated by Ford and Fuld that 40-50 plain edge copper pieces and 5-6 ornamented edge copper pieces exist. The silver pieces are estimated at 12-15 plain edge pieces, 4-5 with circles and squares, 2 known specimens with twin olive leaves, and 3 overstrikes, a single overstrike on the 1697 British halfcrown, an overstrike on a Spanish colonies 4 reales, and another on a French half Ecu for a total of about 21-25 pieces. The copper pieces may be for cents and the silver pieces for half dollars, but only one denomination would be practical in the same size and design.

The weights of the Getz pieces show variations from 193 to 248.75 grains for the silver specimens and 208 to 273 grains for the copper cents. The Morris bill specified 208 to 264 grains, so the Getz issues fall within that limit. Copper Getz pieces from that period are not grossly abused. Even uncirculated specimens exist. Regarding the silver specimens, many are known holed (for neck or watch hangers?) and many are badly worn from being carried in the pocket. Uncirculated silver pieces are rarely, if ever, encountered. Of note is that while the ratio of silver to copper survivors is estimated to be almost 1 to 2, somehow silver ones seem to be more elusive than that.


23. WA.1792.1, Getz Copper "Cent"


The copper Getz cent, in prior days often called a copper half dollar. Obverse G. WASHINGTON . PRESIDENT•I•; in exergue, 1792. Bust facing left, probably modeled after the English 1791 cents. Reverse, an eagle displayed, with upraised wings, on his breast a shield argent, seven pales gules, a chief azure; an olive branch in his right talon, and a bundle of six arrows in his left, above 15 stars; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA . In copper, small flan of about 32 mm, usually on thick flans. Baker 24, Breen 1352. Estimate that about 25 to 30 exist. Weights recorded vary from 220 to 273 grains. The high grade (called uncirculated by Chapman) specimen from the Bushnell collection, 1252, was sold to William S. Baker thence to the PHS. Four Washington pieces turned up in 1973 or 1974 with a Philadelphia dealer. They were then purchased by a well known Texas dealer, all of which subsequently were shown to have been "deaccessioned" from the PHS. These were returned to the museum in 1975 when their purchasers became aware of the theft.


A specimen struck over a one cent coin (1794/95) with lettering showing through on obverse and reverse ( Newcomer 2764). Probably same as Kagin specimen cited by Fuld and Newman (below, n. 51), weight 168 grains projected. Untraced, Breen 1356. There is also a record, Harte 2041, of a Getz struck on a plain edge cent (1795 or 96).


Identical to preceding, but on larger, thin flan in copper. About 35 mm in diameter. Somewhat scarcer than the small flan variety. The ornamented edge type that follows is on large flan. Breen 1353.


Identical dies to two preceding pieces, on a large flan of about 35 mm, the edge being decorated with circles and squares, similar to that found on U.S. dollars dated 1794 to 1803. Estimate that about six specimens are known. Garrett 1716, Roper 383 ex Charles E. Anthon is uncirculated, the finest known of this variety. Parmelee 616, in copper, is plugged over the head. 190.2 grains, Breen 1357.


A jumbo piedfort, weighing 328/330 grains. Two reported, Stack's, Oct. 27, 1967 Jay), 69, at 328 grains; and Leidman , Bowers , Essex , Herdman , Jack Klausen , Martin Oghigian , Terranova at 330 grains. Breen 1358, probably restrike in 1792-96 period.


24. WA.1792.1.Ag, Getz "Half Dollar" Silver


The silver Getz half dollar, with identical dies to the preceding. All made with plain edge and apparently most struck on "thick" flans of about 32 mm with several on large flans of 35 mm, and a few are smaller. Probably made in period January to March 1792, as per previous discussion. Many are known with a plugged hole over the head and wear is consistent with being carried as pocket pieces. Weights vary from 208 to 264 grains. The estimate above of 23 specimens with plain edge out of 35 to 40 struck is nearly correct. Based on Collins's preliminary study, the following census of silver plain edge Getz pieces is constructed: 33 1) Mint state, Seaby's London , Hans Holzer (ca. 1950-51), John Ford , Jr., F.C.C. Boyd , John Ford , Jr (1959-60); 2) Extremely Fine, Waldo Newcomer (not located in inventory!), Col. E.H.R. Green , B.G. Johnson (1942), E.P. Newman (190.3 grains); 3) Extremely Fine, Roper 381, Wm Anton , Jr. (206.9 grains); 4) Extremely Fine-40, Eliasberg 103, no pedigree, 233.6 grains, diameter 32.4 mm; 5) Very Fine-35, Chapman , Mills 148, J.W. Garrett (1942), JHU, Garrett 1714, weighing 214.1 grains, A.V. Weinberg ; 6) Very Fine-20, Klein "Vicksburg Collection," 1165; Ten Eyck 838, hidden for many years, changed hands in 1975 to F.S. Werne r, private collector (weight is 232.5 grains on a small, rather thick flan with the date "June 1806" lightly scratched in the left obverse field); 7) Fine-15, a thin, large flan piece with pedigree of Ely 1 128, Jackman 240, Charles French (1974), Julian Leidman , A. Kreisberg , Oct 24, 1978 ("Collector's Portfolio"), 74, unsold, Julian Leidman , A.V. Weinberg , Bertram Cohen , D. Groves (weight 204 grains), 8) Very Good-10, Eli Hilles , Elizabeth B. Hilles , Samuel Eli Hilles , Margaret Hilles Shearman , 34 B&M, Mar. 24, 1995 ( Halpern ), 3373; Terranova , Stack's FPL 31, 1995; 9) About Good, NNC, Aug. 16, 1952 (ANA), 2425, (attempted puncture, later repaired), W. Doyle Galleries, Dec. 1983, 214. There are more than 9 plain edge specimens known. With the 3 overstrikes one can account for 12 examples. Breen denotes wide flans as 1348 ( Appleton 34), narrow as 1347 ( Appleton 33), but this is arbitrary. Baker 24, Pollock 5005, 35 high R-6.


An overstrike silver half dollar was reported by Ford , determining that the Getz half was struck over a 1679 British halfcrown. 36 The edge lettering is still visible, reading DECUS • ET • TUTAMEN • ANNO • REGNI • TRIESIMO • PRIMO • $$ . The undertype coin is from the reign of Charles II . Weight 218.4 grains, Breen 1349. Overstrikes on colonials are clearly not unusual, 37 but this is first reported Washington type. No firm pedigree is known for this piece, having been acquired by John Ford , Jr. It was sold by two European dealers who apparently obtained it from the State Museum of Vienna , Fred Werner (1975), John Ford , Jr. and is now the property of a prominent Long Island collector. The condition of the coin is extremely fine, with some marks consistent with storage in a coin cabinet tray, certainly unique. Ford found a reference to a specimen exhibited by Dr. Charles Clay on October 20, 1864 at the Manchester Numismatic Society of "a Washington half dollar, 1792 struck on an English crown." 38 It could have been a slight error that a crown rather than a half-crown was noted. If this is the case, the possible province of ex PHS is remote as Baker collection was not donated until the late 1880s. However, when the extensive Dr. Clay collection was sold in 1871, no half dollar overstrike was present.

There is a reference in an A.B. Sage sale (Feb. 28, 1859 [Bogert]) to a Washington silver half struck over a French demi ecu. If struck on a demi ecu, edge should read DOMINE SALVUM FAC REGEM. See Breen 1349. The same coin reappeared in Stack's, Apr. 27, 1988, 100, Stack's May 5, 1993, 58, Hodder , Oghigian , 198.9 grains. Undertype of Louis XV, 1726-41 ( Gadoury 313). 39

A third overstrike recently appeared, only Fine, over a 4 reales Spanish colonial piece, plugged over the head. The exact coin undertype was not readable. Stack's Mar. 18, 1993, 2007, Stack's FPL Summer 1993, gift to the Smithsonian Institution, 1995. 215.7 grains. The edge device shows partial circles and square as on 4 reales.

NOTE: It is a fair assumption that the last two pieces might not have bad the overstrike recognized and would have been sold as regular silver specimens. Hodder is convinced, and we tend to agree, that all or certainly most silver Getz pieces are struck over foreign silver coins, rather than virgin planchets. 40 Plain edge pieces are those with edges planed down, but this does not explain the occurrence of the twin olive leaf edge or the circle and squares on the copper specimens. Hodder states that all silver halves that be has examined have the overstrike present, but the proof of this position awaits further study of other silver specimens. Another possibility is that the silver was struck at two periods, i.e. December 1791 and February-March 1792, and one used plain planchets, while the others were all overstruck.


The regular dies of the silver Getz half dollar, with an edge of alternating circles and squares. The edge, quite similar to the rims of the U.S . silver dollars, dates 1794 to 1803. Most specimens of this piece are on thin planchets with a diameter of about 35 mm. Perhaps four or five are known in varying condition. Two identified pieces are 1) Schulman , Apr. 26, 1951, 1079, Norweb, R. Henry Norweb Jr. estate; 2) MHS ex Appleton . Several others are said to exist, Newcomer 2750, Col. Green , B.G. Johnson , Baker 24a, Breen 1350.


The other edge variation of the Getz half dollars is the one with twin olive leaves, long thought to be unique until the 1975 discovery reported by Ford. 41 The pedigree of the discovery coin is Chapman , June 3, 1909 (Zabriskie), 109, pl. 3, Carl Wurzbach , Brand , NNC , Raymond , NNC , Boyd , Ford and is in extremely fine condition and unplugged. There is a second known piece, ex England , Ivy in 1975, plugged above the head, and struck on a relatively broad flan, fairly thick, weighing 248.7 grains. With some scratches, it grades very good/fine, even though plugged. It is about the heaviest known silver Getz. Breen 1351.


25. WA.1792.2.Ag, Getz Large Eagle "Half Dollar"


Identical obverse to preceding piece WA. 1792.1 The reverse shows an eagle, a shield argent, displayed on his breast with six pales gules, a chief azure; an olive branch in his right talon, and a bundle of thirteen arrows in his left. Legend, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA . Probably struck before the preceding piece. This is the unique large eagle reverse silver Getz half dollar with chisel mark in die on reverse. Baker 23, Appleton 20, Breen 1346. Pedigree is Morris (?), Senator Rufus King (?), his son Charles King (1831), Bossuet the cobbler , W.J. Howard (1858), G.N. Dana , Rev. Joseph Finotti (1862), Colburn 1721, Bushnell 1253; L.G. Parmelee , S.H., & H. Chapman , Jackman 239, Newcomer 2761; J.W. Garrett ; JHU; Garrett 1713; Ford Howard cut his initial "H" within the U on the reverse. At the time of the Garrett sales, there was some question raised about the authenticity of this piece, even with a pedigree back to 1831. Non- destructive tests indicated the piece is silver, but there is some evidence of tooling in the reverse field. In the writer's opinion, the large eagle Getz half dollar is fully genuine. The piece was briefly stolen shortly before the Garrett sale, but recovered aboard the H.M.S. Queen Mary in Long Beach shortly thereafter.


The Roman Head pieces, listed next, were the subject of a Breen article in 1971, entitled " Hancock's Revenge." 42 When news of Washington's rejection of his portrait on coins reached Birmingham , John Gregory Hancock (doubtless with Westwood's gleeful consent, possibly even at his instigation) undertook an extraordinary piece of revenge. As Washington's spokesman had compared the idea of presidential portraits on coins to the practices of Nero , Caligula , and Cromwell , so Hancock's (and/or Westwood's ) idea was to portray Washington on a coin as a degenerate, effeminate Roman emperor. Hancock's satirical masterpiece, the "Roman Head" cents, manage to convey this impression—with a subtle family resemblance. Their eagle attempts to "cock a snook" with his nearer wing; the Small Eagle die's eight stars have shrunk to six. The dozen or so survivors were privately distributed among Hancock's and Westwood's friends in Birmingham ; their existence was kept secret for over 40 years lest it become an "international incident!" From their beginning as an incredible piece of spite, these cents have become among the most highly coveted of Washington items.


26. WA.1792.3, Roman Head Cent


The Roman head cent has always been one of the most admired Washington cent designs, and may well qualify as a pattern as only 20 or so are known. Baker 19, Breen 1249, weights 196, 198.5 grains. All, except for one, are known in proof or slightly impaired proofs. Obverse undraped bust to the right, legend WASHINGTON PRESIDENT•; below in exergue, 1792. On the reverse, an eagle displayed, with upraised wings, on his breast a shield argent, six pales gules; in his right talon, an olive branch, and a bundle of thirteen arrows in his left; about his head six stars, and above them, the word CENT. Edge lettered UNITED STATES OF AMERICA • x • x • x. Because of the high grade of the known specimens, tracing pedigrees is very difficult as photographs show very little difference between coins. Surprisingly in the very early 1960s, three specimens of the Roman head were for sale at the same time for $190 to $225. There are 4 to 5 specimens in museums. Low R-6.


27. WA.1792.P1, Roman Head Uniface Die Trial


This unique pattern turned up in England about 1969 and was purchased by Lester Merkin who then sold it to Richard Picker . The hub head of Washington is identical to the hub on the regular issue Roman head cent. The legend WASHINGTON PRESIDENT• is the same as on the regular issue, but positioned differently. In place of the date in exergue, I. G. HANCOCK.F. The edge is lettered PAYABLE AT MACCLESFIELD LIVERPOOL OR CONGLETON. The only known copy was proof-like with a blank reverse. It was stolen at the 1971 ANA convention in Washington and has not been recovered. Breen 1248, 197.4 grains


28. WA.1792.P2.WM, Roman Head PRESEDENT WM Die Trial


This unique die trial of the Roman head is distinctive as the word president is misspelled PRESEDENT. The Washington hub is slightly different from the head on the preceding two pieces. It does not bear a date. The reverse is blank, and slightly incused, not sharply struck, a brockage. Pedigree: Glendining , Lincoln , Mar. 21, 1935, 188, Elder Sept. 20, 1935, 1672, B.G. Johnson , Schulman , Apr. 1951, 1078, NNC, Fuld (1969), Picker . It was also stolen at the 1971 ANA convention and has not been recovered. Breen 1247.

Hancock's Multi-Denominational Patterns of 1792

Although no direct evidence exists as to the origin of this series, die punch linkage and style directly link the 1792 British issues to J.G. Hancock and Westwood's Mint. Clearly they must have been manufactured between the time of the 1791 cents and before knowledge of rejection of monarchical portraits by Congress. Breen conjectures that for the eagle reverse with no denomination, the strikings in copper, silver and gold represented cent, half dollar and ten dollar samples, while Newman believes the gold and silver specimens were too different from any circulating coin to be usable. 43 Some copper pieces may have circulated after 1793, as they are found with various amounts of wear. Crosby believed all to be medals, but this is not logical.

The General of the Army pieces made at the same time are almost all well worn—perhaps a single keg partially filled with these coins was transported to the States. Certainly most silver specimens have been holed, and could have been worn as necklaces or even funeral medals. All in all a most interesting series.


29. WA.1792.4, 13 Stars Above Eagle