US Coins

Early American coins focus of Newman IV auction

Decades before the phrase “Buy the book before the coin” became an oft-repeated adage, St. Louis numismatist Eric P. Newman was busy buying the coins, doing his own extensive research and working on writing his own books.

Among those coins appearing in the Heritage Auctions May 16 sale of The Eric P. Newman Collection Part IV is the finest known of four 1776 Continental Currency dollars struck in silver.

The standard reference on the Continental Currency dollar series was written by Newman himself and first published in 1952 — 1776 Continental Currency Coinage and Varieties of the Fugio Cent.

Many of the lots in the May 16 sale carry extensive pedigrees to some of the greatest numismatic collections from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The 620-lot auction of early U.S. and Colonial coins is to be offered in two sessions May 16 in New York City by Heritage.

The Eric P. Newman Collection Part IV includes Virginia halfpence; Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts state coppers; Sommer Islands coinage; New England coinage; Massachusetts Willow Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree silver coinage; examples of Mark Newby’s coinage; American Plantation tokens; London and Carolina Elephant tokens; Rosa Americana coinage; Wood’s Hibernia coinage; and Samuel Higley threepence.

Also offered will be Talbot, Allum & Lee cents, Hibernia-Voce Populi coinage, Nova Eborac coppers, New York coinage, Bar coppers, Auctori Plebis tokens, Mott tokens, Kentucky Pyramid tokens, Castorland medals, Myddelton tokens, North American tokens, Immunis Columbia coppers, Washington cents and additional Washingtonia, and assorted historical medals.

Among featured rarities in the May 16 sale are these:

??1783 Nova Constellatio 100-unit pattern “cent” or “bit.”

??1652 Willow Tree sixpence.

??1787 George Clinton EXCELSIOR cent.

??1737 Samuel Higley, Three Hammers Reverse, CONNECTICVT threepence.

??1615 and 1616 Sommer Islands coinage.

The lots being sold are from the extensive collection of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society — a Missouri not-for-profit corporation — and have been assembled over a 90-year period.

Proceeds from the sale of the 680 lots will be used exclusively for the benefit of other not-for-profit institutions selected by the Newman Society.

1776 Continental dollar, silver

The 1776 Continental Currency dollar struck in silver being offered in the May 16 Heritage auction is attributed as the Newman 3-D variety as cataloged in Newman’s reference on the series.

The coin is certified Mint State 63 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. It is one of only four known Continental dollars struck in silver.

The Newman 3-D variety was struck with Obverse 3 bearing E G FECIT below the central sundial in the design. Translated from Latin into English, the inscription means “E.G. made it.”

Newman identifies the inscription’s E G as Elisha Gallaudet, who also engraved the plates for a series of paper Continental Currency.

Obverse 3 is paired with Reverse D, which exhibits N.HAMPS (for New Hampshire) to the left of MASSACHS (for Massachusetts) in the linked rings representing the Original 13 Colonies.

Newman’s example of the dollar weighs 368.3 grains (23.57 grams) and is composed of 93 percent silver and 6 percent copper, according to an NGC surface analysis. The remaining 1 percent of the composition is in trace elements.

Among the coin’s illustrious owners before Newman were Frank McCoye, George H. Earle, Waldo C. Newcomer, Col. E.H.R. Green, and Mary Cruzan.

Little is known about the Continental Currency coinage, including its denomination, although Newman surmises the value to be a dollar.

It is believed the metallic Continental Currency dollar was intended to replace the paper dollar following four printed emissions from May 10, 1776, through May 6, 1776. Who authorized the Continental Currency dollars or struck the coins is unknown.

The coin’s designs are based on designs found on paper Continental Congress fractional currency from the Feb. 17, 1776, emission designed by Benjamin Franklin, and engraved by Gallaudet.

Examples of the Continental Currency coins are known struck in pewter, brass and silver, with varieties bearing inscriptions spelled as CURENCY and CURRENCY.

Nova Constellatio ‘bit’ pattern

The 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern offered is one of only three examples known of the 100-unit cent or “bit” pattern.

Two of the extant 100-unit examples have an ornamented leaf edge device, while the Newman piece is unique for bearing a plain edge.

Certified NGC About Uncirculated 55, Newman’s 1783 bit weighs 26.4 grains and is composed of 93 percent silver and 6 percent copper — per NGC surface analysis — with the remaining 1 percent of the alloy in trace elements. The coin was formerly in the Murdoch, Garrett, Newcomer, Green and Burdette G. Johnson collections.

The Nova Constellatio patterns were conceived in 1781 by Gouverneur Morris, assistant superintendent of commerce for the United States under the Articles of Confederation, as the first proposed monetary system for the newly independent country. Also working on the proposal was Robert Morris, superintendent of finance and Gouverneur Morris’ boss (but having no familial relationship).

At the time, each of the original 13 states functioned with independent monetary systems using foreign coinage, with differing rates of exchange in each state.

Gouverneur Morris’ plan was an effort toward standardization. He determined that by making his basic unit, or mill, equal to 1/1,440th of a Spanish milled dollar, he could express prices for any item in terms of the monetary units then employed by 12 of the 13 states in a corresponding number of federal units without resorting to fractions.

Using his basic monetary unit, Morris devised a monetary plan that envisioned a copper 5-unit piece, a copper 8-unit coin, a silver 100-unit piece (known as the cent or bit), a silver 500-unit quint, a silver 1,000-unit mark and a gold 10,000-unit coin.

According to Heritage, seven examples of the Nova Constellatio patterns survive today — one mark, one Type I quint, one Type II quint, three 100-unit cents and a single copper 5-unit piece. No examples of the proposed gold 10,000-unit piece or the copper 8-unit piece have ever been found, and it seems unlikely that any were ever struck.

Robert Morris submitted the coinage proposal to Congress on Jan. 15, 1782. However, the coinage system was never implemented.

Pattern designs and production

As part of the proposal, though, pattern pieces were ordered.

The design of the sun’s rays extending from the “eye of Providence” toward 13 six-pointed stars was adapted from a vignette created by Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, for use on the face of the $40 Continental Currency note. The note was authorized subsequent to the April 11, 1778, Resolution of the Continental Congress.

The papers of Robert Morris record minute details of the work done to execute the pattern production, including payments to coiner John Jacob Eckfeldt and to an engraver named David Tew for forging and sinking two pairs of dies in April 1783. Benjamin Dudley, an experienced metallurgist and diesinker who had emigrated from England in mid-1781, was hired by Robert Morris to supervise the establishment of a Mint and to make dies and coins for the new coinage system.

Dudley constructed a screw press and other necessary machinery for the formation of the Mint. He began the work of implementing the coinage plan even before Congress approved it.

Robert Morris recorded in a diary entry dated April 2, 1783, that Dudley had delivered to him a piece of silver that had been struck into the first American coin (one of the patterns).

Although a coinage series based on the unit was not implemented, the designs on the patterns were adapted for the Nova Constellatio copper coinage, as arranged by Robert Morris for the new Confederation, with Dudley serving as the master engraver, according to Sylvester S. Crosby in Early Coins of America.
Willow Tree sixpence

The silver coinage of Massachusetts comprises the undated (1652) New England coins followed by the subsequent 1652 Willow Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree coinage.

Among the key Massachusetts silver pieces in the fourth Newman auction is a 1652 Willow Tree sixpence, NGC Very Fine 25. It is attributed as Noe 1-A (“The New England and Willow Tree Coinages of Massachusetts” by Sydney P. Noe, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, No. 102, American Numismatic Society, 1943), and W-130 (Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins by Q. David Bowers).

The Massachusetts silver coins were the first coins struck in British North America, produced without royal approval (their issuance coincided with the existence of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth) to fill a commercial need for currency. By today’s standards, they appear crude, struck on misshapen planchets with designs that were well below even the standards set by mid-17th century government mints in Europe and Spanish America. For many collectors, though, their appearance is a great part of their charm.
The first series, called the New England or NE coinage, are simple, irregularly shaped disks of silver, punch-stamped with NE on one side and the denomination in Roman numerals on the other side: III, for threepence; VI, for sixpence; and XII, for the shilling or twelvepence. Several NE pieces are offered in the Newman auction.

The New England coins were followed by the three “Tree” coinages. Collectors have long adopted the names “Willow Tree” (for pieces struck 1653 to 1660), “Oak Tree” (1660 to 1667) and “Pine Tree” (1667 to 1682). However, botanists would be hard-pressed to identify the crudely engraved trees by species.
The Tree coins show a rough tree on the obverse, surrounded by the inscription MASA THVSETS IN; the reverse features the date above the denomination in Roman numerals, both at the center, with NEW ENGLAND AN DOM around. On some pieces, inscriptions are incomplete, since the irregularly shaped planchets on which the coins were struck were not always well centered between the dies. The issues were produced for the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the provincial mint in Boston from 1652 through the early 1680s. All but one of the issues in the “Tree” coinage is dated 1652. The Oak Tree twopence coins, which are dated 1662, are the exception.

Higley coppers

The 1737 Higley, Three Hammers Reverse, CONNECTICVT threepence being offered in the Newman IV auction is attributed as the Freidus 1.1-A variety (“The History and Die Varieties of the Higley Coppers,” by Dan Freidus, in The Token: America’s Other Money, 1994 American Numismatic Society’s Coinage of the Americas Conference, published 1995), and certified About Uncirculated 50.

Heritage notes the Newman piece is the finer of two examples known for the variety and is one of the finest known existing Higley coppers of any variety.

The obverse features a deer as its central device, with THE VALVE [value] OF THREE PENCE around; the reverse bears three crowned hammers with CONNECTICVT around.

Dr. Samuel Higley was a doctor who also practiced blacksmithing and was well-versed in metallurgy. Dr. Higley operated his own successful copper mine near what is now known as Simsbury, Conn. Higley is believed to have produced the 1737 copper tokens.

The three crowned hammers design derives from the arms of the English blacksmiths’ guild.
Higley died on a 1737 voyage to England aboard a vessel loaded with the rich copper from his mine.
While Higley coppers were produced and issued between 1737 and 1739, none are dated 1738.

Varieties of Higley coppers are known both with and without the Roman numeral III below the date, and VALVE ME AS YOU PLEASE or VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE around.

Two additional reverses were designed, purportedly so as not to suggest to the public that the coppers were colonially authorized.

Reverse die varieties are known bearing the inscription I AM GOOD COPPER around the three crowned hammers. Another reverse bears a broadaxe with J [I] CUT MY WAY THROUGH. The I looks like a J.
A unique, undated Higley copper is known, having the broadaxe reverse paired with a spoked wheel obverse and the obverse inscription THE WHEELE GOES ROUND.

Walter Breen weighs in on the series in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. “Though Dr. Samuel Higley presumably made the first 1737-dated coppers,” Breen writes, “the undated and 1739-dated pieces, and possibly some of the late 1737s, are attributed to his eldest brother, John. This enterprise probably also included the Higleys’ close friends, [the] Rev. Timothy Woodbridge and William Cradock.”

George Clinton copper

The 1787 George Clinton, EXCELSIOR cent being offered, W-5790 (Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins by Q. David Bowers), was formerly in the Newcomer and Green collections. It is graded NGC Mint State 63 brown.

The piece depicts American soldier and statesman George Clinton on the obverse and the arms of the State of New York on the reverse.

Clinton served as New York’s governor from 1777 to 1795, then again from 1801 to 1804, before serving as the fourth U.S. vice president, from 1805 to 1812.

Clinton served as vice president under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

The 1787 George Clinton, EXCELSIOR cent, of which fewer than a dozen examples are known, is believed to have been the work of die engraver James F. Atlee. It is also believed that the cents were produced to accompany Thomas Machin’s original March 1787 petition for copper coinage.

The use of Clinton’s portrait is considered to have been an homage from Machin, a longtime friend.

The reverse design is derived from Peter Maverick’s engraving of the New York State arms on the New York paper money from the April 18, 1776, emission.

The first published mention of a George Clinton cent noted in circulation is a report in Harper’s in March 1860 of an East Poultney, Vt., grocer’s discovery of one of the pieces circa 1859.

Sommer Islands coinage

Ever since the first example of Sommer Islands Hogge money was revealed to the numismatic world during the 19th century, the mysteries surrounding the circa 1616 token coinage have continued to unfold. From that first 19th century discovery, numismatists interested in the series of Hogge money produced for the chain of islands today known as Bermuda have learned that at least four denominations were struck as a circulating medium — twopence, threepence, sixpence and shilling (or twelvepence). The threepence is the rarest denomination.

Researchers have cataloged a number of obverse and reverse die varieties.

The coins derive their name from their obverse designs, which depict a wild boar or hog. Hogs proliferated on the islands after being unloaded there during the early 16th century.

Some numismatists believe that the vessel seen on the reverse of the Sommer Islands Hogge money is a rendition of the Sea Venture.

The Sea Venture, captained by Adm. Sir George Somers — for whom the Sommer Islands would be named after the English crown claimed them — was the flagship of a nine-ship provisioning fleet sent from Plymouth, England, to the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1609. Among other misadventures that fleet suffered, the Sea Venture crashed on these islands before the admiral finished his voyage and eventually returned home.

(In reference works, Somers’ name is spelled in almost every conceivable form. The islands bearing his name and their coinage are also subject to various spellings.)

The Newman IV auction contains four examples of Sommer Islands coinage:

??Small Star twopence, Breen 7, BMA Type One (Coins of Bermuda, 1616-1996, edited by Malcolm E. Williams, Peter T. Sousa, and Edward C. Harris), NGC Very Fine 25.

??Threepence, Breen 5, BMA Type One, NGC VF-20.

?Large Portholes sixpence, Breen 3, BMA Type One, NGC AU-50.

??Small Sails shilling, Breen 2, BMA Type One, NGC AU-55.
Other key rarities to watch
The Newman IV auction offers a number of other key early American numismatic rarities. They include:

??1792 Silver Center cent, Judd 1 (United States Pattern Coins, Experimental & Trial Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd, edited by Q. David Bowers), NGC MS-63+ brown, 79.8 grains. The dies for the Silver Center cent were possibly cut by Henry Voigt, chief coiner of the first U.S. Mint. The obverse bears a portrait of Liberty facing right with flowing hair on obverse; open-top wreath with ribbon at bottom on reverse. The pattern was an effort to create a reasonably sized coin with an intrinsic value of one cent. It used a small copper planchet with a hole in the center into which a silver plug was inserted before the entirety was struck.

??1792 copper disme, plain edge, Judd 10, NGC AU-55, 57.6 grains. The 1792 disme (the original spelling of today’s “dime”) is known in one silver variety and two copper varieties. The dies, showing a Flowing Hair Liberty facing left on the obverse and a Small Eagle design on the reverse, are attributed to Voigt.

??1652 New England sixpence, Noe 1-A, W-10, NGC AU-58, possibly the finest of fewer than 10 examples known.

??1652 New England shilling, Noe 1-A, W-40, NGC AU-55.

??1652 Oak Tree shilling, Noe 6, W-480, NGC Extremely Fine 45.

??1787 Immunis Columbia, Large Eagle copper, NGC AU-55?, Formerly in Lorin G. Parmelee, James A. Ten Eyck, Waldo C. Newcomer and E.H.R. Green collections. Examples represent the earliest of the struck samples for Gen. Matthias Ogden’s proposal to Congress for a national coinage. The patterns were struck from dies made by James F. Atlee at Rahway Mills in New Jersey. Newman’s Immunis Columbia piece in the auction was struck over a struck 1786 New Jersey copper. The 1786 New Jersey copper is the Maris 26-S variety (Historic Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey by Edward Maris).

For more details about the auction, visit Heritage Auctions online at, or telephone Heritage at 800-872-6467. ¦

Community Comments