Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

The William Pitt Token

[photo: William Pitt the Elder]

William Pitt the Elder

[photo: Pitt Half Penny]

"Pitt Farthing" token

If one is attracted to collecting coins with a story, none can compare to coins and tokens of the American Colonial period as a class. One of my favorites is the 1766 William Pitt token, featuring the now nearly forgotten William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham and prime minister of Great Britain from 30 July 1766 to 14 October 1768. Pitt was an opponent of the 1765 Stamp Act and was considered a champion of the struggling American Colonies. He appears on the obverse with the inscription THE RESTORER OF COMMERCE 1766 above the bust, and NO STAMPS below. The reverse of the token features a ship with the word AMERICA in the field in front of the bow, surrounded by THANKS TO THE FRIENDS OF LIBERTY AND TRADE.

[photo: Pitt Half Penny]

"Pitt Half Penny" token

However, unpopular policies and taxes on the American colonies continued, and Britain's 1773 Tea Act led to the famed "Boston Tea Party." Mobs of colonists dressed as Native American "Indians" stormed ships carrying tea in Boston Harbor, dumped the tea overboard, and proceeded to tar and feather any tax collectors and British soldiers they could find.

This general design can be found on two different tokens, the smaller "Pitt Farthing" and the larger "Pitt Half Penny" shown here. Each is considered a numismatic treasure and a highlight of any American collection. The farthing is very rare, with fewer than a dozen known. The large half penny is the more affordable of the two, and typically comes in nicer condition.

This token was manufactured in England and imported into the American Colonies, although it may have circulated in England as well. The occasion for the token was the dreaded 1765 Stamp Act tax on American commerce, which led to the Stamp Act Congress later that year in New York when several colonies signed a joint protest against the new taxation. The British Parliament soon repealed the Stamp Act in the interest of commerce with the colonies.

The uproar was fostered in New England by a group known as the "Sons of Liberty" which originally arose in protest to the 1765 Stamp Act to protect the rights of colonists and to resist unfair taxation. The lessons learned, along with coordinated efforts with other colonies, came in handy in the later fight for independence which began in 1775.

Collecting coins associated with Colonial America can begin with a modest budget. An excellent starting point is the Mexican 2 Reales or "Two Bits" which was accepted in American commerce through the 1860s.