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North American Token (“1781”) | CoinWeek

"1781" North American Token (likely struck in 1818-1820). Image: Stack's Bowers.
“1781” North American Token (likely struck in 1818-1820). Image: Stack’s Bowers.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

The North American token is an early 19th-century token believed to have been struck in Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1810s through perhaps 1820. The date on the token suggests that it was issued in 1781, but numismatists think that this date was deployed to give the piece the illusion of age, as private token issues like this were prohibited by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

North American tokens were struck in copper and brass, and the dies used to produce them were intentionally worn. Struck to the same standards as tokens coming out of Birmingham, England, the North American token weighs 116 to 117 grains. Coin dealer and numismatist Doug Winter studied the North American token in the late 1970s and concluded that engraver William Mossop, Jr. (1788-1827) created the design. Mossop’s father, William Mossop, Sr., was also an engraver of note.

The obverse features a seated Hibernia, the personification of Ireland, facing left with her left hand steadying an Irish harp. The inscription NORTH AMERICAN TOKEN wraps around the top of the design. The date 1781 is in the exergue.

The reverse features a two-masted British sailing ship with a Union Jack flag flying at the stern. COMMERCE wraps around the the top of the design.

Beads encircle both faces of the medal, with those on the reverse being smaller and more numerous.

Seven examples were cataloged by coin dealer Édouard Frossard as part of the Aaron White Hoard. White hoarded the coins during the time leading up to and throughout the Civil War period, indicating that, while rare, North American tokens of 1781 were still in circulation in the mid-19th century.

Not known in Mint State.

Noteworthy Specimens of the North American Token

  • PCGS AU58+ #25064612: “The Don Willis Collection of US Coinage”, Heritage Auctions, August 2, 2017, Lot 3835 – $4,465.
  • PCGS AU58 CAC #22013967: As PCGS AU58 #50007933. Heritage Auctions, June 2, 2005, Lot 5026 – $1,035. As PCGS AU58 #22013967. Heritage Auctions, July 7, 2006, Lot 60 – $4,312.50. Regraded. As PCGS AU58 CAC #22013967. Heritage Auctions, November 29, 2012, Lot 3061 – $1,527.50. CAC Added. Heritage Auctions, December 4, 2014, Lot 3037 – $1,762.50; Heritage Auctions, April 26, 2017, Lot 3033 – $2,115. Dark area under harp, date, and TH. Scattered white spots between the two masts.
  • PCGS AU58 #21700934: “The Liberty Collection of American Colonial Coinage, Part Three”, Heritage Auctions, May 29, 2008, Lot 1990 – $2,760.
  • PCGS AU55 #3701573: Heritage Auctions, January 3, 2007, Lot 206 – $1,035; Stack’s Bowers, December 18, 2020, Lot 2064 – $1,020.
  • PCGS AU55: Richard Picker; “The Ted L. Craige Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, March 13, 2013, Lot 374 – $5,581.25. Attractive.
  • PCGS AU55: Stack’s Bowers, November 18, 2008, Lot 3026 – $1,150.
  • PCGS AU55 #04184035: Heritage Auctions, January 3, 2007, Lot 205 – $1,610. Troy Wiseman Collection on insert; Heritage Auctions, November 6, 2007, Lot 17 – $1,380. Planchet laminations on obverse and reverse. 

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Douglas A. Winter, “The North American Token”, The Numismatist. ANA. March 1978.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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