Early US Coins
Chronology : 1780-1789 1790-1799
1787 Doblons for New York
2014 SOLD 4.6 M$ including premium
Meanwhile, business transactions use large foreign gold coins, dominated by those from the Spanish colonies in South America. Banks and grand merchants are the only users of such coins. To deal against counterfeiting, they have their gold checked by specialists, the assayers, who put their own punch on the controlled pieces.
Ephraim Brasher is a goldsmith operating in New York City where he is a neighbor and supplier of George Washington, the President, known as a great lover of silverware. Brasher appreciates that he can play a role in the fight against the monetary anarchy, but his offer in early 1787 to carry out a copper coinage for the state of New York is rejected.
Brasher is an assayer. He knows well the doblon of Lima, a large gold coin worth 8 escudos and weighing 26 grams, whose name is anglicized to doubloon. Circa 1786, he produces in his workshop some Lima-type doubloons which are not fakes because their gold content is correct.
Brasher changes his theme in 1787 for producing doubloons and half doubloons to the use of New York identified under the Latin name Nova Eboraca. The pieces are stamped with his initials, EB, with two possible positions on the wing and on the breast of the eagle. Although their centering and cutting are awkward, they are beautiful coins whose design is sharp enough to discourage counterfeiting.
The only known Brasher doubloon with the mark on the breast was sold for $ 7.395 million in a private sale in December 2011, although its condition is only graded AU50 by PCGS.
On January 9 in Orlando, Heritage sells one from only two units in mint condition from an overall surviving total of six wing marked doubloons. The coin for sale is graded MS63 by PCGS. Here is the link to the catalog.
The coin for sale had been the first Brasher doubloon that was described in the nineteenth century. It was at that time in the estate of an important dealer importer named Gilmor also known as an early collector of coins.
This mercantile provenance strengthens the argument that the Brasher doubloon, earliest gold coin made for circulation in the United States, was designed to supersede the foreign currencies in large commercial operations. Other assumptions are however not rejected such as a promotional operation or a demonstration of know how.
POST SALE COMMENT
This great coin was sold for $ 4.6M including premium.
PRIVATE SALE IN 2018 :
1792 Early Development of Federal Copper Coins
2015 SOLD for $ 2.6M including premium
Much effort was then applied to the cent, worth 1/100 of a dollar, authorized in copper by the Coinage Act. The unexpected rise in copper prices could turn to political disaster, just as US people were impatient of possible delays in the currency promised by their Congress.
This panic of copper is the cause of experiments of bimetallic copper-silver pattern cents : the silver-center cent and the fusible alloy cent. These unusual designs were both unsuitable for mass production.
Projects for full copper coin patterns are not abandoned. The Birch cent is certainly tested at the Philadelphia Mint at the end of 1792, of which it is bearing the date. Two copper variants are described by Judd and Pollock.
Similarities in the design enable to consider that this cent was prepared by the same engraver who also made the half disme. The Birch name is engraved down the neck of Liberty in the Birch cent. It was long attributed to an Englishman, but this hypothesis is not consistent with the autobiography of this miniaturist who moreover was not a medalist.
The solution will be political. On January 14, 1793, the Congress is devaluing from 264 to 209 grains the weight of a copper cent. The enigmatic Mr Birch disappears from the history of coinage. 264 grains correspond to 17.1 grams.
Nine units of the Birch copper cent are known. On January 8 in Orlando, Heritage sells without reserve the best two specimens. The piece in Judd-4 variant, graded MS65 by NGC, weighs 220 grains. Its bidding is reaching $ 1M before fees more than one week before the auction, lot 5504. The coin in Judd-5 variant is the next lot, 5505, currently at $ 180K before fees. It weighs 262 grains and is graded MS61 by NGC.
The simple comparison of the weights of these two coins, which both come from the Partrick collection, are the best evidence of the fundamental role played by the Birch cent in the development of the US cent.
RESULTS INCLUDING PREMIUM :
Graded MS65 : $ 2.6M
Graded MS61 : $ 560K
POST SALE TWEET BY HERITAGE AUCTIONS :
1792 The Eagle Copper of Joseph Wright
2015 SOLD for $ 2.23M including premium
The direction of the Philadelphia Mint was entrusted to two engineers : David Rittenhouse was the first Director while Henry Voigt was Superintendent and Chief Coiner.
Washington and Jefferson, wanting a pretty artistic coinage, pushed the involvement of the young Wright, aged 36, who was appointed to the less formal position of First Draughtsman and Diesinker. The position of Engraver also defined under the Coinage Act was vacant but certainly already reserved for Wright.
The eagle on globe is a pattern coin with a limited text and no face value. The debate to classify it as a cent or as a quarter dollar is still open. It is undoubtedly an artist's piece, with on one side a dynamic and domineering eagle and on the other side a Liberty with bun more pleasant than the official versions of that time with floating hair.
William Dunlap, who was one of the first commentators of the US crafts, had certainly met Wright since both artists had been portraitists of General Washington in the early 1780s. His testimony on a sketch dated 1792 by Wright for the coin project of an eagle on globe seems indisputable. The description, however, differs slightly from the surviving variant.
Wright died on September 13, 1793 in the yellow fever epidemic after demanding his account on some projects including two trials of a quarter dollar made on order for Rittenhouse. The clerk who received his request observed that the pieces were broken.
According to the Coinage Act, the quarter dollar is a silver coin. The copper specimens of the eagle on globe weigh between 175 and 180 grains and are thus much lighter than a cent even after the copper devaluation of 1793. The diameter, 29 mm, is almost consistent with the future quarters.
It was not uncommon to test the dies with various materials. The two surviving coins could be the product of a satisfactory test in copper before a failed trial in silver of which no evidence is available.
The best of the two coins, graded MS63 by NGC, is for sale with no reserve price by Heritage in Orlando on January 8, lot 5511. Its bidding is at $ 1.5M before fees one week before the sale. The second specimen, graded AU50, is preserved at the Smithsonian.
1792 First Tests in the Philadelphia Mint
2014 SOLD 2 M$ including premium
The first emission under the Coinage Act is the half disme produced in temporary facilities. The actual plant is operational from the installation of its first furnace on September 7, 1792.
The urgency of the moment is the 1 cent for which they had to find a compromise between silver and copper in an acceptable size. The silver center cent is a bimetallic response with a plug of silver inserted into the copper. This project is not economically viable but patterns from this model are considered to be the earliest coins minted in the new plant.
Twelve units of the silver center cent survived, to which we may add another one announced by the press in 2009 and a specimen without the plug.
Two coins have already been discussed in this column. One of them graded MS61 by PCGS was sold for $ 1.15 million including premium by Heritage on 19 April 2012. The other one graded MS63+ by NGC was sold for $ 1.4 million including premium by Heritage on 16 May 2014.
The finest unit from this unusual and prestigious variety, graded MS67 by PCGS, has not been commercially available since 1981.
The second finest is graded MS64 by PCGS with a nice sheen on both sides. It was sold for $ 2.8 million in August 2011 in a private transaction (this price was listed in April 2012 in the catalog of the sale of the MS61 coin).
This coin is for sale by Heritage in Chicago on August 7, lot 5517. It is offered with no reserve and already reaches online $ 1.76 million including premium one week before the floor session.
POST SALE COMMENT
This coin in very good condition from an early experimental strike was sold for $ 2M including premium. Auction prices are always a much better indicator of the value of objects than the private transactions.
1792 President Washington before the Coin Act
2018 SOLD for $ 1.74M including premium
Several craftsmen offer their know-how by producing test pieces in copper for the 1 cent. The similarity of pieces of various origins adorned with the effigy of the President suggests that a guideline was provided. The most active is not American but English : the Westwood workshop in Birmingham for which Hancock is the engraver.
Trials in multiple denomination appear to be a common practice. Pieces are made from the same dies with various metals without worrying about the circulation value. This observation makes incomprehensible the expected use of the 1776 Continental Dollar.
On January 12, 1792 the Senate approves more detailed requirements for the design, triggering a new debate on a possible monarchical interpretation of the portrait of the president. Washington's position on this point is unclear but he does not seem upset when the Mint Act of 2 April 1792 removes his effigy and replaces it with Liberty.
A unique gold coin dated 1792 bearing the portrait of Washington is known. It was struck with dies that were also used with silver and copper. Described for the first time in 1855, this piece has long been attributed to Hancock. It is now re-attributed to the American inventor Jacob Perkins working in Newburyport MA, author of a medal where the drawing of the portrait is unquestionably identical.
This gold coin is close to the Eagle as defined in the Coin Act. It does not meet all the prescriptions of January 1792 and may have been engraved earlier and post-dated. It is graded XF-45 by NGC. Its traces of wear are typical of a transport in a purse that the imagination of numismatists identifies as the President's pocket.
It was for 75 years the favorite piece of Eric P. Newman's collection for its connection to the first President in the most valuable metal during the preparation phase of the US currency. It will be sold without reserve price as lot 5010 by Heritage in Philadelphia on August 16 for the benefit of institutions designated by the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1793 The Political Failure of the First Cent
2015 SOLD for $ 2.35M including premium
The publicists are immediately upset. The reverse side that consists mainly of a circle of fifteen links symbolizing the unity of the states is interpreted as a slave chain.
This chain symbol was not new, but its presentation to the general public prohibited any risk of political misunderstanding. However, we must admit that the designer was not skillful. The confidential testing of the Continental Dollar in 1776 had included the ability to fill the circle with a motto or a heraldic figure, and its dotted round links were soft. With its aggressive oval links, the chain cent was really unacceptable.
The Philadelphia Mint immediately appreciated the blunder. The chain cent was used during twelve days which were enough to wear the fragile dies already produced in this variant and to prepare its successor, the wreath cent whose elegant plant motif was unassailable.
Mint records indicate the release of 36,103 chain cents. The wreath cent, which was only a transition model designed for this situation of emergency, was produced in only 63,353 units.
The disgust inspired by the chain cent contributes greatly to the fact that some units were not handled and are still intact, which is not the case for the best wreath cents. The Eliasberg specimen of chain cent, graded MS65 by PCGS, was sold for $ 1,38M including premium by Heritage on 4 January 2012.
Another of the best chain cents had not appeared at public auction since 1890. It is for sale by Heritage in Orlando on January 7,lot 4011, graded MS66 by PCGS just above the grade of the Eliasberg specimen. This piece is remarkable for its bold strike and perfect readability uncommon in old copper coins.
1794 The Very First Silver Dollar
2013 SOLD 10 M$ including premium
This 'one dollar' was not the first issued federal value, but Americans love their dollars and this production has an immeasurable prestige.
One of these coins is in wonderful state, graded Specimen-66 by PCGS. Experts are convinced that it is the earliest among about 150 remaining pieces and that it was perhaps the first dollar ever struck, why not.
Its excellent condition is due to the fact that it would have been retained at the plant during some years and did not leave thereafter great collections, including Green's and Contursi's.
In May 2010, this almost perfect dollar became the most expensive federal coin in history when it entered the Cardinal collection for $ 7.85 M through a private sale. It is illustrated in the article shared by NBC News at that time. It is now offered at auction by Stack's Bowers in New York on January 24.
I have already discussed this outstanding piece in August 2010. Its move into Cardinal's had released from that collection another copy in mint condition, certified MS-64, which was sold for $ 1.2 million including premium by Bowers and Merena.
POST SALE COMMENT
The high prestige of this coin was obvious. The result, $ 10M including premium, exceeds by more than 20% the price reported for the private transaction of 2010.
I invite you to play the post sale video shared on YouTube by CoinWeek :
The world’s most valuable US coin, that last sold for $10,000,000, is set to appear in an auction again later this year. @LegendAuctions has announced the sale of the Bruce Morelan Collection, an assemblage of #coins valued in total at over $20,000,000. https://t.co/418pbp9URE— PCGS (@PCGScoin) June 17, 2020
1794 The Silver Dollar of Lord St. Oswald
2015 SOLD for $ 5M including premium
Two years later, the Philadelphia plant tries the first production of the silver dollar. The technical difficulties concerned the officials to the point that the preparation is confidential and not documented. The issue is to achieve a perfect strike with the exact weight and purity required by the Congress.
Ingots are bought to cover $ 2,000 in the new coinage. The production is done in one day, 15 October 1794. 1758 pieces are released.
This yield below the target is due to a drift of the strike during the operation, in part because that coin was too large to enable a repetitive adjustment of the weight. Manufacturing is suspended. There will be no further 1794 $ 1 coin.
The first coins are admirable. Only one survivor is ranked as a specimen. Its mint preservation is because it was originally stored in the factory's archives. This coin graded MS66 by PCGS was sold for $ 10M including premium by Stack's Bowers on January 24, 2013.
On September 30 in New York, Stack's Bowers in association with Sotheby's sells the best silver dollar of 1794, graded MS66+ by PCGS, winner 30 years ago of a friendly confrontation by direct inspection with the only other example in the same grade. It is estimated beyond $ 3M, lot 2041.
It is not a works specimen. Its provenance explains its exemplary preservation.
An Englishman named William Strickland visited the United States from 20 September 1794 to 29 July 1795. He acquired coins in mint state at a time when production was not yet sufficient to really start a circulation. The box containing the treasure was stored in a Chippendale coin cabinet in England and fell into oblivion.
The box surfaces in 1964 when the cabinet is opened for the auction by Christie, Manson and Woods of the collection of Lord St. Oswald. The dates of the coins stored in the box correspond with the time spent by Strickland in the USA.
1794 The Dollars of the English Lords
2017 SOLD for $ 2.8M including premium
The best survivors of today had therefore also been among the first struck. There is no doubt about the Cardinal specimen. Benefiting from an exceptional silver polishing and a perfect striking that was probably individually made, this prestige dollar was sold for $ 10M including premium by Stack's Bowers on January 24, 2013.
The war with the former colonial power has been over since November 1783. English visitors are welcomed. A gentleman farmer named William Strickland later 6th Baron of Boynton arrived on September 20, 1794. This economist who comes to study prices and wages in the American agriculture is introduced in the best circles.
Strickland left back for England in July 1795 with a small collection including 35 federal coins that were most likely obtained by him directly at the US Mint. The group surfaced in 1964 in an inventory for a sale from the property of the 4th Baron St Oswald, descendant of Strickland's son-in-law.
Forgotten inside a Chippendale cabinet since the early 19th century, the Strickland collection remained in its original state without any addition. His two 1794 flowing hair dollars are among the most spectacular of that type. One of them graded Mint State 66+ by PCGS is the best behind the Cardinal specimen. It was sold for $ 5M including premium by Stack's Bowers on September 30, 2015. A coin from another provenance got the same PCGS grade.
The other dollar from the collection of the Lords comes immediately behind at position 4 in the condition census. Graded MS-64 by PCGS, it will be sold by Stack's Bowers in Denver on August 3, lot 2113.
This first US dollar is extremely rare in mint state. In addition to the four units discussed above, only two are classified as mint by PCGS, in slightly lower grades : MS-63 + and MS-62 +.
Please watch the video shared by Stack's Bowers from a post sale interview with Coin World.
1795 Gold in Philadelphia
2015 SOLD for $ 2.6M including premium
The first delivery of 744 half eagles is performed on July 31, 1795, followed on September 22 by the first 1097 eagles. The production of eagles marked as 1795 lasts until March 1796 before the availability of the 1796 dies. Numismatists recognize five sub-variants of the 1795 eagle numbered 1 to 5 by Bass and Dannreuther, differentiated by the marriage of the dies while no chronology is established.
The quantities issued with the mark of 1795 are low : 8707 half eagles and 5583 eagles. The quarter eagle will wait for the following year. The double eagle, not defined in 1792, will be launched in 1849. The Americans hoped that the half eagle competes in the international market with the British guinea, the louis from France, the Portuguese 4,000 reis and the Spanish 2 escudos.
In commercial matters, success is not immediate. Eagles, even less suited for these transactions than the half eagles, did not extensively circulate and some coins remained in mint state while their early owners were waiting for better times.
An eagle graded MS66+ by PCGS is undeniably the best 1795 example by the beauty of its color and the quality of its strike. It belongs to the rare BD-4 variant. It is estimated $ 750K for sale onSeptember 30 in New York by Stack's Bowers in association with Sotheby's, lot 2092.
The BD-5 variant, as rare as the BD-4, is dominated by two MS65 coins, both recently sold by Heritage. One of them, graded by NGC, was sold for $ 680K including premium on 9 August 2013. The other, graded by PCGS, was sold for $ 880K including premium on 7 August 2014.