An early American coin with a pedigree dating to the mid-19th
century will return to the marketplace for the first time since 1980
in an auction set for March.
Off the market since the Garrett Collection auction in 1980, a
1776 New Hampshire copper will cross the auction block in the Rarities
Night portion of the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction held in
conjunction with the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo in Baltimore.
The auction will take place March 21 to 24 with the Rarities Night
session scheduled for March 22.
The fame of this coin precedes it. The 2012 edition of A Guide
Book of United States Coins illustrates it on page 55. In
The Early Coins of America, by Sylvester S. Crosby, the
identical piece is shown on a Heliotype Plate VI, No. 3. In The
Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins it is
cataloged as W-8395.
Its earliest illustration was in the first large book ever printed
on the subject, the American Numismatical Manual, by
Montroville S. Dickeson, 1859. The coin was then the property of
Matthew Stickney, who called it one of the three rarest coins in his
collection (which at that time included the first 1804 Draped Bust
silver dollars to be privately owned, obtained by Stickney from the
Mint in 1843).
Cast in copper and weighing 154.9 grains, the New Hampshire copper
has been graded Very Good 10 Secure by Professional Coin Grading
Service. When cataloging the Garrett Collection in 1980 Q. David
Bowers graded it similarly.
The history of this rare copper New Hampshire coinage is fairly
well documented in the literature, especially in Crosby’s 1875 book,
still a standard reference today in 2012, which reproduces the
enabling legislation in the New Hampshire House of Representatives,
March 13, 1775, and includes other valuable information relating to
the origin of the first of the state copper coins.
The issue was intended “for the benefit of small change,” as
Continental currency bills were “so large.” It was recommended that
108 of the coppers be equal in value to one Spanish milled dollar —
thus setting the weight as about twice that of a British halfpenny and
perhaps characterizing the New Hampshire copper as a penny (although
no denomination was specified).
Walter Moulton was empowered to coin as many as might amount to
100 pounds in weight, subject when made to the inspection and
direction of the General Assembly before pieces were made for general circulation.
On June 28, 1776, the House of Representatives voted that the
colony receive into the Treasury, in exchange for New Hampshire bills,
“any quantity of Copper Coin, made in this Colony, of the weight of
five pennyweight and ten grains each, to the amount of any sum not
exceeding 1,000 pounds of lawful money. … [The] coppers shall have the
following device, viz: A Pine tree with the word American liberty on
one side and a harp and the figures 1776 on the other side.”
Although no doubt the proposal generated enthusiasm at the time, a
coinage in quantity did not materialize. It can be theorized, however,
that some from the early coinage were made for distribution to the
Legislature. At the time the seat of government was in Exeter. In the
same year, but slightly later on the calendar, Massachusetts
contemplated a copper coinage, but, again, no quantity production ensued.
It was not until 1785 when state copper coinage became a reality
with the introduction of Connecticut issues, followed by New Jersey in
1786 and Massachusetts in 1787. The Republic of Vermont, an
independent entity (not a state until 1791), contracted for its own
coppers, which were made from 1785 to 1788.
The obverse of the 1776 New Hampshire has a standing pine tree at
the center with AMERICAN LIBERTY around, in keeping with the
legislation. Pine trees were a feature of the state, and the district
called King’s Wood was a source of masts for the Royal Navy when the
state was a colony and part of Great Britain. The reverse with a harp
and 1776 also conforms to the legislation.
Of the few extant, one example is in the National Numismatic
Collection in the Smithsonian Institution and another is held in the
American Numismatic Society collection. “Here is one of the most
extensively pedigreed, most famous coins associated with the tradition
of early American coinage,” Bowers noted. “For an advanced cabinet,
private or museum, this will be one of the greatest acquisitions of
More than 6,000 lots of United States coins, paper money and
Americana will be crossing the block in the Stack’s Bowers March
auction. For further information on the 1776 New Hampshire copper, or
on how to participate in this sale, check the website www.stacksbowers.com or contact
Christine Karstedt, executive vice president, at Ckarstedt@stacksbowers.com. ■