A Horse of a Different Color: The Allure of New Jersey Coppers

by Oliver D. Hoover

Horsing Around Unlike Massachusetts, which had operated a colonial silver mint in the second half of the seventeenth century, and Maryland and Virginia, which had imported specially commissioned coins produced by the Tower Mint in 1658–1659 and 1773, respectively, New Jersey was relatively late in producing its own coinage (Figs. 1–2). Although token coppers featuring St. Patrick were brought in quantity by the Irish Quaker, Mark Newby, and had served as proxy official coins for the colony in 1681 (fig. 3), the true coinage of New Jersey was only struck in the aftermath of the American Revolution, in
the period 1786–1790.

A state copper coinage for New Jersey was the brainchild of Matthias Ogden, a wealthy and respected member of the New Jersey Legislative Assembly in the late eighteenth century. He promoted the creation of this coinage as a means of restoring faith in the state’s currency and ending a disastrous cycle of personal debt exacerbated by the tendency of New Jersey’s paper money to rapidly lose its value. Ogden had the vision, finances, and political clout (after a little maneuvering in the Assembly) to get the coinage legislation passed on June 1, 1786 and organized a somewhat unlikely and incendiary, trio—Walter Mould, Thomas Goadsby, and Albion Cox—to strike coins featuring a horse’s head and plow on the obverse and a shield on the reverse (fig. 4).

Mould was an experienced, but often insolvent, coiner with a dark past, which may have included an arrest for counterfeiting in Bristol in 1776. Cox had been an assayer at the Sheffield Assay Office in England, but immigrated to the United States in 1783, where he failed as a merchant and fell deeply into debt. Goadsby had been a rather more successful merchant before joining the coining partnership. What skills he may have had to
qualify him for work in a coining operation are unclear. These three partners were granted a contract to produce three million coppers over a two-year period, and immediately went to work obtaining a screw press and leasing mint locations in what is now Rahway, NJ. However, by the fall of that year, it was quickly becoming apparent that Ogden had brought together what might be considered the Moe, Larry, and Curly of Confederation-
period coining ventures. The fighting began when Walter Mould had difficulties in obtaining the surety required by the coining contract; an unspecified secret from his past was discovered by Goadsby and Cox, and he reportedly failed to assist in preparing the Rahway facilities for production. The partnership was legally severed on November 22, 1786, and the state ordered Goadsby and Cox to produce two million coppers at
Rahway and Mould was required to produce one million on his own.

Through the patronage of John Cleves Symmes, the wealthy New Jersey judge and land developer in what would later become the state of Ohio, Mould was able to post his surety by early 1787 and establish a mint at Solitude, the Symmes estate in Morristown, NJ. Nevertheless, the acrimonious relationship of the coiners continued with Mould attempting to sue his former partners later that year. At the same time, Cox’s mounting debt caused Goadsby to repeatedly lend him money through 1787 until, fearful that Cox’s creditors might seize the assets of the Rahway mint, Goadsby terminated his relationship with Cox and assumed the assets of the former partnership. At this point the three original partners were essentially free agents, but this still did not bring an end to their conflicts. After a brief period of debt imprisonment, Cox was released on January 30, 1788, and immediately hatched a plot to break into the Rahway mint and steal its equipment. New evidence seems to indicate that the equipment and materials were carried off—not without a little irony—to Mould in Morristown before a court ordered their return to Goadsby.

Having suffered as he watched his New Jersey copper dream implode over the course of two years, in March 1788, Matthias Ogden took over the obligations and assets of the Rahway mint and had its equipment brought to a new site near his home in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth, NJ). Goadsby subsequently returned to the life of a merchant in New York City and Cox probably operated the Elizabethtown mint for Ogden. The talents of Albion Cox later gained him the post of assayer at the U.S. Mint. Tired by Mould’s failure to live up to his obligations with respect to the coining contract and to the lease of the original Rahway mint site, in summer 1788, Ogden attempted to place him in debtors’ prison. Mould, however, escaped into the wilderness of the Old Northwest Territory along with the Symmes family before he could be apprehended.

In an attempt to make good some of what must have been substantial losses on his coining dream, Ogden’s Elizabethtown mint struck coppers for several years more, despite possessing only 1786- and 1787-dated obverse dies. Often other lighter and less-valued coppers were used as flans rather than new planchets as a means of wringing the most profit out of each New Jersey copper produced (fig. 5). This residual operation appears to
have been legislated out of business in 1790. Thus the grand design for a New Jersey coinage came to an end with somewhat of a whimper, in contrast to the earlier noise and tumult.

It is remarkable that amid all the chaos and fighting among the coining partners they still managed to produce one of the most stable state coinages of the Confederation era. Far less surprising is that, with a back-story like this, New Jersey coppers have garnered the large following that they have among colonial coin enthusiasts. Looking the Horse in the Mouth The copper coins struck for the state of New Jersey were roughly the size of a contemporary English halfpenny and were legislated to weigh 150 grains (9.71 grams).
Early numismatic literature often refers to the coins as “cents” but they are not labeled with their denomination, nor is this explicitly given in the coining legislation. This is no coincidence since the coppers were a token currency and therefore their face value could be reduced or “cried up” as the state (and public perception) might require.

Like the denomination, the coin types were not legislated, but the choice for the obverse device was fairly obvious. The most prominent elements of the Great Seal of the State of New Jersey—a horse’s head and a plow—were selected, although the direction and treatment of both head and plow could vary from die to die (Figs. 6–7). Usually both design elements face right on the coins, although they face in the opposite direction on
the Great Seal. This change in direction may be attributed to an error in die cutting that ultimately became canonical, or perhaps more likely, it reflects a conscious connection between the coppers and the earlier paper money of New Jersey. New Jersey bills of credit and tax notes issued in 1781 and 1783 both feature an engraved print of the complete Great Seal design, but reversed (fig. 8). Thus it may be that when the form of the New Jersey copper obverse was devised it took as its model not the Great Seal itself, but rather its pale reflection on the state’s failed paper money. The obverse devices of the new coppers gave the impression that they represented the new and improved version of the paper note.
This improvement was not just symbolic, for when the Copper Panic of 1789–1790 struck down the values of coppers (state, Federal, and halfpence) circulating in New York, that of the New Jersey copper remained stable, making it the preferred small-change medium
during the crisis.

At the same time that the obverse horse type appears to go back indirectly to the Great Seal of New Jersey for its inspiration, the reverse shield type of the New Jersey copper looks to the Great Seal of the United States. The use of this explicitly Federal symbol for the coins of New Jersey represents an important iconographic crossroads for the state coinages of the Confederation period. The shield (escutcheon in heraldic terms), which
is carried by a displayed heraldic eagle on the Great Seal of the United States, is emblazoned with a horizontal band at the top (chief in heraldic terms) above 13 vertical bands (pales in heraldic terms). This blazon was created by Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson as an element of the young country’s coat of arms in 1782 and was intended to represent the unity of the 13 original

colonies-cum-states (symbolized by the pales) under Congress (symbolized by the chief). The appearance of this shield with the associated motto of the Great Seal of the United States (E PLURIBUS UNUM—“one out of many”) on the reverse of the first regular issues of New Jersey coppers in late 1786 seems to clearly identify New Jersey with the Federalist camp during the drawn-out struggle to ratify the new Constitution of the United States. This is perhaps not surprising, since, following a unanimous vote on December 17, 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the Constitution. It was beaten out for first and second place by Delaware and Pennsylvania, respectively, and only by a matter of days.
In contrast, the contemporary coppers struck for Connecticut (and by sundry counterfeiters) give a somewhat anti-Federalist or at least noncommittal impression through their subtle repackaging of the Britannia of the English halfpenny as the personification of the state and the Latin legend indicating that their production was AUCTORI CONNEC (“by the authority of Connecticut”) (fig. 9). Although Connecticut ratified the Constitution on January 9, 1788—not long after New Jersey—there is not a hint of Congress in this typology, or in that of the related “portrait” coppers struck
for Vermont in 1787–1788. Previous enthusiasm for the American Federal experiment seems to have cooled considerably in Vermont by this time. The preceding “landscape” coppers struck in 1785–1786 were inspired by patterns for a Federal coinage introduced by Robert Morris in 1783 and proudly expressed the desire of the Republic of Vermont to become the QUARTA DECIMA STELLA (“fourteenth star”) in the constellation of
the United States of America (Figs. 10–11). As it turned out, Vermont was the last of the original states to ratify the Constitution, waiting until January 10, 1791.

Massachusetts, which ratified the Constitution on February 6, 1788, seems to have looked in part to the model of New Jersey when its state coppers were designed by Joseph Callender in 1787 (fig. 12). As on the New Jersey coppers, the cents and half cents of Massachusetts gave over their obverses to a type drawn from the state seal—the Indian from the old seal given to the Massachusetts Bay Company by King Charles I in 1628/9—
while the reverse was Federally-inspired. Although the design requirements for the Massachusetts reverse only specified an “eagle with spread wings.” Callender engraved the reverse die with the eagle supporting the American shield, looking both to the Great Seal of the United States and to the numismatic precedent set by New Jersey. Thus, New Jersey coppers enjoy the special status of being the first in a long line of American coins and notes to feature the shield (with associated elements) from the Great Seal of the United States. The shield was a commonplace of Federal coin design in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (fig. 13) and the entirety of the Great Seal—including the
shield—has appeared on the U.S. dollar bill since 1935. However, the preeminence of New Jersey in taking recourse to the Great Seal of the United States for coin design should not be considered an unqualified expression of the state’s unbridled Federalism and patriotic
fervor. Cold economic considerations also played a role. As it happens, shortly before Mould, Goadsby, and Cox were granted the New Jersey coining contract, Walter Mould had petitioned Congress independently for a Federal coining contract. One of the shield dies used for early New Jersey coppers (Maris C) is known paired with several Federal pattern obverse dies (fig. 14), which tends to suggest that it was first engraved as part of Mould’s failed bid for the Federal contract and then reused for the New Jersey coining operation in order to increase cost effectiveness.

Flogging a Dead Horse

Although the public’s ready acceptance of New Jersey coppers may have kept them in production until as late as 1790, the establishment of the United States Mint in 1792 and the introduction of the U.S. large cent (fig. 15) the following year ensured that the coins of New Jersey would gradually disappear from the American circulation pool over the course of the early nineteenth century. Specimens found in excavations at Fort York (Toronto)
seem to imply that circulation continued at least into the period of the War of 1812 (1812–1815), but by the mid-nineteenth century they were scarce enough to warrant the attention of collectors and antiquarians. The collector of American coins was a relatively new breed, created in part by a growing national nostalgia at a time when the United States drifted ever closer to both Civil War (1861–1865) and the centennial of the Revolution (1876). The numismatic interest of this period is perhaps best illustrated by the formation of the American Numismatic Society in New York City on April 6, 1858. The history of collecting New Jersey coppers has been masterfully recounted already in a recent article published in the print journal of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society (The Asylum 30.2 [April–June 2012]: 31–71). Anyone familiar with this piece will be aware of
the colorful (and sometimes nefarious) characters who have become obsessed by possessing, studying, and/or marketing New Jersey coppers over the last 150 years. Above them all towers Dr. Edward Maris (fig. 16), who assembled a preeminent collection of New Jersey die varieties and developed the standard taxonomy for their identification in A Historic Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey (1881). His work, with its accompanying plate, still remains the bible for New Jersey collectors, although a number of new varieties have been discovered in the years following its publication. Many of these individuals have left behind an abiding legacy in the vaults or library of the American Numismatic Society. The rare books collection includes a signed presentation copy of Maris’s magnum opus given to the Society by the author, as well as several manuscripts that have made important contributions to the study of New Jersey coppers in the post-Maris era. These include a microfilm of the Colonial Encyclopedia (early 1900s) of Dr. Thomas P. Hall, who has been regarded as the discoverer of the most New Jersey die varieties after Maris himself; The Copper Coinage of the State of New Jersey penned by the eminent New Jersey collector, Damon G. Douglas, in the late 1940s and 1950s, and which marshals a great deal of documentary evidence in an effort to reconstruct the true history of the New Jersey mints and minters; and Walter Breen’s unpublished New Jersey Coppers (1955–1958), which provided the underpinnings for the New Jersey section of his influential but often problematic Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins (1987).

Thanks to the editorial efforts of Gary Trudgen and several notable New Jersey copper enthusiasts, an annotated version of the Douglas manuscript was published by the ANS in 2003. Much more recently, the Society’s past President, Roger Siboni, had the manuscript of Hall’s Encyclopedia digitized and improved for legibility. Its wealth of information on the early expansion of New Jersey variety taxonomy, prices, and other aspects of colonial coin collecting at the dawn of the twentieth century, is now available to anyone with access to the Society’s library. The bulk of the Society’s extensive New Jersey copper holdings originated in two major collections formed in the early twentieth century, those of Frederick A. Canfield (1849–1926) and Harry Prescott Clark Beach (1871–1943). Material from both collections entered the Society’s cabinets through circuitous means. In 1926, Canfield’s coins were donated to the New Jersey Historical Society. The NJHS in turn gave the die variety duplicates (24 pieces) to the ANS in return for its assistance in attributing the coins. The Beach collection was purchased outright by the Society in 1945, when it was offered for sale by Henry Grünthal (1905–2001). For the grand sum of $778.00, Beach’s 220 coppers and 1,160 other coins and notes of colonial American and European origin entered the collection. At the time of the sale, Grünthal, a welleducated German-American coin dealer, was working for Stack’s Rare Coins in New York City, but in 1953 he joined the ANS staff as Assistant to the Chief Curator. He was soon appointed Curator of European and Modern Coins, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. The year after he retired, Grünthal sold the ANS another 20 New Jersey coppers. These pieces are thought to represent a remnant of the Beach collection that was originally held back for unknown reasons. The fact that the price for these coins alone was $500.00 illustrates the marketing trend for New Jersey coppers that continues to accelerate to this day. The entirety of the Society’s New Jersey copper holdings have been digitally photographed and made available online thanks to the sponsorship of Roger Siboni and current ANS President, Sydney Martin. Perhaps the most eloquent testimony to the long relationship between the American Numismatic Society and New Jersey coppers comes from a pencil rubbing that still resides in the collection. This rubbing of a New Jersey copper (one of only two known Maris 77-cc varieties) together with a letter from one John West, dated December 27, 1858, represents one of the earliest written enquiries ever made of the ANS (Figs. 17–19). This old relationship will be renewed again this fall, when the Society will publish the most substantial new treatment of the coinage to appear in decades—New Jersey State Coppers by Roger S. Siboni, John L. Howes,
and A. Buell Ish.