Soon after independence, the Congress of the United States began to consider the subject of money for the new nation. Robert Morris, who had been appointed as Superintendent of Finance for the Confederation on February 20, 1781, was determined to exercise the government's right to produce coins. In 1782, Gouverneur Morris, Assistant Superintendent of Finance, proposed an idea for an entirely new coinage based on the decimal system. The new coinage created a mathematical link between the existing diverse State currencies of account in order to generate support from the States for a national coinage.
Despite it ingenuity, the plan was possibly the most mathematically cumbersome system ever devised for a coinage. It required the creation of a Unit equal to ¼ of a grain of silver i.e. 1/1440 of a Spanish dollar or 1/1600 part of an English crown (5 shilling coin). Patterns representing 1000 Units (the "mark"), 500 units ("quint"), 100 Units ("bit") and 5 Units were produced on this standard by Benjamin Dudley, a English die engraver living in Boston. The coin on display here is the unique type 2 quint (500 Unit).
Benjamin Dudley designed and produced the Nova Constellatio Patterns of 1783, the first pattern coins for the United States. Dudley produced four pattern pieces. The three larger denominations were struck in silver and one in copper. Two different varieties exist of the quint 1783 Nova Constellation Pattern coin; both are unique. The first variety (Type 1) is similar to the unique 1000 Unit, the three known 100 Units, and the unique 5 Unit. The type 2 (on display) shares the same reverse with the Type 1 quint, but a different obverse. The all-seeing eye motif is retained, but the Type 2 lacks the NOVA CONSTELLATIO legend and has an additional circle within the beaded border. The diameter is smaller (24 mm versus the 27 mm of the Type 1) and the weight is lower (109.72 grains versus the 133.98 of the Type 1).
In the end, the problem with Morris' system, pointed out by Thomas Jefferson, was that it was too complex. The complexity necessary to reconcile the old state monetary systems into one unified system made it impractical for everyday usage. Once it had done so, there was no rational reason to continue using such a cumbersome system, especially as none of the proposed denominations matched commonly used coins of the time. In the end, only a few pattern coins were produced using Dudley's design.