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  • Washington Ship Halfpenny

    The 1791 Backdated Washington Liverpool Halfpenny (1793): Introduction

    The Washington Liverpool Halfpenny (Baker 17, Fuld WA.1791.3) is a backdated copper that was made by combining the obverse of the Washington Large Eagle Cent with a reverse from a common British provincial token, the Liverpool Halfpenny. Provincial tokens, sometimes called Conder tokens, were produced for local use by the Birmingham mints. It was common practice for these mints to supplement their income by producing a limited numbers of unusual mules (combinations of unrelated obverses and reverses) to be sold at a premium to coin collectors. The Washington Liverpool Halfpenny, which exists in only about 25 examples, was probably made at the Westwood mint in Birmingham, where the Washington Large Eagle Cents had been produced in 1791. Interestingly, almost all examples of the Washington Liverpool Halfpenny show some wear, suggesting they were in circulation rather than in collector cabinets. Possibly these items were produced for the collector market but never sold and were therefore put into circulation as a halfpenny. The Washington Liverpool Halfpenny token did not circulate in America, almost all examples currently in American collections seem to have been imported from England since the 1860's.

    This token uses the same obverse die as was used for the Washington Large Eagle Cent (Baker 15), consisting of a bust left of Washington in military dress with the legend WASHINGTON PRESIDENT and the date 1791 below. The planchet used for the Washington Liverpool Halfpenny was somewhat smaller than the die, so the top of the letters in the legend are either missing or very close to the edge. Also, Breen has noted the die was cracked and rusted when it was used for the Washington Liverpool Halfpence as all surviving examples exhibit cracks and rust spots on the obverse.

    The reverse of the Washington Liverpool Halfpenny depicts a ship at sea with crossed oak branches below and the legend LIVERPOOL HALFPENNY; on the edge is stamped: PAYABLE IN ANGLESEY, LONDON OR LIVERPOOL · X · This reverse was a familiar image in English provincial coinage. It was the standard obverse design for the Liverpool halfpenny, which was combined with a reverse depicting the shield and motto of the city as well as the date. Between 1791 and 1794 large quantities of these Liverpool tokens were produced and put into circulation; Dalton and Hamer lists 60 different varieties (Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool 60-110). Additionally, there were at least nine mules which combined the various Liverpool Halfpenny obverse dies with unusual reverses (Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool 111-119).

    The specific Liverpool die muled with the Washington obverse can be easily distinguished as is the only Liverpool die to have oak rather than laurel branches under the ship; additionally it has a unique die break at the top of the mast. This die had been used for the production of 1793 dated Liverpool halfpenny (Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool 107). Apparently, either during or soon after the minting of the halfpenny, the die was used to create some special mules. In addition to the Washington Large Eagle mule this die was also combined with two undated provincial token obverses, the Bishop Blaise obverse (Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool 115) and the Earl Howe obverse (Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool 117).

    Clearly the 1791 date on the obverse of the Washington Liverpool copper refers to the date of the original use of the obverse die, for the Washington Large Eagle Cent and not to the date of the Liverpool mules. This reuse of the Washington die in combination with the oak branch Liverpool reverse most probably dates to 1793 or soon thereafter and therefore is a backdated variety.

    A unique Washington Liverpool halfpenny in white metal survives (Baker 17A, Fuld WA.1791.P11), which is considered to be a test sample from trial dies. Interestingly, this coin was made with a different reverse die than was used for the copper examples. It is easily distinguished as it contains laurel rather than oak branches. This reverse die was also used for the production of four standard issue Liverpool halfpence, Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool, 88-89 (which are dated 1791) and (Dalton and Hamer, Lancashire, Liverpool, 100-102, (which are dated 1792). This test sample could have been produced while the die was still used in production or at a later date, after the die was retired. It may be a test sample produced in 1793 but it could also be a later strike made after the Baker 17 oak branch variety. Unfortunately the illustration for this item in the Rulau Fuld revision of Baker is incorrect, the correct illustration is in Fuld's, "Coinage Featuring George Washington" essay.


    See: R. Dalton and S.H. Hamer, The Provincial Token-Coinage of the 18th Century, 1910-1918, reprint, Cold Spring, MN: Allan Davisson, 1990, pp. 72-81 with the Washington mule listed as Lancashire, Liverpool, 116; Alexander, p. 86; Breen, p. 138; the revision of W.S. Baker's 1885 catalog by Russell Rulau and George Fuld, Medallic Portraits of Washington ,  Iola, WI: Krause, 1985, p. 31 and George Fuld, "Coinage Featuring George Washington,"in Coinage of the Confederation Period,  ed. by Philip L. Mossman, Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings No. 11, held at the American Numismatic Society, October 28, 1995, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1996, pp. 165-259 on pp. 182-183.

    We currently have no example of the Washington Liverpool Halfpenny. The arrow below will go to a related coin, the Washington Ship Halfpenny.

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    Section Contents The Washington Ship Halfpenny

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