Decades before the phrase “Buy the book before the coin” became an
oft-repeated adage, St. Louis numismatist Eric P. Newman was busy
buying the coins, doing his own extensive research and working on
writing his own books.
Among those coins appearing in the Heritage Auctions May 16 sale
of The Eric P. Newman Collection Part IV is the finest known of four
1776 Continental Currency dollars struck in silver.
The standard reference on the Continental Currency dollar series
was written by Newman himself and first published in 1952 — 1776
Continental Currency Coinage and Varieties of the Fugio Cent.
Many of the lots in the May 16 sale carry extensive pedigrees to
some of the greatest numismatic collections from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The 620-lot auction of early U.S. and Colonial coins is to be
offered in two sessions May 16 in New York City by Heritage.
The Eric P. Newman Collection Part IV includes Virginia halfpence;
Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts state coppers;
Sommer Islands coinage; New England coinage; Massachusetts Willow
Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree silver coinage; examples of Mark Newby’s
coinage; American Plantation tokens; London and Carolina Elephant
tokens; Rosa Americana coinage; Wood’s Hibernia coinage; and Samuel
Also offered will be Talbot, Allum & Lee cents, Hibernia-Voce
Populi coinage, Nova Eborac coppers, New York coinage, Bar coppers,
Auctori Plebis tokens, Mott tokens, Kentucky Pyramid tokens,
Castorland medals, Myddelton tokens, North American tokens, Immunis
Columbia coppers, Washington cents and additional Washingtonia, and
assorted historical medals.
Among featured rarities in the May 16 sale are these:
➤ 1783 Nova Constellatio 100-unit pattern “cent” or “bit.”
➤ 1652 Willow Tree sixpence.
➤ 1787 George Clinton EXCELSIOR cent.
➤ 1737 Samuel Higley, Three Hammers Reverse, CONNECTICVT threepence.
➤ 1615 and 1616 Sommer Islands coinage.
The lots being sold are from the extensive collection of the Eric
P. Newman Numismatic Education Society — a Missouri not-for-profit
corporation — and have been assembled over a 90-year period.
Proceeds from the sale of the 680 lots will be used exclusively
for the benefit of other not-for-profit institutions selected by the
1776 Continental dollar, silver
The 1776 Continental Currency dollar struck in silver being
offered in the May 16 Heritage auction is attributed as the Newman 3-D
variety as cataloged in Newman’s reference on the series.
The coin is certified Mint State 63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.
It is one of only four known Continental dollars struck in silver.
The Newman 3-D variety was struck with Obverse 3 bearing E G FECIT
below the central sundial in the design. Translated from Latin into
English, the inscription means “E.G. made it.”
Newman identifies the inscription’s E G as Elisha Gallaudet, who
also engraved the plates for a series of paper Continental Currency.
Obverse 3 is paired with Reverse D, which exhibits N.HAMPS (for
New Hampshire) to the left of MASSACHS (for Massachusetts) in the
linked rings representing the Original 13 Colonies.
Newman’s example of the dollar weighs 368.3 grains (23.57 grams)
and is composed of 93 percent silver and 6 percent copper, according
to an NGC surface analysis. The remaining 1 percent of the composition
is in trace elements.
Among the coin’s illustrious owners before Newman were Frank
McCoye, George H. Earle, Waldo C. Newcomer, Col. E.H.R. Green, and
Little is known about the Continental Currency coinage, including
its denomination, although Newman surmises the value to be a dollar.
It is believed the metallic Continental Currency dollar was
intended to replace the paper dollar following four printed emissions
from May 10, 1776, through May 6, 1776. Who authorized the Continental
Currency dollars or struck the coins is unknown.
The coin’s designs are based on designs found on paper Continental
Congress fractional currency from the Feb. 17, 1776, emission designed
by Benjamin Franklin, and engraved by Gallaudet.
Examples of the Continental Currency coins are known struck in
pewter, brass and silver, with varieties bearing inscriptions spelled
as CURENCY and CURRENCY.
Nova Constellatio ‘bit’ pattern
The 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern offered is one of only three
examples known of the 100-unit cent or “bit” pattern.
Two of the extant 100-unit examples have an ornamented leaf edge
device, while the Newman piece is unique for bearing a plain edge.
Certified NGC About Uncirculated 55, Newman’s 1783 bit weighs 26.4
grains and is composed of 93 percent silver and 6 percent copper — per
NGC surface analysis — with the remaining 1 percent of the alloy in
trace elements. The coin was formerly in the Murdoch, Garrett,
Newcomer, Green and Burdette G. Johnson collections.
The Nova Constellatio patterns were conceived in 1781 by
Gouverneur Morris, assistant superintendent of commerce for the United
States under the Articles of Confederation, as the first proposed
monetary system for the newly independent country. Also working on the
proposal was Robert Morris, superintendent of finance and Gouverneur
Morris’ boss (but having no familial relationship).
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.
Gouverneur 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 Heritage, seven examples of the Nova Constellatio
patterns survive today — one mark, one Type I quint, one Type II
quint, three 100-unit cents 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.
Robert Morris submitted the coinage proposal to Congress on Jan.
15, 1782. However, the coinage system was never implemented.
Pattern designs and production
As part of the proposal, though, pattern pieces were ordered.
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.
The papers of Robert Morris 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 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 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 (one of the patterns).
Although a coinage series based on the unit was not implemented,
the designs on the patterns were adapted for the Nova Constellatio
copper coinage, as arranged by Robert Morris for the new
Confederation, with Dudley serving as the master engraver, according
to Sylvester S. Crosby in Early Coins of America.
Willow Tree sixpence
The silver coinage of Massachusetts comprises the undated (1652)
New England coins followed by the subsequent 1652 Willow Tree, Oak
Tree and Pine Tree coinage.
Among the key Massachusetts silver pieces in the fourth Newman
auction is a 1652 Willow Tree sixpence, NGC Very Fine 25. It is
attributed as Noe 1-A (“The New England and Willow Tree Coinages of
Massachusetts” by Sydney P. Noe, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, No.
102, American Numismatic Society, 1943), and W-130 (Whitman
Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins by Q. David Bowers).
The Massachusetts silver coins were the first coins struck in
British North America, produced without royal approval (their issuance
coincided with the existence of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth) to
fill a commercial need for currency. By today’s standards, they appear
crude, struck on misshapen planchets with designs that were well below
even the standards set by mid-17th century government mints in Europe
and Spanish America. For many collectors, though, their appearance is
a great part of their charm.
The first series, called the New
England or NE coinage, are simple, irregularly shaped disks of silver,
punch-stamped with NE on one side and the denomination in Roman
numerals on the other side: III, for threepence; VI, for sixpence; and
XII, for the shilling or twelvepence. Several NE pieces are offered in
the Newman auction.
The New England coins were followed by the three “Tree” coinages.
Collectors have long adopted the names “Willow Tree” (for pieces
struck 1653 to 1660), “Oak Tree” (1660 to 1667) and “Pine Tree” (1667
to 1682). However, botanists would be hard-pressed to identify the
crudely engraved trees by species.
The Tree coins show a rough
tree on the obverse, surrounded by the inscription MASA THVSETS IN;
the reverse features the date above the denomination in Roman
numerals, both at the center, with NEW ENGLAND AN DOM around. On some
pieces, inscriptions are incomplete, since the irregularly shaped
planchets on which the coins were struck were not always well centered
between the dies. The issues were produced for the Massachusetts Bay
Colony at the provincial mint in Boston from 1652 through the early
1680s. All but one of the issues in the “Tree” coinage is dated 1652.
The Oak Tree twopence coins, which are dated 1662, are the exception.
The 1737 Higley, Three Hammers Reverse, CONNECTICVT threepence
being offered in the Newman IV auction is attributed as the Freidus
1.1-A variety (“The History and Die Varieties of the Higley Coppers,”
by Dan Freidus, in The Token: America’s Other Money, 1994 American
Numismatic Society’s Coinage of the Americas Conference, published
1995), and certified About Uncirculated 50.
Heritage notes the Newman piece is the finer of two examples known
for the variety and is one of the finest known existing Higley coppers
of any variety.
The obverse features a deer as its central device, with THE VALVE
[value] OF THREE PENCE around; the reverse bears three crowned hammers
with CONNECTICVT around.
Dr. Samuel Higley was a doctor who also practiced blacksmithing
and was well-versed in metallurgy. Dr. Higley operated his own
successful copper mine near what is now known as Simsbury, Conn.
Higley is believed to have produced the 1737 copper tokens.
The three crowned hammers design derives from the arms of the
English blacksmiths’ guild.
Higley died on a 1737 voyage to
England aboard a vessel loaded with the rich copper from his
While Higley coppers were produced and issued between
1737 and 1739, none are dated 1738.
Varieties of Higley coppers are known both with and without the
Roman numeral III below the date, and VALVE ME AS YOU PLEASE or VALUE
ME AS YOU PLEASE around.
Two additional reverses were designed, purportedly so as not to
suggest to the public that the coppers were colonially authorized.
Reverse die varieties are known bearing the inscription I AM GOOD
COPPER around the three crowned hammers. Another reverse bears a
broadaxe with J [I] CUT MY WAY THROUGH. The I looks like a J.
unique, undated Higley copper is known, having the broadaxe reverse
paired with a spoked wheel obverse and the obverse inscription THE
WHEELE GOES ROUND.
Walter Breen weighs in on the series in his Complete Encyclopedia
of U.S. and Colonial Coins. “Though Dr. Samuel Higley presumably made
the first 1737-dated coppers,” Breen writes, “the undated and
1739-dated pieces, and possibly some of the late 1737s, are attributed
to his eldest brother, John. This enterprise probably also included
the Higleys’ close friends, [the] Rev. Timothy Woodbridge and William Cradock.”
George Clinton copper
The 1787 George Clinton, EXCELSIOR cent being offered, W-5790
(Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins by Q. David
Bowers), was formerly in the Newcomer and Green collections. It is
graded NGC Mint State 63 brown.
The piece depicts American soldier and statesman George Clinton on
the obverse and the arms of the State of New York on the reverse.
Clinton served as New York’s governor from 1777 to 1795, then
again from 1801 to 1804, before serving as the fourth U.S. vice
president, from 1805 to 1812.
Clinton served as vice president under Presidents Thomas Jefferson
and James Madison.
The 1787 George Clinton, EXCELSIOR cent, of which fewer than a
dozen examples are known, is believed to have been the work of die
engraver James F. Atlee. It is also believed that the cents were
produced to accompany Thomas Machin’s original March 1787 petition for
The use of Clinton’s portrait is considered to have been an homage
from Machin, a longtime friend.
The reverse design is derived from Peter Maverick’s engraving of
the New York State arms on the New York paper money from the April 18,
The first published mention of a George Clinton cent noted in
circulation is a report in Harper’s in March 1860 of an East Poultney,
Vt., grocer’s discovery of one of the pieces circa 1859.
Sommer Islands coinage
Ever since the first example of Sommer Islands Hogge money was
revealed to the numismatic world during the 19th century, the
mysteries surrounding the circa 1616 token coinage have continued to
unfold. From that first 19th century discovery, numismatists
interested in the series of Hogge money produced for the chain of
islands today known as Bermuda have learned that at least four
denominations were struck as a circulating medium — twopence,
threepence, sixpence and shilling (or twelvepence). The threepence is
the rarest denomination.
Researchers have cataloged a number of obverse and reverse die varieties.
The coins derive their name from their obverse designs, which
depict a wild boar or hog. Hogs proliferated on the islands after
being unloaded there during the early 16th century.
Some numismatists believe that the vessel seen on the reverse of
the Sommer Islands Hogge money is a rendition of the Sea Venture.
The Sea Venture, captained by Adm. Sir George Somers — for whom
the Sommer Islands would be named after the English crown claimed them
— was the flagship of a nine-ship provisioning fleet sent from
Plymouth, England, to the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1609. Among
other misadventures that fleet suffered, the Sea Venture crashed on
these islands before the admiral finished his voyage and eventually
(In reference works, Somers’ name is spelled in almost every
conceivable form. The islands bearing his name and their coinage are
also subject to various spellings.)
The Newman IV auction contains four examples of Sommer Islands coinage:
➤ Small Star twopence, Breen 7, BMA Type One (Coins of Bermuda,
1616-1996, edited by Malcolm E. Williams, Peter T. Sousa, and Edward
C. Harris), NGC Very Fine 25.
➤ Threepence, Breen 5, BMA Type One, NGC VF-20.
➤Large Portholes sixpence, Breen 3, BMA Type One, NGC AU-50.
➤ Small Sails shilling, Breen 2, BMA Type One, NGC AU-55.
Other key rarities to watch
The Newman IV auction offers a
number of other key early American numismatic rarities. They include:
➤ 1792 Silver Center cent, Judd 1 (United States Pattern Coins,
Experimental & Trial Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd, edited by Q. David
Bowers), NGC MS-63+ brown, 79.8 grains. The dies for the Silver Center
cent were possibly cut by Henry Voigt, chief coiner of the first U.S.
Mint. The obverse bears a portrait of Liberty facing right with
flowing hair on obverse; open-top wreath with ribbon at bottom on
reverse. The pattern was an effort to create a reasonably sized coin
with an intrinsic value of one cent. It used a small copper planchet
with a hole in the center into which a silver plug was inserted before
the entirety was struck.
➤ 1792 copper disme, plain edge, Judd 10, NGC AU-55, 57.6 grains.
The 1792 disme (the original spelling of today’s “dime”) is known in
one silver variety and two copper varieties. The dies, showing a
Flowing Hair Liberty facing left on the obverse and a Small Eagle
design on the reverse, are attributed to Voigt.
➤ 1652 New England sixpence, Noe 1-A, W-10, NGC AU-58, possibly
the finest of fewer than 10 examples known.
➤ 1652 New England shilling, Noe 1-A, W-40, NGC AU-55.
➤ 1652 Oak Tree shilling, Noe 6, W-480, NGC Extremely Fine 45.
➤ 1787 Immunis Columbia, Large Eagle copper, NGC AU-55★, Formerly
in Lorin G. Parmelee, James A. Ten Eyck, Waldo C. Newcomer and E.H.R.
Green collections. Examples represent the earliest of the struck
samples for Gen. Matthias Ogden’s proposal to Congress for a national
coinage. The patterns were struck from dies made by James F. Atlee at
Rahway Mills in New Jersey. Newman’s Immunis Columbia piece in the
auction was struck over a struck 1786 New Jersey copper. The 1786 New
Jersey copper is the Maris 26-S variety (Historic Sketch of the Coins
of New Jersey by Edward Maris).
For more details about the auction, visit Heritage Auctions online
at www.ha.com, or telephone Heritage at 800-872-6467. ■