There aren’t too many short variety series among the Confederation
coppers. Connecticut coppers lead the way with more than 300
varieties, and New Jersey coppers total up at more than half that
number. Collectors have identified almost 60 varieties of Fugio
coppers, almost 50 varieties of Massachusetts coppers and almost 40
varieties of Vermont pieces.
While nearly complete sets of each of the last three have been
assembled, and massive cabinets of Connecticut and New Jersey coppers
have also been gathered up, each of these tasks takes years and
depends upon a collector being willing to buy some ugly coins — some
rarities in these series exist only in abysmal grade.
One of the more digestible series of this era, where even the
scarce varieties are acquirable in decent grade, is the Nova
Constellatio coppers. Copied from the earliest American attempts at a
pattern coinage, the English-made Nova Constellatio coppers are found
dated 1783, like their pattern predecessors, and 1785, the year that
all of the coppers were probably struck.
Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris (no relation) were the minds
behind the creation of the 1783 patterns, in an attempt to convince
the Continental Congress to adopt Robert Morris’ oddball coinage
scheme. Unsuccessful at that, they teamed with Philadelphia merchant
William Constable to have coppers produced in England to circulate in
America — a profitable proposition, given the difference in value
between the materials and labor and the price of a copper in commerce.
The coppers first turned up in the spring of 1786, first mentioned
in the London press, then in New York and New England before summer.
The first illustration of a Nova Constellatio is found in a London
magazine from that fall.
Many thousands were apparently struck. Joseph Felt, in his 1839
work An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency, mentions that
they were common in Massachusetts before the opening of the mint there
in 1787. Even today, pretty much every coin show bourse will have a
Nova Constellatio lurking here or there.
Just 10 varieties make up the Nova Constellatio variety
collection, one of which is a 1786 rarity that is deemed by most a
circulating counterfeit. Omitting that variety, the other nine include
no great rarities, though three of them are scarce in decent grade and
rare in genuinely nice shape — just enough of a challenge to make them
interesting. Most of the varieties are easily found in grades up to
and including Extremely Fine. Their simple, elegant designs and
authentically American story make them a prime series for both
beginners and specialists.
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.