In the canon of early American coins and tokens, you’ll find plenty
of pieces that weren’t made in America. Some of them were coins that
were produced overseas especially for American circulation, like the
1722 and 1723 Rosa Americana coinage.
Some were produced to circulate somewhere else, but came to
America in large quantities, like the St. Patrick’s farthings and
halfpence or William Wood’s Hibernia coinage.
Others weren’t meant to circulate in America at all, including a
group I like to call “American Reference Tokens.” At least three of
these pieces also fit into the Conder token series, struck for English
collectors in the 1790s.
The so-called Kentucky token, struck after that state’s entry into
the Union in 1792, is perhaps the best known. It was never meant to
circulate. The design was made to capitalize upon the English interest
in the American experiment.
Most known examples are high grade and spent their life in English
cabinets. The obverse design played to the pro-American faction in
England, with a central obverse design of a hand holding a scroll
reading our cause is just and the legend unanimity is the strength of society.
The reverse depicts a radiant pyramid composed of starbursts
representing each of the 15 states with the motto e pluribus unum. The
piece marks a specific moment in the early American story, but in a
different way than a New Jersey copper or a George Washington, Small
Eagle cent — self-consciously, as an observer, rather than as an
economic actor like a coin made for circulation.
Perhaps the rarest of the avidly sought American Reference Tokens
is the Theatre at New York token — struck in penny size, with Proof
finish for collectors. Peter Kempson issued penny-sized tokens
featuring famous buildings, all in Britain, except for the grand Park
Theatre on Park Row in New York. It reflects the earliest numismatic
representation of a structure in the United States.
It’s a pity the token is so rare, as it would make a nice addition
to a collection of 18th century American coins or medals. The Kentucky
token is easily acquired and is often included in cabinets of American
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.