Standish Barry of Baltimore was one of two Maryland silversmiths to take it upon himself to strike silver coinage in the years between the ending of the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia (John Chalmers having struck several types of silver coins in Annapolis in 1783). Both coinages saw extensive circulation, judging from the condition of surviving examples. Beyond the simple need to provide a circulating medium, however, the exact motivations behind the coining of the Barry threepence are uncertain. The unusually precise date has led to speculation that it may have been issued in honor of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, though Independence Day as such was inconsistently and mostly unofficially observed at the time.
The identity of the obverse figure has also been the subject of much speculation, with Barry himself and George Washington being the most commonly proposed identifications.
In the Spring 2009 issue of the C4 Newsletter, however, Max B. Spiegel discussed his discovery of an 1843 article from the Baltimore Sun stating that the figure depicted was James Calhoun, who was serving in a position analogous to Mayor in Baltimore on July 4, 1790. Comparison of contemporary portraits of Calhoun and the threepence’s obverse figure strongly suggest that this attribution is accurate.
Heritage Auctions’ upcoming November 1-3 Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society IX US Coins Signature Auction in Dallas features a pleasing golden-hued NGC XF45 example of this very rare post-Colonial issue, of which perhaps two dozen are thought to exist. Boldly struck peripheries give way to softer centers, as is quite often seen on this issue. BALTIMORE TOWN is distinct, while the date — uniquely expressed as JULY 4 90 — is somewhat less so. The reverse is also stronger on the upper half of the coin, with most of Barry’s name clear, but the final SH of his first name being a bit weaker. The planchet is slightly out of round, but the design elements and all legends are complete. The obverse figure’s face and the reverse’s THREE PENCE are weakly struck, but certainly visible. This piece shows no evidence of the prominent die cracks visible on both sides of the magnificent MS64 example — the finest known in private hands — sold by us in January 2015 as part of the Donald G. Partrick Collection.