Affordable colonial coinage

By Dennis Hengeveld

Colonial American coins are somewhat of a misnomer in the field of numismatics. While many of them were indeed struck before the United States declared independence from Great Britain, others were made afterward, yet are still classified as colonial coins. This might seem a bit confusing, but generally speaking (however, even here, there are exceptions to the rule) colonial American coins are those that were struck prior to the establishment of a Federal Mint in Philadelphia in 1793. As many coin collectors know many colonial coins are of the highest rarity and sell for high prices whenever they come up for sale, but as we will see in this article even collectors with a $100 budget should be able to add some colonial pieces to their collection, although they will be of lower grade, and may have some problems.

1773 Virginia Halfpenny. Newman 8-H, W-1490. 7 Harp Strings, No Period After GEORGIVS. AU-55.

1773 Virginia Halfpenny

Struck before the declaration of independence in Great Britain for circulation in Virginia, the Virginia coinage of 1773 are included among the number of the more available colonial coins. A true colonial coin, these were aptly shipped on the British ship Virginia and arrived in Virginia in early 1774. The obverse features the bust of King George III of England, while the reverse shows the coat of arms of the House of Hanover. These circulated extensively, perhaps even well after the War of Independence had ended, and today there is a large supply of coins in all grades available. $100 will get you a nice Fine and a coin that definitely circulated in the 18th century.

Spend a little more: A large hoard of Uncirculated Virginia Halfpennies came to the market out of Baltimore in the second half of the 18th century, and today this is the most common colonial coin in Uncirculated condition (some sources say that the original hoard contained as many as 5,000 pieces). Still popular, Uncirculated pieces sell for about $800, and if you spend some time searching, you should be able to find a nice EF for about $350.

1787 Connecticut Copper. Miller 15-R. Rarity-7. Mailed Bust Left. CONNECT, 1787/8. VG Details–Environmental Damage.

Connecticut Copper

Part of a series of coins struck by various states in copper and circulating as a halfpenny, Connecticut coppers were struck from 1785 to 1788. Modeled after the contemporary British halfpenny at the time, the obverse features a man’s head, while the reverse features a crude depiction of Liberty. Struck from a large number of different dies, some collectors avidly collect the series by varieties, some of which are very rare. Luckily, others are more available, and a few can certainly be found in lower grades (say Good or Very Good) for less than $100. More common varieties include the 1785 with Mailed Bust Right, 1786 with Mailed Bust Left, and 1787 with Draped Bust Right.

Spend a little more: Most colonial coppers are notoriously difficult to find in higher grades, as they circulated extensively throughout the Northeast. The key is to look for problem-free coins, with no corrosion and good eye-appeal. Keep in mind that quality was not important when these were struck, and even high-grade examples can look very crude. With a lot of luck and some searching, you might be able to find a decent EF with ok-ish eye-appeal for about $250, but those coins are few and far between, regardless of variety.

1788 New Jersey Copper. Maris 65-u. Rarity-4. Horse’s Head Right. Fine-15.

New Jersey Copper

New Jersey also struck copper coins to the standard of the British halfpenny, but unlike the Connecticut Coppers, the design is entirely different. Struck from 1786 to 1788, the obverse features a horse’s head and a plow (based on the state’s coat of arms). The reverse features a shield and E Pluribus Unum, the National motto that means “Out of Many One,” and would appear on Federal coins as well (New Jersey Coppers were the first to have this motto). New Jersey Coppers tend to be better struck than other Colonial Copper series, and certain varieties do tend to come in nicer grades. Much like the Connecticut Copper series, certain varieties are very rare, and this series also has a very dedicated collector following. For a common variety, like the 1787, expect to find a darker Good or Very Good, but a coin that should be instantly recognizable.

Spend a little more: There are some interesting varieties in this series, not all of which are rare. Two interesting varieties that might be worth stepping up for is the 1787 with the so-called “Serpent Head,” where the head of the horse looks more like that of a serpent, and the “Camel Head,” where the head, as you may have guessed, looks like that of a camel instead of a horse. Both varieties can be found attributed for about $300 in lower grades (perhaps with corrosion), but of course it is always more fun to find it unattributed in a dealer’s inventory (something known in numismatic circles as “Cherry-Picking”).

1788 Massachusetts Half Cent. Ryder 1-B, W-6010. Rarity-2. EF-20.

Massachusetts Copper

Another state that struck its own copper coins was Massachusetts, but unlike Connecticut and New Jersey, which contracted the minting out to private companies, Massachusetts established its own mint, wherein 1787 and 1788 half cents and cents were struck. The obverse featured a standing Native American surrounded by the word COMMONWEALTH, while the reverse features an American eagle with its wings spread and the state’s name surrounding it. The denomination can be found on the eagle’s breast. While this series is not as popular to collect by variety as some of the other states, certain varieties remain rare and command high premiums. For a collector on a budget, however, some remain relatively available, and a lower grade 1788 Half Cent with some corrosion can be found for right around $100.

Spend a little more: While you can certainly improve in grade a collector on a budget wishing to spend a bit more can also opt for one of the larger cents. A good option would be the 1788 cent. These are not all that much more expensive than the half cents. A nice Fine can be found for about $250 to $300 and makes for a good representative of this colonial type.

1767-A French Colonies Copper Sou, or 12 Deniers. Breen-701. RF Counterstamp. EF-40.

French Colonies 1767-Sou

Even though this piece was struck at the Paris Mint for circulation in the West Indies, these pieces are still often included in the American Colonial series, as some certainly made their way over to what is now the United States, particularly in Louisiana. Most pieces are counterstamped RF (apparently this only occurred in the 1790s), while the non-counterstamped pieces are scarce and more in demand as they are more closely related to Louisiana. Approximately 1.6 million pieces were struck so it should come as no surprise that this is one of the more available colonial-era coins. Expect to find a decent Fine of the counterstamped variety for right around $100. This is perhaps the least relevant coin discussed in this article, but once you are aware of its history, it still is an interesting and relatively affordable example of a colonial-era coin with a (somewhat loose) link to American history.

Spend a little more: Part of an earlier series, the 1721-H and 1722-H Sou or nine-deniers were struck at the La Rochelle Mint in France in large quantities and circulated extensively in colonial America. These are considered more closely related to the American colonial series and are also more difficult to find and more costly. For a decently looking VG or Fine expect to spend just a little bit over our budget, and more in higher grades.

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Comments

  1. KEITHSTER says

    Sounds like they would be fun but never have seen any cheap ones? Will get the big quarter tomorrow. Well Have Fun And Good Luck All”>”>”>\

  2. Tom says

    Great article!! Colonial coinage is one of my favorites. An nteresting challenge for those that enjoy history.

  3. ips_stuff says

    @teach,

    pretty sure the second “P”, based upon what I see, should have been an “O” in describing silver move today.

  4. cagcrisp says

    OT…

    Nearly 40 Republican House members are preparing a letter to be sent Tomorrow to the House and Senate leadership to stop the FIFO provision of stock sales that was included in the Senate version.

    The House needs ALL the votes they can get…SO…it’s looking more favorable that this unfair provision will be eliminated…

  5. datadave says

    @cagcrisp – If they start to eliminate the “unfair” provisions, there might not be much left.

  6. cagcrisp says

    @datadave, I would Agree 100% with that.

    The tax reform/cut is all about the Stock Market, eliminating the estate tax and eliminating the AMT and when the Stock Market people push back we will see who/ what Really matters…

  7. cagcrisp says

    17XA 2017 AM LIBERTY 24K GOLD 1 OZ 26,491 + 205
    17XB 2017 AM LIBERTY SILVER MEDAL (P) 52,555 + 759
    17XC 2017 225TH ANN ENHANCED UNC SET 210,335 (3)
    17XD 2017 AM LIBERTY SILVER 4-MEDAL SET 27,573 +167

  8. cagcrisp says

    16AN 2016 ATB SILVER UNC 5 OZ – FT MLTR 17,728 + 31
    17AJ 2017 ATB SILVER UNC 5 OZ – EFF MNDS 16,281 + 57
    17AK 2017 ATB SILVER UNC 5 OZ – DOUGLASS 16,410 + 80
    17AL 2017 ATB SILVER UNC 5 OZ – OZARK 16,089 +172
    17AM 2017 ATB SILVER UNC 5 OZ – ELLIS ISLAND 17,254 +139

  9. cagcrisp says

    16XA 2016 WALKING LIBERTY 24K GOLD .5OZ 64,994 + 118
    16XC 2016 STANDING LIBERTY 24K GOLD .25OZ 91,083 +104

  10. cagcrisp says

    16EA 2016 AM EAGLE SILVER PROOF 1 OZ 578,932 +1,203
    16EB 2016 AM EAGLE GOLD PROOF 1 OZ 23,869 + 42
    16EC 2016 AM EAGLE GOLD PROOF 1/2 OZ 5,832 + 15
    16EG 2016 AM EAGLE SILVER UNC 1 OZ 214,273 +1,273

  11. cagcrisp says

    17EA 2017 AM EAGLE SILVER PROOF 1 OZ 350,051 +7,299

    17EB 2017 AM EAGLE GOLD PROOF 1 OZ 7,532 +240
    17EC 2017 AM EAGLE GOLD PROOF 1/2 OZ 2,022 +66
    17ED 2017 AM EAGLE GOLD PROOF 1/4 OZ 3,401 +200
    17EF 2017 AM EAGLE GOLD PROOF 4-COIN SET 9,813 +1

    17EG 2017 AM EAGLE SILVER UNC 1 OZ 134,741 +1,849

    17EL 2017 AM BUFFALO GOLD PROOF 1 OZ 15,308 +538

  12. cagcrisp says

    BT Unc Gold continues to show signs of SOME love…

    17CA 2017 BOYS TOWN GOLD PROOF 1,513 +33
    17CB 2017 BOYS TOWN GOLD UNC 2,669 +189
    17CC 2017 BOYS TOWN SILVER PROOF 25,049 + 287
    17CD 2017 BOYS TOWN SILVER UNC 10,493 + 193
    17CE 2017 BOYS TOWN CLAD PROOF 16,951 +143
    17CF 2017 BOYS TOWN CLAD UNC 14,667 + 95
    17CG 2017 BOYS TOWN 3-COIN SET 5,307 +41

    17CH 2017 LIONS CLUBS SILVER PROOF 67,037 + 379
    17CJ 2017 LIONS CLUBS SILVER UNC 16,832 + 59

  13. cagcrisp says

    JQ1 2015 FS GOLD PROOF 1/2 OZ – TRUMAN 2,731 + 7
    JQ2 2015 FS GOLD UNC 1/2 OZ – TRUMAN 1,922 + 3
    JQ4 2015 FS GOLD UNC 1/2 OZ – EISENHWR 2,080 +4
    JQ8 2015 FS GOLD UNC 1/2 OZ – JOHNSON 1,878 +9

    16SA 2016 FS GOLD PROOF 1/2 OZ – NIXON 2,618 +9
    16SB 2016 FS GOLD UNC 1/2 OZ – NIXON 1,712 +9
    16SC 2016 FS GOLD PROOF 1/2 OZ – FORD 2,439 + 8
    16SD 2016 FS GOLD UNC 1/2 OZ – FORD 1,700 +9
    16SE 2016 FS GOLD PROOF 1/2 OZ – REAGAN 3,501 + 17
    16SF 2016 FS GOLD UNC 1/2 OZ – REAGAN 1,970 +20

  14. Hidalgo says

    @cagcrisp – thank you for your dedication to sharing the US Mint’s weekly sales reports. I’m sure many appreciate your efforts!

    To all – I’ve noticed that, for several months, the number of Boys Town Gold Proof coins sold has been significantly lower than the Uncirculated version. This observation is a flip flop of what normally occurs, i.e., the proof version outselling the uncirculated version.

    Anyone have any facts (vs. speculation) for the reversal?

    17CA 2017 BOYS TOWN GOLD PROOF 1,513 +33
    17CB 2017 BOYS TOWN GOLD UNC 2,669 +189

  15. earthling says

    My guess – numbers guys the only ones that care. Guess their storage bins have unlimited space.👍

    Go for it. Fill em up to the rafters.😎

  16. John Q. Coinage says

    Cag thanks great #s some low, but Pop Flannigan & BU $1 might be low, but who is looking for them in the future that did not buy now?? Some real low FS #s, maybe Betty F. or Pat Nixon may be worth one, @ least they can be remembered….. as to MrsT, not for Bloody mary’s…. As to Bess Truman never…..I won’t allow her in MY house

  17. earthling says

    Everywhere you look … troubles brewing. Trouble with the Weather even. Recently there was an Earthquake in the mudflat State of Delaware. .. what the ? It was centered at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge they say? Very strange stuff.

    Trying to impeach our POTUS , even. OK , cool. Only voted because I didnt like the other one. But nonone else did either. Get over it Hill people. 😯

    Lots of distractions going on. Tulipcoin rules the world now. In 5 years , 10 year old Kids will ask ,” Mom, what’s a Coin”? ” Daddy what’s a Job”?

    “Grandaddy, why do you have all those yellow metal things.

    😢

  18. ClevelandRocks says

    How did over 500 proof buffalos sell when they weren’t really available during this time period? Will the ’17 PF AGB be a key date?

  19. Brad says

    What is the lowest mintage of a past modern commemorative proof gold coin? The Boys Town proof combined sales of 6,820 seems ridiculously low for a proof.

    I just noticed that the uncirculated coin is on “back order” status now, with an expected in stock date of 12/28. It looks like inventory has been depleted, but the Mint may make enough additional coins to cover any orders placed from now until the last day of sales. It probably would have seen a decent spike in value had it been declared “sold out” instead of backordered.

  20. earthling says

    OMG. I missed out on that Boys Town BU? Wow what a loser I am.

    Well give me one at 10 X US Mint issue price. That will teach me.

    LOL. As if………….

    😈

  21. Peter says

    The concept of a “sleeper” low mintage coin becoming a great value keeps fading due to the very high amount of issues by the mint. Very few collectors have the means or the stamina to be successful completists. I for one won’t go after a series if I can’t complete it.
    Opinions?

  22. Jerry Diekmann says

    Peter – as I have mentioned before, the coin hobby is declining every year, killed off by poor or PC designs, high premiums by the Mint, changing and bizarre marketing gimmicks by the Mint, and the TPGs, and the gradeflation by them over the years and the desire instilled in many collectors or investors that only absolute perfection – a grade of 70 – is what is important anymore. Add to those self-inflicted wounds, the base of collecting is gradually declining. Some bloggers have referred to the coin hobby now as fit only for “old white men”, to which I would add – “wealthy”, or certainly with an awful lot of disposable income. The coin magazines and newspapers now are devoted to a large extent on this or that sale which brings in millions of dollars for sellers and auctioneers. 99%+ of collectors can’t afford these coins that the magazines talk about incessantly, and you would think that these magazines have become the coin analog of Fortune or Forbes, where only the lives and pastimes of the rich matter.

  23. Peter says

    Jerry,
    You are right. I’ve met a few of these collectors at the Long Beach shows while I was ogling cases of rarities. Guys (old and white) who were spending $40,000 to upgrade one of their Morgan proofs to up their registry score. It makes for cool pictures and bragging rights for the auctioneers, but isn’t relatable for us mortal collectors.

  24. Peter says

    Regarding the proposed tax bill. It is clear that the GOP, which I was an enthusiastic backer of since Nixon, but am no longer, are simply sticking it to the deepest blue states. We are divided in so many ways, I hope there will be a way out of this chaos. Backing an accused child predator to hold onto the edge in the Senate, really?

  25. DBR says

    Proof strike vs. Unc strike: lately I’ve been drawn aesthetically to uncirculated strikes because the large proof coins I’ve received in my orders are disappointing. The mirrored fields show all flaws so easily. A huge turnoff for me.

    I don’t need every proof coin to be a 70 because I don’t return coins to the mint and I don’t use TPG’s. I like leaving my coins in OGP. Call me a purist.

    I’m so tired of receiving proof coins with hazy edges, hairlines already in those much vaunted mirrored fields, and black specks and hairy packaging material stuck in the capsules and static electricity attracting God knows what all sorts of dust.

    Instead, as of late, I’m attracted to the matte surfaces and enhanced finishes on the circulated and uncirculated strikes. They are superior products.

    Small denominations in proof quality have been superb, but the halves and ASE proofs disappoint me causing indigestion, exasperation and gas.

  26. Erik H says

    DBR, I feel the same way about proofs lately. I buy both proof & unc. and almost always prefer the unc. finish. I plan to buy the Proof Palladium Eagle but I think that the bullion will be my favorite of the two (will wait & see).

  27. Einbahnstrasse says

    Brad – the lowest mintage for a modern gold $5 proof commem is 13,266, for the Mark Twain issue last year. The Boys Town $5 proof is barely halfway there.

    At the moment, all six of the Boys Town coins are record low mintages–though the silver unc. and clad unc. are close enough to the records that they could reasonably get there with a last-minute surge in sales.

  28. smalltimecollector says

    Timely article for me. I just recently have been looking at adding some colonial examples. I’m particularly interested in the earliest coins used by both the first french fur trappers and early settlers in the RI area where my heritage originates. That, and foreign coinage, the type that would have been used in Istanbul prior to WWI.
    Relative was a trader there dealing with persian rugs rolled up concealing hollow bang sticks. When my mother came over after marrying my dad, she brought rugs and some trunks with golden items hidden in the metal brackets.. I remember seeing examples as a kid, al=ways wondered what happened to them, save for one my sister had and hawked on a trip to Reno. But, I digress.

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