US Coins

Research adds to mystique of 1776 Continental dollar

The 1776-dated Continental Currency dollar is lovingly collected alongside early American coins, but its origins are unclear, as Whitman’s new edition of A Guide Book of Continental Currency and Coins by Q. David Bowers describes. Those origin questions don’t stop bidders from being very excited about these when they appear in the marketplace, as seen by the sale of a silver example for $1.14 million at Heritage’s April 22 auction, continuing the firm’s offering of the Donald G. Partrick Collection. 

The piece is graded Very Fine 35 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and bears a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade.

No contemporary records conclusively establish the origin of a metallic, rather than paper, Continental Currency piece that takes its designs from paper money printed through the Authorization of Feb. 17, 1776. Four silver examples are known, and the offered lot is one of only two known of the Newman 1-C variety struck in silver. The reverse carries the spelling CURENCY; of the varied dies, “currency” is spelled three different ways.

The issue is a mysterious one. Erik Goldstein and David McCarthy’s two-part article “The Myth of the Continental Dollar” won the 2019 Heath Literary Award, the American Numismatic Association’s highest honor for works published in The Numismatist in 2018, for questioning long-held assumptions on the issues. The researchers looked at primary sources and contemporary literature to ask whether they were American-made or “just cheap European commemoratives,” posing multiple, specific questions to keep a generation of future researchers busy.

The Partrick coin was discovered in 1987 and offered by Stack’s in its sale of the estate of coin dealer Don Corrado Romano, though how Romano acquired it remains unknown. It was purchased at that auction by John J. Ford Jr. for $99,000, and sold at Stack’s seventh Ford auction in 2005 for $345,000, subsequently purchased by Partrick through an intermediary. The other known example of the variety in silver, graded Extremely Fine 40 by NGC, realized $1,527,500 at Heritage’s January 2015 Florida United Numismatists convention.

Whitman’s publisher Dennis Tucker praised Bowers’ book for bridging the gap between numismatics and history, and stressed that the idea of an object being a witness to the formation of the United States is at the heart of the enduring popularity of the 1776-dated Continental dollars. But Tucker acknowledges that future editions of the “Red Book” may list the issues as medals, rather than “American-made experiments, patterns, and/or substitutes for paper currency.”

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