PCGS has decided to label a series of early American Colonial coins on its slabs as "halfpennies."
Professional Coin Grading Service (www.PCGS.com) is officially redefining a series of early American Colonial coins widely categorized by their state names and copper composition with numismatically correct references to their original denominations. The move recategorizes confederation-period New Jersey, Vermont, and Connecticut coins as well as other pieces, such as Immune Columbia and Nova Constellatios, colloquially dubbed
coppers by their correct
We periodically make these changes based on strong document-based evidence and extensive research consulting original mint records, historic legislative documents, and other archival references that are thoroughly vetted, explained PCGS President Stephanie Sabin.
In the case of redefining New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, and other confederation-era ‘coppers' as halfpennies, the PCGS numismatic and grading teams as well as many trusted consultants and external experts spent many hours researching legal government documents and numismatic references contemporary to the confederation era to determine that the technical definition of these coins is of the era to determine that they are correctly known as halfpennies and not merely ‘coppers.'
Researchers acknowledge it is clearly evident in state assembly documents of the period from New Jersey, Vermont, and Connecticut that the confederation-era copper coinage was designed as weight- and standard-based equivalents to the British halfpenny coinage, then nicknamed
copper was [not an] official denomination of any coin used during the colonial period or federal eras.
Sabin cited that, in a similar vein, the current widespread use of the slang term
penny to refer to the United States one-cent coin or
nickel for the nation's five-cent coin are also technically incorrect.
We often make minor changes to definitions on labels to improve the clarity of our specifications and overhaul other overly abbreviated, incorrect, or imprecise referential formats to ensure that our nomenclature is as numismatically sound as possible.
A team of PCGS and industry experts has presented their many findings in a detailed article on PCGS.com that explains not just the reasoning behind this nomenclature change but also the myriad historical facts supporting it.
To read the complete article, see:
PCGS Defines Confederation-Era American Copper Coins by Correct Denominations
Here's an excerpt from the research article by Craig Sholley, John Dannreuther, Jeff Rock, William Eckberg, Chris McCawley, and Brian Greer.
Many of the Confederation-period copper coins, including the Connecticut, New Jersey, and Vermont state coinages, along with private issues such as the Nova Constellatio, Immune Columbia, and
1785 USA Bar piece, are presently referred to as
coppers. However, that has not always been the case. Historical records show that the term
coppers started out as colonial-period jargon for the British half penny and quickly became the common term for any copper coin about the same size and weight, just as
nickel is common slang for all federal copper-nickel five-cent pieces today. However, times change and so do the meaning of words. By the 1830s, the millions upon millions of federally struck half cents and cents had overwhelmed the old
coppers, and the term came to generally mean any copper coin – particularly the federal cents.
By the 1850s, the volume of federal cents in circulation resulted in the Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York
coppers often being called cents in numismatic literature. They were roughly the same size as the Massachusetts Cent and Fugio Cent, which were struck during the same time period; so, use of the term, although incorrect, is certainly understandable.
Common names are often used for coins. Current auction catalogs use
nickel when referencing the five-cent piece, so it would certainly seem acceptable to call these coins
coppers. However, the use of
coppers does present some significant issues. Unlike
nickel, almost no one today understands how the term
coppers came about and that it formerly meant halfpence. Ask someone today what the denomination of a Connecticut
copper is, and the result will generally be a blank stare or a vague response like,
They've always been called coppers. The history has been forgotten.
The lack of a recognized denomination has also caused a good deal of confusion in referring to these pieces. There is no denomination shown in major reference books, such as A Guide Book of United States Coins (widely known as
The Red Book).
With that in mind, this article presents evidence that the intended denomination of these
coppers was a half penny in the hope that the numismatic community will end this unfortunate confusion and start to reference these coins by their correct denomination.
We urge the numismatic community to restore the correct denomination of half penny, using
1/2P to distinguish an
American half penny from the British denomination (
1/2P is the proper denomination as the state coinages were struck under authority of the Articles of Confederation, thus making those coins United States issues. Applying the same term to privately struck issues, including those imported from abroad, is also appropriate as the coins were intended to pass in the U.S. as halfpence.
Since these pieces (and other period coinage) are most certainly NOT colonial coins, we further urge the community to consider moving references to these coins under a category such as
Confederation-Period Coinage or
Post-Colonial Coinage, the latter term already being used by
The Red Book and other numismatic organizations.
It would be proper for the auction companies to likewise use the proper denomination, but not absolutely necessary as the slang term
nickel is typically used for five-cent coins. However, we do feel that if they continue with
copper, they should at least explain that the proper denomination is a half penny.
To read the complete article, see:
Confederation-Period Copper Coins: Halfpence, Cents, or Coppers?
We'll be hearing more about this topic in the near future.
As I was about to publish tonight, this submission arrived.
Recently, an article appeared that asserts that state coppers of the confederation era
should be denominated as halfpence. This is a controversial article and one of the authors has
already disavowed the work and requested his name be removed, while another of the listed
authors was unaware his name was to be appended to the piece and struggles to defend its
conclusions. A group of colonial numismatic scholars will prepare a formal repudiation of this
conclusion for the June issue of the Journal of Early American Numismatics. The consensus of
these colonial coin experts, who have studied these coins for decades and written books and
articles on them, is that they are officially and customarily termed
coppers, and should not be
These coins arose during the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the
adoption of our current federal constitution when some states minted copper coins for the use
and convenience of their citizens and merchants as small change. They were issued, not as
replacements for British halfpence, but to give authority and control to the new states in
opposition to the British halfpence. To give all these pieces the same arbitrary value is
misleading. A Connecticut copper did not have the same value in commerce as a New Jersey
copper; if it did, New Jersey coppers would not sometimes be found overstruck on Connecticuts.
The overstriking of these pieces and others, clearly demonstrates that they had different, and
variable, values in commerce. In 1787, the New Haven Mint, which had federal and state
contracts to mint copper coins, took the federal copper provided by the U.S. Government to mint
Fugios and used it to strike Connecticut coppers because they traded at a higher value than
Fugios per their copper content.
Most state coppers were a commodity that acted like tokens; from one day to the next,
they might have a different accepted value in commerce. In large transactions, they were sold in
kegs by weight. These coppers did not have a denomination on them, and many of the issues
(New Jersey coppers excepted) were not legal tender; and could not be used in the payment of
taxes or legal obligations. Only a fool in 1788 would trade a gold coin for coppers. The
coppers for these pieces is proper to show that they are the patchwork of a
newly formed America, and they are deserving of a unique designation distinguishing them from
their British halfpence counterparts. The article's authors, who did not present their work for a
scholarly peer review, have written an article with a solution in search of a problem that creates
confusion among novice collectors and the public.
Christopher R. McDowell,
President, Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4),
Editor, Journal of Early American Numismatics,
Author, Abel Buell and the Connecticut Mint.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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