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  • Theatre at New York Token

    The Theatre at New York Token (probably 1797 or 98): Introduction

    The Theatre at New York Token is a large 34mm undated copper piece with a weight range of 402.8 to 409.8 grains. Some commentators refer to it as a penny because of its size and the promissory note on the edge. The obverse shows the facade of the First Park Theater with the signature of the diemaker "JACOBS" just below the base of the steps. Around the rim is the legend "THE . THEATRE . AT . NEW . YORK ." and below "AMERICA". The reverse depicts two ships on the ocean in the background while in the foreground is a barrel, a package, a cornucopia, an anchor and a bale (of cotton?) with a small triangle in the upper right quadrant of the bale. Below is a blank exergue where one would expect to find the date, while around the upper half of the rim is the legend, "LET . COMMERCE . FLOURISH .". The edge contains: "I PROMISE TO PAY ON DEMAND THE BEARER ONE PENNY X". Kleeberg has shown several catalogers, including Breen, have mistranscribed the I on the edge as a WE.

    The diemaker is probably Benjamin Jacob, who issued several tokens including one for himself in 1798 where he was identified as an "AUCTIONEER, IRONMONGER & c" at Welsh Cross in Birmingham. Both this and the Theatre token were made with hand cut letters rather than punches. Jacob also did an entire series of halfpence tokens depicting London churches and gates based on copperplate engravings. The use of the final S on the Theatre token may signify the possessive Jacob's.

    Jacob did most of his diemaking work, including the Theatre token and the London church series, for Peter Skidmore, who manufactured the tokens at his metalwork factory. Skidmore was a partner with his father from 1797 through 1809 in Skidmore and Son, makers of stove grates. The son expanded the operation into tokens which were produced in their factory at 15, Coppice Row, Clerkenwell and were sold at their store on 123 High Holborn Street in London.

    Kleeberg has shown the theater on the obverse of the New York Theatre token is the First Park Theater as it appeared when it first opened on January 29, 1798. An engraving of the building, while it was in the final stages of construction, was included in the 1797 New York Directory under the name of the "New Theatre" to differentiate it from the John Street Theater (built in 1767), which at that time became known as the "Old Theatre". It is quite likely this engraving was the source used by Jacob for the token design.

    Only a few proof Theatre tokens were produced, Breen estimated the population at about twelve examples. Apparently, Skidmore hoped to obtain a contract from a New York business to produce a large quantity of these tokens as Kempson of Birmingham had recently obtained to produce the Talbot, Allum and Lee cents. New York had been the center of the copper panic in 1790 (see the copper panic essay in our colonial currency site). After a few years of dependency on paper penny notes the state was just getting back to using coppers for small change. Clearly Skidmore and others (as the makers of several of the Washington tokens) felt lucrative contracts were possible. However the federal government took over coin production and the contracts did not materialize.

    Based on the 1797 engraving and the opening of the theater the following January, it is quite likely this token was one of the first products of the Skidmore mint dating perhaps to 1797. Kleeberg has noted Jacob used a cornucopia, similar to the one on the reverse of the Theatre token, on the reverse of another of his tokens; a dated 1797 penny token depicting the House of Commons building (Dalton-Hammer, Middlesex 173).

    The obverse of the Theatre token was later muled (that is, joined) with the undated "Scottish washing" token. The obverse of the washing token was joined with the obverse of the Theatre token to produce what is known as the Loch Leven Penny (Dalton-Hamer, Scotland, Kinroshire, Loch Leven, no. 1 on p. 413). According to Breen, this is a unique piece in tin, which he listed as being in the John J. Ford, Jr. collection. Kleeberg suggests Skidmore produced this along with several other unusual mules for collectors. Apparently in 1797 Skidmore acquired the dies of Thomas Spence and muled them the with dies by Jacob.


    John M. Kleeberg, "The Theatre at New York" in  The Token: America's Other Money   edited by Richard G. Doty, Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings no. 10, Held at the American Numismatic Society, October 29, 1994, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1995, 19-64; Breen, p. 105; See also Russell Rulau, Early American Tokens,  third editioin, Iola, WI: Krause, 1991, p. 45 (NY 892) and his Standard Catalog of United States Tokens: 1700-1900   second edition, Iola, WI: Krause, 1997, p. 39.

    Currently we only have a reproduction of a black and white photograph of a Theatre at New York Token from Dalton and Hamer.

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