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The Fabulous Eric Newman Collection, part 10: Colonial Coins and other pre-1793 American items

 Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #208

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds ……..

A year ago, the Eric Newman Collection was the most famous numismatic collection, which features United States coins, to be intact and not be in a public institution. Further, when a variety of numismatic items are taken into consideration, including patterns, colonials, medals, world coins, paper money, and tokens, the Newman Collection had the most breadth and depth of any that was still intact and privately held in the 21st century. Recently, I analyzed the auctions of Newman’s U.S. silver coins in November and his world coins in January. On May 16, in New York, Heritage will auction hundreds of Newman’s American colonial coins, pre-1793 patterns and related pre-federal items.

As Newman is considered a foremost scholar and leading collector of colonials and pre-federal items, a sale of Newman Collection colonials has been intensely anticipated, with euphoria, ever since it was revealed, early in 2013, that most of Newman’s collection would be auctioned. Indeed, besides a few items that were on display at the small Newman Money Museum in St. Louis, the contents of Newman’s collection were mostly secret. Very few people were permitted to see items that were not on display and no one visitor examined a large percentage of his vast collection of numismatic items. (Numismatics relates to the study of and collecting of coins, medals, paper money, and particular kinds of tokens.)

newman_10_thumbSo, the reality is that few (if any) coin enthusiasts, other than Newman himself, really knew the contents of the Eric Newman Collection, until recently. Collectors of colonials and early patterns had been wondering about the contents of Newman’s collection for more than fifty years. Beginning in the 1950s, Newman wrote widely praised books and articles, most of which relate to colonials and other pre-1793 North American numismatic items. Major works are mentioned in part 1 of this series. (Clickable links are in blue.) Although the auction of Newman’s classic U.S. silver coins may have appealed to a much larger number of collectors, his colonials, other pre-1793 coins and early patterns are more famous and some such items have been repeatedly cited by researchers.

It is not practical to mention all the items in this May auction now, or even to summarize all the highlights. I focus on some of the major rarities and mention some of the type coins that are of interest to thousands of collectors. Certainly, there are tens of thousands of collectors who acquire a few type coins of colonial and other pre-federal series, and others enjoy owning extremely rare items as standalone pieces that are not intended to be parts of organized collections. Even many people who do not collect coins own a few colonial coins as historical artifacts relating to the pre-history and beginnings of the United States of America.

I. Major Attractions

Major attractions are relatively high grade Higley Coppers of the 1730s, rare original 1688 “American Plantation” issues, early coins of Bermuda, Massachusetts silver coins that were minted in the second half of the 17th century, copper coins issued in several States during the 1780s, a 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent, various commemorative tokens and medals relating to George Washington, and a 1774/73 Virginia Shilling pattern in silver.

newman10_higleyThe offering of Massachusetts silver is highlighted by an NGC graded “AU-55”  undated (1652) NE Shilling, and an NGC graded “AU-58” (1652) NE Sixpence, of which there are fewer than ten known. Interestingly, the ‘NE’ type Massachusetts silver coins were minted in 1652 and are not dated, while most of the Massachusetts silver coins that were minted later than 1652 are dated 1652. There was a ‘legal’ reason why the 1652 “date” (year) appeared on many Massachusetts silver coins that were struck during the mid to late 1650s, the 1660s, the 1670s, and maybe afterwards.

Massachusetts ‘Willow Tree’ silver coins followed ‘NE’ coins. The ‘Willow Tree’ coins are extremely rare. Coins of the “Oak Tree” and “Pine Tree” types were struck later and are not as scarce overall as ‘NE’ and ‘Willow Tree’ types.

There are maybe sixteen ‘Willow Tree’ Sixpence coins in existence. The Newman Collection piece is NGC graded “Very Fine-25,” as is the Newman ‘Willow Tree’ Shilling. Fewer than fifty Willow Tree Shillings survive.

In this upcoming auction, there are too many other Massachusetts silver coins from the 1600s to list here. I note, though, that there are Oak Tree Shillings that are NGC graded “MS-64” and “MS-65,” respectively.

These Massachusetts silver pieces were the first coins minted in any of the thirteen colonies that later became the original thirteen States of the U.S.A. The first such copper coins were minted by someone named Higley in Connecticut during the late 1730s. (Please click to read to read my analytical essay on Higley Coppers, which was published in 2013.)

A Higley Copper of any variety that is graded “AU-50” is of tremendous importance. It is unusual for a Higley to grade as high as Fine-15! Furthermore, many surviving Higley Coppers have extensively corroded. Many others have been damaged.

High resolution images of this, Newman Collection, NGC graded “AU-50“ Higley are extraordinarily impressive. It has the most detail of any Higley Copper that has been publicly offered in a very long time, as far as I know. The deer on the obverse (front) is well formed and the three crowned hammers on the reverse are amazingly sharp! Even if it has imperfections that I do not now know about, I am almost certain that the sale of this piece will set an auction record for a Higley Copper.

Higley Coppers are from an era well before the United States of America came into existence. U.S. patterns of 1792 related directly to U.S. coinage and two of these are among the most valuable pieces in this upcoming auction. A 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent pattern is discussed herein and there will be offered an NGC graded “AU-55” 1792 disme (dime pattern) in copper.

After the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and before a U.S. Mint was authorized, various States of the U.S.A. issued their own respective coins. This auction includes a significant number of Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey Coppers, plus New York pieces, all of which were minted during the period from 1785 to 1790 or so. Although rare varieties are of interest to a devoted group of specialists, a much larger number of collectors are interested in type coins or in varieties that are famous.

Newman’s 1785 ‘Immune Columbia’ Vermont Copper is NGC graded ‘Very Good-08.’ This is an impressive grade for this interesting issue. Perhaps depending upon its surface quality, this coin could be subject to intense bidding and a record price for the design type.

The so called ‘Serpent Head’ is a popular subtype of New Jersey Coppers. The 1787 in this sale is NGC graded “MS-63” and must be among the finest known ‘Serpent Head’ coppers.

Newman has six 1788 New Jersey Coppers with a ‘Running Fox’ design element on the left side. The best of the six is NGC graded ‘MS-65,’ a high grade for a New Jersey Copper of any variety. This ‘Running Fox’ will probably be subject to ‘runaway bidding’!

Among Connecticut Coppers, there are two 1787 pieces in this sale of the ‘Bust Left, Laughing Head’ subtype. One is NGC graded ‘Very Fine-20‘ and the other, “MS-65”! Although ‘Laughing Heads’ are not very rare, they are popular and are intensely demanded as type coins. There are dozens of other Connecticut Coppers in this sale, of many grades and varieties. Some will not be expensive.

Among Massachusetts Copper coins of the 1780s in this sale, there are several that are highly certified by the NGC. Two 1787 half cents, of different varieties, are each graded “MS-64,” as is a 1788. Among Massachusetts Large Cents, a 1787 and a 1788 are each NGC graded “MS-64.” Another 1788 Large Cent is NGC graded “MS-65”! As I have not seen these coins, I am not commenting upon the assigned grades.

Mark Newby’s coinage of the second half of the 17th century circulated to an extent in New Jersey. The selection of Newby coins in this offering of the Newman Collection is not particularly newsworthy, though I am sure that many collectors will desire the pieces offered as Newby coins with a Newman pedigree.

As for New York pieces, this consignment includes two 1787 Excelsior Coppers, one with the eagle facing to the right, which is NGC graded “VF-25,” and the other with the eagle facing to the left, which is NGC graded ‘Fine-15.’ Could there be less than twenty-five known of either major variety, much fewer than fifty in total? I am not sure. In any event, New York Coppers are extremely rare and are popular.

People who cannot afford New York Coppers often buy Nova Eborac Coppers instead. These are all dated 1787. Nova Eborac Coppers were minted in New York and/or New Jersey.

This Newman Collection offering includes eight Nova Eborac Coppers. The “Small Head” subtype is extremely rare and Newman’s piece is NGC graded ‘VF-35.’ While the Regular Head subtype is not particularly rare, one of Newman’s pieces of this subtype is NGC certified ‘MS-64+ Red & Brown’!

II. 1792 Silver Center Copper Cent

U.S. coinage began at the Philadelphia Mint in 1793. Some of the most historically significant patterns were produced by authorized individuals in a makeshift workshop in 1792. One of the two most famous of all 1792 pattern issues is the Silver Center Copper Cent. It is not practical to detail here the rarity and historical significance of this issue. (Please click to read my article on this topic in 2012, in which historical circumstances are emphasized.)

The Newman Collection Silver Center Copper Cent pattern is NGC graded “MS-63+.” On April 19, 2012, Heritage auctioned the Morris pedigree, PCGS graded “MS-61” 1792 Silver Center Copper cent pattern for $1.15 million. Around three months earlier, the Garrett Collection, PCGS graded “MS-67” piece sold privately for $5 million.

III. 1783 Silver Bit — Nova Constellatio pattern

newman10_novaThe most intriguing and controversial item in the consignment to this auction is the 1783 Silver Bit, a Nova Constellatio, 100 Unit pattern. A ‘Unit’ amounted to one-fourth (1/4) of a grain of silver.

Although I have yet to see it, my impression is that it weighs more than 1/20 of a Troy ounce. This is unsurprising as the Morris plan required it to contain 25 grains (0.052 Troy ounce) of silver.

Before a structured, three-part federal government was outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the union of the States was governed by the Articles of Confederation. There was then no separate executive branch and the power of the legislature was very much limited.

In my article about the Type Two Quint (500 Units) pattern that Heritage auctioned in April, I focus upon the historical setting and circumstances relating to the production of patterns in 1783. (As usual, clickable links are in blue.)

The Parmelee-Earle-Garrett set of 1783 patterns consists of three silver coins, a Mark (1000 Units), a Type One Quint (500 Unite) and a Bit (not Newman’s piece). All have ornamented edges. I wish to thank David Hall and the staff at the PCGS table for allowing me to examine these at the ANA Convention in August. Although I still have strong doubts about the authenticity of the copper piece, I developed a much more positive impression of the three Parmelee-Earle-Garrett silver items than I had before I carefully examined them. The borders, edges and overall fabric of the Mark and Type One Quint especially seem to truly have 18th century characteristics, which I cannot explain right now. Certainly, these silver pieces are fascinating and thrilling.

The Garrett-Perschke Type Two Quint is considerably different from the Type One Quint that is in the Parmelee-Earle-Garrett set, though I prefer the Type Two Quint to the added copper piece. I do not have a reason now to doubt the authenticity of Newman’s Bit (100 Units), though it is mysterious.

Why would the one in the set have an ornamented edge and the Newman Bit have a plain edge? There is a third 1783 Bit (100 Units), which is said to also have an ornamented edge? The third Bit surfaced in the 1980s without much of an explanation and was auctioned by Stack’s in 1991.

The Newman Collection, Second Bit was in the famous collection of J. G. Murdoch in England. Evidently, Murdoch obtained it at some point late in the 19th century. Where was it before Murdoch obtained this 1783 Bit (100 Units)? I note, though, that many, important 18th century American numismatic items have surfaced in England in the 1800s, 1900s and 2000s. Indisputably, there were a significant number of people in England during the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century who seriously collected or inherited 18th century American numismatic items.

It would be an especially good idea to consult experts before bidding on this 1783 Bit (100 Units). Its pedigree, however, is extremely impressive. The Murdoch Collection in England is sort of analogous to the Eliasberg Collection in the U.S.; it is a legendary collection of the greatest magnitude. The auction of Murdoch’s collection by Sotheby’s in 1903 is an epic event that is frequently mentioned in the present.

Plus, it seems that the Newman Collection Bit was owned by the Garrett family before being obtained by Col. E.H.R. Green and later Newman, who probably devoted considerable time to studying it. A Heritage cataloguer suggests that Waldo Newcomer probably owned it, too, before Green.

This Newman Collection 1783 Bit is NGC graded “AU-55” and is reported to be 93% silver and 6% copper. The intention could have been for it to be ‘sterling silver’ (92.5%) or fifteen-sixteenths (93.75%) silver?

Also, the theory that the Garrett-Perschke Type Two Quint and this Newman Collection ‘Second’ Bit were made a matter of months after the first group of Nova Constellatio patterns should be considered. Those involved in the project very much wished to persuade the Continental Congress to vote in favor of establishing a U.S. Mint. They may have made a second effort, which included producing more patterns and attracting additional attention. It is hard to form a hypothesis regarding this matter. There is more information in the already cited article on the Type Two Quint (500 Units) that I wrote in March 2013.

IV. Bermuda coins of 1615-16

Although I have not seen them, there seems to be an almost unbelievable offering of the early, undated Bermuda (“Sommer Islands”) coinage that was produced in 1615 and/or 1616. If the NGC assigned grades are fair (and I do not now have a reason to believe that such grades are not fair), then Newman has one of the all-time best groups of 1615-16 Bermuda coins.

The Threepence is the rarest denomination of all such Bermuda coinage. Newman has one of fewer than ten known!

There could not be more than one hundred Twopence pieces known and Newman has one that is NGC graded “VF-25,” which is a high grade for a “Sommer Islands” coin. Most of them are non-gradable or grade less than Fine-15.

Of both varieties of Bermuda (“Sommer Islands”) Sixpence, there are probably less than thirty-five known in total, maybe much fewer than thirty-five. Newman’s Sixpence is NGC graded “AU-50,” which an extraordinary grade for a piece of such Bermuda coinage. Even more amazing is that the Newman Collection, Bermuda Shilling is NGC graded “AU-55”!

Indeed, a corroded piece with the details of a Very Fine grade coin would be an important Bermuda (“Sommer Islands”) coin of any denomination, So, depending upon the surface qualities of Newman’s pieces, this could be a stunning group that collectors will talk about for decades. ‘I will believe them when I see them.’

V. Continental Currency Silver Pattern

newman10_contContinental Currency Dollar patterns are one of Newman’s specialties. He researched both the history of these and the striking characteristics. Indeed, varieties are generally attributed in accordance with a system that Newman developed. I was expecting several of these to be in this upcoming auction. As best I can tell, there is just one, though it is one of the rarest!

A very large percentage of surviving Continental Currency Dollar patterns were struck in pewter, a name for a group of alloys that are almost always at least 85% tin. Indeed, hundreds of pewter Continental Currency patterns survive.

These also exist in brass, which is an alloy of copper and zinc that sometimes includes tin and/or lead. Fewer than twenty brass Continental Currency pieces are known.

The one in this auction is in silver! Just four Continental Currency Dollar patterns in silver have been documented, two of each of two varieties.

This Newman Collection, silver Continental Currency pattern is NGC graded “MS-63.” It has an awestriking pedigree. It was in the epic sale of the collection of John McCoy in 1864. It was later owned by George Earle and then Waldo Newcomer. Two of the dozen all-time greatest collections of classic U.S. coins are those formed by Earle and Newcomer, respectively

“Unfortunately little is known about the important and captivating coin called the Continental Dollar,” states Louis Jordan on a website hosted by the University of Notre Dame. All these patterns are dated ‘1776,’ though I am not aware of evidence that they were actually struck in 1776. Jordan emphasizes that “there is no evidence the Continental Currency coins were authorized or issued by the Continental Congress.”

It does seem likely that the implied denomination is a silver dollar. As I explained last year in my discussion of the Type Two Quint, the idea of using the “Spanish Dollar” [Eight Reales silver denomination] as the basis for U.S. coinage was at the forefront of discussions during the 18th century.

In Sept. 1776, a committee on gold and silver coinage provided a report to the Continental Congress. Thomas Jefferson was the leader or a dominating member of this committee. It is known that Jefferson wrote the report, literally, in his own handwriting, and compiled a chart that was featured in the report.

I found last year that a version of this report was entered into the Journal of the Continental Congress. It was recommended in 1776 by that committee that the wide variety of circulating coins, from many European nations, in the United States be evaluated in relation to the main silver coin of the Spanish Empire (‘Spanish Dollar’ = Eight Reales). All other coins were evaluated in terms of their respective values in net grains of silver and in Spanish Silver Dollars.

Also, there were determined efforts to stop $1 paper money notes from being printed after a certain period in 1776. It seems plausible that the idea of producing U.S. silver dollars in 1776 or shortly afterwards was being taken seriously. Besides, when U.S. silver dollars were first minted in 1794; the size and weight of these was based upon an evaluation, which was flawed, of Spanish Silver Dollars (Eight Reales coins) that were in circulation in the U.S. during the early 1790s.

To attain an understanding of the “1776” Continental Currency patterns that people now collect, much more research is needed. There are now more central questions than there are substantiated answers. I suggest that a researcher further investigate the theory that the Continental Congress in 1776 was seriously attempting to arrange for a loan (or gift) in silver bullion from France that could, if this bullion had arrived, have been practically used to produce silver dollars.

©2014 Greg Reynolds   


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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  1. The only other choice problem-free Higley to sell at auction in my almost 60 yrs in the hobby was the JHU-Garrett 1737 Axe Higley in solid Ex Fine (raw) in 1979 at $48K to dealer Dick Picker. It hasn’t re-surfaced since and may be in a LI collection. It is superior in condition to the Newman 3 hammers which is EAC grade-wise closer to a VF-30-35.

    The “Morris” silver center cent, altho slabbed as “MS-61”, everyone I’ve talked to called it more like an AU-55.

    Colonial enthusiasts pretty generally agree the highest price to be realized in the May Newman colonial offering will be the Unc silver Continental dollar. Ford owned two silvers – I was immediate underbidder on one- but they were lower grade (and raw) than Newman’s.


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