In May of 1783, a month after the ending of the Revolutionary War, Captain Thomas Machin was permitted to settle on some land by Great Pond (today called Orange Lake) five miles northwest of Newburgh, New York. The property was owned by Machin's close friend, the governor of the state, George Clinton. Machin built a house on a scenic but marshy area near the point where Chamber's Creek entered the pond. By the following spring he found it necessary to constructed a canal to prevent seasonal flooding. To get the full benefit out of his canal Machin then constructed both a saw mill and a grist mill at the end of the canal nearest the lake. His son later described the mills as consisting of a two story wooden structure thirty feet wide by forty feet long [In 1989 Anton and Kesse (pp. 51-52) measured the surviving foundation wall and found the remains of the structure were fifteen feet wide and of undeterminable length].
In 1787 the legislature of the State of New York announced it was going to award a state coinage franchise and was accepting proposals for consideration. Similar franchises had already been awarded by the neighboring states of Connecticut and New Jersey and the Republic of Vermont. Thomas Machin thought this presented a good opportunity for him. Although he knew nothing of coining he suspected he could make a healthy profit by converting his under used mills into a mint. Machin clearly believed he had a good chance at obtaining the New York franchise as he was a personal friend of the governor and was also acquainted with a junior New York Assemblyman named David Brooks. Brooks was a member of the state monetary committee and served on the panel reviewing the petitions of those who applied for the minting franchise; he was also one of three assemblymen charged with writing a bill to establish copper coinage in the state. With these connections Machin decided to petitioned the New York state legislature for the franchise to produce copper coins and on March 3, 1787 his petition was brought before the committee.
Machin realized he would have competition. The first recorded petition to the New York legislature for the privilege of coining was submitted by James Atlee on February 2, 1787. On February 11th petitions were filed by the New York City goldsmiths John Bailey and Ephraim Brasher. The wording used in the recording of the Bailey and Brasher petitions is ambiguous. Numismatists have usually interpreted the statement as referring to joint petitions, but Hodder has explained it is not known if Bailey and Brasher filed several joint petitions or if they individually filed petitions on the same day. The record for February 12, 1787 states: "The several petitions of John Bailey and Ephraim Brasher, relative to the Coinage of Copper within this State, were read, and referred to Mr. Brooks, Mr. Galatian, and Mr. Duboys." Soon thereafter, on February 16th, a petition was filed by the New York City silversmith partnership of Daniel Van Voorhis and William Coley, who at that time were making dies for the Vermont mint. These were Machin's competitors when he submitted his petition on March 3rd.
It is thought in conjunction with his petition Thomas Machin ordered three pattern or experimental coins that could be presented to the legislature as samples of the work he could produce. As these were experimental issues only a few examples were struck. Today all three of Machin's patterns are quite rare with less than a dozen surviving examples of each variety. One pattern was a copper with an obverse bearing a portrait of Machin's friend Governor George Clinton and a reverse depicting the seal of the state of New York, below was the date 1787 followed by state motto, EXCELSIOR (Higher). Massachusetts was already using their state seal on coppers and in New York the state seal had appeared on several issues of paper currency. In fact, the EXCELSIOR seal was used on the currency issue of 1786, which was still in circulation at the time of the petition. Interestingly, the figures of Liberty and Justice were transposed so the eagle had to face to the right in order to be viewing Liberty. On the currency and in other representations of the seal the eagle faces left, which is the correct location for Liberty. In case the governor's bust was not to the liking of the legislature other designs were also submitted. Another coin had a obverse depicting a standing Indian wielding a tomahawk and a bow with the legend, LIBER NATUS LIBERTATEM DEFENDO (Born free I defend freedom) combined with the state seal reverse. A third variety had the standing Indian obverse combined with a reverse showing an eagle with spread wings on a half globe (based on the top portion of the state seal) with the legend NEO EBORACUS 1787 (New York 1787) and below EXCELSIOR. These would compete against the three patterns that had been submitted by Bailey, which were all variations on the state seal obverse and the eagle reverse.
All three varieties have been assigned to the same diemaker as the coins are interrelated. The state arms reverse is shared by Clinton and a Liber Natus variety, while the third variety uses the Liber Natus obverse with a different reverse. Since the Liber Natus exhibited a broken A in the legend it was assigned to James Atlee as it had been thought he owned a unique letter punch with a broken A. Recently this theory has been seriously questioned (see the section on James Falconer Atlee and Confederation Era Coppers) so that the attribution of these dies must be considered undetermined. At a later date, it seem the Liber Natus obverse die was used at Machin's Mills. Three examples exist of a Machin's Mills product muling an imitation George III obverse with the Standing Indian Liber Natus as the reverse.
In 1869 John Bolen made new dies closely imitating the originals and struck forty copies of each of the three coins, examples of his Clinton copper and the Standing Indian (or "Liber Natus") with the state arms reverse are shown on the following page.
For further information and bibliographic citations see the section on Machin's Mills imitation halfpence.
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