The Language of Liberty

by Oliver D. Hoover

Part 2: Latin Geographical Terms and Personal Names

The Vermont (excluding the initial “landscape design” of 1785), Connecticut, and NOVA EBORAC coppers, and, to a lesser extent, the IMMUNIS/IMMUNE COLUMBIA patterns all show their deep indebtedness to the model of English halfpence by employing as types crude renderings of the laureate and mailed busts of George II and George III (Fig. 1) and the seated figure of Britannia, occasionally reworked as a personification of Liberty or possibly the State. Thus it is hardly surprising that the designers of these coins should also have used Latin inscriptions, just as did the regular English halfpence or Connecticut coppers (Fig. 2) that they used as typological models. Because of the long tradition of Latin legends on European coinage in general, it is also less than remarkable that when more avant-garde American coin designers developed inscriptions for their new coinages, they too preferred to use this international language.

Fig. 1. Great Britain: England. George III. AE halfpenny, 1774. Peck 907. (ANS 1949.65.44) 29 mm.

Fig. 2. United States: Connecticut, Machin’s Mills. AE “copper,” 1786. (ANS 2005.37.331, gift of the Colonial News-letter Foundation, ex Edward R. Barnsley coll.) 28.8 mm.

Geographical Terms

On official and private issues of Vermont, New Jersey, and New York, the names of these states were regularly translated into Latin, but frequently with some difficulty. The coin designers of New Jersey and New York had a somewhat easier time in that these states were named after an island in the English Channel and a northern English town, respectively, both of which received their Latin names during Julius Caesar’s initial invasion of Britannia and the later Roman occupation. The Island of Jersey had formerly been Roman Caesarea, while York was the English name for the Roman colony of Eboracum (a Latinized form of Celtic Eburacon, possibly meaning “the place where yew trees grow”). Nevertheless, while the designer of the New Jersey coppers (Fig. 3) was consistent in his use of the Latin word nova (“new”) to distinguish the American Caesarea (Jersey) from its British counterpart, there seems to have been some difference of opinion about the proper way to express “New York” in Latin. We find James F. Atlee preferring the adjectival prefix neo- (“new”) for the NON VI VIRTUTE VICI coppers of 1786 (Fig. 4) and his 1787 patterns, while Ephraim Brasher and John Bailey used the feminine adjectival form nova for their respective New York doubloons (Fig. 5) and NOVA EBORAC coppers (Fig. 6) in 1787, despite the fact that for a neuter city name such as “Eboracum” the adjective should have been the neuter form novum. These engravers all appear to have been under the mistaken impression that the grammatical gender of the city name was feminine (i.e., Eboraca). One suspects that this error stems from poor knowledge of Latin on the part of the engravers and the influence of the NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers of 1783 and 1785 (Fig. 7) and perhaps the NOVA CAESAREA of contemporary New Jersey coppers (Fig. 3). Atlee also appears to have been confused about the grammatical gender of New York in Latin, for on his 1787 patterns, he made the city into a masculine Neo-Eboracus.

Fig. 3. United States: New Jersey, Rahway Mills, AE “copper, ” 1786. Maris 18-N. (ANS 0000.999.2847) 28 mm.

Fig. 4. United States: New York, AE NON VI VIRTUTE VICI “copper,” 1786 (copy). (ANS 1959.101.86, gift of Catherine E. Bullowa) 29 mm.

Fig. 5. United States: New York, AR doubloon pattern, 1787. Counterstamped with the initials of Ephraim Brasher. Breen 981.5. (ANS 1969.62.1, ex Norweb coll.) 30 mm.

Fig. 6. United States: New York, AE NOVA EBORAC “copper,” 1787. Breen 986. (ANS 0000.999.28466) 28 mm.

Fig. 7. United States: AE NOVA CONSTELLATIO “copper,” 1785. Breen 1111. (ANS 1941.131.1005) 28 mm.

It is interesting to note that in the cases of New York and New Jersey, the tendency of the designers was to place the adjective nova (“new”) before the name of the city, in contravention of traditional Latin practice. In classical Latin and even in the neo-Latin of the early modern period, nova normally follows the word that it qualifies. Thus we find Karthago Nova (“New Carthage”), the Roman name given to the Punic settlement at modern Cartagena, Spain, when it was refounded by Scipio Africanus in 209 BC. Anglia Nova (“New England”) was also the preferred arrangement on the seal granted to the Massachusetts Bay Company by Charles I in 1629. The placement of nova before the city name on the coppers of New York and New Jersey should probably be attributed to an imperfect grasp of classical Latin syntax by their designers. They translated “New York” and “New Jersey” with such literalism that they preserved the English word order in the Latin legends.

The translation situation was a little more difficult for Vermont. Because the name of this republic, which is actually French for “Green Mountain” (thus the name of Ethan Allen’s paramilitary organization, the Green Mountain Boys), had not been taken from an old English location with a Roman past, Vermont was forced to attempt a true translation of its name into Latin for its coppers (Fig. 8). From the perspective of a Latinist, the result must be judged to be mediocre. Rather than translating the name literally as Mons viridis, or something similar, we have the unwieldy Latin-French hybrid Vermons, composed of French vert (“green”) and Latin mons (“mountain”). Based on this artificial third declension nominative form, the engravers of Vermont’s landscape coppers came up with the genitive form Vermontis (often corrupted to Vermonts) in the legend RES PUBLICA VERMONTIS (“Republic of Vermont”) and the genitive ethnic form Vermontensium in the inscription RES PUBLICA VERMONTENSIUM (“Republic of the Vermonters”).

Fig. 8. United States: Vermont, AE “copper,” 1785. Ryder 4. (ANS 1979.124.8) 27 mm.

It is also worth noting that the geographical name “America” is really a Latin form meaning “[land of] Amerigo,” in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered continental North and South America in 1499 and 1502. Nevertheless, the term “America” occasionally receives further Latin “translation” on the confederation coinages. Thus, instead of “America,” the continent is named as Columbia (“Land of Columbus”) on Brasher’s New York doubloons (Fig. 5) and the patterns for George Wyon’s IMMUNE COLUMBIA coppers (Fig. 9). Presumably, since Columbus sailed to the New World (although not actually to the continents) seven years before Vespucci, “Columbia” seemed to have a moderately greater air of antiquity and therefore Latinity than “America.”

Fig. 9. United States: New York, AE IMMUNE COLUMBIA “copper,” 1785. Breen 1117. (ANS 0000.999.28547) 28 mm.

Personal Names

With the exception of the WM initials of Walter Mould very rarely found on New Jersey coppers (Maris 62-q and 62 1/2-r) (Fig. 10), the only personal name to appear on a coinage of the Confederation period is that of a certain EG on some of the continental currency patterns of 1776 (Fig. 11). On these coins, the initials are always followed by the Latin inscription FECIT (“he made it”). In 1909, the initials were resolved as Ephraim Getz, the name of a supposed Pennsylvanian die engraver somehow related to Peter Getz, the die maker for the WASHINGTON PRESIDENT I coins (Fig. 12) of 1792 (Breen 1346-1359), but an exhaustive search for such a person led Eric Newman to doubt his existence in 1952. Instead, he suggested that EG might stand for the future fifth vice president of the United States (1813-1814), Elbridge [Thomas] Gerry, who was a commissioner of the treasury for the Continental Congress in 1776 and was required to devise a means of paying war expenses at a time when gold and silver were in very short supply. The continental currency patterns, produced in pewter, may have been proposed by him as just such a means, and thus EG FECIT should refer not to his engraving of the dies but rather to his suggestion of the coinage.

Fig. 10. United States: New Jersey, Morristown, AE “copper,” 1786. Maris 62-q. R. Siboni coll. Photograph by Neil Rothschild.

Fig. 11. United States: Continental Congress. Tin Continental Currency pattern, 1776. Newman 3-D. (ANS 1911.85.7) 38 mm.

Fig. 12. United States. CU cent, 1792. Breen 1352. (ANS 1954.95.6, purchase)

While the Elbridge Gerry solution is interesting, if not ingenious, it does not quite ring true. The Latin verb form fecit (third person singular perfect indicative active) has a long history of use to indicate an artist’s signature going back to the Roman Empire. Thus this Latin formulation might seem more appropriate for the person who designed and/or executed the dies, rather than the man who may have proposed their creation. Also telling against the Elbridge Gerry theory is the nature of popular Revolutionary politics, with its rabid hatred of the elevation of any individual above another. It is hard to imagine Gerry’s colleagues on the Treasury Committee sitting idly by while he had his name boldly emblazoned on the coinage, leaving their names in the shadows.

Newman came up with a much better explanation for EG in 1967, when he published the first edition of The Early Paper Money of America. Here he noted that an Elisha Gallaudet was responsible for engraving the sundial and thirteen links vignettes for the fractional continental currency notes of February 17, 1776 (Fig. 13). Since the pewter continental currency fractions appear to take the place of the dollar denomination in this paper emission, it seems very likely that the EG of the former should be equivalent to the Elisha Gallaudet of the latter. To date, this seems like the most reasonable explanation of EG FECIT, as it takes into account not only the relationship of the pattern coins to the paper money but also the traditional usage of fecit as a feature of artists’ signatures.

Fig. 13. United States: Continental Congress. Half dollar paper note, 1776. Newman 36-37. (ANS 1974.103.3)

The great rarity of specimens bearing EG FECIT compared to the already rare examples that lack it may suggest that the signature was unpopular. It may have been considered distasteful for the reasons already mentioned with respect to the Elbridge Gerry theory. Almost a century and a half later, the public dislike for the prominent naming of living individuals on American coinage reemerged when the Lithuanian immigrant artist Victor David Brenner signed the reverse of the 1909 Lincoln head cent (Fig. 14) with the large initials V.D.B. The outcry that this signature generated in the press led to its immediate removal from the coins later that year. When it was at last restored in 1918, Brenner’s initials were much reduced in size and hidden along the edge of Lincoln’s shoulder truncation.

Fig. 14. United States: San Francisco Mint. CU cent, 1909. Breen 2054. (ANS 0000.999.4589).


Bonjour, R. 1987. “Vermont Coppers, from Landscape to Bust.” The Numismatist 100: 292-297.

Breen, W. 1988. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. New York.

Carlotto, T. 1998. The Copper Coins of Vermont and Those Bearing the Vermont Name. Chelsea, Mich.

Crosby, S. 1875. The Early Coins of America and the Laws Governing Their Issue. Boston.

Hodder, M. 1991. “The 1787 ‘New York’ Immunis Columbia: A Mystery Re-Raveled.” The Colonial Newsletter 31: 1204-1235.

Hoover, O. Forthcoming. “The Development of the Liberty Type on Connecticut Coppers.” American Journal of Numismatics 19.

Maris, E. 1881. A Historic Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey with a Plate. Philadelphia.

Miller, H. 1920. The State Coinage of Connecticut. New York.

Mossman, P. 1993. Money of the American Colonies and Confederation. New York.

Newman, E. 1952. “The 1776 Continental Currency Coinage.” The Coin Collector’s Journal (July-August): 1-9.

Newman, E. 1966. “Sources of Emblems and Mottoes on Continental Currency and the Fugio Cent.” The Numismatist 79, no. 12: 1587-1598.

Newman, E. 1967. The Early Paper Money of America. Iola, WI.

Ryder, H. 1920. “The Copper Coinage of Massachusetts.” In The State Coinages of New England, by H. Miller and H. Ryder, 69-76. New York.

Siboni, R. 2004. “The Not-So-Hidden Hand of Walter Mould,” C4 Newsletter 12, no. 4: 5-17.