Higley Coppers 1737, 1739: Introduction


Samuel Higley (1687-1737) of Simsbury (now East Granby), Connecticut was a Yale graduate who had studied medicine with Samuel Mather and Thomas Hooker. Apparently he also learned metallurgical and mining skills because in 1728 the Connecticut General Court granted Higley exclusive rights for the making of steel in the colony for a period of ten years. That same year Higley purchased 143 acres located about a mile and a half south of an area called Copper Hill, which had been a copper mining center since 1712. Higley discovered copper on his land and soon began mining ore. Apparently little else is known for certain about Higley's association with coining.

Although no documentary evidence exists directly linking Higley to the minting of coins, since colonial times he has been associated with the Connecticut copper tokens first produced in 1737 . Also, it appears Higley had the skill to make steel dies necessary for minting. Apparently, as Samuel Higley's exclusive privilege for making steel was about to expire he decided to get into the business of minting copper coins.

The first coppers bear the date 1737. Of the 1737 coppers four varieties have an obverse with the legend THE VALUE OF THREE PENCE and the roman numeral III in exergue. It is assumed these tokens were the first to be minted for the value assigned to them was far in excess of the value of the copper. In fact, they weighed less than an English halfpenny! Based on the weight of extant specimens, Philip Mossman has calculated three pence to be about ten times the intrinsic value of the copper in the coin, which, after figuring in production costs, brought the minter a 465% profit! The restrike displayed below is modeled on this version of the coin.

Apparently several complaints were made concerning the excessive value of these tokens for during that same year three additional varieties were minted with a new legend - VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE. Interestingly Higley did not completely give in for the coins kept the Roman numeral III in exergue on the obverse as can be seen on the original example displayed below. Very little is know about the minting of these coins. However, as double striking is normal on most varieties it is thought Higley used the older hammer method rather than a screw press in the minting process.

The most recent listing of Higley coppers by Daniel Freidus lists 15 different varieties from 8 obverse and 5 reverse dies. The obverse dies consist of three dies with a deer and the legend THE VALUE OF THREE PENCE (dies 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3) ; there are four dies with a deer and the legend VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE (dies 2, 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3 of which die 2 has VALVE); and one die with a wheel and the legend THE WHEEL GOES ROUND (die 4). The reverse dies consist of one die with three crowned hammers and the legend CONNECTICUT - 1737 (die A); there are two dies that have three crowned hammers and the legend I AM GOOD COPPER - 1737 (dies B.a and B.b); one die has a broadaxe and the legend I CUT MY WAY THROUGH (die C); and a final die with a broadaxe and the legend I CUT MY WAY THROUGH - 1739 (die D).

Freidus lists 15 surviving examples having THE VALUE OF THREE PENCE legend (die 1), of which thirteen are joined with reverse A (as follows: 1.1-A two examples, 1.2-A five examples and 1.3-A six examples) and 2 examples have obverse die 1.2 joined with reverse B.a. There are 47 surviving examples of the VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE; varieties (dies 2 and 3). These are combined as follows: two examples of 2-B.b; eight examples of 3.1-B.a; five examples of 3.2-B.a; two examples of 3.3-B.a; five examples of 3.1-C; eight examples of 3.2-C, four examples of 3.3-C; five examples of 3.2-D and seven examples of 3.3-D. Finally there is one example of THE WHEEL GOES ROUND variety (die 4), this unique obverse is joined with the unique undated reverse C.

Thus, there is one undated coin with a wheel obverse and a broadaxe reverse and twelve specimens bearing a VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE obverse and a 1739 dated broadaxe reverse. These specific coins are problematic because we know Samuel Higley died in May of 1737 during a sea voyage on route to England to deliever a shipment of copper from his mine. If the date on the coins is accurate, Higley certainly could not be responsible for the minting of the 1739 coins. As he died so early in the year it is also likely he may not have personally minted the 1737 copppers. In fact, although we know Samuel Higley was the owner of the operation we do not know who the actual workers may have been. Clearly others besides Higley were involved in the operation. Although no records have been uncovered directly related to the minting of these coppers numismatists have suspected the undated wheel specimen, the dated 1739 coins and probably some of the 1737 examples may be attributed to Samuel's elder brother, John Higley, Jr. However, the only reason to assume he was involved is due to his relation to Samuel. It is known that the Reverend Timothy Woodbridge and William Cradock, Higley's friends, were associated with a petition by John Reed of Boston to obtain a franchise to produce copper coins in Connecticut (discussed in the section on proposals to replace paper currency with coinage). From this evidence, it has been suggested that Woodbridge and Cradock may have played a part in the Higley enterprise. However, all this, including Samuel Higley's role, remains conjecture.

The scarcity of Higley coppers has been attributed to a quote from a goldsmith at the start of the Nineteenth century who mentioned Higley coppers were a reliable source of the pure copper which was required in making gold alloys but that it was very difficult to find them anymore. Freidus has done a metallurgical analysis of the copper in Higley tokens and found them to be quite pure but no better than other coppers of the period, which he states were mostly 98-99% pure copper. Thus, he concluded, "If Higleys were perceived as purer, it may have been a eighteenth-century myth that led to their selective use by goldsmiths, not an eighteenth-century fact." Possibly the legend I AM GOOD COPPER not only helped insure the acceptance of this token but may have also played a role in its destruction.

In 1864 John Bolen of Springfield, Massachusetts made dies of the 1737 VALUE OF THREE PENCE copper and struck forty examples in copper and two in silver. Bolen sold the dies to F. S. Edwards who struck additional examples in nickel and others in brass. Also, the banker and numismatist Alfred Robinson of Hartford, Connecticut used the obverse of the VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE copper on his storecard, the reverse carries his advertisment. According to Robinson's price list published in 1861, he made 20 examples in silver and 150 examples each of: copper, brass, tin, plated and nickel.

References

Breen, pp. 39-40; Crosby, pp. 324-7; Daniel Freidus, "The History and Die Varieties of the Higley Coppers" in The Token: America's Other Money, ed. by Richard G. Doty, Coinage of the Americas Conference, October 29, 1994, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1-17; Michael Hodder, "Known Varieties of the Higley Coppers," The American Numismatic Association Centennial Anthology ed. Carl W.A. Carlson and Michael Hodder (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena, 1991), p. 6 (pp. 1-5 of this same volume include a reprint of an article by Joseph C. Mitchelson, "The Higley Coppers," which appeared in The Numismatist (Dec. 1927), pp. 740-743). See also Russell Rulau, Early American Tokens, 3rd ed. (Iola, WI: Krause, 1991), pp. 14-16 (Conn 1-7) and his Standard Catalog of United States Tokens: 1700-1900   second edition, Iola, WI: Krause, 1997, pp.15-16. On the copies see, Richard D. Kenney, Struck Copies of Early American Coins, rpt. of 1952, NY: Sanford Durst, 1982, Robinson on pp. 3-5 and Bolen on 7 and 9.


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Section Contents The Higley Coppers


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