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Metal Detectorist Finds Bar Copper Worth Thousands in Connecticut Town

By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….

There’s a reason that metal detectorists go back to the field day in, day out.

Whether the hunt turns out to be a wash or not is beside the point. It’s the occasional find–and story–like the one told here that matters.

On Wednesday, May 1, a hobbyist named Mike DeLucia got in touch with CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan to tell about an exciting find that he had made recently.

According to the email he wrote, Mike went metal detecting one day in February at a site in New Haven County, Connecticut, that dates as far back as the 17th century. The very first item that he found, about four to five inches in the ground, looked like an old-fashioned button or a Colonial token–a reasonable conclusion, as we’ll see later–and so Mike was actually more excited about an 1833 Large Cent and a second-year-of-issue 1893 Barber Dime that he found about 20 feet away from the token.

Bar Copper and other metal detector finds. Image: Mike Delucia.
Bar Copper and other metal detector finds. Image: Mike DeLucia.

It wasn’t until he was waiting in line at a CVS that he took a picture of the item and did a Google Image search to find out what exactly he had in his hand. It turned out to be a Bar copper, a privately issued “token” of an early post-independence United States operating under the Articles of Confederation. In his excitement, Mike spent all night and the next day researching the Bar copper and reaching out to local coin experts. Most of them believed the coin to be real, and they advised him to send it in for authentication. Mike got his Bar copper back from PCGS just a week ago on April 26 after the company had deemed it as Genuine. Due to some corrosion on the coin, it received a grade of XF Details.

Not that that hampered Mike’s enthusiasm in any way.

“I am just happy to find out it is the real thing,” he said.

What Is a Bar Copper?

There is still some mystery surrounding the Bar copper, and determining whether a Bar copper is original or not is a real concern, historically.

Traditionally called a “Bar Cent,” the Bar copper was an undated, private-issued copper token that first appeared in circulation in New York City in late 1785. The obverse design features the monogram USA, right in the center of an empty field with a denticulated perimeter. The reverse, from which the token gets its name, features 13 raised parallel stripes or bars that join together at the rim and another denticulated perimeter – though some examples are not fully denticulated due to striking issues.

According to numismatist Kenneth Bressett, the piece is mentioned in the December 19, 1785 issue of the Trenton-based New-Jersey Gazette, which reads:

A new and curious kind of coppers have lately made their appearance in New York. The novelty and bright gloss of which keeps them in circulation. These coppers are in fact similar to Continental buttons without eyes; on the one side are thirteen stripes and on the other U.S.A., as was usual on the soldier’s buttons.

The origin of the type is unknown, as is its status as a coin, medal, token, or souvenir. It’s possible that English engraver Thomas Wyon the Elder produced the Bar copper at his business in Birmingham, England, years before he became the Chief Engraver of the Seals to King George III and established the Wyon dynasty of engravers at The Royal Mint.

Re-strikes of the Bar copper were made in the 19th century by American master diesinker and numismatist John Adams Bolen of Springfield, Massachusetts. Bolen struck reproductions of the Bar copper circa 1862 and advertised them as such; indeed, he altered the obverse design of his creations to have the A of the monogram pass under the S (on genuine specimens, the left leg of the A passes over the S). Additionally, authentic pieces have a burr protruding from the top-left of the second bar from the bottom. The Bolen copies are collectible, too, but as might be presumed, they are not as valuable as original coppers.

Roughly cast counterfeits also exist, as do sophisticated electrotypes. Unfortunately, an electrotype of an original Bar copper will display the same diagnostic burr as an authentic example.[1]

Family Connections and Future Plans

Mike’s father was a long-time metal detectorist himself, introducing Mike to the hobby in the 1980s. A young Mike would accompany his dad to local sites where they would find Colonial coppers and other artifacts.

When his father passed away in 2020, Mike himself hadn’t been out in the field for 20 years or so but he picked up his dad’s White’s Eagle detector and hasn’t stopped detecting ever since. Last year, Mike bought a Minelab Equinox 900, and it was with this tool that he found the Bar copper.

Asked about future plans for the piece, Mike says that he’s is undecided.

Image: PCGS TruView.
Image: PCGS TruView.

“At first I was planning on auctioning it immediately,” he said in an email to CoinWeek. “Now that I received it back from PCGS, I am having second thoughts on doing that right away.”

He further stated that while he is interested in hearing offers for the copper and has talked with major numismatic firms to see what they have to say about it, Mike wants to hold on to it for a while. A feeling that many collectors can probably relate to.

“I don’t know if I will ever top this find, but it doesn’t matter, I know my Dad was looking down on me that day and guiding me to it!”

We wish Mike the best of luck back in the field.

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Additional Sources

[1] https://www.pcgs.com/coinfacts/category/colonials/post-1776-private-regional-issues/bar-cent/831

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Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker has served as the Assistant Editor of CoinWeek.com since 2015. Along with co-author Charles Morgan, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the monthly column "Market Whimsy" for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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