Colonial America column from Oct. 24, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:
If you’d like to build a collection full of lustrous gems, each
perfect and beautiful, Colonial coins may not be for you.
But if you find something interesting, even educational, in
imperfection, join the club.
Various Colonial coin series, or even individual varieties, appear
with their own typical, endemic flaws that help explain how they were made.
Rosa Americana coins were struck in an alloy found nowhere else in
the American realm, and perhaps nowhere else in the whole world of
numismatics. Generally called Bath metal, their composition is a form of
brass, but the alloy is nearly half zinc.
Rosa Americana coins typically appear striated, granular, sometimes
even bubbly. The high percentage of zinc in Bath metal allows it to
leach to the surface, where it corrodes with exposure to air. The
distinctive planchet texture is a natural byproduct of their method of
manufacture, something to be studied and appreciated rather than
avoided as a problem. The fleas, as it were, come with the dog.
State coppers of the 1780s, or the Fugio and Nova Eborac coppers
struck in the same era, are often encountered with tiny marks or
granularity near their centers.
With insufficient striking pressure, the rough or marked-up texture
of the blank planchet is never obliterated in the areas of the die’s
greatest depth. As an example, if a collector were to bypass all 1787
New Jersey PLURIBS coppers with roughness at their centers, they’d
never ever buy one. They’re all that way!
There are plenty of problems Colonial coins can develop over time.
The most egregious of these are the flaws that collectors inflict upon
coins they’re trying to help: cleaning, tooling, and the like. Natural
problems that occur while a coin is being used as currency clearly
factor into valuation decisions and grading, but with a gentle sense
of their use and the era in which they circulated. Problems inherent
in the production of Colonial coins used to be judged more leniently,
as specialist collectors understood that certain varieties of Vermont
coppers often had planchet striations, or certain Fugio pieces were
typically softly struck, or some die marriages of Massachusetts silver
coins were poorly centered.
In the era of certification, when many die varieties are lumped
under an identical heading, coins are now judged by an uncomfortable
standard: that of similar coins from different varieties that were
just plain better made than they were.