Insured for $15 million, a unique set of four 1783 Nova
Constellatio pattern coins will be displayed Aug. 13 to 17 in
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
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
“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
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.
Of the seven surviving coins, six exhibit the
same devices, but the Type II quint has a unique obverse design.
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.”