The markets for some early American coin series are driven almost
entirely by variety collectors. I mean not only die variety collection
completists, but those who would really like to have a half dozen
Connecticut coppers, or three or four New Jersey coppers. Those two
series certainly lead this crowd, but the same could be said for
Vermont coppers, or Machin’s Mills counterfeit halfpence, or even
Saint Patrick “farthings,” which are popularly collected by die
variety despite the fact that there isn’t even a published book on the series.
Why do these series hold so much appeal for those who like to
collect multiple pieces, while other series like Massachusetts silver,
Virginia halfpence, Fugio coppers or Massachusetts half cents are
mostly purchased by the one-is-enough crowd?
I wish I knew the answer to this question. The three state copper
issues that most appeal to variety collectors, namely those from
Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut, have a long history of variety
collecting to propel them into the 21st century.
The first variety monographs on these series were published in
1870, 1881, and 1892, respectively. That these series are the ones
most likely to be collected by variety is, perhaps, a by-product of
tradition more than anything else.
By comparison to those used for these state copper series, other
variety monographs are downright modern: the Hillyer Ryder text on
Massachusetts coppers was published in 1920, the Sydney P. Noe
monographs on Massachusetts silver didn’t come out until the 1940s,
and Eric Newman’s work on Fugio coppers was published in 1952. The
Saint Patrick series is still waiting for one.
With some series, obvious issues are attached to collecting by
variety. Buying duplicate Massachusetts silver coins is clearly a
pricey proposition, for instance. Maybe if they cost what New Jersey
coppers cost they would be pursued as avidly. Virginia halfpence have
never had an easy-to-use variety guide, and their main designs are
hubbed, thus limiting variation from die to die. Then again, people
collect Morgan dollars by die variety, so perhaps hubbing isn’t the
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what percentage of people who
own Pine Tree shillings own more than one? Or how many collectors who
own a Pine Tree shilling also own the similar-but-different sixpence
and threepence denominations? Or what the average number of New Jersey
coppers in a collection is?
Isn’t the person who owns one Fugio copper just as much of a
Colonial collector as the one who owns 50?
John Kraljevich Jr.
is an independent professional
numismatist and researcher
specializing in early American coinage.