Richard Gascoyne, an elder of the First Presbyterian Church, Albany, sent us an image of the church's Church Penny (see below). He writes:
It is quite worn, but that's because Alexander Hamilton rattled it around in his pocket for so long; John Jay, too. The church just kept selling it over again. Thanks greatly to Katie De Silva for her leads to other local paper scrip and especially for the 1898 reference in Ladies' Home Journal on the concept of a tithing penny. A friend in England who is Minister of Finance for the Archdiocese of Newcastle (Church of England) has a memory of tithe pennies in the church.
Worn, yes, but what a provenance!
Richard enclosed a draft of the October 2012 issue of the First Presbyterian Newsletter, in which he has an article about the coin. I've excerpted a few portions below.
As part of the 250th Anniversary Celebration (1763-2013) our
congregation, by order of the Session, will present a penny to
the Albany Institute of History and Art. Not just any penny, it
is the Albany Church Penny, minted in 1790 for the First
Presbyterian Church. It is “one of the great coinage
curiosities of the American colonies and the early federal
period” according to a description on a numismatics auction
How much was a penny worth in 1790? What
was an acceptable offering for the collection
plate at that time? Not easy questions.
Prior to 1792 everyday business was conducted
using a hodge-podge of tokens, coins, medals,
foreign currency, and counterfeits issued by
private individuals and private mints inside and
outside of America. Imagine reaching into your
pocket and retrieving this mess. Which ones go
into the collection plate? You guess! Imagine
the expression on the Church Treasurer’s face
when he tallies the collection. How do you run
a church with this “money?”
In 1792 the US Treasury started minting coins.
Alexander Hamilton, a frequent attendee of our
church and good friend of Eliphalet Nott (pastor
of FPC, 1798-1804) became the first Secretary
of the US Treasury and was instrumental in the
founding of a national bank. Did he have input
into FPC’s decision to mint a coin?
The British Pound Sterling was the most
universal exchange. The Albany Church
Penny, twelve to a shilling, was in 1790 worth roughly the same as, or a little less than, the British
We are assuming that members of the
congregation bought these pennies to put in
the collection plate weekly, and that the
purpose was to get money from congregants
up-front whether or not they came to church
and put them in the plate, and to recycle and
resell the coins that were returned and put in
the collection plate. And also, perhaps more
important, to get a reliable and readily
accepted currency (British sterling) in the
hands of the Church Treasurer, who, in turn,
gave the contributor Church Pennies to drop
into the collection plate.
On January 27, 2013 at a ceremony at
Albany Institute of History and Art, our penny
will be presented to the Institute. It is an
artifact that speaks of the history of our local
congregation, our city, our state, and our
nation. Reserve the date!
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
QUERY: ALBANY CHURCH PENNY INFORMATION SOUGHT
NOTES ON THE ALBANY CHURCH PENNY
Wayne Homren, Editor
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