Among the “usual” sights at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of
Money this year will be an exhibit of unique early American coins.
Original examples of patterns for the nation’s very first coins will
be available for public viewing at the show in Philadelphia in August.
Nova Constellatio patterns are featured, as are two other rare early
American coins: a 1792 Birch cent and a 1792 Eagle-on-Globe copper
quarter pattern, the only such coin held in a private collection.
The exhibit’s six coins, held by collectors in Beverly Hills who
wish to remain anonymous, are being showcased by Kevin Lipton, who
represents those owners.
The 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns are widely regarded as
experiments toward America’s first true coins, and are credited with
establishing the U.S. dollar as a decimalized currency. The patterns
were conceived by Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of
Independence and prominent financier who served as the superintendent
of Finance for the United States between 1781 and 1784. He needed to
find a way to unify the 13 states’ disparate monetary systems, to help
fund the fledgling nation’s war effort and levy federal taxes.
Employing a British-born assayer, Benjamin Dudley, Morris assessed
the different currency systems used by the different states and found
that a currency based on 1,000 “units” would allow 12 of 13 states to
standardize their currency systems. Only South Carolina’s system
The result was the Nova Constellatio patterns, which were minted to
demonstrate the aesthetic appearance and underlying units of the new
currency system. The designs are fairly uniform between denominations;
one side features the denomination (5, 100, 500, and 1000 otherwise
unnamed “units”) encircled by a wreath, while the other side features
an eye surrounded by rays and stars, with the words “Nova
Constellatio,” Latin for “A New Constellation.” All but the copper
5-unit coin were minted in silver.
The coins recommended in Morris’ Nova Constellatio proposal would
not be adopted. The committee assembled by the Continental Congress to
consider the scheme did not certify the proposal, and it died there,
though not before several examples of the pattern coins were minted.
The United States would take until 1792 to resolve the problem of
conflicting circulating currency systems, when it minted its first
(Ironically, Morris spent several of his later years in debtors’
prison after a failed attempt at real estate speculation left him
The examples on display at the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money represent
all four denominations, 5, 100, 500, and 1,000 units. All examples are
graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service. The 5-unit pattern
grades Proof 66 brown, the 100-unit piece grades Proof 66, the
500-unit pattern grades Proof 66, and the 1,000-unit piece grades
Proof 65+. The 500-unit coin is an example of what is called a “Type
In addition to the Nova Constellatio pieces, another coin on display
at the ANA show is the finest of the seven known 1792 Birch cent
patterns, graded NGC MS-65 red and brown. It is named for its
engraver, whose name appears along the truncation of the portrait of
Liberty. Though various artists and engravers with the surname Birch
have been identified as possible candidates, none is conclusively
confirmed as the artist. When production of circulating cents was
begun in 1793, a new designer was employed, leaving Birch’s design for
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The other coin exhibited, a 1792 Eagle on Globe pattern, has a
denomination identified over the years as a cent, half eagle, and
quarter dollar. Unlike the other 1792 patterns, the design has no
stated denomination, and official records have shed no clarity on the
denomination intended, if any ever was determined.
The piece on exhibit was minted from copper, although white metal
examples also exist.
The dies are attributed to Joseph Wright, who was the unofficial
first engraver of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, until his untimely
death in 1793. Wright is also credited with designing the Liberty Cap
cents minted between 1793 and 1796.
The Eagle on Globe pattern is graded PCGS MS-63 brown. The only
other such pattern also resides in the Smithsonian’s numismatic collection.
Lipton views the 2018 ANA World’s Fair of Money as a “homecoming”
for the coins, as the 1792 pieces were minted in that city in the late
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