Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #270
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …….
Tomorrow night, on March 26, Stack’s-Bowers will sell the Kendall Collection of American colonial coins and other pre-1793 items. Last week, Willow Tree shillings in this collection were cited. Among other rarities, the Kendall Collection contains an extraordinary group of coins and patterns struck in the State of New York during the 1780s. Some mysteries surround the producers of such pieces and the reasons for them. New York patterns and coins are considered among the most exciting and interesting of all pre-1793 items.
Political and Historical Factors
At the time, the percentage of U.S. citizens who lived in the State of New York was much larger than the corresponding percentage is now. Further, not only was New York a leading base for shipping along the east coast and across the Atlantic Ocean, several rivers in New York were used for major local and interstate transportation routes. Before the advent of railroads, trucks with engines, and airplanes, shipping and passenger travel ‘by boat’ on rivers were extremely important factors in human civilization.
Also, New York City was, for a while, the capitol of the United States before Washington, DC, was organized. George Washington was first inaugurated as president in New York on April 30, 1789.
Several design types of privately minted coins and patterns carry New York legends and were distributed in New York State. These were taken very seriously in the 1780s and have historical significance. Now, New York Coppers are much scarcer than the copper coins of Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont. Moreover, far more collectors actively seek Massachusetts Silver coins, Virginia halfpennies, Nova Constellatio Coppers and Fugio cents, than New York coins or patterns. Except for two relatively common varieties of Nova Eborac Coppers, New York items tend to be extremely rare and perplexing.
Among members of the New York State legislature, there was not much enthusiasm for coinage proposals and there was never a law authorizing coinage in New York State during the 18th century. In contrast, thousands of government authorized, New Jersey Coppers, Connecticut Coppers and Massachusetts Silver coins survive. History-minded collectors, however, tend to like learning about coins that they cannot afford or cannot find, and New York pieces are distinctive. Additionally, the symbols and legends have philosophical and historical significance.
Types of New York Coins and Patterns
The most famous New York pieces are the Brasher Doubloons of 1787, which are made of gold. Traditionally, these have been the most highly desired of all pre-1793 items. A Brasher Doubloon has sold privately for more than $7 million. In January 2014, one sold at auction for $4.58 million. The Garrett-Partrick Brasher Doubloon, which is rumored to be the finest known, will be offered in the near future.
Although the Kendall Collection does not contain a Brasher Doubloon, it does feature a type set of New York Coppers. Although New York pieces received considerable attention around the times of Newman sales in May and November 2014, they are not fully appreciated by collectors and deserve more recognition.
There are five major, collectible types of privately issued, copper patterns for New York State coinage. Only one collectible type is dated 1786, ‘Non Vi Virtute Vici.’ This Latin phrase is translated herein. All New York pieces feature Latin phrases, a tradition in European coinage that lasted until well into the 20th century. A Latin phrase, ‘E. Pluribus Unum,’ continues to appear on some U.S. coins.
Although I am not an expert in Latin, my impression is that ‘Neo Eborac’ just means ‘New York.’ Among legends on coins and patterns, variants indicating New York in some form include ‘Neo-Eboracensis’ (‘Of New York’), Neo-Eboracus, and ‘Nova Eborac.’
‘Excelsior’ is a motto of the State of New York. While it is often translated as ‘Ever Upwards,’ this motto could also be fairly translated as ‘Rising Higher’ or ‘Always Rising.’
During the 1780s and later, many of the citizens of the U.S. and of New York viewed their political system and way of life as rising beyond the systems of Europe that were characterized by hereditary monarchies and structured hierarchies. The term ‘excelsior’ can also be accurately translated as ‘higher’ in the context of a ‘higher order.’ The political philosophy found in the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson is pertinent to the notion of a democratic state being beyond or ‘higher’ than a kingdom.
The four major types of 1787 New York patterns are Large Eagle obverse/Excelsior reverse, Clinton/Excelsior, Indian/Excelsior, and Indian/Eagle. Similar pieces that depict King George III, of Great Britain, fall into a different category and require a separate explanation. (The obverse is the front of a coin and the reverse is the back or tail.)
For the Eagle/Excelsior Coppers, two notable reverse dies were used, one with the eagle on the globe facing to the left and the other with the eagle on the globe facing to the right. There is not a need for collectors to seek representatives of both, as one is just a minor variant of the other. The eagle on the globe is rather small, anyway.
There is also a second obverse die, for the Eagle/Excelsior type, where the large eagle is grasping arrows with the other claw. I am puzzled that cataloguers often refer to the side with the coat of arms as the obverse on the type, as it is generally regarded as a reverse design.
While the use of one claw rather than the other to hold arrows has some philosophical significance in heraldry, in this case, the rare variety was probably just the result of a careless error on the part of an engraver. Such a mistake amounts to a die variety, not a separate design type. A representative of the ‘Transposed Arrows’ variety is not needed for a type set.
It is true that another variety of 1786 ‘Non Vi Virtute Vici’ Coppers, which is called ‘Large Head,’ is really an additional design type. The respective ‘Small’ and ‘Large’ heads seem to be based upon two different people. As just one ‘Large Head’ has been publicly auctioned in decades, however, I am ignoring this type here. The 1786 ‘Large Head – Non Vi Virtute Vici’ variety is generally non-collectible. The Kendall Collection has representatives of the five, collectible design types and thus contains an effectively complete type set of New York Coppers, which are really both patterns and coins.
During the last quarter of the 18th century, copper patterns often circulated in the United States as ‘money.’ Indeed, for coppers, there was frequently not a clear distinction between patterns and coins. After people viewed them, such patterns were typically spent such as New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont Coppers. It is certain that many merchants accepted New York Coppers as coins, not just as curiosities. Most survivors have markedly circulated.
The 1787 Nova Eborac Coppers are best classified as privately issued coins of the New York area, not solely patterns or imitations of British coins. It may be true that the producers of such pieces were initially hoping for a government contract and a formal authorization by New York State. In March 1787, however, such requests were categorically denied.
Ephraim Brasher and John Bailey “took matters into their own hands by privately minting Nova Eborac Copper” coins, declares Louis Jordan, a historian who has written extensively about pre-1793 coins and patterns. Actually, there is considerable though inconclusive evidence that John Bailey produced Nova Eborac Coppers, and there is significant support for theories that Brasher was his partner in such endeavors. Most of the central facts, however, relating to the production of New York Coppers will never be known.
re not particularly rare now. It is easy to find a Nova Eborac Copper. It seems that, as it was clear that government authorization for them was unlikely, Nova Eborac Coppers were minted in large quantities in New York to circulate as coins.
The Kendall Collection contains representatives of two of the four major varieties. I did not spend time on these two and I am not commenting upon their respective grades here. I did spend considerable time examining many of the rarer pieces in the Kendall Collection.
In the Kendall Collection, a ‘Medium Head’ obverse/‘Liberty Seated Left’ reverse, Nova Eborac has been determined by experts at PCGS to be non-gradable. It has the ‘details’ of an extremely fine grade coin. As this is the most common variety and thousands survive, the individual who formed the “Kendall Collection” probably focused on rarer pre-1783 items, of which he has an incredible assortment.
A ‘Medium Head’/Liberty Seated Right coin in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded EF-40 and CAC approved. It will not cost a fortune
Clinton Copper Patterns
The 1787 Clinton Copper in the Kendall Collection is PCGS graded Extremely Fine-40 and may cost a fortune. The Clinton Copper patterns are among the most distinctive of all pre-1793 items.
It is widely believed that Captain Thomas Machin produced the 1787 Clinton Copper patterns. Machin had made it clear to the New York State Assembly that he would like a contract to mint copper coins for the state. Louis Jordan and some other researchers maintain that George Clinton and Machin were close friends.
There are perhaps thirteen 1787 Clinton Copper patterns in existence. Although the Kendall piece is not of the same quality as the piece that was in the collection of Eric Newman, it is an excellent Clinton pattern that is of much higher quality than many other surviving coppers from the 1780s.
In May 2014, Heritage sold the NGC graded MS-63, Newman piece for $499,375. In November 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the PCGS graded Fine-15, Roper-Royse piece for $218,500.
In August 2014, Heritage sold a PCGS graded VF-20 piece for $94,500. Reliable sources suggest that the buyer of the Newman Collection Clinton Copper consigned this PCGS graded VF-20 piece, as it had become a duplicate in his collection.
The PCGS graded VF-20 piece has a level of detail that corresponds to a grade above VF-20, though has much corrosion. My guess is that it was net graded; VF-20 is sort of a compromise grade. It is questionable as to whether it is gradable at all. The surface qualities of the Newman piece and the Kendall piece are vastly superior to that one. The Roper-Royse piece is better in some ways as well. The $94,500 result, rather than a higher amount, probably relates to the surface quality of that piece.
Auction results may also be affected by the reality that at least four Clinton Coppers have emerged over the last two and a half years. Before 2012, it had been decades since one had sold in a widely publicized auction. Even when demand remains the same, an increase in supply will tend to lead to lower price levels.
According to cataloguers at Heritage and their sources, three of the four ‘mint state’ or possibly ‘mint state’ Clinton Coppers are impounded in institutional collections, as is the other PCGS graded EF-40 Clinton Copper. There are two in the British Museum and one in the Smithsonian Institution. The late Joseph Lasser donated his PCGS graded EF-40 Clinton to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia.
The Jackman-Boyd coin has been in an a private collection since the 1970s. Although the Heritage roster lists this Garrett-Kendall piece as number seven, it could possibly be of higher quality than at least one of those ranked above it. Many early coppers have problems. The so called ‘mint state’ Clinton Coppers in museums might not all have been examined by expert graders since the founding of PCGS and the introduction of PCGS grading criteria in 1986.
For a copper piece from 1787, this Kendall Collection Clinton pattern is exceptional. It has just honest wear and a few microscopic hairlines. Indeed, it scores highly in the technical category. It was stored well and treated with respect for the last 228 years. It scores highly in the category of originality as well.
Some light to moderate, russet and gray tones blend well with a great overall medium brown color. This is certainly one of the best copper pieces in the whole Kendall Collection.
The obverse of this Clinton Copper grades above 40 and the reverse grades a little below 40, as there is much wear on the female figures in the coat of arms of the State of New York. An overall grade of EF-40 is more than fair. The CAC sticker was not surprising, as the PCGS assigned 40 grade is applicable and this is an excellent piece overall.
Who was George Clinton?
Did it make sense for Thomas Machin to suggest that George Clinton be portrayed on official New York coinage? Allegorical symbols tended to characterize coins of the States of the United States.
George Clinton later served as the Vice President of the United States from March 4, 1805 to the time of his death on April 20, 1812. Prospective coiners in 1787, however, could not have known that he would later become vice president.
He was the first governor of the independent State of New York. Further, he served as governor for twenty-one years, from 1777 to 1795 and again from 1801 to 1804. Nonetheless, in 1787, he had been governor for just ten years.
In 1775, Clinton was elected as a delegate from New York to the Second Continental Congress. According to history.com, Clinton “voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, but was not present to sign the document because he had already left to serve General Washington in the field.”
Initially, Clinton opposed to the U.S. Constitution and leading scholars theorize that he wrote some of the famous “Cato Letters,” which were published in the New York Journal. These political tracts are important now in the academic discipline of philosophy in addition to that of history. Clinton later supported the U.S. Constitution after the addition of the Bill of Rights.
Clinton had a noteworthy military career. He served in the French & Indian War and was a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was involved in developing strategy. Did he ever lead troops into battle?
Clinton was a brilliant tactician and had a dynamic personality. In 1787, he turned 48 and many New Yorkers then figured that he had a bright future, a legend in their own time. Even so, his appearance on a coin would have been awkward and controversial.
1786 ‘Small Head’ Copper
The mysterious 1786 ‘Small Head – Non Vi Virtute Vici’ New York Coppers are often said to depict George Washington. “Tradition has it that the obverse figure is a portrait of George Washington, but the similarity is tenuous,” remarks Ron Guth on PCGS CoinFacts. In November, I suggested it might really be George Clinton who is pictured. Although the portrait does not really match either of them, it does seem to more closely resemble Clinton.
As I indicated in November, I interpret the Latin phrase on the obverse, “Non Vi Virtute Vici,” to mean that the United States was founded on sound philosophical principles not by power-seeking, particularly violent rebels. Given Clinton’s strong belief in individual rights and his opposition to controlling central governments, it was or would have been logical for his portrait to have been matched with this inscription on a coin.
The Latin term on the reverse, Neo-Eboracensis, literally means ‘of New York,’ though just ‘New York’ is a better translation. Also on the reverse, there is a seated female personification of liberty, with a liberty cap on top of a pole.
The ‘Non Vi Virtute Vici’ Coppers in the Kendall and Newman Collections are of the “Small Head” variety, though the head is not really small. It is just smaller than the “Large Head.” In my view, the ‘Large Head’ is artistically distinct from the ‘Small Head,’ and does not depict George Washington either. It is even more of a mystery. In any event, the ‘Large Head’ pieces are among the rarest of all pre-1793 patterns.
For the ‘Small Head – Non Vi Virtute Vici’ Coppers, the Stack’s-Bowers cataloguer suggests a “number somewhere around 25 or 30 in all grades” survive. I estimate that there are twenty pieces in existence.
In August 2014, Heritage auctioned the “Small Head” 1786 copper that was formerly in the F. D. Caldwell Collection, and Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the exact same pattern just a few months earlier in March 2014. It is PCGS graded EF-40 and CAC approved.
The Caldwell piece realized $52,875 in August and $57,575 in March 2014. This pattern is technically impressive, really neat and attractive overall.
The Newman piece is NGC graded VF-25 and CAC approved. It was sold in November 2014. That “Small Head” 1786 pattern has been moderately conserved, though is mostly original and pleasant. I reported then on the $38,187.50 result for the Newman piece.
The Kendall “Small Head” 1786 ‘Non Vi Virtute Vici’ pattern is PCGS graded VG-10 and CAC approved. The obverse, by itself, grades at least Fine-12. This coin has been lightly conserved and has a few minor contact marks. For a 1786 copper of its grade, this pattern is technically sound and very attractive. Indeed, it appears more attractive in actuality than it appears to be in the catalogue. Yes, it has more mint-caused imperfections than other ‘Non Vi Virtute Vici’ pieces. Even so, it is a really nice piece, which I enjoyed examining for a couple of minutes.
Many collectors like the type with a standing American Indian on the obverse and the coat of arms of the State of New York on the reverse.
The Kendall piece is PCGS graded Fine-12 and CAC approved. It is technically impressive, with just a few light abrasions. Though it has been oiled a little, as have most early coppers, it is mostly original. This piece is characterized by honest wear and no substantial problems. It is excellent for a Fine-12 grade early copper.
On New York Coppers of the Indian/Eagle type, a standing American Indian appears on the obverse and the Excelsior motto appears below an eagle on the reverse. The Neo Eboracus legend appears as well. There is no doubt about it being a New York type.
The Kendall Collection Indian/Eagle New York Copper has serious problems, though is presentable for a non-gradable coin. At a glance, it seems more than decent. It could fit into a set of otherwise gradable early coppers.
There is a variety with a large eagle on the obverse and the New York coat of arms on the reverse. I am puzzled that most relevant researchers have implied that it makes much difference whether the small eagle within the coat of arms is facing to the right or to the left.
In my view, it is unlikely that engravers were putting forth philosophical points by way of the face of this eagle design element. Artisans in the U.S. were not heavily focused upon the rules of heraldry. These are die varieties, not separate types or issues. On the Kendall Collection piece, the small eagle is facing to the left.
I take the side with the date and the large eagle to be the obverse. Others regard the side with the coat of arms of New York State to be the obverse. Do we all agree, though, that, on the already mentioned Clinton Coppers and on the corresponding type with the standing American Indian, the cost of arms is on the reverse? It follows logically that the coat of arms, with the term ‘excelsior,’ is on the reverse of this issue, too.
The Kendall piece is PCGS graded Fine-15 and certainly merits at least this grade. It was extensively lightly cleaned, though has naturally retoned in a nice way. The gray-brown fields contrast well with lighter colored highpoints. The imperfections are minor. This is a pleasing piece.
The NGC graded Fine-15 Newman piece of this same variety sold for $14,100 in May 2014. The Kendall piece is clearly superior. The Newman piece was struck on a planchet (blank) that had significant problems and the Newman piece has moderate corrosion, which seems to have been neutralized, though is still noticeable.
Though more than twenty of these survive, not one is known to be in ‘mint state.’ Almost all grade less than AU-50. In February 2014, Heritage auctioned one that has the details of a Very Good grade coin, for $2115. There are New York Coppers that do not cost a fortune
While the rarity and market values of the Kendall and Newman Collection New York Coppers may seem daunting to some collectors, many Nova Eborac pieces may be acquired for less than $500 each. In May 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS graded VF-20, ‘Medium Head’/Liberty Seated Left, Nova Eborac for $258.50. There are dozens of other 1787 Nova Eborac Coppers that have sold at auction for prices between $200 and $500. Occasionally, non-gradable pieces, with considerable detail, are available for less than $200. These are small prices to pay for New York Coppers minted after the Revolutionary War and before the first president was inaugurated, an amazing period in the history of New York and of the United States.
©2015 Greg Reynolds