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  • Nova Constellatio Patterns: Introduction

    The Coinage Proposal of Robert Morris

    The following is an excerpt from the January 15, 1782 proposal for a new coinage by Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance. Sent as a letter to John Hanson the President of the Continental Congress:

    In order that a Coin may be perfectly intelligible to the whole People, it [must] have some Affinity to the former Currency. This therefore, will be requisite in the present Case. The Purpose of Commerce require that the lowest divisible Point of Money [or] what is more properly called the Money Unit, should be very small; because by that Means Price can be brought in the smallest things to bear a Proportion to the Value. And altho (sic), it is not absolutely necessary, yet it is very desirable that Money should be increased in a decimal Ratio, because by that Means all Calculations of Interest, Exchange, Insurance and the like are rendered much more simple and accurate, and of Course more within the Power of the great Mass of People. Whenever such things require much Labor, time and reflection, the grater Number who do not know, are made the Dupes of the lesser Number who do.

    The Various Coins which have Circulated in America have undergone different changes in their Value, so that there is hardly any which can be considered as a general Standard, unless it be Spanish dollars. These pass in Georgia at five shillings, in North Carolina and New York at eight Shillings, in Virginia and the four Eastern States [NH, MA, RI, CT] at six shillings, in all the other States [PA, NJ, DE, MD] except South Carolina at seven Shillings and six pence, and in South Carolina at thirty two shillings and six pence. The Money Unit of a New Coin to agree without a Fraction with all these different Values of a dollar except the last, will be the fourteen hundred and fortieth Part of a Dollar, equal to sixteen hundredth Part of a Crown; of these Units twenty four will be a Penny of Georgia; fifteen will be a Penny of North Carolina or New York; twenty will be a Penny of Virginia and the four Eastern States; sixteen will be a Penny of all other States except South Carolina; and forty eight will be thirteen Pence of South Carolina.

    It has been already observed, that to have the Money Unit very small is advantageous to Commerce; but there is no Necessity that this Money Unit be exactly represented in Coin; it is sufficient that its Value be precisely known. On the present Occasion, two Copper Coins will be proper; the one of eight Units, and the other of five. These may be called an eight and a five: tow of the former will make a Penny Proclamation or Pennsylvania Money; and three a Penny Georgia Money; of the latter three will make a Penny York Money; and four a Penny lawful [or] Virginia Money. The Money Unit will be equal to a Quarter of a Grain of fine Silver in coined Money. Proceeding thence in a decimal Ratio, one hundred would be the lowest Silver Coin and might be called a Cent. It would contain twenty five Grains of fine Silver, to which may be added two Grains of Copper, and the whole would weigh one Penny weight three grains; Five of these would make a quint or five hundred Units, weighing five Penny Weight fifteen Grains; and ten would make a Mark or a thousand Units weighing eleven Penny Weight six Grains.

    If the Mint Price of fine silver be established at 22.237 Units per pound; this being coined, would be four time 5.760 Grains or 23.040 Units; the Difference is 803 Units, and therefore the Coinage [coining profit] is 803 on 23,040 or somewhat more, than 3 48/100 per cent. A [Spanish American] Dollar contains by the best Assays which I have been able to get about 373 Grains of fine Silver, and that at the Mint Price would be 1440 Units. In like manner if Crowns [this is a generic term for large silver coins from various countries as the British Crown, German Thaler or Dutch Rijksdallar] contain from 414 to 415 Grains of fine Silver, they would at the Mint Price be worth 1600 Units.

    [I have supplied the information in brackets as explanatory notes]


    The Papers of Robert Morris 1781-1784, vol. 4, January 11 - April 15, 1782, General Editor, James Ferguson, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978, pp. 25-40 with the excerpt on pp. 35-36.

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    Section Contents Nova Constellation Patterns Introduction

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