Monday, December 21, 2009

Coin Monday: Value Me as You Please

Dec. 21, 2009
Written by John Dale

“Colonial” or “Pre-Federal,” “Post-Colonial” or “Early American” — all are labels attached to parts of the same broad group of numismatic issues. (Here at Heritage, we just call them all Colonials.) A nearly exhaustive definition of the broad group might be: “metal coins or tokens, issued by a colonial government or private authority, on behalf of an area now part of the United States of America in the years leading up to and immediately after the area’s territoriality or statehood.”

Why must the definition be so complicated?

Actually, considering the diversity and complexity of “Colonials” themselves, every word is necessary. (I’m sure at least one Colonials specialist is going to chime in with some variant of “You missed X, Y, and Z.” Consider this an apology in advance.)

“Colonials” were made before and after the 1783 Treaty of Paris: before, a 1662-dated Oak Tree twopence silver coin from Massachusetts; after, a 1787-dated Immunis Columbia copper token. (Unless noted otherwise, all coins are from the January 2010 FUN U.S. Coin Auction.)

Colonials” were made for the British-styled “13 original colonies,” as well as North American French colonies and “New Spain” (present-day Texas), as seen in the Auction Archives.

As for the difference between colonial government and private authority, two prominent rarities from FUN’s Platinum Night offer a great illustration.

Lot 2390 is a “New Yorke” Token struck in brass, graded Fine 15 by PCGS. While no date appears on the New Yorke tokens, their origin can be pinned down to the space of a few years. They were issued by Francis Lovelace, who became the second British governor of the colony of New Yorke (as it was then spelled, after the Duke of York) in 1668. The colony had been captured from the Dutch, who called it “Nieuw Amsterdam.”

Lovelace’s governorship lasted until 1673, when the Dutch recaptured “Nieuw Amsterdam.” Though “New Yorke” was soon taken back by the British, Lovelace was not there to see the victory; he was instead rotting away in the Tower of London.

Before that end, though, Lovelace had enough favor to create the “New Yorke” tokens, which point to him on both sides: as noted in the catalog description, “the eagle on the reverse is identical to the crest on the Lovelace coat of arms.” The obverse, which shows Cupid and a woman on either side of the tree (various sources list her as Venus or Psyche), is a vignette depicting love, and puns such as “love-Lovelace” were not uncommon in coinage at the time.

While Lovelace’s “New Yorke” tokens were made with the approval of the Duke of York (or at least his indifference), the Higley coppers struck in Granby, Connecticut were strictly unauthorized. The coppers, represented in the auction by lot 2389, are traditionally attributed to Dr. Samuel Higley, a medical professional and a metallurgical amateur. He also owned a copper-mining business, and it’s believed that starting in 1737, Higley began making copper tokens, possibly with metal from his own mines.

His early copper tokens were self-described as “THE VALUE OF THREE PENCE,” according to their legends, though their closest approximations were actually British halfpennies. It would’ve been a nice racket if Dr. Higley had gotten away with it, but he didn’t, judging by his later tokens such as lot 2389; they read “VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE” instead.

Lovelace and Higley were separated by the better part of a century and wildly different circumstances of birth and fortune, yet both contributed in their own way to the history of Colonial coinage. Theirs are also just two of the uncountable chapters in that history, told across two full centuries and a touch beyond. When Heritage’s next auction comes around, what will its Colonials have to say?

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-John Dale Beety

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