John Gibbs: Stagecoach Operator Turned Token Innovator, Turned Counterfeiter

Opportunity often leads to innovation. Sometimes the events that contribute to an evolution of this nature are well-known and documented, while other times they are lost to history and only able to be speculated by present-day researchers. This is the case with the career of John Gibbs. In the course of the 1830s, his profession took a radical turn. While the exact details are currently unknown, the numismatic evidence of how his occupational path evolved creates a compelling story.

John Gibbs was born in Birmingham, England in 1809 and came to the United States as a young man with his father, William, having settled in Belleville, New Jersey. He proved to be very skillful and competent at a young age, and by 22 years old he owned and operated a stagecoach line that ran from Belleville to Newark (3 miles), and to New York City (8 miles). While little is known about the coach itself, Gibbs had a token struck for passengers to use. After purchasing a token, a passenger could simply exchange the piece for fare, and allowed Gibbs and other operators to not waste time waiting for customers to find the correct amount due or to have to provide change to customers. In 1831, this truly was an innovation and considered the first transportation token struck in the United States. On the obverse, the token reads “USM \ STAGE \ I. GIBBS | BELLEVILLE & NEW YORK,” while the reverse inscription states that the token was “GOOD FOR ONE RIDE \ TO \ THE \ BEARER” (fig. 1).

Figure 1. United States, transportation token of John Gibbs, ca. 1831. ANS 0000.999.2281.

It was also around this time that Gibbs and Joseph Gardner leased a building on the property of Stevens, Thomas & Fuller—a brass-rolling firm—under the name Gibbs, Gardner & Co. From their landlords, Gibbs and Gardner procured brass sheet stock to manufacture buttons. Like other button-manufactories (most notably those in Birmingham, England), their skills came in handy to produce base-metal coinages during times of coin shortages. As a result, Gibbs, Gardner & Co produced some of the earliest Hard Times tokens in the mid-to-late 1830s for a plethora of private firms. He even made one for himself that states “J. GIBBS MANUFACTURER \ OF \ MEDALS \ AND \ TOKEN \ &c. | BELLEVILLE \ NJ.” The reverse displays a brigantine with the inscription “AGRICULTURE AND COMMERCE” (fig. 2).

Figure 2. United States, store card token of John Gibbs, ca. 1833. ANS 0000.999.30590.

Soon, his business began to thrive. Locals began to call the establishment “The Belleville Mint,” and other orders came in, most notably from individuals in the Montreal, Quebec area beginning in 1836. These were in the form of the “bouquet sou” tokens of Lower Canada. The Belleville Mint was not the first to strike these pieces, as a mint in New York State struck 500,000 pieces for the Bank of Montreal the previous year. These tokens proved popular in fulfilling the need for small change, and other individuals began to speculate on the them. In 1836, exchange broker, Dexter Chapin, commissioned the Belleville Mint to strike bouquet sou tokens and imported them into Lower Canada. While the quantity is not currently known, the Belleville Mint used at least 13 sets of dies, so it was, by no means, a trifling amount. These are, essentially, imitations of the pieces commissioned by the Bank of Montreal. Ultimately, others in Birmingham, England and Montreal also created dies and struck coins for this issue (fig. 3).

Figure 3. Lower Canada, copper sou, ca. 1835. ANS 1949.65.17.

The Belleville Mint also struck a token for William Gibbs, the father of John. The obverse features a bull facing right with the inscription “A FRIEND TO THE CONSTITUTION.” The reverse, however, closely resembles that of a bouquet sou token, though with a legend that reads, “W. GIBBS. AGRICULTUREIST | N. YORK” (fig. 4). This was, perhaps, the earliest inclination that the Belleville Mint was involved with striking the pieces for Lower Canada.

Figure 4. United States, copper token of William Gibbs, ca. 1835.
Image Courtesy Heritage Auctions.

While the bouquet sou tokens that the Belleville Mint struck can be considered imitations and not counterfeits—since they were accepted by the public as one in the same series as the originals, were (for the most part) were of similar weight to the originals, and the originals were not authorized by a legal entity—true counterfeiting efforts was not above the Belleville Mint. As early as 1835, large amounts of counterfeit coins flowed from the presses of this establishment. In June of that year, the operation was raided, the equipment seized, and Joseph Gardner, his wife, and an individual named John Campbell were arrested. The police discovered dies for Spanish and Mexican dollars, 1831 French five-franc coins, and a bag of counterfeit Haitian coins. In August of 1835, another haul of counterfeit coinage from the Belleville Mint was discovered by officials, when the schooner Charles Denison, sailed by Captain Cox arrived in New York City with 380 boxes, each containing 1,200 counterfeit dollars of Brazil (a total of $456,000), albeit struck completely in copper. At the time, however, United States law did not criminalize the counterfeiting of foreign copper coinage (only gold and silver), and the ship and its cargo were set free. The coins were then transported to South America where they were silver plated and released into circulation in Brazil.

The Belleville Mint also purportedly struck copper coins for Liberia, Brazil, and Haiti (fig. 5). However, some sources note that Stevens, Thomas & Fuller—from whom Gibbs and Gardner purchased their metal—struck these coins. It is also possible that “the Belleville Mint” consisted of both Stevens, Thomas & Fuller and Gibbs, Gardner and Co.—the two companies simply merged as one in the mind of the public. Furthermore, the legality of these pieces is also in question. Were they officially commissioned from the local entities of these places (like the Hard Times tokens), or outright counterfeits? More research is needed to fully answer these questions.

Figure 5. Liberia, copper cent, 1833. ANS 1940.160.1599.

Later in life, Gibbs changed professions once again. By the early 1840s, the need for and popularity of Hard Times tokens subsided and orders stopped coming in. For Gibbs, perhaps this also led to the demise of his “front.” Without producing tokens for local merchants, how could he continue to cover up his clandestine operation of producing counterfeit coinage? By 1846, he left Belleville for New York City and set up shop on Forsyth Street. By 1856, he was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where he manufactured shade fixtures, buckles, lamp-burners, and other goods. Unfortunately, Gibbs did not leave behind any known written sources to help tell his story, and only the basics of his life are known through official documents, but the numismatic evidence that he produced allows for pieces of one man’s life, the history of metallic production in New Jersey, and the interconnectedness of this area to other, far-off places of the world in the 19th century to be better understood by present-day researchers.

The British Art Medal Society Confers its President’s Medal to the ANS

The work of Danuta Solowiej, the President’s Medal was commissioned by the British Art Medal Society as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations in 2007, and first awarded in 2009.

Founded in 1982 by then British Museum curator Mark Jones and ANS Saltus Medal awardee Ron Sutton among others, the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) has for nearly four decades been one of the strongest and most highly regarded proponents of the art medal. Since the demise of the US-based Society of Medallists in 1995 after a 65-year run, BAMS is currently the only existing Society to commission art medals, which are made available to its membership, on a regular and on-going basis. The model for this type of art medal Society, in fact, stretches back to the 19th century, when the Société des amis de la médaille française (1899–1920) was founded in Paris by art critic Roger Marx, a tirelessly vocal champion of the medal as a stand-alone art form. Marx’s  Société subsequently inspired similar Societies around the globe, including the New York City-based Circles of Friends of the Medallion (1908–1916) and Society of Medallists (1930–1995). Since 1982, BAMS has issued nearly 250 individual medals produced by some of the finest contemporary sculptors, engravers, and medallists today, including many Saltus Award winners.

BAMS does a great deal more than issue medals, however. Its annual publication, The Medal, is a model for high quality research on and illustration of medallic art from its genesis in 15th-century Italy to the present day, while its Student Medal Project, New Medallist Scheme, and Marsh Award for the Encouragement of Medallic Art, have continued to encourage artists and others from around the world to engage with this rather unique art form.

Since 2009, BAMS has also conferred on an annual basis its highest honor, the President’s Medal, to individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the study of historical medals and/or the production of contemporary medals. Previous recipients include the British Museum, Saltus Medal awardee Bogomil Nikolov, ANS benefactor Stephen K. Scher, and The Simmons Gallery, which over the years has helped the ANS acquire a full set of BAMS medals. The 2020 President’s Medal has been awarded to the ANS. The citation reads:

The Society has been the foremost supporter of the study of medals in America since its formation in 1858. Its activities embrace many aspects of numismatics but one of its outstanding promotions has been the presentation of the J Sanford Saltus Award for distinguished achievement in the field of the art of the medal, created in 1913. This was initially awarded to American based artists but, in 1983, was extended to include artists from other countries. Since then it has honoured some of the most outstanding practitioners of the art of the medal in many countries, thus increasing the attention and prestige of this art form. Alongside its extensive educational and profile-raising activities, ranging from regular seminars, lectures and podcasts alongside publications and exhibitions, the Society makes regular purchases of BAMS medals to enhance its collections and recently purchased the significant archives of the Medallic Art Company to preserve them for posterity.

We are truly honored to receive the President’s Medal. Although we were not able to attend the award ceremony held in London on October 11, 2020, because of the ongoing pandemic, we were able to attend virtually, where Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg offered a few remarks of gratitude. In addition, we recorded a short video to express our deep appreciation for this award, which can viewed here.

The First ITALIA on Coinage

Figure 1. ANS 1944.100.866.

The coin in Fig. 1 represents the first attestation of the name Italia on coinage. It was issued in 90 BC, in Corfinium/Italica, the capital of the Italic rebels who took arms against Rome between 91 and 87 BC and almost destroyed it in what Roman historians recall as one of the bloodiest ever fought on Italian soil (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Corfinium/Italica.

In 91 BC, Marcus Livius Drusus, a tribunus plebis who supported the conferral of Roman citizenship to the Italic people, was murdered. This was allegedly the casus belli, the occasional cause of the Social War, the conflict that would devastate the Italian peninsula for the following four years.

While the name Italia (and its Oscan correspondent Viteliu) only appears on coins in the course of the Social War, the existence of an“Italic community” was already known in the second century BC to the Greek historian Polybius. He is the first known author to make distinction between Ἰταλιώτης (Italiotes), which in classical Greek indicated only those Greeks inhabiting the colonies of Southern Italy (1.6), as opposed to the Ἰταλικοί (Italikoi), the ensemble of the indigenous populations living in this region. Italikoi, the Italic people are thus represented by the entirety of the populations inhabiting the peninsula.

The Italic people, i.e., the people living in the Italian peninsula who did not enjoy Roman citizenship, had fought in the Roman army as auxilia (auxiliary troops) in the course of all the wars that Rome had waged in the previous two centuries, giving a significant contribution to the final triumph over Hannibal in the course of the Second Punic War and then in the wars of conquest fought in the East, that had led to the creation of the first provinces of the Roman Empire (Fig. 3). Italic people were thus socii of the Roman people, their allies par excellence. According to Cicero, Publius Vettius Scato, the general of the Marsians, one of the foremost Italic tribes, defined himself as “one who is by inclination a friend, by necessity an enemy.”

Figure 3. The growth of Roman power in Italy around 100 BC. William R. Shepherd. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, the University of Texas at Austin. Public Domain.

Amplifying Scato’s words, the Roman historian P. Wiseman argues that “the Social War was a war between friends and relatives, and there have must been many women and children who (like the Sabine women) had husbands, fathers, and grandfathers fighting on opposite sides” (p. 64).

The narrative adopted by the Romans—and by several historians in our times—is that the Italic people took arms against the Romans because they wanted to have Roman citizenship, to be fully integrated in Roman society, a society of which they were de facto already members. In the words of the Roman historian Justin (38.4.11–13), “in our very own time Italy rose up in the Marsic War, not requiring freedom (libertas), but a participation in the rule (imperium) and in the citizenship (civitas)”. The desire to obtain full Roman citizenship certainly played an important role in the rebellion, as further confirmed by the emanation in 90 BC of the Lex Iulia de Civitate Latinis et Sociis Danda, which conferred Roman citizenship to all the socii who had not rebelled yet. The law was quite likely aimed at preventing the rebellion of Etruscans and Umbrians, who were the most powerful people amongst socii, who had mostly stayed neutral at the beginning of the war. In 89 BC was passed the lex Plautia Papiria de Civitate Sociis Danda, which granted Roman citizenship to the allies which had rebelled, and represented a further attempt to stem the rebellion.

Figure 4. The “morroni” from Corfinium, remains of a circular mausoleum in the ancient capital of the ephemeral Italic state.

However, the rebellion, though downsized, lasted two more years, thus showing Roman citizenship could not have the only motivation for the Social War.  The rebellious allies not only planned a formal separation from Rome, but also the re-organization of the Italian peninsula—Italia in Latin—as its own independent federation, with its own capital at Corfinium, that was renamed Italica (Fig. 4). In M. Pobjoy’s words, “both the scale of the conflict and the establishment of Italia give the strong impression of a serious attempt at complete separation from Roman authority, and offer good grounds for disbelieving the predominant ancient version of the aims of the rebels” (p. 192).  If, with F. Carlà-Unhink, we are to believe that the creation of a common Italic identity “was a ‘top-down’ process, initiated and consequently brought forward by the Romans” (p. 293), certainly in the course of the Social War this common identity seems to have established itself and the Italic community (at least part of it) shows a clear will to get rid of the creator of that identity, which is Rome itself.

The denomination and the types of the coin presented in Fig. 1 show the aforementioned tension between the necessity of complying to what A. Burnett defines as “Rome’s virtual monopoly of the currency of the whole Italian peninsula” (p. 125) and the longing for an Italic, distinctly non-Roman, identity. First of all, this coin—as most of the coins issued by the socii—is a denarius. Since its introduction in 211 BC, this denomination supplanted any other silver denomination in the Italian peninsula, so the socii found themselves in the awkward position of issuing anti-Roman denarii, i.e., battling against Rome while recognizing that the Roman monetary system was the only one in existence in the peninsula. This is further confirmed by the fact that the denarii of the socii and the ones issued by Rome circulated together for decades after the end of the hostilities.  

Figure 5. ANS 1992.1.2.

The types adopted in the coin represented in Fig. 1 are also reminiscent of previous Roman emissions. On the obverse of this coin, Italy is personified and represented with her head crowned in laurel, in a way that recalls Roma’s portrait on a denarius issued by Mn. Aemilius Lepidus in 114/113 BC (RRC 291/1) (Fig. 5). Moreover, the legend ITALIA is in Latin, the only language common to all the rebels. However, Oscan language will become prevalent in the later years of the rebellion, after the defection of the non-Oscan speaking Umbrian and Etruscans from the rebellion in 90 BC (Figs. 6–7).

Figure 6. ANS 1967.153.19.
Figure 7. ANS 1944.100.873.

The representation on the reverse of the coin in Fig. 1 also presents motives of great interest. As A. Campana rightly points out (p. 75), the scene depicted is one of coniuratio, or oath-taking. The figure at the center of scene is a Fetial priest, a sacerdos fetialis, who is presiding to the consecration of the alliance between the Italian people. The Fetials were a college of Roman priests who acted as the guardians of the public faith. It was their duty, when any dispute arose with a foreign state, to demand satisfaction, to determine the circumstances under which hostilities might be commenced and to perform the various religious rites related the solemn declaration of war (Livy 36.3.18). In this case, the ritual referred to on the reverse of this coin is the sacrificial one, during which the head of the Fetials, the pater patratus, cursed the enemies and anybody who would have seceded from the coniuratio and evoked for them a death similar to the one of the sacrificed pig (caesa porca, Livy 1.24) Once again, the rebels were partaking in a ritual they shared with their Roman enemies. Moreover, the likely model for the scene depicted on the reverse is, represented by a gold stater with the oath-scene, issued in the course of the Second Punic War (RRC 29/1) (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. ANS 1944.100.51.

In the case of the Roman stater, the scene is inspired by the treaty between Roman and Latins, respectively represented by Aeneas and Latinus. The same scene of oath-taking is presented on the obverse of two other denarii issued by the rebel leader C. Papius Mutilus after 90 BC (Figs. 9–10).

Figure 9. ANS 1944.100.876.

While quite certainly inspired by the Roman “oath stater”, the scene depicted on the reverse of Fig. 1 represents a reversal of its model. While the oath-taking stater celebrated the peace between Romans and Latins, one of the Italic people, the denarius issued in 90 BC focuses on the end of that peace and on the commencement of a rightful war between Romans and Italic people. The rightfulness of this war is signaled by the presence of the pater patratus, who could only approve of bellum iustum, a justified war.

Figure 10. ANS 1967.153.18.

While expertly navigating the Roman monetary system from the metrological and iconographical point of view, the socii showed that they shared their religious tradition with the Romans.  While rebelling from Rome, they showed themselves tightly bound to it. Actually, their common identity as Italics could only be maintained while fighting against Rome, the power that in first place made them a nation. In A. Burnett’s words (p. 167):  

. . . the Italians were trying to create some sort of common identity for themselves. This identity, it seems, grew out of a category ‘of Italians’ created by the Romans, a categorization to which the Italians were objecting in terms of its political and institutional implications, but which nevertheless capable of being adopted by them. Italia as a concept was being fought over as hotly as the land itself.

The coin analyzed today is thus a perfect example of the tension between the longing for a common identity independent of Rome and the acknowledgement that the very same common identity was deeply merged in Roman-ness.

The Principality of Arches

A small group of coins currently in our photography queue raise some interesting issues regarding what constitutes a country that can issue coins. These are coins of the Principality of Arches, located in what is now eastern France, issued in the 1600s.

The Principality of Arches was not a relic of medieval feudalism; it was a new creation of the seventeenth century. However, the circumstances that allowed its creation owed much to the late medieval and early modern formalization of feudalism into written law. As legal scholars struggled to integrate feudal customs with the tradition of Roman written law, they created rigid categories and sharp distinctions that had not existed before. These new legal concepts in turn affected the ways that law and government worked in late medieval and early modern Europe, by turning small quirks into major exceptions to rules.

Charles Gonzaga was a French nobleman, born in 1580, the son of Ludovico Gonzaga (a junior member of the ducal family of Mantua in Italy) and Henriette de La Marck (heiress of the duchies of Nevers and Rethel in France). Upon his father’s death in 1595, Charles became the duke of both Nevers and Rethel, making him one of the foremost aristocrats in France.

Charles Gonzaga, duke of Nevers, Rethel, and Mantua.

This was a time of increasing royal power and centralization in France. The aristocracy were still wealthy and prestigious, but they no longer wielded the sort of power they had had in the Middle Ages—or that their contemporaries in the German and Italian states still had. However, Charles Gonzaga saw a way that he could combine his status in France with the trappings of governmental power.

The duchy of Rethel was located along the eastern border of France. One of its dependencies was the lordship of Arches, which was in the Holy Roman Empire, just across the border. Arches had been acquired by a count of Rethel back in the thirteenth century, when nation-states and national borders were not yet significant problems and it was not unusual for a feudal baron to hold land from more than one suzerain.

By the early seventeenth century, the formalization of law and government aimed at removing ambiguities and clarifying powers and obligations. In France, the monarchy was asserting supremacy with increasing effectiveness; in the Empire, it was acknowledged that the territorial lords had effective sovereignty. Charles Gonzaga, with his mixed heritage from imperial Italy and royal France, saw an opportunity to manipulate this difference in local disambiguations.

Historically, Arches had never amounted to much politically, but because it had long been subject to French Rethel, it was not subject to any lord within the Empire other than the emperor himself. That made it, in terms of the emerging consensus of imperial law, arguably a sovereign principality. So, in 1606, Charles began the construction of a new city in his small patch of imperial territory in Arches; with typical modesty he named it Charleville after himself. He made this city the capital of a new principality of Arches.

The Place Ducale, the central square in Charleville, built between 1606 and 1624.

Governing the land of Arches may not have been particularly rewarding in itself, but his new principality gave Charles the many rights of a sovereign ruler. He remained a subject of the French king when he was at Fontainebleau, but in Charleville he had the status of a sovereign state in international law. The minting of coinage was one of many forms this took: a way of making money in more than one sense, as well as an opportunity to display his importance.

As it turned out, he would have obtained this status regardless. A couple of decades later, in 1627, the death of his last surviving cousin of a more senior branch of the Gonzaga family left Charles as the heir to the duchy of Mantua, a far more important principality of the Empire. Even so, when his grandson Charles II sold Nevers and Rethel to the French chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, in 1657, he retained Arches along with Mantua.