The Continental Currency "Dollar" of 1776: Introduction

The Continental Currency "Dollar" is one of the most frequently reproduced colonial era coins.

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Unfortunately little is known about the important and captivating coin called the Continental Dollar. The denomination of the coin is unknown, but Newman has surmised the value to be a dollar. The first four emissions of Continental paper currency from May 10, 1775, through May 6, 1776, included a dollar bill, but the one dollar denomination was missing from the next six emissions and does not reappear until the last regular emission of Continental paper currency from January 14, 1779. It is thought that this Continental coin was meant to replace the paper dollar in these emissions. Also, the coin was made to be about the same size as the Spanish milled dollar and, like the Spanish coin, had an edge design. However who authorized or minted the coins is unknown.

Interestingly, there are no records of this coin in the actions of the Continental Congress, although other coinage concerns were recorded. On April 19, 1776 the Congress appointed a committee to determine the value of several foreign coins in relation to the Spanish dollar and on February 20, 1777 a congressional treasury committee recommended a mint be established, but nothing further was done on this matter. To date there is no evidence the Continental Currency coins were authorized or issued by the Continental Congress. Indeed, Robert Morris, the Superintendant of Finance during the Confederation period, appears not to have known of the Continental Dollars as he called his 1783 Nova Constellation patterns the first that were, "struck as an American Coin." (Morris, Diary for April 2, 1783).

The images on the Continental Currency coin are based on the designs found on Continental Congress fractional currency from the emission of February 17, 1776, which were designed by Benjamin Franklin. In fact, Newman has published Franklin's original drawing for the joined ring design on the reverse of the coin. One variety of the coin (shown below) includes the legend "EG FECIT", which is Latin for "EG made this". Newman has identified 'EG' as Elisha Gallaudet, who had previously engraved the design on the plates of the February 17, 1776, Continental fractional currency. His coins were struck in three metals the most common being pewter, with an estimated minting of about six thousand (of which a few hundred survive); the others, struck in brass and silver, are much rarer, with fifteen or so known examples in brass and four in silver. There are seven known die combinations made from four obverse and two reverse dies, with one obverse die (Newman 1) containing a misspelling of currency as CURENCY and another (Newman 4) having the misspelling CURRENCEY. From a close examination of the dies, Michael Hodder has demonstrated that the three metals were not used sequentially but rather were randomly minted during production. This suggests that the rare metal strikes were special presentation pieces rather than trial or pattern pieces.

The location of the mint is unknown but is thought to have been New York City. Articles referring to a Continental copper coin are found in the New York Journal of June 27, 1776, and the New York Gazette  of July 1, 1776. In addition, the New York State paper currency emission of August 13, 1776, included four fractional notes as well as $2, $3, $5 and $10 bills, but like the Continental Congress emissions, did not include the $1 note. Hodder proposes two groups of dies made by different die sinkers and suggests that these two groups of coins may not have been minted in the same location. Group one includes Newman obverse dies 1 and 2 with a single reverse found in three different states listed by Newman as reverses A, B and C. Group two consists of two obverse dies, Newman 3 and 4 (with Newman obverse 5 being a recut of die 4) combined with one reverse die known as Newman D.


On this coin see: Breen, 110-112; Hodder, Michael. "The Continental Currency Coinage of 1776," pp. 7-18 in The American Numismatic Association Centennial Anthology, Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena, 1991, pp. 7-18; and Newman, Eric. "The 1776 Continental Currency Coinage," The Coin Collector's Journal,   July-August (1952) 1-9.

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Section Contents Continental Currency Dollar

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