An example of one of the most researched and yet still most
mysterious coins struck before the United States had even achieved its
Independence — a 1776 Continental dollar in pewter — is a centerpiece
in a June auction by Spink USA.
Despite decades of research into historical records, no
authorization for the coins has ever been found. Inscriptions suggest
that the Continental Congress approved their production and they are
linked in design to the Continental Currency notes, which were
authorized and issued into circulation.
SS Central America reveals thousands of new
findings, celebrating the ‘house organ’:
Another column in the June 19 Coin World details what a ‘house
organ’ is, and expounds on some intriguing half dollar varieties.
No one is completely sure that they were denominated as dollars
since the coins bear no denominational markings. Some speculate
whether they were intended as cents. Versions are known in pewter,
brass, and silver, struck from pairings of five obverse dies and four
The obverse and reverse designs are linked not only to the
contemporary Continental Currency notes, but also to the later 1787
Fugio cents. The general designs are largely attributed to polyglot
Benjamin Franklin, who was deeply involved in the production of early
American paper money printing and design.
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The central device of what is generally identified as the obverse
bears a sun dial underneath the rays of the sun, with the Latin word
FUGIO (“it flies,” as in “time flies”) to the upper letter and MIND
YOUR BUSINESS below. Two crudely cut circles surround the main
devices, with the sundial inside the inner circle and FUGIO and the
sun positioned between the circles.
The date 1776 appears at the 6 o’clock position with CONTINENTAL
CURRENCY encircling (the latter inscription is spelled correctly on
the subject coin, though some pieces bear the misspellings CURENCY and CURRENCEY).
Positioned above the date between the two circles is the engraver’s
“signature”: EG FECIT. The engraver has been identified as Elisha
Gallaudet, the engraver of the plates for the Feb. 17, 1776,
Continental Currency notes. “Fecit” is Latin for “made it,” the whole
meaning “Elisha Gallaudet made it.”
The reverse bears a 13-linked chain, with the name of one of the 13
rebelling states on each link in the chain. At the center is WE ARE
ONE, attesting to the links between the 13 states, with AMERICAN
CONGRESS positioned on either side of the center motto.
A mysterious issue
As the cataloger for Spink writes: “The Continental Currency pieces
are mysterious, controversial, and historically important. Mysterious,
because little documentation has been found concerning their origin
and use. Controversy has always surrounded them. Collectors, dealers,
and historians have asked ‘Are they coins or patterns?’ ‘Who made them
and under what circumstances?’ ‘What are they really made of?’ ‘Are
they Dollars or Cents?’ ‘What do the symbols and mottos really mean,
and who designed them?’ ”
The cataloger adds that Spink would argue that the rare silver
pieces are patterns, that the brass pieces are pattern pennies, and
the pewter pieces are coins. Professional Coin Grading Service and
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. “population reports indicate that a fairly
large proportion of the reported [pewter] examples in the census are
circulated. This seems to indicate they were used as actual coins, in
exchange for goods and services.”
A cataloger for a silver Continental dollar sold by Heritage
Auctions in May 2014 notes: “The mintage figures are unknown, but the
pewter coins appear with enough frequency to suggest they were
produced in substantial numbers. Many of the coins were undoubtedly
melted during this period, because Benjamin Franklin observed that
pewter was sorely needed for the canteens used by soldiers in the
Continental Army. The most reasonable explanation for the brass
examples is that they represent dies trials. The silver coins are of
full weight and value, suggesting that a precious-metal coinage was
contemplated, but the Continental Congress was chronically short of
funds and had no reliable supply of silver, so this idea must have
been abandoned quickly.”
Steve Roach wrote in Coin World in 2014, “Continental dollars
are most frequently encountered in pewter, due to the scarcity of
silver in Colonial America. Heritage estimates that approximately
1,000 Continental dollars are known of all varieties today.”
The chief researchers in the series have been Eric P. Newman, still
active at the age of 106, plus Don Taxay, Walter Breen, Philip
Mossman, and Michael Hodder, all of whom “spent many years researching
the Continental Currency coinage, mesmerized by its mysterious
origins,” noted Heritage in its lot description in the 2014 auction.
Newman’s 1952 monograph 1776 Continental Currency Coinage and
Varieties of the Fugio Cent is considered the major work on the
topic and both Continental Currency dollars and Fugio cents are
cataloged by the varieties listed in the reference. The piece in the
Spink auction is cataloged as Newman 3-D, struck from a specific die
pairing of the third obverse die and fourth reverse die.
Professional Coin Grading Service has graded the piece in the Spink
auction Mint State 63. It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.
Versions in silver
The same 3-D die marriage was used to strike at least two versions
One was offered by Heritage Auctions in May 2014 in the fourth sale
from the Eric P. Newman Collection. That silver example, graded Mint
State 63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., realized $1,410,000 in that auction.
Another coin in silver from the 3-D die marriage, graded MS-62 by
NGC, sold for $1,527,500 in a January 2015 Heritage auction.
Spink’s auction is scheduled for June 19 and 20 in its New York City office.
Go to the Spink
website for details.