US Coins

E Pluribus Unum Collection offered in Stack’s Bowers sale

Stack’s Bowers Galleries presented Part II of The E Pluribus Unum Collection of colonial coins and Washingtoniana at a Nov. 11 session, following the auctioneer’s successful offering of the collection’s New Jersey copper coins as Part I in November 2019.

The Nov. 11 auction realized more than $1.1 million, according to Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

Cataloger John Kraljevich praised the collection’s diversity in his catalog introduction, saying, “There wasn’t a series that could be explored more deeply than most collectors would care to that evaded this collectors deep and probing attention. ... This is not a cookie cutter collection.”

He wrote, “It fits this unpredictable and unexpected time,” before advising bidders, “look, learn and find inspiration for your next numismatic passion.”

Stack’s Bowers Galleries wrote of the offering, “This second selection offered nearly 500 lots focused on 17th and 18th century colonial types, including over 200 Washington pieces. Of special note were nearly 40 Machin’s Mills halfpence by die marriage, more than 60 Connecticut coppers, and dozens of numismatic delicacies featuring multiple strikes, brockages, and high-quality overstrikes.”

The first lot was a seldom encountered, undated, circa 1584 Raleigh Plantation token graded Very Fine 30 by Professional Coin Grading Service that the cataloger noted was “a superb specimen of this iconic if enigmatic early issue, long associated with the abortive first attempts to establish an English settlement on the North Carolina coast decades before Jamestown.”

While long-collected alongside issues that circulated in colonial America, even by the late 19th century researchers doubted its connection to America. But as explained, “That has dimmed none of the enthusiasm for this medal, for a few reasons. Its designs are charming, and its sentiment certainly fits most of the earliest English attempts at permanents settlements, from Roanoke Island to Bermuda to Jamestown.” The sentiment expressed in its legend summarizes life as a path to death.

Described as “better looking than most,” it was struck from Die Pair 1 best identified by the position of the seated figure’s arm that touches the skull and the rose thorn that points directly to the star below it — and realized $18,000.

A second example of the type, struck from Die Pair 2 on a thick planchet, graded Very Fine 25, sold for $5,040. “Die pair 2 is best identified by the position of the seated figure’s forearm (not touching the skull) and the rose thorn that points to the right of the star below it,” according to the cataloger.

The catalog description adds: “Though a bit soft on some high points, this is an especially high grade example of this jeton or medalet, with good gloss over attractive golden surfaces. Darker toning frames the peripheries on both sides and highlights the complete rings of denticles. The central reverse is somewhat poorly struck, and some marks are seen there. Problem free aside from some truly trivial old scratches that blend into the obverse design elements. The head of Ouroboros is especially nicely defined for the issue, and the skull is as bold as ever seen.”

Yankee doodle copper

While Part II did not present a complete overview of the more than 300 varieties of Connecticut coppers, Kraljevich wrote that the ones included could be considered “mind boggling.” The session’s most expensive offering was the finest-known 1786 “Scholar’s Head” (or the more plainly stated “Large Head Right”) Connecticut copper, listed as Miller 3-D.1 in The State Coinage of Connecticut by Henry C. Miller. It was graded About Uncirculated 53 by PCGS and sold for $66,000.

The catalog entry made note of the challenges in applying the Sheldon 1 to 70 grading scale for these handmade coins, referencing its previous offering at the Stack’s auction of the Herbert M. Oechsner Collection. “Graded fully Mint State in the 1988 Oechsner sale, the grade assigned today is both a misunderstanding of this coin and totally irrelevant,” with the cataloger adding, “Graded Fine-15 or MS-68, this is far and away the finest known survivor from one of the most famous die marriages in the entire Connecticut series.”

Even a bit of original red color is seen in the most protected areas, with Stack’s Bowers praising, “The sharpness is leagues ahead of any other known example, showing the thoughtful expression on the obverse portrait, the curved hair strands, the large laurel leaves, and the crisp high relief triangular denticles.” Close observation reveals an endearing detail on the reverse, where “the bemused smile of the seated figure is boldly rendered, along with facial details found on no other specimen.”

So confident was the cataloger of its quality that the description concludes, “If a better one turns up, we will eat this catalog, page by page, while whistling Yankee Doodle, the official state song of the state of Connecticut. No finer example exists.”

The firm adds, “The surfaces are lustrous, not merely glossy, but full of original mint frost. Faded mint color persists around the letters of AUCTORI, the back of the portrait, and most of the letters of CONNEC. Some hints, trending toward gold, also persist on the reverse. Most of the surfaces are a lovely deep steel, even and choice.”

More cuddly than ferocious

Few pieces collected among the Pre-Federal, Colonial American issues can beat the London Elephant tokens for their charm. These tokens were struck around 1672 to 1694 and are undated, with the “Red Book” noting that two examples are known to have been struck over a 1672 British halfpenny, before explaining, “These pieces were not struck for the colonies, and probably did not circulate widely in America, although a few may have been carried there by colonists.”

An article by R. Neil Fulghum published by the University of North Carolina about a Carolina Elephant token — which shares an obverse motif — describes the design wonderfully as, “a full tusk-to-tail image of an elephant standing on a slightly textured plain. The animal is portrayed in left profile, with its head slightly bowed, its trunk tightly curling backward, and ‘possessing an ear that in form resembles a withered tulip.’ ” To modern eyes the elephant looks more cuddly than ferocious.

The offered “Thin Planchet” example, graded Mint State 63 brown by PCGS, was overstruck on a Charles II halfpenny. The cataloger observes, “The title CAROLO from the halfpenny undertype appears above GOD on the reverse (suggesting the sort of monarchist beliefs that got Charles II’s father killed).”

The cataloger adds, “Well centered, with denticles framing all of the obverse but at the rounded rim at top, the reverse nearly ideal,” noting also, “Among the finest known overstruck London Elephant tokens, and one of the best Thin Planchet examples extant as well.”

The coin is described as “lustrous light brown with exceptional frosty surfaces and a hint of pale golden toning.” Stack’s Bowers Galleries adds, “Aside from a single tiny contact mark behind the elephant, this coin is about as choice as could be hoped for.” It realized $10,800 in the November auction.

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