A previously unpublished variety of 1760 Voce Populi halfpenny has
been confirmed by experts in Colonial numismatics and certified
Extremely Fine 40 by Professional Coin Grading Service.
The unique variety is scheduled to be offered at auction in August
by Stack’s Bowers Galleries in conjunction with the American
Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia. The coin
is part of a series that originated in Ireland and circulated in
“Voce Populi” translates into English as “voice of the people.”
The new variety is not listed in Philip Nelson’s The Coinage of
Ireland in Copper, Tin, and Pewter, 1460-1826, published in 1904 and
1905, or in the 1959 reprint by Spink.
Nor is it listed in Jerry Zelinka’s detailed analysis of the
series, “The Enigmatic Voce Populi Halfpenny of 1760,” published in
the October 1976 issue of The Colonial Newsletter.
Zelinka identified 16 obverse dies and 11 reverse dies, used in 16
die marriages. Nelson’s 1905 book references only 14 marriages.
The new variety has been assigned the catalog number of Nelson 17.
John Kraljevich, an expert in Colonial numismatics who is author
of the monthly Coin World column “Colonial America” and a numismatic
consultant for Stack’s Bowers, cataloged the new variety for the auction.
According to Kraljevich, the Nelson 17 variety most closely
resembles the Voce Populi variety identified as Nelson 4 and Zelinka
2-A. The established variety shares a reverse die with the new
discovery, but the obverse on the new coin is from an entirely new
die, Kraljevich said.
“The head punch is quite tall, like Nelson-4, but shows
distinctive details: thinner and more pointed leaves in the laurel, an
extra curlicue curl between the two hair ribbons and the back of the
neck, a more Roman style nose and higher, more prominent lips,”
according to Kraljevich’s auction lot description for the Nelson 17 variety.
“The letter positions on the obverse are also distinctive,
particularly notable at OP of POPULI, which is close together on
Nelson-4 but shows a space between them on this new die. LI of POPULI
are almost touching on Nelson-4 but show considerable space here. The
tops of POPULI are also closer to the long denticles on this die than
they are on Nelson-4.
“The reverse appears to be in a later state here, with the olive
spray in a more abraded state, perhaps through die lapping or just
wear. The quatrefoils are less crisp here than on Nelson-4, and the
flaw left of the date appears more prominent.”
Kraljevich said that before the discovery of the Nelson 17
variety, the Nelson 16 variety was the rarest of the Voce Populi
halfpence, with six examples known as of the last auction appearance
in a 2008 sale conducted by Colonial Coin Collectors Club (website www.colonialcoins.org/). That
Very Fine 25 example sold for $7,150, with the 10 percent buyer’s fee.
The Stack’s Bowers Galleries researchers do not know the identity
of the discoverer of the new variety.
Vicken Yegparian, vice president of numismatics for Stack’s Bowers
in the firm’s New York offices, said June 13: “The coin came to us
through a dealer intermediary, so I’m not sure who the actual owner
is. The owner had researched and knew what he had, but was looking for
expert confirmation of the variety, which is why they came to Stack’s
Kraljevich, in a June 14 email to Coin World, said: “As
to the discoverer, the consignor ... identified all the salient points
of the new variety. I don’t know who he is, but he deserves credit as
the discoverer. Vic looked at it, then asked me to confirm it, which
only took about 10 minutes. It’s really pretty distinctive.”
Voce Populi series
The Voce Populi pieces are from a series of coppers produced in
Ireland; a number of the pieces ended up in Colonial America.
Wide disagreement exists among numismatic experts over whether the
pieces were intentionally produced for widespread circulation in the Colonies.
Diagnostics on the coppers tie them to Ireland, and they are
popularly collected as a colonial issue.
The obverse of the Voce Populi halfpenny coppers displays a male
portrait wearing a laurel wreath as a personification of the people.
The motto VOCE POPULI appears around.
On the reverse, a seated figure of Hibernia appears at center,
with HIBERNIA inscribed above and, below, the date 1760 in exergue.
According to Zelinka, several varieties are most easily
distinguished by the different punctuation or designs that accompany
Some of the halfpenny copper pieces have the letter P on the
obverse; researchers have never ascertained the purpose of the letter.
The series is popular with today’s collectors due in large part to
its affordability and is included in A Guide Book of United States
Coins by R.S. Yeoman, better known as the “Red Book.”
Well-circulated examples of common halfpenny varieties in Good
condition can be found for less than $100.
For comparison, two common examples of Voce Populi halfpennies
graded Extremely Fine 45 by PCGS sold at a Jan. 7 Heritage auction for
$489.90 and $517.50 each. ■