By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
When numismatist Hillyer Ryder set out to publish a reference catalog of Vermont coppers, he saw a series full of whimsy and wonder. This was a series of copper coins that were struck as circulating money in Vermont during the short period of time after the American Revolutionary War and before the breakaway Republic was formally accepted into the United States as the 14th State.
Vermont coppers were struck between 1785 and 1788, and feature a variety of motifs and, depending on the source, either 39 or 40 varieties. Vermont copper varieties use the system initially devised by Hillyer Ryder (Ryder numbers) but were amended 27 years later by numismatist John Richardson.
At first, the coins were struck by coiner Reuben Harmon, Jr. Harmon operated a crude mint in the small town of East Rupert in the southwest region of the state. Harmon was given very favorable terms to strike the coins and had 10 years to produce a quantity sufficient to repay the government’s investment. To accomplish this, he partnered with Daniel Van Voorhis, and later Abel Buell. Buell worked for the Company for Coining Coppers in New Haven, Connecticut.
As the coining progressed, Harmon was forced to take on more partners and eventually wound up with nine in total, including the principal operators of Machin’s Mills, where many of the series’ later issues were struck.
Sandwiched between the Immune Columbia type of 1785 and the Baby Head type of 1786 is the series most interesting design, the Landscape type of 1785-86. The landscape designs feature a crude rendering of Vermont’s Green Mountains, complete with a crudely engraved treeline and an anthropomorphized sun peeking over the horizon. Four rays of light beam out from “his” head. His eyes and nose are clearly visible. Beneath this motif is a plow.
Three distinct inscriptions were used for this Landscape type: 1785 issues were struck with either VERMONTS or VERMONTIS, while the 1786 issue casts brevity aside and spells out in all its tongue-tying glory the Latinized VERMONTENSIUM.
On the reverse, the All-Seeing Eye is depicted surrounded by 13 stars. The stars are a clear reference to the 13 states of the United States. Vermont, not yet admitted into the Union, sees its admission as inevitable, proclaiming in copper that it is STELLA QUARTA DECIMA… the 14th Star. In 1791, three years after the final Vermont copper was struck, Vermont would be admitted as the 14th state.
Collecting the 1786 VERMONTENSIUM Varieties
In the Ryder catalog, the 1786 VERMONTENSIUM varieties occupy three catalog positions, listed sequentially as Ryder numbers 6 through 8.
Ryder-6 is the most common of the VERMONTENSIUM type. Seven trees line the hilltop. The fourth tree from the left floats above the crest of a hill, while the last tree on the right juts out just as the landscape concludes and the lettering begins. Also diagnostic for this variety is the wide spacing between the S and T in STELLA on the coin’s reverse.
The Eliasberg specimen has long been heralded as the finest of this variety, and in 2008 it brought a respectable $25,300 USD at auction. The coin has since graduated from MS62BN to MS63BN, according to PCGS.
The example illustrated above bested the Eliasberg piece by half a point and is the current finest graded by PCGS. It is an extraordinary example that is both well-centered and well-struck. While the Eliasberg example is struck slightly off-center with the date being partially off the flan, this specimen is complete with full denticles on both obverse and reverse. The coin was one of many highlights found in the Archangel Collection, realizing a record price of $84,000. Previously the coin was held in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
While still scarce in AU grades, the Ryder-6 is more accessible for the mid-tier colonial collector in that grade band. A fabulous example graded NGC AU58BN CAC from the Donald Groves Partrick Collection sold for $9,987.50 at Heritage Auctions’ January 2015 FUN auction.
In lower circulated grades, problem-free specimens trade in the $1,500 to $3,000 range.
The Ryder-7 variety features nine trees instead of the seven that appear on the Ryder-6. Eight of the nine trees are pronounced; the ninth is of slight stature and appears as a sprig to the left of the first well-pronounced tree reading left to right.
Opinions from series experts differ on the relative scarcity of the Ryder-7 and Ryder-8 varieties, with some arguing that the Ryder-8 is the scarcer of the two. It’s likely that fewer than 100 are known of either variety and that both Ryder-7 and Ryder-8 are relatively similar in known collectible examples extant.
The finest known of the Ryder-7 type is likely the specimen pictured here. This example appeared “out of the woodwork”, having been kept in a non-descript collection for decades, before appearing at an August 2019 Stack’s Bowers sale, where it brought a record price for the type of $52,800. Similar in quality but perhaps a notch down is the Eric P. Newman example that sold in May 2014 for $44,062.50. That piece had isolated areas of mottled discoloration but was described in the catalog in glowing terms.
In AU grades, the price of acquisition drops substantially, and here again, we use a Partrick coin as a barometer of the current market value as his slightly off-center but otherwise captivating example realized $11,162.50 when it traded most recently at a Stack’s Bowers sale in May 2017.
In lower circulated grades, the Ryder-7 variety trades for a slight premium over that of the Ryder-6. A nice VF-35 from the Robert M. Martin Collection sold for a very reasonable $2,640 at a November 2019 Stack’s Bowers sale.
As is the case with the Ryder-7, nine trees dot the mountainside on the Ryder-8. These trees are identical only in number and are distinct in their design and vertical orientation. The most obvious diagnostic of the Ryder-8 is the doubled 1 on the date.
So scarce is the Ryder-8 that in preperation for writing this article, we could find no recent auction of a Mint State example. Two of the finest specimens that we located were offered for sale more than a decade ago, including the piece illustrated above, which sold for $9,200 in September 2006. That piece is pitted on both the obverse and the reverse but it displays AU details.
A finer example, though not as well photographed, came to John Ford by way of F.C.C. Boyd and was graded AU58 by PCGS sometime before it sold for $14,375 in 2004. Given the Ryder-8’s reported rarity and the dearth of condition census quality pieces at public auction, it stands to reason that, should one appear, it will bring strong interest from serious collectors of the series.