Colonial Coinage, 1652-1795

Colonial land grants allowed for a small degree of social and political independence among the colonists.  But the right of coinage was largely reserved for the monarch. Hence, colonial authorities began producing their own.

The first coins recognized as products of the colonies were the Massachusetts Bay Silver Three pence, Sixpence and Shillings of 1652. Many other states issued their own coins and tokens between this time and the late 1780’s.  Most of the pieces produced were made from copper, and were of small denominations. Silver and gold issues were made infrequently, the most notable being the famous gold doubloons produced by Ephraim Brasher of New York. New Jersey and Connecticut issued the greatest number of copper pieces.

In the 1770’s large amounts of foreign coins and tokens began to surface. Several of these were produced in England, intended for circulation in Ireland. These speculative, often-underweight issues circulated easily in the colonies. In the 1780’s and 1790’s large quantities of tokens were produced honoring President Washington.

Colonial coins have been carefully researched and catalogued for more than 75 years. Their scarcity is based on small original mintages and on a concerted government effort (starting in the 1790’s) to redeem these issues and replace them with federally backed coinage. Most colonials are quite rare in uncirculated condition. With a high attrition rate, and the fact that Colonial coinage generally resists significant price fluctuations, this previously collector-oriented area of U.S. numismatics is becoming increasingly attractive to rare coin investors.

Sources for information: The Colonial Newsletter, published by the Colonial Newsletter Foundation, provides a forum for new discoveries, historical information, and other aspects of early American coins. The Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4) is a forum for timely articles and news.

Books describing die varieties and giving other information include The State Coinages of New England, by Henry C. Miller and Hillyer Ryder, which describes Vermont and Massachusetts copper coins by Ryder numbers and Connecticut coppers by Miller numbers; a series of books by Sydney P. Noe describing silver coinage of Massachusetts; The Fugio Cents, by Alan Kessler, an expansion of an earlier work by Eric P. Newman; .Dr. Edward Maris’ A Historic Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey; W.S. Baker’s Medallic Portraits of Washington, originally published in 1885, and vastly expanded and updated by Russell Rulau in 1985; and one of the finest reference works ever produced for any area of coinage, The Early Coins of America, by Sylvester S. Crosby, 1875.

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