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All Posts Tagged With: "Tom Delorey"

Colonial Coins – The Connecticut Coppers

By Thomas K. DeLorey – Courtesy of Harlan J Berk

For a small State, Connecticut has played a large role in the field of colonial American numismatics. Besides being known for its wealth of pre- and post- Revolutionary paper issues, its most famous coins are the Higley Coppers of 1737-39 and the Connecticut Coppers of 1785-89.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The Higley coppers were issued by Dr. Samuel Higley and his heirs, using virtually pure copper from a mine they owned near Granby, CT. Higley’s first token issue bore the picture of a deer with the inscription THE. VALVE. OF. THREE. PENCE. on one side, with three crowned hammers, the date 1737 and the inscription CONNECTICVT on the other. It is arguable as to which side should be considered the obverse, but common usage calls the side with the deer the obverse.

The next issue used the same obverse plus a similar reverse with I AM GOOD COPPER replacing CONNECTICVT. Perhaps someone objected to the use of the name of the state on an unauthorized private token. Someone certainly objected to the value Higley placed on the piece, which was no heavier than an English half pence of the period and sometimes lighter, and his third issue saw the deer side changed to VALVE. ME. AS. YOU. PLEASE. A second die saw VALVE spelled as VALUE. Both include the Roman numeral III beneath the deer, thereby hinting at the value that Higley hoped they would pass at.

Higley died in 1737 while escorting a load of his copper to England, and the mine was taken over by his brother, John. John was presumably responsible for a fourth issue that paired the Deer/III obverse with an undated reverse that bore a hatchet with the inscription J. CUT. MY. WAY. THROUGH., and a similar issue that bore the date 1739 below the hatchet. A sixth issue paired the undated hatchet die with an obverse that bore a 12-spoked wheel and the inscription THE. WHEELE. GOES. ROUND., but it is not known if this issue predates or postdates the 1739 issue.

All of the Higley pieces are very rare today, according to legend because they were popular among goldsmiths as a source for pure copper suitable for alloying gold. For an interesting but probably apocryphal legend regarding the supposed reason why Higley valued his tokens at three pence, see “The Early Coins of America” by Sylvester S. Crosby (1875 and reprints). (more…)

What is an “Eagle” Coin?

Gold Eagle Reverse 1795What is an Eagle? According to my 1975 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, it is a diurnal bird of prey noted for its strength, size, gracefulness, keenness of vision and powers of flight; the silver insignia of rank for an Army colonel or a Navy captain; or a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In golf, it is the completion of a hole in two strokes less than par. In gold, it is a coin!

Specifically, my Webster’s says it is a ten-dollar gold coin of the U.S. bearing an eagle on the reverse. My 1969 American Heritage Dictionary goes so far as to call it a “former” gold coin of the United States having a face value of ten dollars, without specifying if it was “formerly gold” since transmuted into base metal, “formerly a coin” but now demonetized, or something that has ceased in an Orwellian way to have ever existed at all.

However, either antiquated edition might as well have been set in type by Gutenberg, as they both predate the current American Eagle one ounce gold coin first struck in 1986 with a face value of $50. This new coin left us with two different legal tender “Eagles” of different weights, sizes, finenesses (usually) and denominations, and hardly a day goes by at Berk’s that we do not have to explain the difference to a would-be customer.

Thomas Jefferson, oil portrait by Rembrandt Peale (1805)How did the first Eagle come to be? The path is long and twisted. It began with the Articles of Confederation, approved by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, but not ratified by the states until March 1, 1781, which reserved for the newly-named “United States in Congress Assembled” the sole right to regulate the values, compositions and alloys of coins struck by itself or by the various states.

A central authority was certainly needed, as the paper money of the 13 states and the Republic of Vermont, which was generally based upon a promise to pay the bearer Spanish Milled Dollars or fractions thereof, valued the “Dollar” at anywhere from 4-1/2 to 8 state shillings per 8 Reales coin, and the money of one state was not easily convertible into the money of its neighbor.

On January 15, 1782, Robert Morris, then Superintendent of Finance, presented to Congress a plan to establish a Mint and a monetary system based upon the Spanish Dollar, that would be compatible with most of the paper money in circulation and could circulate alongside it.

Morris’ plan, prepared in large part by his unrelated namesake and assistant Gouverneur Morris in anticipation of a Congressional request for same, divided the Dollar into 1,440 parts or units, this figure being the approximate number of one-quarter grains of pure silver in an 8 Reales, and a number more or less evenly divisible by the units of account used by the different states (except for South Carolina, where inflation had pushed the Dollar to 32-1/2 shillings). (more…)

The Language of Coins – What is an Eagle?

Gold Eagle Reverse 1795What is an Eagle? According to my 1975 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, it is a diurnal bird of prey noted for its strength, size, gracefulness, keenness of vision and powers of flight; the silver insignia of rank for an Army colonel or a Navy captain; or a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. In golf, it is the completion of a hole in two strokes less than par. In gold, it is a coin!

Specifically, my Webster’s says it is a ten-dollar gold coin of the U.S. bearing an eagle on the reverse. My 1969 American Heritage Dictionary goes so far as to call it a “former” gold coin of the United States having a face value of ten dollars, without specifying if it was “formerly gold” since transmuted into base metal, “formerly a coin” but now demonetized, or something that has ceased in an Orwellian way to have ever existed at all.

Thomas Jefferson, oil portrait by Rembrandt Peale (1805)However, either antiquated edition might as well have been set in type by Gutenberg, as they both predate the current American Eagle one ounce gold coin first struck in 1986 with a face value of $50. This new coin left us with two different legal tender “Eagles” of different weights, sizes, finenesses (usually) and denominations, and hardly a day goes by at Berk’s that we do not have to explain the difference to a would-be customer.

How did the first Eagle come to be? The path is long and twisted. It began with the Articles of Confederation, approved by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, but not ratified by the states until March 1, 1781, which reserved for the newly-named “United States in Congress Assembled” the sole right to regulate the values, compositions and alloys of coins struck by itself or by the various states.

A central authority was certainly needed, as the paper money of the 13 states and the Republic of Vermont, which was generally based upon a promise to pay the bearer Spanish Milled Dollars or fractions thereof, valued the “Dollar” at anywhere from 4-1/2 to 8 state shillings per 8 Reales coin, and the money of one state was not easily convertible into the money of its neighbor.
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Ten Most Significant U.S. Commemoratives Coins

By Thomas K. DeLorey – Copyright – Reprinted with permission. Harlan J Berk

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

When asked to write an article on the ten most significant U.S. commemorative coins for this issue, I chortled and thought to myself what an easy assignment this was going to be! I had just that day finished reading galleys for the commemorative coin section of the Coin World “Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins” edited by David T. Alexander and myself, and all of the material was fresh in my mind.

However, when I went back over the listings with a consideration in mind of their national importance rather than a straightforward documentation of them, I suddenly realized how hard it was going to be to find ten pieces that were truly significant! After weeding out the 14 state commemoratives and most of the town, county, island, mountain, trail, bridge and music center commemoratives, there were scarcely ten pieces left that were both national and significant. Here’s what I came up with, though you might disagree.

Number one on my list is the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition half dollar of 1892 and 1893, in part because the fact that Columbus landed in what we now call “the Americas” in 1492 was one of the major historical events of the last millennium, and in part because it was the first U.S. commemorative and set the stage for all that followed, good or bad.
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The Phantom Silver Dollars Of 1895

By Tom Delorey – Harlan J Berk Ltd.

The Morgan Dollar has long been one of the most popular American coin series, apparently second only to the Lincoln cent in the number of people who collect it in some manner, and the 1895-P dollar has long been called “The King of Morgan Dollars.”

1895 Morgan DollarHowever, for an equally long time it has been one of the more frustrating series to the collector who seeks completeness in his sets, as no numismatist has ever been able to fill the 1895-P hole in his Whitman album or Capital plastic holder with a genuine business strike specimen, despite a reported mintage of exactly 12,000 coins.

Wealthy collectors have usually been able to fill that hole with one of the 880 Proofs struck in that year, always available at a healthy price several times what a Proof from a “common” year would bring, and I have even seen a few sets where an 1895-P gold Double Eagle rattled about the dollar-sized hole.

Perhaps a hundred of the Proofs are currently known in various circulated conditions at slightly more reasonable prices, having been spent over the years by hard-up collectors during the Great Depression, children buying candy without their Father’s knowledge and garden-variety thieves, and it is not impossible that another fifty or so have been permanently lost due to lengthy circulation and/or melting. Many hundreds of 1895-O&S dollars also exist with their mint marks removed, though most of those so altered were mutilated many years ago before the branch mint coins of this year became expensive, (in part because so many of them were altered!)

Conventional wisdom has long held that the 12,000 business strikes must have been melted down in accordance with the Pittman Act of 1918, when the U.S. government reduced some 270,000,000 silver dollars to bar form and shipped the bars to India. There the British government, bankrupted by the war in Europe but desperately in need of the war materiels provided by its colonial empire, converted the silver into Rupees to pay the workers producing these goods. It is hard to say if the colonial subjects would have felt enough loyalty to a foreign monarch to have continued to work for free, but the monarch probably slept better knowing he did not have to test this loyalty. (more…)