The first large-scale emission of copper coins for the American
continent was not struck in London, or New Haven, or Morristown, or
Philadelphia. It wasn’t struck in 1749, or 1787, or 1793. It was
struck in 1721, in the French cities of La Rochelle and Rouen.
By the edict of June 1721, an emission of about 5 million copper
coins denominated as 9-denier pieces were authorized by the French
crown for all French colonies of the New World, including Canada;
French-controlled areas of the interior of North America; the young
city of New Orleans and the province of Louisiana; and the French
islands of the Caribbean.
The coins bear a simple design: the obverse shows the large legend
COLONIES FRANCOISES or “the colonies of the French,” along with the
date and Mint mark, B for Rouen or H for La Rochelle. On the reverse,
two large crowned crossed L’s (for Louis XV) appear along with the
legend SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTUM or “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Just a small proportion of those authorized were struck, though
exact mintages are unknown.
About 534,000 were sent to Canada in 1722, but, in a situation
reminiscent of what happened with the Virginia halfpence of 1773, they
sat in a warehouse until local authorities got permission to circulate them.
Compared to English halfpence and French sous, they were
dramatically underweight. Undeterred, authorities revalued them at 6
deniers, but they still weren’t widely accepted. In 1726, most of them
were shipped back to France, rejected and unused.
Strong evidence suggest the coins saw wider circulation in
Louisiana, and some or most of the rejected pieces from Canada seem to
have ended up there. They have been found archaeologically in places
like Louisiana and coastal Alabama, proving their presence in the
area, despite the fact that early 18th century sites there typically
yield few coins.
The average grade of surviving 1721 and 1722 9-denier pieces today
averages around Very Good, and surface problems are commonplace. With
just three years of active circulation in Canada before their
rejection and shipment back to France, presumably most of the
extensive circulation they saw — decades upon decades judging from the
typical very worn survivors — took place in French Louisiana. Why most
American collectors dismiss them as Canadian is confounding,
particularly considering the popularity of so many issues with little
or no provable American connection.
Any 1721 or 1722 9-denier coin is scarce, and the 1721-B 9-denier
pieces coined at Rouen stand as one of the significant rarities of the
early American copper series.
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.