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The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 18, May 3, 2020, Article 21

MORE ON THE 1740 PHILADELPHIA HALFPENCE RIOT

In an earlier issue I asked about an incident regarding imported halfpence reported in Philadelphia in 1740. -Editor

1737 George II halfpenny

Ray Williams writes:

"It says halfpence were imported and being accepted in commerce at 5 for 4 pence. Were 1/2d actually valued at 1d in commerce? "

Jeff Rock writes:

"England seldom had enough copper coins for their own needs - thus the rash of counterfeits pouring out in just about every area of the island! It seems unlikely that they would send a lot of badly needed halfpence to their American colonies at the cost of their own citizens at home, unless they absolutely had to, such as the 1749 Mermaid shipment, and the bulk of what was in circulation in America at the time likely mirrored what was in circulation in England - counterfeits and damaged or heavily worn regals, with a smattering of newer, better-weight coins. America would seem a logical dumping ground for the outdated (and presumably quite worn and lightweight) William III issues, as well as the lighter-weight Irish coinage.

"Full weight British halfpence would have circulated here at penny value at the time - the reason that the Rosa Americana coins are half the size of the British coins of the era (i.e. the Rosa Americana halfpenny was the size of a British farthing, the penny the size of a British halfpenny). Counterfeits would likely not be full weight, but in this era there likely wouldn't have been enough of them to make an appreciable difference to their value in commerce. But if a very large quantity arrived that would change things, and the 5 for 4 pence is an attempt to adjust their value to keep them fairly priced alongside regal halfpence - and, most likely, to discourage more being sent over."

Lou Jordan writes:

"This episode is well-known. I mentioned it on the Notre Dame website in the section on British regal coppers in America at: https://coins.nd.edu/ColCoin/ColCoinIntros/Br-Copper.intro.html

"I called it a demonstration rather than a riot. It is also mentioned in Phil Mossman's Money of the American Colonies and Confederation book and in several other sources."

Lou kindly provided the website text and highlighted the key passage in bold. -Editor

As British coppers entered the colonial economy in larger quantities during 1730s-1750s a problem arose over their value, since they usually traded at a premium, higher than face value. This sometimes caused a problem as is seen in the following two episodes from New York and Philadelphia.

On December 16, 1737 New York passed an act stating:

Whereas for some years past great quantities of English copper halfpence and farthings have been from time to time imported into this colony which have been and are paid and received in the Markets and other payments by Common consent of the People at a higher rate that their Insrinsik Value and Whereas by the Conveniency of such copper money passing in Small payments the Importation of the Same is still continued...

The act went on to state the importation of more than ten shillings in coppers into the colony was subject to confiscation.

The problem was not with the coppers but with their valuation. Since coinage was at a premium in the colonies most coins were accepted above their face value. British and Irish coppers were no exception. In New York English halfpence were accepted at twice their face value, so twelve British halfpence equaled a New York shilling of account. As New York valued the Spanish dollar at eight shillings, one could obtain a Spanish dollar for 96 British halfpence. Whereas in Boston, it took eighteen British halfpence to equal a Massachusetts shilling and, as they value the Spanish dollar at six shillings, a Spanish dollar cost 108 British halfpence. In Philadelphia there appear to have been various rates at this time, one rate was fifteen British halfpence to the Pennsylvania shilling. As Pennsylvania valued the Spanish dollar at 7s6d (90d), a Spanish dollar could be obtained for 112.5 British halfpence in Philadelphia if someone was using the fifteen halfpence rate (another lower rate that came into general use in Philadelphia during the Confederation era was 14 British halfpence to the shilling or 105 halfpence to the Spanish dollar). Clearly it was advantageous to bring coppers to New York and exchange them for Spanish dollars. Bostonians obtained a 12.5% profit and some Philadelphians could reap a 17% profit. New York first handled this situation by limiting copper imports from other colonies. However, they still accepted casks of coins brought over from England.

In Philadelphia the problem of copper valuation led to a demonstration on January 2, 1741. Some merchants were accepting British halfpence at the New York rate of double (100%) their value, so that one halfpenny equalled one Pennsylvania penny. Other merchants were trading them at only 60% over face value, so that five halfpence equalled four Pennsylvania pence. The situation was so confusing and disruptive that on January 2nd the city bakers refused to open their shops causing a minor crisis. This event forced the city and the merchants to work together to end this problem. The result was an edict by the mayor of Philadelphia on June 18, 1741 stating:

Whereas the Currency of English Half-pence in this Province, has long been found convenient for the Use of Inhabitants, for small Change; but the Value or Rate at which they should pass not having been settled by any Authority, they have often received at too high a Value, by Reason whereof great Quantities of Half-pence were imported from the Neighboring Colonies, and exchanged for our Gold and Silver,

And whereas at a late General Meeting of the Merchants and others, it was agreed that the said Half-pence should be received at Fifteen for One Shilling, current Money of this Province, which was judged to be the nearest to such Value as might discourage too great a Quantity being imported, and at the same Time prevent their being carried away.

[it is declared]...any Person or Persons who shall refuse to receive English Half-pence in small Payments, at the Rate of Fifteen English Half-pence for One Shilling, ought to be deemed a Disturber of the Publick Peace of the Province.

The rate of fifteen British halfpence to the Pennsylvania shilling (or 60% over face value) became the standard for the entire colony and was also adopted by New Jersey.

Jeff Rock adds:

"What is unknown though, is just what these counterfeits were! The George II counterfeit halfpence are much rarer than the George III issues - and the majority of counterfeits with George II bust styles were made much later, at least in the 1770s and as late as the 1790s. There aren't a lot of George II counterfeits dated 1740 and earlier that are thought to have been made in that period (i.e. the Simians were made in the 1790s, the Defiant Heads may be of the general era but their dates start with 1749, etc.). It could be that these were cast counterfeits, or that they were counterfeits of the George I or even William III issues and not George II coins at all. You just wish that journalists were a little more precise about their reporting at the time!"

Thanks, everyone! Interesting topic. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
THE 1740 PHILADELPHIA HALFPENCE RIOT (https://www.coinbooks.org/v23/esylum_v23n16a20.html)

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AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS: Are your books carried by Wizard Coin Supply? If not, contact us via www.WizardCoinSupply.com with details.


Wayne Homren, Editor

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