US Coins

Connecticut coppers auction offers collector’s massive research

More than 350 pieces of 1785 to 1788 Connecticut copper coinage and over 50 pieces of early Massachusetts silver coins crossed the auction block as Stack’s Bowers Galleries offered the Robert M. Martin Collection of U.S. Colonial Coins.

The auction was held in cooperation with the Colonial Coin Collectors Club at the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo, with an accompanying online session on Nov. 19. 

Martin was a well-known collector and scholar in the field. Roger Siboni wrote in a tribute at the start of the catalog, “He was not only a good friend to me, but also a best friend to all colonial numismatists of our generation whether you had the good fortune to spend time with him or not.” 

Siboni noted, “It is safe to say that not one major Connecticut sale, research book, major Connecticut transaction, verification or attribution over the last several decades occurred without consultation with Robert, who gave his time generously.” 

His research archive containing approximately 2,000 pages stored in eight three-ring binders that represented the collector’s life’s work on the Connecticut copper series sold for $6,600. The core of the work was done in the 1970s to the 1990s. Stack’s Bowers Galleries wrote, “Robert would copy, cut and paste onto sturdy 8.5 by 11 inch 3-hole punched pages auction appearances, fixed price listings, reports from fellow collectors, images, emails, articles, photocopies from the Hall manuscripts and just about any information he could find about Connecticut coppers, die marriages, history, and technical details.” There is at least one page for each die marriage in the Connecticut copper series.

The cataloger ended by writing that the “binders are the Connecticut Coppers pedigree research that everyone wishes they had but were too daunted by the task.”

A 1786 Connecticut copper with a significant reverse die break is a testament to the challenges that early minters in the United States faced. Listed as Miller 3-D.4 in Henry C. Miller’s reference to the series, the obverse is called the “Scholar’s Head” or “Large Head Right.” The piece is graded Fine 15 by Professional Coin Grading Service and it is the finest-known example of the three known representatives of the die pair. 

The reverse shows a large, catastrophic die break that affected the lower left portion of the reverse. It is one of the largest “cud” die breaks in the Connecticut series. Of the three known examples, just one was struck before the die fractured, leading researchers to believe that the die failed early in its life, which would explain the resulting rarity today. 

The obverse die would be paired with another reverse die, leading to the Miller 3-D.1 die marriage, which is more available. 

The cataloger observed of the coin in the auction, “Dark chocolate brown surfaces are smoothly worn and subtly glossy, with a few trivial contact marks at obverse effigy’s neck, and a few small, serpentine planchet flaws where some minuscule pieces of slag undoubtedly fell away during the planchet production process.” 

The cataloger concluded, “In a series where many coins are rare but not pretty, and many coins are pretty but not rare, this is one of the extremely rare convergences of both pretty and rare.”

It sold for a healthy $22,800. 

Liberty leans back

One of the wonderful things about Colonial American issues is how odd so many are. Struck in the decade before the establishment of the Philadelphia Mint, the talents and circumstances of early American die engravers varied tremendously, resulting in some charming types. 

A 1787 Connecticut copper, listed as Miller 1.1-VV is among the most distinctive die marriages among Connecticut coopers. It pairs the Small Head obverse with a reverse “that shows Liberty leaning back, almost as if blown by a strong gust of wind.” 

PCGS graded the example in the auction Fine Details, Gouged, but Stack’s Bowers thinks this assessment may be a bit severe, writing, “The surfaces are dark brown in the fields, lighter ruddy brown on the legends and devices and are quite smoothly worn and attractive for the issue, which usually comes badly corroded in some fashion; this one has some old, toned over scratches on the reverse that PCGS is likening to gouges, hence the moniker on their holder.” 

This one has a history that traces back to New Netherlands’ 51st sale in 1958 and later in Bowers and Merena’s sale of the Frederick B. Taylor Collection in 1987. 

On Nov. 15 in Baltimore it sold for $5,040. 

Written on a coin’s edge 

Normally, writing on a coin would be problematic. But on the coins struck in Colonial America, these provenance markers can be desirable and provide documentation of a coin’s history. 

A 1787 Connecticut copper of the Miller 33.28-Z.16 variety features a Draped Bust Left, “Snipe Nose” obverse. The piece also shows distinctive ink on the edge that documents its time in the Dr. Thomas Hall Collection.

The cataloger writes, “When held at a distance, two very faint characters (D2?) become visible across obverse effigy’s neck, perhaps the inventory marking of an early collector predating this coin’s entry into the Hall collection. Dr. Hall himself left his mark on this coin in the form of the white ink on edge attribution ‘33-24 Z-16’ using his own attribution scheme published in 1892 that was modified to its ‘modern’ form by Miller in 1920.” 

Miller named the variety “The Snipe Nose” because of the bisecting die crack running across the obverse, thickest by the nose, “giving him the appearance of having lied too much.” 

Stack’s Bowers notes just a touch of circulation, but much luster remains in the fields along with a “lovely mint gloss that is the mark of original high grade coppers of the Confederation era.” 

The handsome copper brought $6,300 in its first auction appearance in nearly 40 years.  

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