Nova Constellatio patterns exhibit at ANA

Four copper, silver pieces to be on view at show
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Published : 07/15/13
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Insured for $15 million, a unique set of four 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern coins will be displayed Aug. 13 to 17 in Rosemont, Ill.

The pieces represent “undoubtedly the first patterns for coinage of the United States,” according to Sylvester S. Crosby in Early Coins of America. 
 
The set will be displayed by Professional Coin Grading Service and Beverly Hills, Calif., dealer Kevin Lipton on behalf of the current anonymous owner of the pieces.
 
Recently authenticated and graded by PCGS, the patterns will be displayed at the PCGS booth during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
The current owner of the Nova Constellatio patterns acquired the pieces in 2007 from the Ford Family Trust in a private transaction through Stack’s, according to Lipton, who is representing the owner of the pattern set. The pieces had once been owned by New York numismatist John J. Ford Jr., who died in 2005.
Lipton said July 9 that he had discussed with the owner of the Nova Constellatio patterns the possibility of publicly displaying them, and they concluded that the best venue to do so would be during the ANA convention.
 
A special exhibit case is being prepared for the display along with a full-color informational brochure providing historical data on the patterns, Lipton said.
 
The exhibit will have armed security present during the time the patterns are on display, Lipton said.
The four-piece Nova Constellatio pattern set comprises:
 
➤ A copper 5-unit piece, unique, PCGS Proof 66 brown.
➤ One of three known silver 100-unit patterns, also known as a “cent” or “bit,” PCGS Proof 66. A second example is owned by St. Louis numismatist Eric P. Newman. The whereabouts of the third example, from the 1991 Stack’s sale of the Richard Picker Collection, is unknown, according to Ron Guth, president of PCGSCoinFacts.
➤ A silver 500-unit piece, also known as a “quint,” Type I, unique as to type, PCGS Proof 65+.
➤ A silver 1,000-unit piece, also known as a “mark,” unique, PCGS Proof 65+.
 
According to PCGS President Don Willis, the three silver patterns in the four-piece Nova Constellatio pattern set trace their pedigrees back to Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress.
 
“The [copper] 5 Units was not known to still exist until it was discovered in a collection in France in 1977 and eventually purchased by Ford the following year,” Willis said.
 
Ford purchased the three silver Nova Constellatio patterns at the Nov. 28 and 29, 1979, Bowers and Ruddy Galleries Part 1 offering of the Garrett Collection auctions, sold on behalf of Johns Hopkins University.
 
One silver Nova Constellatio pattern not acquired by Ford from the 1979 sale is the unique Type II quint. The Type II quint appears with a unique obverse — the all-seeing eye encircled by 13 stars, but without the inscription NOVA CONSTELLATIO as found on the Type I piece.
 
Chicago numismatist Walter Perschke successfully bid on the Type II quint in the 1979 sale and retained ownership until he consigned it to Heritage Auctions for its April 24 to 26, 2013, sale held in conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society’s 74th Anniversary Convention in Schaumburg, Ill.
 
The Type II quint brought $1,175,000 and was purchased by Donald Kagin and David McCarthy from Kagin’s in Tiburon, Calif. The price includes the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee added to the closing hammer price.
McCarthy is currently conducting extensive research on the Type II quint that will be shared with the numismatic world once complete, according to Kagin’s..
 
David Hall, a PCGS co-founder and president of Collectors Universe Inc., said he had not seen the three silver Nova Constellatio patterns formerly owned by Ford since the 1979 Garrett Collection auction and had never seen the copper pattern before.
 
“Holding the four coins was an amazing experience,” Hall said. “ I just couldn’t stop looking at them, and my mind kept imagining what it was like in America in 1783.”
 
“The legend, NOVA CONSTELLATIO, was the Latin form of the words ‘a new constellation’ used in the June 14, 1777, Resolution of the Continental Congress as to the design of the flag,” according to numismatic researcher Newman.
 
The designs for the Nova Constellatio copper coinage are derived from the 1783 patterns arranged by Robert Morris for the new Confederation as superintendent of finance, with Benjamin Dudley serving as the master engraver, according to Crosby.
 
The design of the sun’s rays extending from the “eye of Providence” toward 13 six-pointed stars was adapted from a vignette created by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, for use on the face of the $40 Continental Currency note.
 
The note was authorized subsequent to the April 11, 1778, Resolution of the Continental Congress.
 
Time of conception
 
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 states functioned with independent monetary systems using foreign coinage, with differing rates of exchange in each state.  
 
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 coin. 
 
According to the Heritage auction lot description for the Type II quint, 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, described later) 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 ever struck.  
 
Design details 
 
Of the seven surviving coins, six exhibit the same devices, but the Type II quint has a unique obverse design. 
The obvers
e common to six pieces features the “eye of Providence” in a glory of rays at the center with 13 stars and NOVA CONSTELLATIO. 
 
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 I quint, but the obverse is unique, having the eye encircled by 13 stars, but without the inscription NOVA CONSTELLATIO. 
 
The papers of Robert Morris — superintendent for finance for the Confederation and 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. 
 
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.  
 
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.”
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