By Lianna Spurrier for CoinWeek …..
What was the first US coin? The 1793 giant cent? Or the 1792 half disme?
The first coin collection minted beneath the authority of the US authorities was the Nova Constellatio collection, a set of sample cash referred to as for by Robert Morris in 1783 with a fascinatingly convoluted backstory. Poor documentation has left us with numerous mysteries to uncover about this very small set.
The Morris & Morris Plan
Younger America had a remarkably difficult financial system. Not solely have been cash from totally different nations circulating, however the similar cash have been value drastically totally different quantities in several states. For instance, £1 of British cash in New Hampshire was equal in shopping for energy to somewhat over £2 in Georgia. The solely normal coin was the Spanish milled greenback, although it nonetheless traded for various quantities in several states.
Congress had the authority to mint cash for the new nation beginning in early 1781, when the Articles of Confederation have been formally ratified. Robert Morris was appointed as the Superintendent of Finance the similar yr, and establishing a mint turned one of his campaigns. He labored along with Gouverneur Morris (no relation) to plan a system that may divide evenly into all the circulating currencies.
They proposed this new system to Congress on January 15, 1782. It divided the greenback into 1/1440, which allowed each state however South Carolina to transform their predominant foreign money evenly into the new denominations with out decimals. Morris argued that this may be the most handy for retailers and shoppers alike, whereas additionally serving to to unify the loosely related states. He referred to as for the minting of silver cash value 1,000-, 500-, and 100-units, along with copper Eight- and 5-unit items.
On February 21, Congress permitted Morris’s plan and allowed him to maneuver ahead with the institution of a mint. He employed Benjamin Dudley, a metallurgist in Boston, to supervise operations, and, slowly however certainly, a useful mint was assembled.
On April 2, 1783, Morris recorded in his diary, “I sent for Mr. Dudley who delivered me a piece of Silver Coin, being the first that has been struck as an American Coin.” Based on this diary, he prodded Dudley twice in mid-April to supply extra cash.
On April 17, a cost was made reimbursing John Swanwick for funds to David Tew for producing two pairs of dies, one of which should have been used to supply this primary coin. On April 22, in response to Morris’s diary, “Mr. Dudley sent in several Pieces of Money as patterns of the intended American Coins.” These cash have been delivered to Congress the following day, and handed on to a committee who would offer a suggestion for additional motion.
On Might 5, Abraham Dubois was paid for engraving 4 pairs of dies.
Over two months later, on August 5, the committee advisable to Congress that Morris put together a report outlining the prices of establishing a full mint that might be succesful of producing cash for circulation. This report was entered and skim, however no additional motion was taken, successfully ending Morris’s dream of establishing a mint.
The majority of the set delivered to Congress quickly got here into Thomas Jefferson’s possession, who recorded its worth as “1.8 D” and handed it on the Charles Thomson, secretary of the first Congress.
Dudley was paid for his work and Morris inspired him to seek out work in the personal sector. Quickly after, in 1784, Thomas Jefferson proposed a brand new plan based mostly on a greenback divided into 1/100. As difficult as Morris’s plan was, it was the first decimal coinage system conceived and served as the foundation of Jefferson’s proposal. This new system was accepted and led to the first circulating cash in 1793.
However this was removed from the finish of the saga of Morris’s mint. It will take virtually 200 years to seek out all of the items he minted, and longer to determine which was the singular first coin from April 2.
Discovering the Constellation
A descendant of Charles Thomson discovered two of Morris’s cash tucked in a secret compartment of Thomson’s desk: a 1,000-unit Mark and a 500-unit Quint. Each cash have very comparable designs. On the obverse is an eye fixed surrounded by a glory of rays, 13 stars, and the inscription “Nova Constellatio”. The reverse reads “Libertas” and “Justitia”, round the edge, with 1783 under. In the middle is a wreath encircling “U.S” and the denomination.
From this discovery, the collection was dubbed the Nova Constellatios, as they’re nonetheless recognized at present.
In October of 1870, the discovery of a 3rd piece was introduced in the Curiosity Cupboard. The article was then reprinted in the November challenge of Mason’s Month-to-month Coin and Stamp Collectors’ Journal, which may nonetheless be discovered on-line. It was just like the first Quint, however lacked the Nova Constellatio legend on the obverse, which puzzled collectors for many years.
In accordance with the journal, it was handed right down to a younger man in New York by his grandfather as a household relic. The temporary article incorrectly reviews that it was meant to symbolize “500 millesimos Spanish money.”
In an 1875 publication by Sylvester S. Crosby, entitled The Early Cash of America and the Legal guidelines Governing their Concern, this Quint is recognized as “Obverse Number 2” as a consequence of the lacking legend. It got here to be referred to as a Sort 2.
Two 100-unit bits have been present in shut succession in 1885 and 1886 in Scotland and London, respectively. They each made their method again to America and ultimately into the arms of two very well-known collectors: John J. Ford Jr. and Eric P. Newman. They have been each made out of the similar dies, however one has a vine engraving on the edge and the different is obvious.
A 5-unit copper piece turned up in Paris in 1977 amongst a set of British colonial cash. It was quickly bought to Ford as properly, who then owned the solely full set of Nova Constellatio cash: the Mark, the Sort 1 Quint, the ornamental edge Bit, and the solely 5-unit copper piece.
All six of these cash have been authenticated by both PCGS or NGC. Pedigrees can be found for every of them, their present places are recognized, they usually’re pretty straightforward to seek out pictures of on-line.
However there’s yet one more coin.
Many sources declare that three Bits have been discovered by 1900, however there have been solely two. The third and last Bit wasn’t publicly introduced till 1991, and little or no is understood about it.
In response to a Stack’s public sale catalog, it was acquired by an Italian man in Philadelphia in the 1920s, who took it again to Italy. In 1990, one of his descendants consigned it to Stack’s, who auctioned it off in 1991 to a personal New York collector. It has a vine engraving on the edge, however is considerably extra worn than any of the different cash and has by no means been to a 3rd social gathering grading service.
These seven items account for all of the cash we all know exist. Jefferson possessed “1.8 D” of Nova Constellatio cash that he gave to Thomson. Since a 1,000- and 500-unit have been present in Thomson’s desk, logic dictates that there have been a further three 100-units on this grouping, giving it a complete worth of 1,800-units between 5 cash. As well as, a diary entry by Samuel Curwen in 1784 describes the 5-unit piece intimately as a present he acquired, so we knew that it had been struck and separated from the set earlier than it got here into Jefferson’s possession.
As for the Sort 2 Quint… properly, it existed. We’ve recognized it existed since 1870, however nobody was positive how precisely it slot in.
So Which Was It?
There have been lots of questions relating to the Sort 2 Quint. It was constructed from the similar reverse die as the Sort 1, however some individuals believed that the obverse was engraved by somebody totally different than the relaxation of the collection. The rays on it are far more rigorously crafted and are in matching pairs, whereas the relaxation of the cash are of a decrease inventive commonplace and have single rays.
In fact, there was additionally the apparent query – why was the Nova Constellatio legend lacking? David McCarthy solved the thriller in 2017. For years, numismatists had assumed that the Mark was the single coin delivered to Morris on April 2 – in any case, it made sense to start out with the largest denomination, proper?
Improper. Based on McCarthy’s analysis, the ever-puzzling Sort 2 Quint was the first coin – the first of the Nova Constellatios, and the first coin ever minted underneath the authority of the US authorities.
In mild of this discovery, it was renamed the Plain Obverse Quint and the different as the With Legend Quint.
To show this, we’ve got to return to the creation of the collection. David Tew was paid for engraving two pairs of dies in mid-April, and Abraham Dubois was paid for engraving 4 pairs in early Might. If we settle for, as specialists have for many years, that the Plain Obverse was engraved by somebody totally different than the relaxation of the collection, it must be Tew. He didn’t engrave sufficient dies to have produced the relaxation of the cash.
The cash themselves supply extra proof to help this. Every has a beaded border, most of that are composed of giant beads. Nevertheless, each side of the Plain Obverse Quint, the reverse of the With Legend Quint, and – curiously – the reverse of all three Bits function smaller beads. Since each Quints use the similar reverse die, which means three complete dies had smaller beads. The dies would have been created utilizing a punch, suggesting that these three have been engraved at the similar time. This may account for 3 of the 4 complete dies that Tew engraved.
A really shut inspection of the two Quints provides us additional proof to find out which was struck first. There’s minor reengraving on the reverse on the decrease left serif of the first I in Justitia. It exhibits that the die needed to have struck the Plain Obverse first, been reengraved, after which struck the With Legend.
There’s additionally proof to recommend that the die for the Plain Obverse was floor down and reused to supply the With Legend. The With Legend Quint was struck with an obverse die barely bigger than the reverse. Dies are conically formed, so grinding one down and reengraving it might successfully give it a barely bigger diameter. As well as, the deepest half of the design – the middle of the eye – strains up between the two cash.
Placing all of this collectively tells us that each side of the Plain Obverse have been engraved and used to strike the coin. Then, at a later date, the With Legend obverse was engraved together with the relaxation of the collection, with giant beads, and the Quint reverse reengraved earlier than putting the With Legend Quint.
Lastly, the weight of the coin is inconsistent with Morris’s plan. The system he proposed in January of 1782 could be very particular about the weights of the totally different cash, and the Plain Obverse Quint doesn’t comply with – it’s too mild. All of the different cash align very intently with the tips he set forth. It might make sense that it was struck to show that Dudley’s mint was succesful of producing cash, not for instance of Morris’s plan to point out to Congress.
McCarthy’s analysis left little room for doubt that the Plain Obverse Quint is the first US coin, lastly fixing a 200-year-old thriller.
The Story Isn’t Completed
Nevertheless, this collection continues to be full of questions.
First of all, not all of the dies are accounted for. We all know that David Tew was paid for engraving two pairs of dies. One of these was for the Plain Obverse Quint, and the bead measurement means that he additionally engraved the Bit reverse, which leaves one die unaccounted for.
Abraham Dubois was later paid for engraving 4 pairs of dies. We all know that he engraved each side of the Mark and 5-unit piece, which account for 2 pairs, in addition to the With Legend Quint obverse and Bit obverse. This leaves one pair of dies unknown.
Might there be an Eight-unit piece on the market? It’s the solely coin Morris’s plan referred to as for that has by no means been discovered. Nevertheless, there are additionally no data to point that one was ever struck.
Maybe the dies have been engraved for it, however a pattern was by no means efficiently produced? We merely don’t know.
Based mostly on cost data, solely 5 pairs of dies have been cast, which means one pair needed to have been floor down and reengraved. We all know the Quint obverse was one of these, however which was the different?
As well as, solely two of the three Bits have a vine engraving on the edge. Why is one left plain? And whereas we now know why the Plain Obverse Quint is so totally different from the relaxation, we don’t know why the Nova Constellatio legend was added between April 2 and 22.
There are nonetheless numerous secrets and techniques hiding in the Nova Constellatios, and we will solely hope that sometime they are going to be uncovered. Perhaps the solutions are on the market, buried in somebody’s stash of unidentified cash or in a journal forgotten deep in an archive. Nevertheless, one factor is for positive: If we don’t ask the questions, we’ll by no means discover the solutions.