US Coins

Striking characteristics of early copper coins vary

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.

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