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  • Bermuda Copper Coins

    The Bermuda Copper of 1793: Introduction


    Following the brief episode with "Hogge money" in 1615-1616 (see the Sommer Island section), Bermuda returned to the barter system with tobacco serving as the standard currency. During the 18th century, the tobacco standard was supplemented with Spanish silver and gold, and after 1761 some paper certificates were issued.

    The rationale of this coinage was first uncovered by Mark Sportack. He observed Bermuda had long outgrown St. George's Town and was in desperate need of a new capital. After several years of work they finally chartered the new capital city of Hamilton in 1793 and in anticipation of this event had begun the process of having a coin authorized. Having obtained royal approval for the venture Bermuda hired John Brickwood of London as their agent in talks with Matthew Boulton of Soho Mint in Birmingham concerning the minting of the copper. Discussion began in November of 1792 and continued through May of 1793. On February 1, 1793, George III authorized Boulton to strike not less than £200 sterling in coppers for Bermuda. It seems Boulton was awarded the contract by the summer of 1793 and produced the coins during the next six months with the initial release in Bermuda at the end of April 1794. An act signed by the governor of Bermuda, Henry Hamilton, on April 26, 1794, stated the coppers were to pass at the same rate as English halfpence, that is, twelve coppers to the shilling, and they were to be legal tender up to a limit of eleven coppers in any one purchase.

    The actual mintage has been estimated at from 72,000 to 83,589. However the rarity of these coins has caused several researchers to suggest only 48,000 (that is, £200) of coppers arrived in Bermuda. Chalmers suggested while on route to Bermuda about one third of the total mintage was captured by the French. However Sportack has explained this number is based on what Hamilton stated was the minimum number the King had authorized to be minted and it conflicts with the estimated mintages derived from Boulton's estimated costs. Further, even at 80,000 coppers, the small mintage would easily have been transported on one ship so that if there has been a raid the entire shipment would have been lost. Thus it seems the hypothesis of a loss at sea is probably inaccurate. Whatever quantity of copper reached the island, they were soon exported. The intrinsic value of the coin was more than the face value in relation to the cut Spanish silver, hence the coppers were sought by other West Indies economies. Also, it seems some coins may have been melted for a supply of copper. By 1823 the treasurer of Bermuda reported that no copper coins remained on the island.

    The obverse depicts the bust of George III with the legend "Georgius III D. G. REX" (George III King by the Grace of God) with the engravers name, "Droz. F", for Jean Peter Droz fecit [fecit is latin for "made it"], incuse on the shoulder of the bust. The reverse depicts a ship at sea with an island in the background, the legend "Bermuda" is above and the date 1793 is below. The ship is generally taken to represent the "Sea Adventurer," which was the ship depicted on the "Hogge" shilling; however it is also possible that it is simply a generic ship similar to the one on the Bahama copper.

    The coin is found in two basic varieties, with either a single tip or a split (fork tongue or double tip) pennant flying atop the mast. However Sportack has also identified a single pennant with an extraneous "tag" of metal above the pennant so that it appears to be a split pennant and a "botched" pennant that appears to be single but is actually split under magnification. Sportack has identified eight obverse dies and five reverse dies found in ten combinations. His preliminary census documents 90 extant specimens. There are also some proofs as well as several restrike varieties in gold, silver, copper, aluminum, gilt and pewter with some minor variants and some mules created by the London diesinker W. J. Taylor between 1862 and 1880.

    References

    The most complete analysis of this series is: Mark A. Sportack, Bermuda's Copper of 1793: Revising Pridmore's Classification System," The Colonial Newsletter, vol. 41 (December 2001, serial no. 118) pp. 2255-2283; also see, F. Pridmore, The Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations to the End of the Reign of George VI 1952, Part 3: Bermuda, British Guiana, British Honduras and the West Indies,London: Spink and Son, 1965, pp. 22-25; Robert Chalmers, History of Currency in the British Colonies, London: n.p., 1893, pp. 150-60; Chester Krause and Clifford Mishler, Standard Catalog of World Coins  ed. Colin R. Bruce II, Iola, Wis.: Krause, 1991, vol. 1, p. 271 as KM-5; and Andre Clermont and John Wheeler, Spink's Catalogue of British Colonial and Commonwealth Coins   London: Spink, 1986, p. 89; Ray Byrne, "The British West Indies" in Coinage of the Americas, ed. Theodore V. Buttey, Jr., New York: American Numismatic Society, 1973, pp. 77-79 on Bermuda.

    Latest revision: July 26, 2002


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