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  • Talbot, Allum and Lee Cents

    Talbot, Allum, and Lee Tokens 1794-1795: Introduction

    In 1794 William Talbot, William Allum, and James Lee, joined into a partnership to open an East India trading company located at 241 Water Street in New York City. At that time they commissioned Peter Kempson's mint in Birmingham, England to produce at least two tons of copper tokens for the firm. These tokens, probably designed by Thomas Wyon, bear the dates 1794 and 1795 and were designated as cents with an average weight just about the same as a regal British halfpenny.

    The obverse of the token depicts the standing figure of Liberty (following the French style with her right breast exposed). In her right hand she holds a staff with a liberty cap on top while behind her is a large parcel; around the rim is the legend "LIBERTY & COMMERCE" with the date in exergue. On the edge is written, "PAYABLE AT THE STORE OF" which is continued on the reverse with the legends "TALBOT, ALLUM & LEE / NEW YORK" and below "ONE CENT." [a few early issues exclude "NEW YORK"]. The main image on the reverse depicts a merchant ship at sea.

    This was the first American merchant token produced on a large scale. In fact, so many were produced, the company had more than they could accommodate. On April 23, 1795, William Talbot sold the Philadelphia mint 1,076 pounds of the tokens (about 52,000), mostly the 1795 variety. The mint, desperatly seeking copper stock, used these tokens as planchets for the 1795 half cents variety without poles (which were actually minted in the spring of 1796). In 1796 Lee retired, and soon thereafter the firm dissolved. On December 10, 1796, the Philadelphia mint purchased all of the remaining stock of these tokens (1,914 pounds) from Mr. Talbot and used them as planchets for 1797 half cents.

    There are two basic varieties of Talbot, Allum, and Lee cent tokens with several minor variations. For 1794 the basic variety has the legend with "NEW YORK" as mentioned above. The variations include the first few examples minted which inadvertently were issued without "NEW YORK" on the reverse legend. There are also a few 1794 tokens with the usual obverse and reverse but with a plain edge rather than the standard lettered edge. Both the standard issue and the plain edge varieties are found in thick and thin planchet versions. There are also three examples of the standard issue in silver rather than the usual copper. There are also a two very minor varieties: one is like the regular issue but has a smaller "&" sign and the normal edge legend but using a different style of lettering, the other has a plain edge and a larger than normal "&" sign. The basic 1795 issue has a revised inscription on the edge, "WE PROMISE TO PAY THE BEARER ONE CENT" and a modified legend on the reverse that continued the edge message, "AT THE STORE OF TALBOT, ALLUM & LEE, NEW YORK." As with the previous year issue this comes in thick and thin planchet versions. Very rare minor varieties include two known examples with a plain edge, a unique example with an olive leaf edge, a unique example with, "CURRENT EVERYWHERE" on the edge and another unique example with, "CAMBRIDGE BEDFORD HUNTINGTON. X.X" on the edge. There were also several mules made by Kempson joining both the Liberty and Commerce obverses with various English token reverses; illustrated listings for the four basic 1794 mule varieties and two basic 1795 mule varieties (all with minor variations) are found in Breen (items 1040-1054) and Rulau (Rulau-E NY 883 - NY 888C).


    See: Breen, pp. 102-104; Russell Rulau, Early American Tokens 3rd ed., Iola, WI: Krause, 1991, pp. 47-48; and Russell Rulau, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900  second edition, Iola,WI: Krause, 1997, pp. 41-42); Melvin and George Fuld, "The Talbot, Allum and Lee Cents," in Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine vol. 32, no. 9 (September 1956, whole no. 247) 1474-1482; also interesting is Q. David Bowers, American Coin Treasures and Hoards and Caches of Other American Numismatic Items   Wolfboro, N.H.: Bowers and Merena, 1997, pp. 23-25 (although without explanation he calls the figure on the obverse the "goddess of Commerce")

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