Nearly 34 years after buying the unique 1783 Nova Constellatio, Type
II quint pattern at auction from the Garrett Collection, Chicago
numismatist Walter Perschke is ready to relinquish ownership.
Also known as the 500-unit piece, the pattern was one of four
silver 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns offered at the Nov. 28 to 29,
1979, sale conducted by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries.
The Type II quint was the only one of the four patterns that the
celebrated New York numismatist John J. Ford Jr. was unable to buy at
the 1979 sale.
In his 1875 reference, Early Coins of America, Sylvester S. Crosby
considered the Nova Constellatio patterns to represent the first
patterns for United States coinage.
Perschke purchased the Type II quint for $55,000 from the 1979
sale where it was graded as “Choice AU-55, with prooflike surface.”
The sale was the first of four auctions of the Garrett Collection
conducted by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries between 1979 and 1981.
Currently graded Professional Coin Grading Service Secure About
Uncirculated 53, the Type II quint pattern is scheduled to cross the
auction block April 25 during Platinum Night of Heritage Auctions’
Signature Sale April 24 to 28. The auction is being held in
conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society 74th
Anniversary Convention in Schaumburg, Ill.
Perschke placed bids on all four Nova Constellatio patterns in the
1979 Garrett auction — the 100-unit bit, or cent; the Type I 500-unit
quint; the Type II quint; and the 1,000-unit mark — but was successful
only with his bid for the Type II quint.
It was serendipitous that he walked away with any of the four
patterns, considering his formidable opponent in Ford.
“In buying the quint, I was in the right place at the right time,”
Perschke said April 3, 2013. “Ford was the only other bidder over
$50,000 on any of the four. To conceal his interest in buying the
complete group, he retained two agents to bid for him with
instructions to not bid against each other and which specific coins to
“Fortunately for me, the two agents got their signals crossed, or
more likely, received conflicting instructions from Ford, and neither
bid on the Type II quint, which I was able to buy for $55,000. I did
not know this during the sale, but it was told to me by one of the
agents long afterwards.”
Perschke recalls Ford later tried to buy the Type II quint from
him on several occasions over the years, always through an agent,
which was usually Harvey Stack from Stack’s.
“Ford never wanted to make an offer, but I did quote a price to
him on more than one occasion, and he did me an enormous favor by
turning down my asking price,” Perschke said.
When he purchased the quint, Perschke said it would be a
“It was never my intention to [‘flip’ the] coin,” Perschke said.
“At the time of purchase, I don’t think I envisioned holding [the]
coin for this long. It just worked out that way.”
Perschke labeled the quint an extraordinary example of American
history. He said: “As a history teacher and student of economics, I
can tell you that the quint is a foundation for the economic and
monetary system we have today in America. It was the first decimal
coin in a Colonial economy based on pounds sterling and Spanish eight reales.
“It is one of the unprecedented turning points in American history
that we developed a decimal system of money and coinage. It was with
great foresight that the [founding] fathers envisioned and
commissioned the decimal system still in use today.
“The quint was a forerunner and pattern for that system. America
was making a declaration to the world that it was taking its place
among sovereign nations and minting its own coinage in a decimal
system that was uniquely American and that would one day be the
reserve currency of the world.”
Perschke has exhibited the Type II quint pattern at numismatic
events over the years, including a showing at the 2011 American
Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Ill., when
Ford’s former coins were on display at another bourse table.
A suggested currency
The Nova Constellatio patterns were conceived in 1781 by
Gouverneur Morris, assistant superintendent of commerce for the
Confederation of American States, as the first proposed monetary
system for the newly independent country.
At the time, each of the original 13 Colonies functioned with
independent monetary systems using foreign coinage, with differing
rates of exchange in each Colony.
Morris’ plan was an effort toward standardization. He determined
that by making his basic unit, or mill, equal to 1/1,440th of a
Spanish milled dollar, he could express prices for any item in terms
of the monetary units then employed by 12 of the 13 states in a
corresponding number of federal units without resorting to fractions.
Using his basic monetary unit, Morris devised a monetary plan that
envisioned a copper 5-unit piece, a copper 8-unit coin, a silver
100-unit piece (known as the cent or bit), a silver 500-unit quint, a
silver 1,000-unit mark, and a gold 10,000-unit piece.
According to the Heritage auction lot description, seven examples
of the Nova Constellatio patterns survive today — one mark, one Type I
quint, one Type II quint, three 100-unit cents, one of which has a
plain edge rather than the edge device the majority share, and a
single copper 5-unit piece.
No examples of the proposed gold 10,000-unit piece or the copper
8-unit piece have ever been found, and it seems unlikely that any were
Of the seven surviving coins, six exhibit the same devices, but
one of the quints has a unique obverse design.
The obverse common to six pieces features the All-Seeing Eye in a
glory of rays at the center with 13 stars and NOVA CONSTELLATIO around.
The common reverse features U.S (with no period after the S) and
the denomination, both at the center. An olive wreath encircles the
center inscriptions, with LIBERTAS JUSTITIA and the date 1783 around.
The edge device is a twin olive leaf design, except on the copper
5-unit piece and one of the known bits, which have plain edges.
The unique Type II quint features the same reverse as the Type
One, but the obverse is unique, having the All-Seeing Eye encircled by
13 stars, but without the inscription NOVA CONSTELLATIO.
The papers of Robert Morris — superintendent for finance for the
Confederation, Gouverneur Morris’ boss, but having no familial
relationship — record minute details of the work done to execute the
pattern production, including payments to coiner John Jacob Eckfeldt
and to an engraver named David Tew for forging and sinking two pairs
of dies in April 1783.
Benjamin Dudley, an experienced metallurgist and diesinker who had
recently emigrated from England in mid-1781, was hired by Robert
Morris to supervise the establishment of a Mint and to make dies and
coins for the new coinage system.
Dudley arrived in Philadelphia on October 23, 1781.
Robert Morris submitted his and Gouverneur Morris’ collaborative
coinage proposal to Congress on Jan. 15, 1782.
Dudley constructed a screw press and other necessary machinery for
the formation of the Mint. He began the work of implementing the
coinage plan even before Congress approved it.
Robert Morris recorded in a diary entry dated April 2, 1783, that
Dudley had delivered to him a piece of silver that had been struck
into the first American coin.
Heritage, in the firm’s auction lot description for the Type II
quint pattern, surmises that although the diary entry did not mention
the denomination of the newly struck piece, “it has always been
assumed that the coin was the largest silver denomination, the mark.”
The dies for the mark were produced from device punches in the
usual manner of the time. A few weeks later, on April 16, Morris wrote
the following entry in his diary, “Sent for Mr. Dudley and urged him
to produce the Coins to lay before Congress to establish a Mint.”
An undocumented number of Nova Constellatio patterns accompanied a
May 1, 1784, letter that Robert Morris sent to Thomas Jefferson, who
was then preparing for a multi-year assignment as minister to France.
The struck pieces Robert Morris sent to Jefferson apparently did not
include the Type II quint, according to the Heritage auction lot description.
The catalog indicates Jefferson left the coins with Charles
Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress. The auction lot
description contributes an extensive accounting of the circuitous
paths specific Nova Constellatio patterns traveled after being
delivered to Jefferson and held for safekeeping by Thomson.
The Type II quint surfaced in October 1870 when New York City coin
dealer William P. Brown published a description of the pattern in an
article in Volume 1, Number 2 of The Curiosity Cabinet. Brown
disclosed that the Type II quint came from a young New York City coin
collector who claimed to have inherited the piece from his
grandfather. Crosby purchased the pattern from Brown and described it,
along with the Type I quint and the mark, in Early Coins of America.
Baltimore’s John Work Garrett obtained the four Nova Constellatio
patterns in a private treaty transaction from collector Col. James W.
Ellsworth and retained the pieces in his famous collection from their
1923 acquisition until his death in 1942, when the collection was
bequeathed to Johns Hopkins University.
According to Stack’s, the four patterns were among 2,000 coins
purchased from Ellsworth on March 7, 1923, by New York dealer Wayte
Raymond and Garrett through Knoedler & Co., for $100,000.
The bit, Type I quint and mark sold in the 1979 sale for $97,500,
$165,000 and $190,000, respectively, to Ford. The unique Type II quint
Ford died July 7, 2005, still not having reunited the four patterns.
Larry Stack, formerly a principal with Stack’s, and currently a
senior numismatic consultant with Stack’s Bowers Galleries, confirmed
April 3 that the three Nova Constellatio patterns Ford purchased in
1979 were sold seven or eight years ago, by private treaty for an
Although the three patterns were originally scheduled to be
offered in one of the auctions, the private treaty sale offered the
guaranty the three patterns would remain together, Larry Stack said.
The buyer(s) wish to remain anonymous, according to Stack.
Visit Heritage Auctions online at www.ha.com. Perschke, at Numisco
Rare Coin Inc., can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.