Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

The Mystery Behind New Hampshire’s Early Coppers

[photo: obverse and reverse of a 1776 NH copper]

Obverse and reverse of 1776 NH copper

Here is a rarely seen photo of a rare 1776 New Hampshire copper. With only 8 or 9 coins known to exist, few collectors will ever see an example of this issue, let alone own one. To illustrate the rarity, this specimen has only traded hands four times in a little more than a century.

New Hampshire was the first of the rebellious colonies to consider its own coinage. In March 1776, a few months before the Declaration of Independence, the New Hampshire House authorized a committee to consider the production of copper coinage (copies of this resolution survive today). The design depicts a famed New Hampshire pine tree, which was a symbol of the colony. New Hampshire pine trees were provided for years to the British Crown for Royal Navy shipmasts, and the Pine Tree motif had appeared on various denominations of early NH paper money since 1794. The obverse legend selected for the proposed 1776 coins was AMERICAN LIBERTY inscribed to the left and right of the pine tree. The reverse bears the date 1776 and features a harp – whose harmonious large and small strings symbolized agreeable union between large and small colonies. A noted silversmith, William Moulton, was recommended to produce up to 100 pounds weight of the copper coins for submission to the General Assembly for approval. The mystery is that although the vote of the House is recorded, no records of the coinage have ever been found. These coins were cast by hand, not struck from dies.

This example is the 1875 Sylvester S. Crosby plate coin as depicted in plate VI in his still valued book, The Early Coins of America; and the Laws Governing their Issue, published in 1875 by Crosby in Boston. It was originally contained in the Matthew A. Stickney Collection (auctioned in 1907), and later in the James Ellsworth Collection, which was sold in March 1923 to famed New York coin dealer Wayte Raymond for the sum of $100,000. One of Raymond’s clients, John Work Garrett of Baltimore, provided 50% of the funds for this purchase. For his $50,000 investment, Garrett selected coins he needed that were missing from his own extensive collection – including a Brasher Doubloon, as well as many other scarce and rare U.S. and colonial coins – along with this New Hampshire copper. This pedigreed Garrett-Ellsworth-Stickney specimen is one of the best known examples, and was last sold at public auction in the October 1980 Garrett III Sale by Bowers & Ruddy for $13,000. It is the plate coin in the newly released Whitman Encylopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, catalog #W08395 – and is currently in the collection of a New England collector who allowed Littleton to reproduce this image.