US Coins

Mysterious 1776 Continental dollar at auction

Heritage’s June 13 to 18 auctions held in conjunction with the Long Beach Expo feature many highlights beyond an example of the “King of American Coins,” a Proof 62 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar that will be offered at the Premier Session on June 14. 

Another stunner is a 1776 pewter Continental dollar graded Mint State 67 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. that is considered the finest known Continental dollar. 

As Heritage’s lot description explains, the 1776 Continental dollar is an issue that still poses questions to researchers. There’s no official contemporary documentation recording the striking of these coins, and traditionally they have been thought to have been issued by the Continental Congress as a substitute for paper money. Researcher Eric Newman believed that the dollars were produced in the second half of 1776 and examples were struck in silver, brass, and most commonly pewter, from five different obverse dies and two different reverse dies. 

This one — of the Newman 3-D variety — has the text EG FECIT on the obverse, taken to mean E.G. made it, although the name that these initials abbreviate remains unclear. Newman attributed E.G. to Elisha Gallaudet, of Freehold, New Jersey, who engraved printing plates that produced some Continental Currency. Until recently, general scholarship viewed these issues as being struck in the United States, possibly New York, but more recent scholarship has looked at contemporary evidence indicating that they may have been struck in Europe. 

Eric Goldstein and David McCarthy’s article “Myth of the Continental Dollar” in the January 2018 issue of the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication The Numismatist pointed out that some contemporary writers in the late 18th century considered it a fantasy piece with devices and mottoes taken from paper Continental Currency. 

The authors cite a pre-1790 ledger where a Continental Currency dollar was described as: “Congress Dollar. 1776, never current, struck on speculation in Europe, for sale in America,” before concluding that they were privately struck in Europe as souvenir commemorative issues shortly after the Revolutionary War. 

The multiple dies used combined with the surviving population indicates that the original production was significant, although exact numbers are unknown. Many known survivors show evidence of circulation, but some — like the offered coin — remain in Mint State condition, likely kept as souvenirs. 

Newman cited an illustration of a Continental Currency dollar in a 1783 German book where it was published as an American issue and a 1786 book describes the design and suggests that they served as money in early America. 

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Heritage notes, “Certainly, the lack of any authorizing documentation for the Continental dollars is a glaring weakness in the traditional view. Extensive records on almost every subject were kept by the Continental Congress, so it is strange that an issue of such economic importance left no paper trail,” before concluding that future research will likely provide a more definitive answer toward the origins of these. 

The piece offered at Heritage’s auction offers “impeccably preserved silver-gray surfaces, with prooflike reflectivity in the fields.” It was previously owned by Virgil Brand and John J. Ford Jr., and most recently was offered at Heritage’s January 2012 Florida United Numismatists auction where it realized $546,250. At that offering, Heritage cited the traditional view of the dollar’s origins in the first edition of Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth’s book 100 Greatest Coins, where the authors ranked the issues 12th, writing, “In 1776, American Patriotism reached a fever pitch. The Revolutionary War was already well under way, and America’s representatives felt confident enough to declare independence from Great Britain on July 4. To celebrate their newly found independence and to show the world that they were part of a sovereign nation capable of producing its own money, the Continental Congress initiated a plan to produce the first American coins.” 

These “dollars” remain among the most popular issues collected under the Early American numismatic umbrella. 

The symbolism of the Continental Currency dollar’s design — a sundial on the obverse and the 13 joined circles — would be employed on other early American issues including the Fugio cent and the 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent. 

Well-preserved cents

Heritage will offer a magnificent 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain cent of the Sheldon 4 die marriage graded PCGS MS-65 brown and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker that also was most recently offered at Heritage’s 2012 FUN sale where it sold for $1,380,000 and established a then-record price for a U.S. copper coin in a public auction.

The S-4 variety is distinguished by periods that follow the date and LIBERTY on the obverse, as well as AMERICA spelled in full on the reverse. 

Like many of the earliest issues of the Philadelphia Mint, several exceptional Chain cents survive today, likely kept as keepsakes.

This one is identified by a tiny planchet clip (as struck) by the 1 at the date. 

It has been a part of many illustrious collections, including Louis E. Eliasberg Sr.’s, sold by Bowers and Merena in 1996. Heritage writes, “The rich olive and mahogany-brown surfaces are highly lustrous and virtually flawless. A small patch of reverse corrosion that was described in the Eliasberg catalog remains unchanged over the last 21 years, and it is completely stable, unlikely to change in the future.”

Among noteworthy 19th century offerings is an 1877 Indian Head cent graded PCGS Proof 67 red carrying a green CAC sticker. With a reported mintage of 900 coins, the Proof 1877 cent is of comparable rarity to Proof 1870 to 1876 Indian Head cents, but like the 1885 Liberty Head 5-cent piece, there is added demand for the Proof 1877 cent, desirable because of the scarcity of that year’s circulation strike issues. The 1877 cent had a relatively low mintage of only 852,500 coins and its rarity was well known shortly after its mintage. Today it is considered the key to the series, along with the 1909-S Indian Head cent. 

Examples with full Mint red color are rarely seen and it is tied with one other example as the finest known Proof 1877 cent at PCGS. It last sold at auction during Heritage’s February 2009 Long Beach sale where it sold for $97,750. The description then observed “bright orange-red color with just the lightest splash of lilac on the reverse. The surfaces are absent the usual contact marks seen on proof Indian cents.” It added, “The only ‘defect’ we see on this magnificent coin is slight softness of strike at the tips of the top two feathers in the headdress,” before concluding, “For either the dedicated, hardcore Registry Set collector or the collector who simply demands the finest key-date coins available, this coin could well be considered an essential acquisition.” 

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