The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. The Kingdom’s ruling began with Ptolemy I Soter after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.
Coinage of the Ptolemaic Kingdom was in use during the last dynasty of Egypt and, briefly, during Roman rule of Egypt. Ptolemaic coinage was struck in Phoenician weight, also known as Ptolemaic weight (about 14,20 grams). This standard, which was not used elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, was smaller than the most common Attic weight. Consequently, Ptolemaic coins are smaller than other Hellenistic coinage. In terms of art, the coins, which were made of silver, followed the example set by contemporary Greek currencies, with dynastic figures being typically portrayed. The Ptolemaic coin making process often resulted in a central depression, similar to what can be found on Seleucid coinage.
The Ptolemaic Kingdom was the first dynasty to introduce coinage to Egypt. The first Ptolemaic mint was in Memphis and was later moved to Alexandria. The Ptolemaic Kingdom flourished largely due to their success in monetizing the Egyptian society. Before the Ptolemaic period, metals such as copper, and grain, were used as mediums of exchange. Ptolemaic rule brought, in addition to the coinage, banks and tax farming to the country.
For most of its history, the kingdom vigorously enforced a policy of a single currency, confiscating foreign coins and forcing its territories to adopt Ptolemaic coinage. Parallels between Athens and the Ptolemaic Kingdom can be drawn as Athens attempted to introduce a sole currency in its empire. In the rare cases when these territories were allowed their own currency, such as the Jewish community in Palestine, they still had to observe the Ptolemaic weight. These policies and increasing difficulty to obtain silver, caused monetary isolation of the Ptolemaic coinage.
During the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the kingdom, diverse local currencies were allowed to exist. They may even have been encouraged. The exact date of elimination of non-Ptolemaic coinage varies by region. In Egypt and Syria, Ptolemy I discontinued local coinage, which had Alexander the Great’s image struck in them, after feeling secure in power. Such coinage with Alexander on them were very common in the successor states of the Macedonian Empire. Cypriot coinage was eliminated when the local monarchies ceased to exist. In Cyrene it took even longer to eliminate municipal coinage. In Crete the local currency was never suppressed. Uniformity of the currency was sought flexibly, yet opportunistically.
Artistically, Ptolemaic coinage closely followed contemporary Greek currencies. A commonplace symbol of the Ptolemaic dynasty was an eagle standing on a thunderbolt, first adopted by Ptolemy I Soter. The more peculiar Ptolemaic coinage included so-called “dynastic issues”. This rare coin featured Ptolemy II Philadelphus who married his sister Arsinoe II; Egyptian rulers had traditionally married their sisters to signify a connection to sacred union between the deities Osiris and Isis. A medal-like coin with one side portraying Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, and the other side portraying Ptolemy I and Berenice I was struck after the death of Arsinoe II.
Cyprus had many important mints, and the island struck large amounts of Ptolemaic coinage from 200 BC to 80 BC. Cyprus was also richer in silver than Egypt. Most of the coinage from second century BC are easily identifiable and datable because they include abbreviations for mints and dates for both gold and silver coinage. Mints from this period include Salamis (abbr. ΣA), Kition (abbr. KI) and Paphos (abbr. Π, and later as ΠA).
After the demise of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and annexation into the growing Roman Empire, silver coinage struck by the Ptolemies still continued to circulate. The Ptolemaic silver coinage mostly disappeared by the time of Emperor Nero. It is assumed that by that time, in the first half of the first century, the Ptolemaic silver coinage was probably recycled into a new currency, Roman tetradrachms, struck at mints managed by the Romans. Roman Egypt remained monetarily as a closed system, like it had been under Ptolemaic dynasty. Roman denarii and aurei did not circulate in provincial Egypt.
The Liberty Dollar (ALD) coins were produced by a now-defunct organization with the unwieldy name “National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and the Internal Revenue Code,” or NORFED for short. NORFED’s goal, according its founder Bernard von NotHaus, was to provide an alternative currency to that which is issued by the U.S. federal government: a currency that is backed by gold and silver, and therefore inflation-proof. NORFED has manufactured these coins in various denominations, including $1, $5, $10, and $20 in silver, and $500 in gold.
The currency was issued in minted metal rounds (similar to coins), gold and silver certificates and electronic currency (eLD). ALD certificates are “warehouse receipts” for real gold and silver owned by the bearer. According to court documents there were about 250,000 holders of Liberty Dollar certificates. The metal was warehoused at Sunshine Minting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, prior to a November 2007 raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Secret Service (USSS). Until July 2009, the Liberty Dollar was distributed by Liberty Services known as NORFED based in Evansville, Indiana. It was created by Bernard von NotHaus, the founder of the Cannabis Spiritual Center in Malibu, CA, and the co-founder of the Royal Hawaiian Mint Company.
A number of alternative currencies exist in the United States, including Phoenix Dollars, Baltimore’s BNote, Ithaca Hours, Bitcoin and digital gold currency. Unlike some other alternative currencies, both Liberty Dollars and Phoenix Dollars were denominated by weight and backed by a commodity. Liberty Dollars used gold, silver, platinum, or copper. Liberty Dollars differed from other alternative currencies in that they carried a suggested US dollar face value.
The only laws against counterfeiting private currencies, whether they are printed or minted, are ordinary statutes against fraud. Coining is more technologically difficult than is printing, and inclusion of precious metal in coins has long been seen as a means of “embedding” value in them. The Liberty Dollar consisted of both coins and printed notes. Liberty Dollars were backed by a physical commodity—a weight in precious metal.
The Liberty Dollar “base value” was created by Bernard von NotHaus. As of 2009, the base value of the Liberty Dollar was $20 Liberty Dollars to one ounce of silver. At the time the Liberty Dollar operation was closed, one ounce Liberty Dollar gold pieces were denominated $1,000 with a maximum charge of 10% over spot price with membership. The previous base values were $10 silver ounce, $20 silver ounce and $500 gold ounce. Non-members paid full face value for all currency except for certain Special and Numismatic items. Members’ discounts ranged from 0% to 50%+ .
Liberty Dollar associates and merchants used to exchange for Liberty Dollars at a discount, so they could “make money when [they] spend money.” To further distinguish how the Liberty Dollar worked, von NotHaus transitioned to a commission structure in June 2007 where associates and merchants received a commission in the form of extra Liberty Dollars when they placed their orders. Regional currency officers received larger discounts; they were the regional distributors and official representatives of Liberty Services..
The Liberty Dollar offices were raided by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) on November 14, 2007. von NotHaus, sent an email to customers and supporters saying that the agents took all the gold, silver, and platinum, and almost two tons of Ron Paul Dollars. The agents also seized computers and files and froze the Liberty Dollar bank accounts. Von NotHaus’s email linked to a signup page for a class action lawsuit so that the victims might recover their assets. At the same time, all forms on his website relating to purchases of Liberty Dollars became nonfunctional.
The seizure warrant was issued for money laundering, mail fraud, wire fraud, counterfeiting, and conspiracy. The local Evansville Courier & Press reported the email, stating that “FBI Agent Wendy Osborne, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Indianapolis office, directed all questions on the raid to the Western District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office. A spokeswoman there said she had no information on the investigation. “Von NotHaus, the group’s monetary architect and the author of the email, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.”
The Associated Press quoted von NotHaus on November 16, 2007, as saying that the federal government was “running scared right now and they had to do something …. I’m volunteering to meet the agents and get arrested so we can thrash this out in court.”
A federal grand jury brought an indictment against von NotHaus and three others in May 2009 in United States District Court in Statesville, North Carolina, and von NotHaus was arrested on June 6, 2009. Bernard von NotHaus is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess and sell coins in resemblance and similitude of coins of a denomination higher than five cents, and silver coins in resemblance of genuine coins of the United States in denominations of five dollars and greater, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 485, 18 U.S.C. § 486, and 18 U.S.C. § 371; one count of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 and 18 U.S.C. § 2; one count of selling, and possessing with intent to defraud, coins of resemblance and similitude of United States coins in denominations of five cents and higher, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 485 and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and one count of uttering, passing, and attempting to utter and pass, silver coins in resemblance of genuine U.S. coins in denominations of five dollars or greater, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 486 and 18 U.S.C. § 2.
On July 28, 2009, von NotHaus entered a plea of not guilty.
On March 18, 2011, von NotHaus was convicted of “making, possessing and selling his own coins”, after a jury in Statesville, North Carolina deliberated for less than two hours. The jury found him guilty of one count under 18 U.S.C. § 485 and 18 U.S.C. § 2, one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 486 and 18 U.S.C. § 2, and one count of conspiracy, under 18 U.S.C. § 371, to violate sections 485 and 486. He faced up to 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and may be forced to give $7 million worth of minted coins and precious metals to the government, weighing 16,000 pounds. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, Anne M. Tompkins, described the Liberty Dollar as “a unique form of domestic terrorism” that is trying “to undermine the legitimate currency of this country”. The Justice Department press release quoted her as saying: “While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country.”
According to the Associated Press, “Federal prosecutors successfully argued that von NotHaus was, in fact, trying to pass off the silver coins as U.S. currency. Coming in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50, the Liberty Dollars also featured a dollar sign, the word “dollar” and the motto “Trust in God,” similar to the “In God We Trust” that appears on U.S. coins”.
He appealed his conviction but his appeal was denied on 10 November 2014
On Nov 11th, 2014 Judge Voorhees denied von NotHaus’ Motion for Acquittal. On December 2, 2014, despite prosecutor demands that he serve as much as 23 years in federal prison, he was sentenced to 6 months house arrest, with 3 years probation. As part of his reasoning for delivering a greatly reduced sentence from what Federal Prosecutors demanded, Judge Richard L. Voorhees considered von NotHaus’ appeal, which stated:
…if anything is clear from the evidence presented at trial, it is that the last thing Mr. von NotHaus wanted was for Liberty Dollars [to] be confused with coins issued by the United States government…His intention – to protest the Federal Reserve system – has always been plain. The jury’s verdict conflates a program created to function as an alternative to the Federal Reserve system with one designed to [deceive] people into believing it was the very thing Mr. von NotHaus was protesting in the first place…the Liberty Dollars was not a counterfeit and was not intended to function as such. The verdict is a perversion of the counterfeiting statutes and should be set aside.
The conviction, which was seen as a victory for the government, has now defined 18 U.S.C. § 486 as prohibiting the use of silver bullion, or any other metal coin or bar not issued under government authority, from being used in commerce. The Silver Certificates issued by Liberty Services were not considered any form of counterfeiting or violation of law.
Von NotHaus’ probation officer suggested he file for early release from probation after one year, and recommended the early termination to the court. Termination of probation was formally granted December 9, 2015 by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees.
In 2017, a significant number of seized Liberty Dollars were returned to their owners after petitions were made to the court for this return. Bernard von NotHaus continues to honor redemption of silver to this day.
While nothing can ever replace some of the classic U.S. coinage it is always exciting as a collector to see what new coins are being designed. From commemorative coins to new circulating coinage, here is a list of coins we are excited for in 2019!
American Eagle 2019 Silver Proof Coin
This design never gets old and who doesn’t love a silver coin?
The obverse features Adolph A. Weinman’s full-length figure of Liberty in full stride, enveloped in folds of the flag, with her right hand extended and branches of laurel and oak in her left. The reverse features a heraldic eagle with shield, an olive branch in the right talon and arrows in the left.
Each coin bears the “W” mint mark reflecting its striking at the West Point Mint. This product will be available very soon, on January 10, 2019, at 12 noon (ET).
Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coins
The world eagerly watched on July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, Jr. took mankind’s first steps on the Moon. This unprecedented engineering, scientific, and political achievement was the culmination of the efforts of an estimated 400,000 Americans and secured our Nation’s leadership in space for generations to come. The Apollo 11 crew—Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins—safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969, fulfilling the national goal set in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Nearly half a century later, the United States is the only country ever to have attempted and succeeded in landing humans on a celestial body other than Earth and safely returning them home.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon, Public Law 114-282 authorizes a four-coin program: a curved $5 gold coin, a curved $1 silver coin, a curved half-dollar clad coin, and a curved 5 ounce $1 silver proof coin.
These coins will be available on January 24, 2019, at 12 noon (ET).
Native American $1 2019 Coin
The theme of the 2019 Native American $1 Coin design is American Indians in the Space Program. Native Americans have been on the modern frontier of space flight since the beginning of NASA. Their contributions to the U.S. space program culminated in the space walks of John Herrington (Chickasaw Nation) on the International Space Station in 2002. This and other pioneering achievements date back to the work of Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee Nation). Considered the first Native American engineer in the U.S. space program, Ross helped develop the Agena spacecraft for the Gemini and Apollo space programs.
The obverse design features the “Sacagawea” design first produced in 2000.
The reverse design features Mary Golda Ross writing calculations. In the background, an Atlas-Agena rocket launches into space, with an equation inscribed in its cloud. The equation, denoting the energy it takes to leave Earth and reach the orbit of a distant planet, represents her important contributions to the space program. An astronaut, symbolic of Native American astronauts, including John Herrington, conducts a spacewalk above. A group of stars in the field behind indicates outer space.
This coin is projected to be released sometime in February.
2019 America the Beautiful Quarters
The 2019 coins will represent the 46th through 50th coins from the U.S. Mint’s program of America the Beautiful Quarters®. The series calls for one quarter celebrating a site in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. A combined 56 sites will be honored by end of the program in 2021.
Release dates and the locations commemorated on the 2019-dated quarters are:
Feb. 4, 2019 – Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts. April 1, 2019 – American Memorial Park in Northern Mariana Islands. June 6, 2019 – War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam. Aug. 26, 2019 – San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas. Nov. 4, 2019 – Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
Each of the 2019 quarters will begin their journey into general circulation on the above published dates, and all of them will be minted at the facilities in Denver and Philadelphia. The San Francisco Mint also produces quarters but only for specially packaged numismatic products.
Have you ever see a U.S. dollar bill with the image of a smiling Santa Claus, instead of the usual George Washington portrait? These banknotes are called ‘Santa Dollars’ or ‘Santa Claus Dollars’, and are regular dollar bills on which a seal (or sticker) with Santa’s image is attached.
The Santa Dollar is legal tender and both bankable and spendable, approved by the Department of the Treasury of the United States Secret Service on February 19, 1986 and January 13, 1994 under Statue 333 USCA and is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office No. 1674185. Over the years, the dollars and greeting cards have become popular Christmas Collectibles.
The Santa Dollar program is an interesting way for companies to work with charities of their choice.The business selling the Santa Dollars receives a package from Marketing Productions which includes santa stickers, Santa Dollar cards, and envelope. It is then on the business to retrieve uncirculated dollar bills from the bank and attach the santa sticker on the dollar bill atop Washington. For customers at the business, it cost $2.50 to purchase the Santa Dollar. The $2.50 breakdowns as follows: $1 is given back to the business who initially supplied the dollar bill made into the Santa Dollar, $1 is given to the charity, and .50 cents goes to Marketing Productions who distributes the package materiels.
Since 1985, Santa Dollars have raised tens of millions of dollars for various charities across the United States. Corporate leaders, as well as small businesses, have worked to raise funds for the needs of their communities. They have joined hands to form a network of hope. The efforts of all these dedicated people have created the “magic” that has fueled the Santa Dollar program. Some of these charities include American Cancer Society, Boys & Girls Club of America, Humane Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes, St. Jude Hospital, and hundreds more.
The company has since expanded to other holidays with Angelic Notes, Bunny Bucks, Cupids Cash, and Birthday Buck a Roos.
In 1893 the commemorative Isabella quarter was struck. The Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition requested authorization of the coin by congress. The quarter depicts the Spanish queen Isabella I of Castile, who sponsored Columbus’s voyages to the New World. It was designed by Bureau of the Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, and is the only U.S. commemorative of that denomination that was not intended for circulation.
The Board of Lady Managers whom requested the coin was headed by Bertha Palmer, whose husband Potter owned the Palmer House, the leading hotel in Chicago. The decisions of the Lady Managers were often reversed by their male counterparts on controversial matters: for example, Palmer sought to shut the fair’s “Egyptian Girls” dancing show after deeming it obscene. The show was one of the exposition’s few successful moneymakers, and the Lady Managers were overruled by the men who voted to keep it open.
At the insistence of women’s advocate, Susan B. Anthony, in 1890, authorization for the Board of Lady Managers to create this coin was granted. Anthony’s goal with this project was to show that women could successfully assist in the management of the fair. Thus, the Lady Managers sought a coin to sell in competition with the commemorative half dollar at the Exposition. When the half dollar appeared in November 1892, the Lady Managers considered it inartistic and determined to do better. Palmer wanted the Lady Managers “to have credit of being the authors of the first really beautiful and artistic coin that has ever been issued by the government of the United States”.
Palmer approached the House Appropriations Committee, asking that $10,000 of the funds already designated to be paid over to the Lady Managers by the federal government be in the form of souvenir quarters, which they could sell at a premium. Congress passed an act authorising the souvenir coin on March 3, 1893. The act required that the design had to be approved by the Secretary of the Treasury and that the total mintage of the special quarter would be limited to 40,000.
With approval for the coin, with albiet a small mintage, Palmer set out to produce a beautiful coin. Palmer asked artist Kenyon Cox to produce sketches, she was, however, determined to have a woman actually design the coin. She also consulted with Sara Hallowell, who was both the secretary to the fair’s Director of Fine Arts and was helping the Palmers amass a major art collection. Hallowell contacted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who recommended his onetime student, Caroline Peddle, who was already engaged in exposition work, having been commissioned by Tiffany’s to produce an exhibit. Palmer agreed to have Peddle do the work.
On March 14, 1893, Edward O. Leech, the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, wrote to Palmer. He asserted that it was encouraged for the design process to be kept in-house at the mint. Palmer replied that the Lady Managers had already decided that the quarter would bear a portrait of Isabella I, Queen of Castile. She also stated that she was consulting artists and suggested that the Mint submit a design for consideration.
Finally, Palmer officially hired Peddle to do the design work. She instructed the artist that the coin was to have a figure of Isabella on the obverse, and the inscription “Commemorative coin issued for the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition by Act of Congress, 1492–1892” on the reverse, as well as the denomination and the name of the country. The chairwoman did not request that Peddle provide the Lady Managers with the design before sending it to the Mint. The secretary at the Mint said that the long inscription, would appear like a business advertising token, and he asked that it be revised. The Lady Managers, instead would likely have an outside sculptor create the obverse and the Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber to create some designs for the reverse for possible use.
But, Peddle had already designed the coin with Palmer’s previous instructions and sent the sketches to the Mint with the long inscription. The Mint was unhappy with the reverse and officially appointed Barber to design that side of the coin. The Mint also reported that Isabella’s legs would appear distorted if the seated figure were used and advocated a head in profile. Peddle was informed that Barber would produce the reverse, though the design would be sent to her for approval, and she would have to change her obverse. Meanwhile, Palmer was growing increasingly anxious: with a timeline of two months from design approval to the availability of the actual coins, she feared that the pieces would not be available for sale until well into the fair’s May to October run. Under pressure from all sides, Peddle threatened to quit the project, writing that she “could not consent to do half of a piece of work”.
Two letters dated on April 7 from the Mint to Peddle asserted that the right as Mint director to prescribe coin designs, and told Peddle that the obverse would be a head of Isabella, while the reverse would be based on sketches by a Mint engraver which she would be free to model. The second letter, imposed the additional requirement that Isabella not wear a crown, which was deemed inappropriate on an American coin. And unfortunately, on April 8, 1893, Caroline Peddle withdrew from the project.
The Mint informed Palmer of Peddle’s resignation and Palmer lamented on their inability to work together. Palmer suggested an alternative to the inscription reverse, for the coin depict the Women’s Building at the fair. Barber prepared sketches and rejected the idea, stating that the building would appear a mere streak on the coin in the required low relief. Barber favored a sketch from Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan, showing a kneeling woman spinning flax, with a distaff in her hands. Others were not fully satisfied with the proposal, stating that the juxtaposition of Isabella on the obverse and the Morgan reverse was “too much woman”. Barber tackled the project of producing his own reverse designs which portrayed various uses of a heraldic eagle. The eagle designs were briefly considered but eventually Morgan’s designs were accepted stating that, “the distaff is used in art to symbolize patient industry, and especially the industry of women.”
Curator at the University of Pennsylvania, Stewart Cullin, possessed a number of medals depicting Isabella, and former general Oliver O. Howard was engaged in writing a biography of the late queen and possessed likenesses of her. It was agreed that these men be consulted for the Isabella design. Still the Mint was reluctant to allow an inscription which made distinctions by sex, such as “Board of Lady Managers”, to appear on the coin, but it was eventually approved.
Palmer was sent a box containing two plaster models of the obverse, one of Isabella as a young queen, the other showing her more mature. Along with the models was a letter that informed her that the distaff reverse would be used. The obverse models were supposedly made by Barber based on an engraving of Isabella forwarded by Peddle to the Mint at Palmer’s request, but Moran suggests that the period of only a day between receipt of the engraving and completion of the models means that Barber was working on them before that. The Board of Lady Managers on May 5 selected the design of the young queen.
The coins final design was fairly well received regardless of the hardships to get to the final product. Many of the Lady Managers were overall discouraged by the process and that they were unable to have their full vision for the coin realized.
The dollar or dala was the currency of Hawaii between 1847 and 1898. It was equal to the United States dollar and was divided into 100 cents or keneta. Only sporadic issues were made, which circulated alongside United States currency.
The creation of large plantations and the adoption of a Western style economy beginning about the 1820s created a demand for coined money. At first, this money consisted of coins carried in from a variety of countries having interests in the islands. This source proved unreliable, and coins were in chronically short supply. As dissatisfaction grew, King Kamehameha III (1825-54) set out to rectify this shortage by including a provision for a Hawaiian monetary system in his new legal code of 1846. The first official coinage issued by the Kingdom of Hawai’i was in 1847. This coin was a copper cent bearing the portrait of King Kamehameha III on its obverse.
It was originally anticipated that the 100,000 pieces included in this initial delivery were to be just the first of many, yet the overwhelming rejection of the copper coinage meant that no more would be struck. The King Kamehameha III copper cent proved to be unpopular due to the King’s portrait being of poor quality. After 1862, the Hawaiian Treasury seized disbursing the unwanted cents, and a mere 11,595 pieces remained outstanding at that time.
In 1883, Kingdom of Hawai’i official silver coinage were issued in the denominations of one dime (umi keneta in Hawaiian), quarter dollar (hapaha), half dollar (hapalua) and one dollar (akahi dala). 26 proof sets were struck by the Philadelphia Mint and contained the umi keneta, hapaha, hapalua, and akahi dala. 20 proof specimens in the denomination of an eight dollar (hapawalu) were also struck. The Kingdom of Hawai’i desired to conform to the United States silver coinage denominations and selected the umi keneta over the hapawalu. The silver coins issued for circulation in the Kingdom was struck by the San Francisco Mint
Hawaiian coins continued to circulate for several years after the 1898 annexation to the United States. In 1903, an act of Congress demonetized Hawaiian coins, and most were withdrawn and melted, with a sizable percentage of surviving examples made into jewelry.
The 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern coins represent a brilliant solution to the foremost economic problem facing the American States during the Revolutionary period – how to create a national currency that incorporated the hodge-podge of monetary systems in use at the time.
The Nova Constellatio coins are the first coins struck under the authority of the United States of America. These pattern coins were struck in early 1783, and are known in three silver denominations (1,000-Units, 500-Units, 100-Units), and one copper denomination (5-Units). All known examples bear the legend “NOVA CONSTELLATIO” with the exception of a unique silver 500-Unit piece.
Robert Morris as painted by Charles Wilson Peale
Robert Morris, the Founding Father credited with financing the Revolutionary War, spent two years working on the Nova Constellatio patterns. Morris was unanimously elected the Nation’s first Superintendent of Finance in 1781; on February 21st of the following year, Congress passed the following resolution: That Congress approve of the establishment of a mint; and, that the Superintendent of finance be, and hereby is directed to prepare and report to Congress a plan for establishing and conducting the same.
The financier’s plan, developed with his assistant, Gouverneur Morris, was ambitious: he hoped to unite the Nation with a monetary unit that would allow for easy conversion from British, Spanish, Portuguese, or State currencies to U.S. funds. More importantly, Morris’s proposal would be the first system of coinage in Western Europe or the Americas to use decimal accounting – an innovation that has been adopted by every nation on earth in last two centuries. Due to the new government’s precarious financial situation, Congress did not put Morris’s plan into effect; however, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, became champions of the decimal concept after examining Morris’s coins. While Thomas Jefferson was in possession of the Nova Constellatio coins, he wrote a report entitled “Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit and of Coinage for the United States”; in it, Jefferson concluded: The Financier, therefore, in his report, well proposes that our Coins should be in decimal proportions to one another. If we adopt the Dollar for our Unit, we should strike four coins, one of gold, two of silver, and one of copper,.: 1. A golden piece, equal in value to ten dollars: 2. The Unit or Dollar itself, of silver: 3. The tenth of a Dollar, of silver also: 4. The hundredth of a Dollar, of copper.
This is the first written description of the monetary system ultimately adopted by the United States, clearly illustrating the historical importance of Morris’s patterns. There are records of seven physical coins associated with Morris’s plan:
1. A single silver coin of indeterminate denomination delivered to Morris on April 2nd, 1783. Upon its receipt, 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.
2. A set of silver coins comprising a 1,000-Unit piece, a 500-Unit piece, and three 100-Unit pieces. These coins were struck after Alexander Hamilton visited the Treasury, initiating correspondence “On the Subject of the Coin” between Morris and Hamilton, culminating in the decision to strike a set of coins “to lay before Congress”. These coins were later sent to Thomas Jefferson, who composed his “Notes on the Establishment of a Money Unit and of Coinage for the United States” while examining the set. Jefferson recorded the value of the set at $1.8, or 1,800-Units, indicating that its composition was one 1,000-Unit piece, one 500-Unit piece, and three 100-Unit pieces. This is the precise composition of the known silver examples bearing the legend “Nova Constellatio”.
3. A 5-Unit copper piece bearing the legend “Nova Constellatio”, which was sent to London prior to Jefferson’s receipt of the set.
After being returned to Congress, the coins were dispersed. In the mid-1840s, the 1,000-unit and 500-Unit piece from the set bearing the Legend NOVA CONSTELLATIO (A NEW CONSTELLATION) were discovered by a descendent of longtime Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson. From this point forward, Morris’s coins would be called the Nova Constellatios. Twenty-five years would pass before another of Morris’s coins would be found. A second silver 500-Unit piece was uncovered in 1870; however, this specimen lacked the NOVA CONSTELLATIO legend. Collectors dubbed this coin the “Type-2”, because it’s design differed from the Congressional set’s 500-Unit piece. In 2017, the designation for this piece was officially changed to “Plain Obverse” in A Guide Book of United States Coins 2017: The Official Red Book, when forensic evidence demonstrated that it was struck prior to the example from the set that was sent to Congress. By 1900, three silver 100-Unit coins – all bearing the NOVA CONSTELLATIO inscription – would be located, leaving only the copper 5-Unit piece unaccounted for. In 1979, this coin, also bearing the NOVA CONSTELLATIO legend, was discovered in Europe. This incredible set of coins shaped how we use and handle money today.
As a coin collector it is not uncommon to come across odd tokens, medals, and exonumia. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’ve got and there are hundreds of historical tokens made for various reasons. Beginning in the mid-19th century, fraternal orders such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, Eagles, and Elks issued tokens that could be presented as proof of membership in the order. Masonic pennies specifically, would often feature a chapter’s name on the token.
Because symbolism was so important to fraternal culture, these small coins often held a lot of meaning. The most common representation of the Masons was the letter “G” surrounded by a compass and square, representing the holy geometry of God. At times other masonry tools like keystones, mallets, and chisels were struck into Masonic tokens. Some tokens feature the letters “H.T.W.S.S.T.K.S.,” which means “Hiram the Widow’s Son Sent to King Solomon,” the biblical story that must be acted out to reach the third, or Master’s Degree, in Freemasonry.
Both the Masons and the Odd Fellows employ the “All-Seeing Eye” of God in their imagery, as well as grim skeletal “memento mori” symbols. But an Odd Fellows token might have three chain links (“friendship, love and trust”), a handshake (“friendship”), or a hand holding a heart (“sincere charity”). Bees, scales, and snakes are other esoteric symbols that are found on fraternal pennies.
The Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar or Pilgrim half dollar was a commemorative fifty-cent coin struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint in 1920 and 1921 to mark the 300th anniversary (tercentenary) of the arrival of the Pilgrims in North America. It was designed by Cyrus E. Dallin. Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Walsh was involved in joint federal and state efforts to mark the anniversary. He saw a reference to a proposed Maine Centennial half dollar and realized that a coin could be issued for the Pilgrim anniversary in support of the observances at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The bill moved quickly through the legislative process and became the Act of May 12, 1920 with the signature of President Woodrow Wilson.
Portrait of Dallin
The Pilgrim Tercentenary Commission made sketches for a design, which were converted to three-dimensional plaster models by Cyrus E. Dallin, a Boston sculptor known for his portrayals of Native Americans, who had also created works related to the Pilgrims. As the legislation was not approved until May 12, 1920, and the commission hoped to have the coins available for sale as early as possible, Dallin was urged to hurry with his work.
Dallin finished his models in August 1920 and the commission referred the designs to sculptor member James Earle Fraser. On examining Dallin’s work, Fraser deemed the lettering crude, but in an undated letter to Moore (probably late August) regretted that due to the tight timeline for production, there was no opportunity to make changes. He suggested that the Mint be urged to allow three months in future for CFA consideration. After the commission met on September 3, a letter to that effect was sent to the Director of the United States Mint, Raymond T. Baker. The letter was ignored, and the Treasury approved the designs.
The obverse of the coin features William Bradford. He wears a hat and carries a Bible under his arm. Bradford, noted for piety, was intended to be seen in a moment of meditation. Dallin’s plaster models had the words “HOLY BIBLE” on the volume; these, together with Dallin’s initials “CED”, were removed.Instead, the initial D was placed under Bradford’s elbow, likely impressed upon the hub as an afterthought by a punch normally used to create the mint mark D for the Denver Mint. Numismatists Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen deemed Bradford’s broad collar near enough to Puritan wear of the day to pass, though they questioned the authenticity of the ruffled cravat. Bradford’s portrait is in any case an invention; no genuine likeness of him is known. The crudeness of the lettering complained of by Fraser is not apparent due to the relatively small size of the coins. The reverse depicts the Mayflower under full sail. Numismatic writers have focused much attention on the fact that the ship bears a triangular flying jib, a type of sail not used at the time of the Mayflower voyage.
Art historian Cornelius Vermeule, in his volume on U. S. coins and medals, deemed the Pilgrim half dollar “a masterpiece in the conservative tradition”. He suggested that Dallin’s portrait of Bradford was influenced by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his sculpture, The Puritan. Vermeule deemed the ship on the reverse a great advance on George T. Morgan’s 1892 depiction of the Santa María on the Columbian half dollar, and felt that Dallin’s vessel presaged the ships (at least five) on commemorative coins of the 1930s. “Seen from the stern on the waves, the Pilgrims’ ship is impressive.” The Philadelphia Mint coined 200,112 half dollars in October 1920, with the excess above the round number reserved for inspection and testing at the 1921 meeting of the annual Assay Commission. They were shipped to the National Shawmut Bank of Boston which sold the coins for $1 each to the public, with the profits to go to the tercentenary commission. The coins could be ordered through any bank in Boston or Plymouth. Swiatek believed the sale of 1920-dated coins to have been very successful, and there was no thought at that time of returning any to the Mint for redemption and melting. The recession of 1921 began soon after; sales dropped, and tens of thousands of coins remained unsold. The tercentenary commission returned 48,000 of the 1920 issue and 80,000 of the 1921 to the Mint. The Pilgrim half dollars have appreciated in price over the years, with the rarer 1921 leading the way, of which only 20,000 are extant. At the peak of the first commemorative coin boom in 1936, the 1920 sold for $1.75 and the 1921 for $8; at the peak of the second boom in 1980 the 1920 sold for $275 and the 1921 for $800. The deluxe edition of R. S. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins (2015) lists the 1920 at between $85 and $650 and the 1921 at between $170 and $850, each depending on condition. An exceptional specimen of the 1920 sold at auction in 2014 for $7,344.
Whether it’s your kids, grand kids, nieces/nephews, cousins, or the neighbors kids; it is the duty of seasoned collectors to teach and encourage the next generation about coins. Here are some fun ways you can introduce kids to the hobby that isn’t too daunting or confusing for a youngster that is just getting started!
Get a State Quarter Book Start kids on a collection that is accessible to them! The state quarters collection is a great place to start since they are likely to find those quarters in their change. This is an amazing way for kids to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes along with collecting as well as teaches them to always be on the lookout for interesting coins. State quarter books or maps are cheap and can be found just about anywhere; Amazon, Littleton, Barnes & Noble, and even Walmart.
Play Games on the U.S. Mint Website You may not know this, but the U.S. Mint has a website made just for kids: H.I.P. Pocket Change. Play one of their seven games; you can design your own coin, learn about the presidents, and more! The Website also has plenty of other resources such as a coin glossary, videos on how coins are made, and printable coloring sheets. This website provides a fun and engaging way for you to introduce a child to your favorite hobby.
Take a Trip to the U.S. Mint If you live near Philadelphia or Denver or if you’re going on a road trip, stop by the Mint! At the Denver Mint, children 7 and up can attend and will get to experience a free guided tour. Expect to learn about the history of the mint and the process of minting the coins. The Philadelphia Mint offers a free self-guided tour that takes approximately 45 minutes. Tour highlights include meeting Peter the Mint Eagle, seeing the first coining press, and viewing the coining operations from 40 feet above the factory floor. A visit to the Mint is sure to be an exciting experience for you and a kid. The trip would be sure to spark curiosity for the hobby.
Download the Lookzee App
Lookzee is an app we have developed that is specifically for coin collectors. The app allows for profile creation and digitally storing of your collection. There is also an active forum of over 1,000 users you can connect with! The app aides collectors in taking professional style images of their coins and can grade wheat cents through computer vision software. And we are working every day to add more coins to the database. If you’re not very technologically savvy this is the perfect opportunity for your kid to teach you a thing or two about mobile applications. Download for Android or iOS!
Get a Penny Portrait Kit A Penny Portrait kit is a fun way for kids and grown-ups alike to create a fantastic work of art and maybe learn a thing or two about pennies in the process. Each kit includes a poster of Abe Lincoln made from images of actual pennies. With a little dedication, some glue, and 846 of your own pennies, you can have a truly unique work of art that you will enjoy for years to come. The process of collecting 846 pennies to make the portrait will sure to have the kid asking questions about coins.
Invite Them to A Coin Club Meeting Do you attend a local coin club? If so, a youngster in your life would likely love to attend a club meeting with you. Check with other club members to make sure the meeting will be an appropriate one to bring along a child and encourage other members to bring someone too. This will provide a place for kids to meet other kids that have the same interests. If you don’t currently attend a coin club check out local coin clubs here!
Send in Their Report Card to ‘Coins for A’s’ Coins for A’s is a program offered by the American Numismatic Association. If the child earns three or more A’s on their report cards they will receive a free coin and initial 1 year electronic membership to the American Numismatic Association. This is a great way to encourage good grades and spark interest in collecting, because what kid doesn’t love free stuff and getting mail!
Most kids already spend hours watching YouTube so why not watch it with them? Check out channels such as Quin’s Coins, Couch Collectibles, or our very own founder: Tim Rathjen. YouTube is a fantastic platform to learn from other collectors and get insights from pros. Plus there is hours of free content at your fingertips.
Share Your Passion! Perhaps the best and most important way to introduce kids to the hobby is to share your passion. They will like seeing you excited and will be innately curious. Remember to start slow and small because after years of collecting what might seem obvious to you, likely won’t be to them. Teach them things like how to properly handle coins, what coins to look for in their change, and the basic vocabulary. Pay attention to what interests them and foster that interest, be it a coin set, type, verity, etc. And remember to let them look at your coins, it may make you a little anxious to let someone so young and inexperience handle your coins but it is important to bring them into all parts of the hobby and let them know that you trust them too. Creating a relationship with a child and your time together spent with the coins is what will make them cherish coin collecting for years to come.
These are just a couple ideas to get started! What are some ways you have enjoyed the hobby with the children in your life?