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  • Voce Populi Copper Coins

    The Voce Populi Coppers of 1760: Introduction


    By 1760 small coppers were scarce in Ireland. No royal Irish farthings had been issued since 1744 and no royal Irish halfpence since 1755. Issues of both denominations were scheduled to be minted in 1760 but apparently they did not arrive in Ireland until 1762. It has been speculated this was partly due to the death of George II in October of 1760. Under these circumstances underweight Voce Populi   farthings and halfpence first appeared in Dublin. Very little is known about the origins of these coins, all of which carry the date 1760. Traditionally they have been attributed to a man named Roche who was a button maker on South King Street in Dublin. It is thought these coppers may have continued to be produced through 1761 using the 1760 dated dies. It is generally assumed their production ceased by 1762 when the regal 1760 coppers finally arrived. It appears both the regal and Voce coppers continued to circulate. Over time these issues were supplemented with regal George III Irish halfpence (produced in 1766, 1769, 1774-1776 and 1781-1782) and many lightweight counterfeit and imitation Irish coppers.

    Zelinka, who has studied the Voce Populi series in detail, came to the conclusion that Nineteenth century numismatists associated them with British evasion coppers and colonial counterfeits of British halfpence (Tory coppers), thus it was assumed they had made their way to the American colonies. Zelinka listed the treatment of the series in several standard guide books but he did not explicity state his opinion on the matter. Recently in a December 23, 1999 e-mail Mr. Zelinka told me, "My thrust in the small article I wrote in 1976 was to voice my belief, along with Mr. Spilman, that there was, and still is, a mystery about the use of these coppers in America." Indeed, Mr. Zelinka is certainly correct on this point (also his article, with descriptions of all varieties, is far more than a "small" work). In his article Zelinka quoted Kenneth Bressett as stating there was no numismatic evidence that the Voce coppers were produced for use in Colonial America, although Bressett did suspect some Voce coppers circulated in America, but no more that any other contemporary foreign coppers. It is now thought some of these coins may have ended up in the colonies, but there is no reason to assume they regularly circulated in America. Recently, Mossman has confirmed Bressett's statement documenting just three examples of Voce coppers known to have been discovered in the ground in areas of America that had been settled by the Confederation era (i.e. non collector accumulations). Of these, one example is rumored to have been from the shipwreck of the Faithful Steward (discussed near the end of the British Counterfeit Coppers Introduction) another example was unearthed in upper State New York and a third was uncovered on a plantation in Port Deposit, Maryland. Thus, a few examples do seem to have circulated in Early America, however they appear to have no specific connection to colonial America. They are included here because most colonial numismatists collect the series and some of these coins may have circulated in the colonies.

    The obverse displays a male bust wearing a laurel wreath (personification of the people) with the motto Voce populi   (By the voice of the people). The obverse shows the seated figure of Hibernia with a harp and the legend "Hibernia" above, the date in exergue. Several varieties are most easily distinguished by the different punctuation or designs that accompanies the legends. All the coins are composed of copper and are dated 1760. Some halfpence have the letter 'P' on the obverse. The meaning of this has not been explained. Zelinka lists 16 obverse dies and 11 reverse dies that are found in 16 combinations. He has also listed five different border designs. The several varieties suggest the possibility that there may have been more than one mint or individual producing these pieces.

    References

    Jerry Zelinka, "The Enigmatic Voce Populi Halfpenny of 1760," The Colonial Newsletter 15 (October 1976, serial no. 47), 556-65, discusses the coin as well as describing and illustrating 16 different die combinations. Also see Philip Nelson, The Coinage of Ireland in Copper, Tin and Pewter  (Liverpool, 1904 and 1905, reprinted: London: Spink, 1959), Dowle and Finn, The Guide Book to the Coinage of Ireland, 1969; Peter Seaby, Coins and Tokens of Ireland, Seaby's Standard Catalogue, Part 3, London: B.A. Seaby, 1970, pp. 143-144 and 81-83; and Philip Mossman, "The Circulation of Irish Coinage in Pre-Federal America," The Colonial Newsletter, vol. 39, no. 1 (April, 1999, serial no. 110) 1899-1917, on p. 1914 and figure 10 on p. 1915.


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