Unattributed Imitation British Halfpence: Introduction

Other than the imitation halfpence attributable to Atlee, Bailey or Machin's Mills there are no other halfpence that can be shown to be punched linked to a known American coinmaker. However several other individuals participated in the business of producing "Tory" coppers. From contemporary records we know of several accounts concerning counterfeit halfpence. In September of 1783, William Tricket and Samuel Cryndal of Philadelphia were convicted of counterfeiting three hundred British halfpence. The Providence Gazette and Country Journal of April 17, 1784, stated that considerable quantities of counterfeit British halfpence made of base metal had entered the state from Massachusetts, where they were openly manufactured. Possibly related to this event was the arrest of Benjamin Eastbrook of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, on February 7, 1786, for passing "mixed metal" counterfeit British halfpence (the area of North Swansea and Rehoboth in Massachusetts, also known as Barneyville or Bungtown, had a long history of counterfeiting currency and coins). Unfortunately, although there are some contemporary accounts of halfpence counterfeiters, we are unable to attribute specific coins to these operations.

Cast Imitation Halfpence

Breen and Mossman believe the Rehoboth mixed metal coppers refer to halfpence cast in sand molds. Recently Smith and Mossman have explained the methods of creating sand cast coins and have examined examples of many counterfeit Confederation era cast coins including the: Nova Constellatio, Nova Eborac, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey coppers, as well as a number of cast British halfpence, primarily, George II and George III and some George III Irish halfpence. Clearly the Confederation cast counterfeits were made in America but it is difficult to determine if the cast halfpence were produced in America or if they were made in the British Isles. For additional information on cast coppers and a discussion of the two basic casting methods see the section on Cast Counterfeit Coppers.

Newman has suggested any cast copy of a 1749 British halfpenny may be American in origin as over 800,000 regal 1749 halfpence had been shipped to Massachusetts in September of 1749 as partial payment for the colonists assistance with the expedition against Fort Louisbourg, for further details see the discussion under coppers in the American colonies in the British regal coppers section. Beyond this suggestion, determining an American origin for a cast halfpenny is a difficult task. For example, the Philadelphia Highway Hoard of 1975 contained a large quantity of cast William III halfpence but it cannot be determined if they were made locally or imported. It is usually thought the William III cast counterfeits were imported as there was a large market in cast William III halfpence in England during the reign of George I.

John Kleeberg has written on the reconstruction of the Montclair, New Jersey copper hoard, thought to have been buried in the 1790's, which contains a few cast halfpence that may be of American manufacture. In the hoard Kleeberg discovered two examples of 1726 George I cast halfpence (ANS 1975.117.14, which is Kleeberg's entry 32 and ANS 1975.117.13, his entry 33). As both examples display a large cud behind George's head Kleeberg suspects the same coin was used to create both molds; he further believes their presence in the hoard suggests they were made in America. The only other cast British halfpenny in the hoard is dated 1749 (ANS 1975.117.15, Kleeberg entry 34). Kleeberg states that the 1749 cast halfpenny confirms Newman's suggestion of the American origin of cast halfpence of that date. We have included an example of a 1749 cast counterfeit from the Notre Dame collection in this section.

Struck Imitation Halfpence

Significant quantities of struck counterfeit British and Irish halfpence were imported to America and freely circulated through the country. However, it is difficult to prove if any of these counterfeit items were actually produced in America. Those counterfeit halfpence that have been related by punch link evidence to know American minters have already been discussed in the New York and Machin's Mills sections.

Until the Twentieth century American collectors paid little attention to counterfeit halfpence. In fact, counterfeit British halfpence were first introduced to the American numismatic community by the German coin dealer S.K. Hazfeld in 1877, who incorrectly thought British evasion halfpence were a significant part of the counterfeit halfpence used in Confederation era America. This opinion was supported by Edward Maris who misinterpreted a period document, which he thought referred to evasion coppers in Philadelphia. As explained more fully explained at the end of the Counterfeit British coppers section, the evasion coppers theory has now been discarded.

However, since about the mid Twentieth century several colonial copper collectors have branched out into the area of counterfeit British halfpence and have accumulated collections containing thousands of these coins. Some of these coppers travelled from Britain and Ireland to Canada where they circulated during the Nineteenth century, later making their way into colonial American coin collections. Further, several American colonial collectors have made trips to Britain to purchase large quantities of these counterfeit halfpence, which they then brought back to America. As the situation now stands it is difficult to determine which British counterfeits may have actually circulated in Confederation era America, as a substantial number of counterfeit coppers in American collections clearly were brought to the country in recent times from non U.S. locations. Further, it is even more difficult to determine if any of the unattributed counterfeit coppers that are known to have been in circulation in America during the Confederation period were actually made in America.

Historically, it has been thought that halfpence that were cruder and more poorly made were American products while the better examples came from Britain. In an extensive listing of all type of British and Irish counterfeit halfpence, Anton and Kesse used this stylistic principle as the bases for their attribution. In their monograph they assigned catalog numbers 9, 10, 51, 59, 60, 80, 93 and 103 to America with item 15 listed as "probably American." and item 134 listed as "possibly of American manufacture." In 1994 Byron Weston published an article illustrating a worn counterfeit George III halfpence that he had purchased in England. His counterfeit had the same unusual shield as Anton number 15 (the shield had a flat rather than an oval top). Quite probably Weston's coin is another example of the same variety as Anton 15. Since Weston had acquired the coin in England he supposed the coin had originally been produced there. Weston went on to announce one of the foremost Confederation copper specialists, Mike Ringo, believed the coin was punch and die linked to several varieties of Evasion coppers. This would certainly clinch the argument for an English origin as it is currently thought all evasion coppers were produced in the British Isles. In a CNL article of 2009 Weston illustrates a British evasion copper (Atkins 95) and a very crude British halfpenny with a later die state of the same reverse die, demonstrating that this crude halfpenny was closely associated with an evasion copper and thus must have been produced in England. Weston has suggested the long held assumption of American manufacture based solely on the crudeness of style is unfounded. It is likely few colonial numismatic researchers will now base an American attribution solely on the crudeness of the style.

Further, in 1958 Eric Newman had suggested British halfpence in which the Union Jack on Britannia's shield was incorrectly made with thick broad bands could be considered to be American in origin. The Union Jack consists of the English cross of St. George (a +) superimposed on top of the Scottish cross of St. Andrew (an X). The X represents the X shaped frame to which Andrew was strapped when he was martyred. On most coppers the Union Jack is made of bands that have fine lines (called fillets) at each edge. These fillets are missing on Atlee related halfpence and on Vermont coppers with a Britannia reverse. Because of the American provenance of these items this modification was considered an indication of American manufacture. In fact, Vlack 10-77A (Breen no. 1009), a 1777 George III halfpenny, was added to the Vlack list as an American product because it had the broad bands on the shield. The problem with this coin is that it was one of the few Vlack halfpence that cannot be punch linked to a known American mint. Walter Breen, in discussing this coin in his Encyclopedia stated "Provenance uncertain, though conceded to be American." Again, Weston stated there was no evidence for assuming this modification to the shield was distinctly American. He pointed out that Anton and Kesse had illustrated another halfpenny variety with a solid cross (Anton 134, a 1771 George III) which the authors had suggested was possibly American. Weston suggested the origin of these two coppers should be listed an anonymous. Currently there is no consensus on this point or on the classification of the two halfpence. In an e-mail of June 12, 1998 Richard Thies mentioned to me he had compared his example of Anton 134 with an example of a 1731 counterfeit British halfpenny listed as Anton 50. His research indicates Anton 50 and Anton 134 share the same A, E, O, R, and X punches; the E, R and X punches, in particular, being quite eccentric. Thies states this linkage must remain tentative until confirmed by an overlay comparison. Further, the styles of the figures on the two coppers are quite different leading Thies to speculate Anton 50 and 134 may have been produced by different people, but using the same letter punches, or, they may have been produced from two identical sets of punches purchased from the same dealer by different individuals. In either event this punch evidence suggests the solid cross variety Anton 134 may be of British origin. On Vlack 10-77A Kleeberg has recently stated the pointed nose on the bust appears similar to Bailey and Brasher products while the double chin is closer to the Machin's Mills style but he does not go further in classifying the coin.

We are left with only a few tests to assist in suggesting American manufacture for British halfpence that cannot be punch linked to other coins. Some coins may be die linked, as a unique 1786 imitation halfpenny, listed as Vlack 16-86A, now in the Brown University Library (illustrated in Breen, no. 975). The attribution of the Brown University copper is based on the fact this reverse is also paired with an obverse of a 1786 counterfeit Connecticut copper (Vlack CT-86A and Breen no. 762). However, some have questioned the American origin of this halfpenny as two somewhat similar halfpence dated 1781 and 1785 are now thought to be of British manufacture.

Another suggestion put forward by Mossman is that any British halfpenny overstruck as an Irish halfpenny is probably an American overstrike. This is because regal Irish halfpence weighed less than regal British halfpence and so had a lower value in Britain, but these two coppers traded at the same rate in America. Therefore an Irish overstrike on a British copper would only make economic sense if it was an American product. [Coins would be overstruck when a minter could get a deep discount on a quantity of coppers that were considered to be unusable, usually because they were too light in weight, too poorly made or otherwise not acceptable for circulation. The minter would then take these discounted coins and then simply restamp them right over the old image with a different image and circulate them at face value.] Examples of two different varieties of British halfpence overstamped as Irish halfpence were part of the reconstructed Montclair, New Jersey (1922) hoard now in the American Numismatic Society collection, discussed by John Kleeberg (ANS 1975.117.40 and 1975.117.45, both cataloged and illustrated in Kleeberg as items 29 and 30).

A further possible indication of American origin is evidence of a copper in a contemporary American hoard. Of course this alone does not prove American manufacture, as the coin might represent an import that circulated in America. It does, however, show the coin was known and used during the period and is not simple a later import brought to America by Twentieth century numismatists as part of a purchase of British coppers. That a specific British halfpenny can be located to America during the Confederation period suggests the possibility the coin may have an American origin. This is a much firmer base from which to start an investigation than simply stylistic evidence.

In this area John Kleeberg has recently made a major discovery in reconstructing the hoard of coppers buried in the 1790's on the property of a mansion that had earlier served as one of General Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. The hoard, first uncovered in 1922, is known as the Montclair, New Jersey (1922) hoard. It was acquired by Henry Grünthal many decades ago from Harry Prescot Clark Beach, in 1975 Grünthal donated the hoard to the American Numismatic Society. Most of the 33 counterfeit British halfpence in the hoard are Vlack numbered coppers attributed to Atlee, Bailey or Machin's Mills, including two examples of the newly discovered Vlack 24-72C (attributed to Atlee in NYC). The cast and overstamped halfpence have already been mentioned. In addition, the hoard contained a 1752 George II counterfeit that Kleeberg suggests is of American origin (ANS 1975.117.16, cataloged and illustrated as no. 28 in his article). The most interesting find however, is an example of a Vlack 14-84A halfpenny. This is a struck halfpenny long thought to be American but unattributed. Newman suggested it might be from North Swansea, Massachusetts. Weston pointed out examples of this copper are now in both Britain and America so without further evidence it should be considered to be of anonymous origin. On this point Kleeberg mentioned that the presents of a Vlack 14-84A in the Montclair hoard:

Confirms its American origin, which has long been suspected... Yet another argument for its American circulation and its American origin is its occurrence in old collections. Just as we find numerous 1749 halfpence in old collections, so we find this piece. In addition to the two pieces in the ANS collection, for example, I came across one in November 1994 in the numismatic collection of the University Libraries of Notre Dame.
Here Kleeberg is referring to the coin illustrated on the following page which was donated to the University in 1887 as part of a large collection. That collection also included a 1749 halfpenny, which is listed on our British Halfpence page (and a cast counterfeit of the 1749 halfpenny listed in this section).

The Monclair hoard has confirmed Vlack 14-84A did circulate in Confederation era America. Beyond the evidence of this single find, Kleeberg has suggested in the above quote that its American circulation can also be surmised because examples can be found in older American collections. By this statement on “older collections” he is referring to coins with an American provenance that date back to a period before the wholesale importation of British coppers into America by modern numismatists. However, Bryon Weston has recently stated that Kleeberg’s hoard discovery proves the coin did circulate in Confederation era America but does not prove that it was produced in America.

In 2009, Weston reconsidered the Vlack 14-84A halfpenny. He traced the past theories about the origin of this variety and explained that additional specimens have been uncovered in America by metal detectorists in recent years, illustrating one specimen recovered in southern New Jersey in 2001. Thus, it is clear the variety did circulate in America. However, Weston also explained that there is anecdotal evidence that a number of Vlack 14-84A specimens now in American collections had been acquired from England. Thus, suggesting the coin was both in England and in America during the eighteenth century. Weston also suspects one specimen of Vlack 14-84A can be assigned to the wreck of the Faithful Steward, which sunk off the Delaware coast in 1785 while making its way to America from Londonderry, Ireland. Further, Weston shows some letter punch similarities that suggest the same punches used on the Vlack 14-84A were also used on another crude counterfeit copper. From these observations Weston suggests the variety was produced in either England or Ireland and that some samples made their way to America, where the circulated during the later Confederation period.

As mentioned at the start of this section, contemporary newspaper reports confirm such halfpence existed, but proof of American origin will be a long and tedious process requiring detailed studies of the relationships between virtually all varieties of counterfeit and imitation halfpence from the period. In this section I have included two struck and one cast imitation halfpence. The struck examples include a Vlack 14-84A, sometimes considered to be American, but now that attribution is questionable. I have also included a halfpenny considered to be of American manufacture by Anton and Kesse based on its crude style (Anton 60). The American origin of this coin is clearly subjective and highly questionable. It is included as an example of the type of halfpenny that has been considered as possibly American. The cast example is a 1749 halfpenny which, as explained above, is usually considered to be of American manufacture.

Revised October 2009


On this topic see: Eric Newman, "American Circulation of English and Bungtown Halfpence," in Studies on Money in Early America ed. By Eric Newman and Richard Doty, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1976, pp. 134-172; Eric Newman, "A Recently Discovered Coin Solves a Vermont Enigma," Centennial Publications of the American Numismatic Society, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1958, pp. 531-542; John M. Kleeberg, "Reconstructing the Beach-Grünthal Hoard of Counterfeit Halfpence: The Montclair, New Jersey (1922) Hoard" The American Journal of Numismatics second series, vols. 7-8 (1995-1996) 187-208 and plates 24-27; Breen, 89-90 and 99; William Anton, Jr. and Bruce Kesse, The Forgotten Coins of the North American Colonies Iola, WI: Krause, 1992; Norman Peters, "Machin's Mills Halfpence: America's Forgotten Early Coppers," The Numismatist (1986) 1803-1814; Byron Weston, "Evasion Hybrids: A Commentary on Counterfeit Halfpence and Farthings," The Colonial Newsletter 34 (November 1994, serial no. 98) 1465-1468 with comments by J.C.Spilman following the article on the final page; Byron Weston, "More on Vlack 14-84A" The C4 Newsletter, A quarterly publication of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring, 1998) 14-16; and Byron K. Weston, “Batty 3826: Vlack 14-84A Reconsidered,” The Colonial Newsletter, vol. 49, no. 2 (August, 2009) serial no. 140, pp. 3413-32.

The first detailed examination of these coins, by Robert Vlack, did not include a descriptive text but rather consisted of two photographs, depicting each variety of obverse and reverse known to occur on American counterfeit halfpence. Although better photographs are now available for many (but not all) of the items, his numbering system is still the standard. These two pioneering 1974 photographic plates are entitled: Early English Copper Halfpence Struck in America. Unfortunately they are difficult to obtain as they are not usually cataloged in libraries. Even when I requested a loan of the two photos from the ANA Library the librarian could not locate them and sent me Vlack's 1965 book instead! Ron Guth of Early American Numismatic Auctions, Inc. has supplied me with a copy of the plates which I have included here for those who do not have ready access to them. To view the plates simply click on Vlack 1 (including Vlack 1-11), full view (657K); top half (238K); or bottom half (240K) or Vlack 2 (including Vlack 12-23), full view (657K); top half (250K); or bottom half (250K).

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