Republic of Vermont Copper Coins

By Robert W. Hoge, Former Curator, ANA Money Museum

The ANA Museum holds a major collection of the interesting and elusive copper coins of the 18th century Republic of Vermont. This is due in large part to the generous gifts of Mr. Sanborn Partridge, Museum benefactor and serious student of early Vermont issues. Nearly all of the recorded die varieties are present, with the exception of a few of the late, aberrant mulings. Many of the Museum's examples are in an outstanding state of preservation for this series (condition census specimens).

In the 1770s, the sparsely populated, remote region of the Green Mountains--a frontier area contested by the British colonies of New Hampshire and New York--constituted itself as an independent country. In 1785 it began to issue its own coinage, in advance of any of the thirteen newly-independent neighboring American states or their confederation government. The concept was public-spirited and ambitious, but beset by severe manufacturing and economic difficulties almost from the outset.

Popular with collectors, the Vermont coinage has also been a favorite for researchers who have endeavored to sort out and attribute the sequences of issues and die varieties. We know that on June 15, 1785, the Vermont legislature granted an exclusive two-year concession for coining copper to one Reuben Harmon, Jr., of the village of Rupert, in Bennington County. Harmon later negociated a further contract with the state, to extend for eight years from July 1, 1787. By subcontractual agreement, he shared this production work with hardware manufacturer Capt. Thomas Machin, of Newburgh, New York. Through meticulous identification of the planchets, dies and device and letter punches used in the coinage, the products of the two mints of Harmon and Machin and their order of striking have been largely recognized.

The Vermont legislature controlled the selection of designs to be used for the coinage under Harmon's contracts. First, an original and attractive mountainous landscape behind a plow was chosen as an obverse, to be combined with an "all-seeing eye" and star pattern adopted from the reverse devices of the speculative NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers recently imported from Britain. The obverse legend was VERMONTIS (or VERMONTS or VERMONTENSIUM) RES PUBLICA ("Republic of Vermont"); the reverse, STELLA QUARTA DECIMA ("fourteenth star"). This latter represented the State's aspiration to join the new union of the thirteen former colonies.

Harmon's second contract, dated October 24, 1786, stipulated a change to a bust/seated "Britannia" figure design combination. The basic appearance of this series had been made familiar to Americans through their use of British coppers (halfpennies and farthings) and their imitations which had been the typical money in circulation for many years. This new standard Vermont "bust" series carried VERMON AUCTORI (an abbreviated form of Vermontis auctoritate--"by authority of Vermont") as their obverse legend and INDE ET LIB (for independentia et libertas--"independence and liberty") and the date on their reverses.

The Rupert mint's first attempt at an anglicized "bust" type coinage produced the rather pathetic "Baby Head" issue, evidently struck from dies cut by the same tools as the "plow" series. Refinement of a sort took place, still in 1786, with the introduction of bust/seated Britannia types closely copied from the newly introduced Connecticut State copper coinage. These feature a left-facing bust corresponding to the British coinage of George II (1727-1760) rather than the image characteristic of George III (1760-1820). In 1787 a more contemporary-looking right-facing bust type, copied from that on the George III issues and their imitations, made its appearance. Dated 1787 and 1788, coins of this type are believed to have been struck at the Rupert mint on into early 1789, and even later (into 1790?) at the Newburgh mint.

Vermont coppers in the ANA Museum collection are catalogued by the die variety combinations ("B" numbers) assigned by Kenneth E. Bressett in his 1976 publication "Vermont Copper Coinage," in Eric P. Newman, Ed., Studies on Money in Early America, New York, 1976, pp. 173-198. For the convenience of many collectors and students, they are additionally referenced to the variety numbers ("R" numbers) assigned by Hillyer Ryder, supplimented by John M. Richardson and others from 1920 through the 1950s. Altogether, 26 obverse and 26 reverse dies have been noted, combined so as to have struck 38 separate "varieties." In a number of cases, it is clear that damaged, worn out and discarded dies were brought back into service for new (albeit "stressful") marriages. This occurred, it would seem, toward the end of the production at Machin's Newburgh mint especially.

The first six Vermont copper issues (three dated 1785 and three 1786, including six obverse and five reverse dies, B 1-A through 6-E) are of the landscape and plow/eye and stars type. Their dies, which share impressions of the same punches for their lettering and design elements, are believed to have been cut by William Coley, a New York City silversmith in partnership with Daniel van Voorhies and Simon Alexander Bayley. The seventh issue, the "Baby head" type (B 7-F), would seem to have also been Coley's work, although he may have been assisted by James Atlee, of the Rahway, New Jersey, mint. Atlee reputedly had obtained experience preparing a comparable product in the form of his imitation Connecticut coppers.

Coley probably also collaborated with Abel Buell, who was coining the legitimate Connecticut copper coinage and developing improved mass-production techniques with a hubbing process. Design similarities can be identified between Buell's Connecticut coinage and Coley's "bust left" issues of 1786 and '87 (struck from two obverse and three reverse dies). From July 1, 1787, Atlee, who had become a principal in Machin's operations, is believed to have taken over the Vermont coinage's die production. Sixteen issues struck from these Atlee dies (seven obverses and twelve reverses) are believed to have been minted at Rupert, while at least twelve more issues (involving eleven obverse and seven reverse dies) were struck at Newburgh. The late Newburgh issues (struck into 1790?) were very crude and irregular, re-utilizing worn and rejected dies and sometimes recombining them in peculiar ways. Some of the issues amount to mulings of dies intended for entirely different coinages, such as the GEORGIUS III obverse for an imitation British halfpence and the IMMUNE COLUMBIA 1785 reverse.

The ANA collection includes representation from the entire series of Vermont coppers from both the Rupert and Newburgh mints and features excellent examples of most of the die varieties. As is typical of the entire Vermont series, a number of the ANA specimens show clear evidence of early mints' production problems. They manifest weak strikes, flawed planchets, use of cracked or worn-out dies and generally fairly crude die-cutting workmanship. In the absence of a reliable supply of suitable planchets, many pieces were overstruck on pre-existing coins, such as the NOVA CONSTELLATIO coppers and Irish regal halfpennies or their imitations. In some cases these under-types may be readily identified. We are delighted to make close examination of the collection available to students everywhere, and to make available for the world-wide public a glimpse into a little known by-way of economic history.

For complete description of the die varieties shown, students should refer to Bressett (above). Following the Accession Number (Acc. No.) of each of the coins listed below (or after the corresponding note that an example of the issue is not present in the ANA cabinet) is a figure shown in parentheses. This number has been taken from Bressett to indicate the approximate number of examples of the issue believed to be extant (basically, his high estimate). Wherever the ANA Museum collection includes more than one example of an issue, only the best preserved specimen is included in this exhibit.

Rupert Mint Issues, Dies by William Coley