ANS Bookshelf: Colonial Riches (Fall 2013)

by Oliver Hoover

This fall sees an exciting new pair of titles published by the ANS in the field of US Colonial coinage. As William Sheldon eloquently put it in Penny Whimsy, “Old copper, like beauty, appears to possess a certain intrinsic quality or charm… [with] an almost living warmth and personality not encountered in any other metal….You see rich shades of green, red, brown, yellow, and even deep ebony: together not elsewhere matched in nature save perhaps in autumn leaves…. Early coppers are rich in die varieties, cracked dies,
imperfect and unusual planchets, misstruck coins and other minor variations…. It is therefore not surprising that to some extent the different die varieties are recognizable
by characteristic color and surface texture, as well as by die breaks, peculiarities of the planchet and so on.”

In their authoritative new book, New Jersey State Coppers, History, Description, Collecting, Roger Siboni, Jack Howes, and Buell Ish show that these words were
never more true than in the case of the coins struck for New Jersey by Thomas Goadsby, Albion Cox, Walter Mould, and Matthias Ogden from 1786 until as late as 1790. By way of introduction, they fully discuss the often tumultuous history of the New Jersey copper
coinage and its creators alongside the equally compelling story of the men, like Dr. Edward Maris, who first appreciated the “living warmth and personality” of the coins and formed the great collections of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Every known New
Jersey die variety is presented in minute detail with lavish enlarged full-color illustrations, condition censuses, as well as commentary on die states and other notable features.

The authors also include such supplementary material as the original documents related to the eighteenth century coining venture, imitations created for the collector market in the nineteenth century, as well as suggestions for developing a personal collection. New
Jersey State Coppers will surely become the primary tool for the study of this coinage and the basis for deepening the understanding and appreciation of its charm as old copper. No serious collector will want to be without a copy.

No less important is the new book by Phillip Mossman, which takes as its focus not one coinage or currency, but rather the entire phenomenon of counterfeiting in the pre-Federal period. From Crime to Punishment: Counterfeit and Debased Currencies in
Colonial and Pre-federal America traces the origins of debased and counterfeit coinage from its beginnings to its arrival on these shores. It shows how currency debasement was not confined to the proletariat since throughout history various monarchs increased their
royal revenues, or seigniorage, by reducing the quality of the coins’ specie content or its weight standard. Mossman follows closely the course of royal English copper coinages whose high potential profit made them an ideal prey for counterfeiters. These forgeries
flowed freely into the colonies where they overwhelmed, and eventually collapsed, the small change medium, but not before various states sought to correct the evil of this imported copper trash.

The author turns the spotlight on Great Britain’s mercantilistic policies which shaped the character of the currency in the North American colonies where chronic hard money shortages encouraged counterfeit coinages of all stripes, whose actual manufacture and
circulation is examined in great detail. Colonists further sought to expand their monetary pool by printing bills of credit to meet the exigencies of the French and Indian Wars. This new paper currency likewise became the target for forgery and a battle royal ensued between the colonial treasurers and bands of counterfeiters as they competed to outsmart each other. But as “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit,” many counterfeiters were apprehended and punished for their evil deeds.

Although focused on the problems of early America, this book will be of interest to serious students and collectors of all periods, since none were immune from the phenomena it describes. Both books have been printed in full color. They will be available from September 1st and can be ordered directly from the ANS website, where an order form
can also be downloaded for printing.