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Early American Coins: State Coins

Converted for the Web from "American Guide To U.S. Coins: The Most Up-to-Date Coin Prices Available" by Charles French and Scott Mitchell

State Coinage

As early as 1776, New Hampshire struck coppers. The paltry number of survivors from this issue are all very well worn and, therefore, these pieces must have seen considerable circulation. Vermont issued many varieties of coppers from 1785 through 1788, and they were actively used in circulation. Although New York apparently did not officially authorize the production of coinage, a number of copper coins are attributed to this colony. Some of these coins could be considered experimental pieces while others actually circulated. The state of Connecticut probably had the most active coinage system from 1785 through 1788. Massachusetts went into regular coinage production during 1787 and 1788. New Jersey issued a wide variety of coppers from 1786 through 1788. An issue of copper halfpennies was authorized for Virginia in 1773 while still an English colony.

Experimental Pieces and Tokens

During the time of the American Revolution, a wide variety of experimental coins or tokens appeared. In this group, we find the so-called Continental dollars of 1776 struck in pewter, brass, and silver. The Immune Columbia pieces, the Confederatio coppers, and Brasher's experimental pieces are also among such issues. Belonging here, too, are the U.S.A. Bar cents, Mott tokens, Talbot, Allum, and Lee tokens, Auctori Plebis tokens, Kentucky tokens, Myddleton tokens, North American tokens, Pitt tokens, Rhode Island Ship tokens, and Franklin Press tokens.

Washington Pieces

Now we come to what may be the forerunners of our first regular coinage, the Washington pieces. George Washington's great popularity at the end of the American Revolution made it natural to want to copy the practice of foreign nations and place the head of the ruler on the obverse of the coin. Since there was no "ruler" of the United States, the president was the logical equivalent. If this practice had been accepted and carried out to the present day, we would have had a change in coin design with each president. The bust or head of each president would have appeared on our coins while he was in office. This would have been an interesting series for coin collectors, but the many changes might very possibly have confused our coinage. (This frequent changing of coin designs did not occur in kingdoms, for the rulers generally reigned for life.)

Therefore, the practice of using Washington's head was discarded and the Liberty Head designs were adopted. Many of the designs from the Washington pieces, however, were later utilized at least in part. The reverse of the Unity cents coinage of 1783 is almost identical to the reverse design that appears on the wreath-type cents of 1793 and the following years. The eagle on the reverse of the various Washington cents and half dollars is very similar to the eagle adopted for the reverse of our silver coins. Similarly, the designs of the half disme, disme, Birch cent, and silver-center cents are almost identical to the designs adopted on our coins of 1793.

You will notice that all of the above were coinages designed to fill the need of minor coins as these were the sizes that were needed most. Business requirements in larger transactions were carried on in gold Spanish-American doubloons and their fractions, English guineas, and even French louis d'or. Silver requirements were largely met by the masses of one-, two-, four-, and eight-real coins of Spanish America.

[For information on the U.S. State Quarters program or the history of quarters, click here.]

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