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  • NYC Imitation British Halfpence - Coins

    Imitation British Halfpence Associated with New York City - Introduction

    This is the first of three sections concerned with imitation British halfpence produced in America. It treats those coppers generally attributed to mints located in New York City.

    Recent studies on imitation British halfpence

    As the study of imitation halfpence is a rapidly emerging area in colonial numismatics I am including a few words on recent discoveries and advances in the field. The first significant modern study of imitation halfpence dates to 1974 when Robert Vlack published two photographs depicting all the struck (as opposed to cast) "counterfeit" British halfpence considered to have originated in America. These two plates illustrated all of the then known obverse and reverse combinations. In all he included 24 obverses, numbered from 1-23 (with a 21-I and a 21-II), and 26 reverses. The reverses were designated by the final two numerals of the date used on the coin, followed by a letter to distinguish different dies using the same year (as 72A, 72B and 72C for three 1772 reverses). Both plates can be viewed from a link at the end of the bibliography on the bottom of this page. In the September 1986 issue of The Numismatist Norman Peters added written comments to the Vlack listing, describing the attributes of the individual obverse and reverse varieties and associating all varieties, except Vlack 14 and 16, with Machin's Mills, which was known to be the center for the minting of imitation halfpence.

    In The Colonial Newsletter of March 1987 Gary Trudgen published the first comprehensive analysis of the Vlack varieties. Rather than assigning all of the Vlack numbered halfpence to a single location, Trudgen viewed these items (excluding Vlack 10, 14 and 16) as the work of a single diemaker, namely James Atlee. At the time it was thought Atlee had worked at various locations including Machin's Mills. Trudgen then looked for punch linked evidence, namely the use of a specific letter punch on several different varieties. Based on this letter punch evidence he was able to divide the Vlack varieties into four different groups. He then tried to find other American made confederation era coins (legal and counterfeit state coppers, patterns, etc.) that were related to these groups and could be used to assist in dating and locating the time and place of production for each of the groupings.

    His first group was associated with counterfeit Connecticut coppers dated 1786, suggesting the dies for these counterfeit halfpence may have been produced in 1786. His second group of halfpence appeared to have been produced using letter and number punches that had also been used by the John Bailey and Ephraim Brasher, but with a bust characteristic of Atlee . The third group appeared to be from dies cut by Atlee after joining the Machin's Mills operation and thus were considered to be the Machin's Mills imitation halfpence. The final group were miscellaneous NY and VT mules. From this analysis it appeared some of the dies, if not the coins themselves, predated the Machin's Mills operation.

    Subsequent work has narrowed the categories to three groups, which have been widely used and are currently included in such standard works as R.S. Yeoman's annual publication A Guide Book of United States Coins. "Group one imitation halfpence" are those halfpence that have been assigned to James Atlee before he joined the Machin's Mills operation. "Group two halfpence" are those imitation halfpence now attributed to John Bailey in conjunction with Ephraim Brasher in New York City. "Group three halfpence" refers to the imitation halfpence produced at Machin's Mills.

    Recently the situation has become more complicated. Over the past century numismatists have attributed several dies to James Atlee because it was thought he used a unique punch for the letter A in which the right ascender was broken and did not meet at the top of the letter. Therefore, any die that had a "broken A" in its legend was attributed to him. In 1991 Michael Hodder demonstrated that although the broken A's on several coin varieties look similar to the naked eye, under photographic magnification one notices numerous differences in the position and shape of the break. This led him to speculate there was probably more than one broken A punch, suggesting there was a defect in a matrix used to create A punches. This implied a need to rethink the entire problem, for some coins attributed to James Atlee because of the broken A may have been made by other diemakers who also owned a broken A punch. In 1990 Hodder has also suggested that Atlee may not have been exclusively a die cutter at Machin's Mills. Hodder speculated Atlee may have also worked near the open hearths since there is a story about him wearing a protective mask. This has led some to question if Atlee was a die maker at all. In 1996 Lorenzo confirmed Hodder's work on the diversity of broken A punches and has shown letter punch evidence may not be sufficient to link coins to a single individual. For more on these questions see the section on James Falconer Atlee.

    Realizing the many problems associated with identifying the makers of surreptitiously produced illegal imitation British coppers I have decided to categorize imitation British halfpence currently associated with New York City separately from those items we know to have been produced at Machin's Mills, which was located at the other end of the state in Newburgh, New York. This section discusses those items generally referred to as group one and group two imitation halfpence. Group one coins are here associated with James Atlee while group two coins (of which we currently have no examples) are associated with John Bailey and Ephraim Brasher.

    James Atlee associated halfpence (Group I)

    When examining Robert Vlack's listing of imitation British halfpence Trudgen noticed the same letter and number punches were used on some varieties of these of halfpence; he especially mentioned the letter S an being notably distinct. "It has a larger lower serif that points directly to its midsection. The midsection also bulges downward toward the lower serif." (Colonial Newsletter, p. 966). Through such letter punch evidence he was able to associate a number of varieties as a unified group.

    Trudgen placed these related halfpence into two subgrouping and suggested an emission sequence. The main group was given the following emission sequence: Vlack 3-71B, 3-74A, 7-74A, 7-72B, 8-74A, 4-75A, 4-71C, 6-76A, 6-72A, 5-72A and 24-72C; while the smaller subgroup consisting of Vlack 2-71A followed by 9-76B. Since Trudgen's article Frank Stemple has identified another variety designated as Vlack 4-71D. Trudgen felt Vlack 2-71A was linked to both Vlack 3-71B, which is the halfpenny at the start of the longer grouping, and was also related to a group of counterfeit 1786 Connecticut coppers traditionally attributed to Atlee (he mentioned 1786 Miller 3-D.1). Although this associated group of imitation halfpence carried dates from between 1771 and 1776 Trudgen felt their link to the counterfeit 1786 Connecticut coppers allowed him to assume the imitation halfpence had been produced in 1786 and were therefore backdated. As these coins (including the counterfeit Connecticut coppers) displayed a "broken A" he assigned them to the diemaker James Atlee, who was thought to have had a unique broken A letter punch. Trudgen also suspected some of the letter punches found on these coppers had also been used by the New Jersey coiner Walter Mould, thus he conjectured Atlee acquired some of Mould's punches.

    Trudgen originally thought his first group of halfpence was produced by James Atlee at the Rahway, New Jersey mint but in (1992) he revised this hypothesis and located the group to Samuel Atlee's brewery in New York. As explained more fully in the Atlee section, Trudgen discovered the brewery run by Samuel and James Atlee went out of business in January of 1786 but the lease on the factory was retained until December of 1787. Trudgen suspected the Atlees converted the space into an illegal mint. He also discovered the Atlees formed a partnership with Albion Cox, a metal assayer who, like the Atlees, had recently emigrated from England to New York. At the same time Cox was associated with the Atlees he also formed a minting partnership with Thomas Goadsby and Walter Mould (Mould was coiner who had previously been employed at George Wyon's mint in Birmingham, England). The Cox-Goadsby-Mould partnership won the New Jersey state contract to produce coppers. These facts suggest the Atlees may have been producing illegal coppers in New York City during 1786 and possibly up to mid 1787, when James Atlee moved to Machin's Mills.

    However, as Trudgen was clarifying the movements and associations of James Atlee several new questions arose. Hodder and Lorenzo carefully examined the punch linked evidence and now question the attribution of coins traditionally assigned to Atlee (based on his use of a unique broken A letter punch) and to some extent have also questioned Atlee's role as a diemaker. Among the points brought out in their research is that the supposed similarity between the broken A on the imitation halfpence attributed to Atlee and the broken A on the counterfeit Connecticut Coppers (as the varieties of 1786 Miller 3-D) are in fact different broken A punches. It has also been suggested that counterfeit 1786 Connecticut coppers were not necessarily produced in that year as they could have been backdated! Clearly Trudgen had done much to clarify group one imitation halfpence and may indeed be correct in assigning the coppers to Atlee, but more research is needed to confirm the dating and location of the New York City mint as well as the elucidation of Atlee's specific relationship Albion Cox and their connection, if any, with Walter Mould. For more on these questions see the section on James Falconer Atlee.

    Bailey and Brasher associated halfpence (Group 2)

    Among a few of the Vlack imitation British halfpence Trudgen noticed the presence of distinctive E and X letter punches. For this small group Trudgen has proposed the following emission sequence: Vlack 1-47A, followed by 17-87A, 17-87B and finally 17-87E. Trudgen also found these distinctive letters on the Brasher Doubloon, the Nova Eborac coppers, the Excelsior/Eagle patterns and the New Jersey, Running Fox, coppers. All of these issues have been attributed to the New York City swordmaker, ironworker and coiner John Bailey in conjunction with the silver and goldsmith, Ephraim Brasher. Trudgen also suggested the bust on this group imitation halfpence displayed characteristics associated with James Atlee and thus suspected Atlee was also a partner in this group.

    As three of the four halfpence in this group were dated 1787 it appears the first coin issued, Vlack 1-47A, was backdated, as it carries the date 1747. Clearly the coins would not be issued with a future date so the dating of this series could not be before 1787. Because of the Atlee association Trudgen, in his 1987 article, dated the coins to the period of 1787 before the summer as Atlee was known to have moved from New York City to Machins Mills at that time. Subsequently the Atlee association has been dropped and the halfpence are now attributed to Bailey and Brasher working independently of Atlee. Although Atlee is no longer associated with this group of coppers several guides, including Yeoman, continue to date these coins to the first half of 1787. As 1787 is the date on most of the halfpence in this group, and is also the date of the Nova Eborac series and doubloons, it seems quite likely they were produced in that year (although the NJ running fox varieties are dated 1788). However I know of no reason to limit the dating to the first half of the year.


    Gary Trudgen, "Machin's Mills," The Colonial Newsletter 23 (July 1984, serial no. 68) 862-883; his "James Atlee's Imitation British Halfpence," The Colonial Newsletter 27 (March 1987, serial no. 75) 966-979; and his "Samuel and James F. Atlee: Machin's Mills Partners," The Colonial Newsletter 32 (October 1992, serial no. 92) 1318-1352; For an illustrated and descriptive listing of these halfpence see Norman Peters, "Machin's Mills Halfpence: America's Forgotten Early Coppers," The Numismatist (1986) 1803-1814 with a new variety in Gary Trudgen, "New Machin's Mills Die Variety -- Vlack 24-72C" The Colonial Newsletter  25 (June 1985, serial no. 70) 908; and another variety (Vlack 4-71D) in Frank Steimle "A New Atlee-Machin's Mills Counterfeit British Halfpence Reverse and Variety" The Colonial Newsletter  30 (October 1990, serial no. 86) 1189; William Anton and Bruce Kesse, The Forgotten Coins of the North American Colonies  Iola, WI: Krause, 1992; Michael Hodder, "Halloween at Machin's Mills" The Colonial Newsletter 30 (October 1990, serial no. 86) 1190-1191; and his, "The 1787 "New York" Immunis Columbia; A Mystery Re-Ravelled," The Colonial Newsletter 31 (January 1991, serial no. 87) 1204-1235; John Lorenzo, "The So-Called Atlee Broken "A" Letter Punch" Coinage of the American Confederation Period,  edited by Philip L. Mossman, Coinage of the Americas Conference, Held October 28, 1995 at the American Numismatic Society, Proceedings Number 11, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1996, pp. 131-151; and 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; also see Ruchard August and Ed Sarrafian, "Thomas Machin, James Atlee and Abel Buell," The C4 Newsletter, A quarterly publication of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring, 1998) 25-32, this must be used with caution, it has some interesting observations as well as some unsubstantiated opinions, it is followed by their "Machin Mills Coins: Condition Census, Die States, Discoveries, and Estimated Rarity by Grade," on pp. 33-38.

    The first 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, full view (657K); top half (238K); or bottom half (240K) or Vlack 2, full view (657K); top half (250K); or bottom half (250K).

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