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  • New Yorke in America Token

    The New Yorke in America Token, between 1668 and 1673: Introduction

    The New Yorke in America token has long been a numismatic enigma. It first came to public attention in an article by Fisk Parsons Brewer, "The Earliest New York Token" published in the Historical Magazine of May 1861. Until recently there was little consensus on the origin, purpose, dating or even the identification of the imagery on this undated token. There was not even a consensus on which side was the obverse and which was the reverse! Some considered this token to date from the Seventeenth Century based on the spelling of Yorke, while others thought it to be a Nineteenth Century fantasy creation. Further, very few examples of the token exist. Crosby only knew of four examples, three made of lead and one of brass. Today we know of four lead examples and twenty in brass.

    The landmark article on this token was published in 1992 by John Kleeberg, Curator of Modern Coins and Currency at the American Numismatic Society. By tracing the provenance of known examples Kleeberg was able to determine that many examples could be definitively traced back to Europe. Kleeberg also noted several unusual features on this token: the lack of a date, the use of English for the legend rather than Latin, the existence of both brass and lead examples, significant weight variation between examples (from 1.35 to 3.56 grams for this farthing size token, which is below the regal farthing weight of 4.72 grams) and an irregular die axis (that is, the alignment of the obverse and reverse, in this case between varying between 11:00 and 12:00 o'clock). All of these clues led Kleeberg to consider examining the New Yorke token in relation to the merchant farthings and halfpence tokens produced in England during the Seventeenth Century until 1673, when private tokens were demonetized in favor of regal copper coinage.

    The reverse of the coin has an eagle with spread wings and the legend: [cinquefoil] NEW YORKE IN AMERICA [followed by an arabesque design]. Kleeberg noted similarities with various trade tokens, for instance the cinquefoil was similar to a cinquefoil on Bristol token farthings of 1662 and 1670. Stylistically, a phoenix on a token from Cirencester in Gloucestershire dated 1668 was similar to the eagle on the New Yorke token.

    The use of the eagle proved puzzling as the eagle was not adopted as part of the New York coat of arms until March 16, 1778. This led Kleeberg to consider the earliest period of English rule in the colony. Apparently, the official governor of New York, the Duke of York, did not issue a formal seal for the colony until July 4, 1669. Before that time it seems the local governors (actually the deputy governors) used their own personal family seals on official documents. This was certainly the case for the second governor, Francis Lovelace (1668-1673), whose personal seal was an eagle with spread wings. Because this heraldic device is found on the token there is reason to link the token with Lovelace.

    The obverse of the coin was also a puzzle but one that appears to have a solution if it is linked to Lovelace. The obverse has no legend but only a scene depicting the winged Cupid with his bow approaching a grove of palm trees, on the other side of the trees is a woman identified by Kleeberg as Psyche because of what appears to be a butterfly on her shoulder (both Psyche and the butterfly are classical personifications of the soul). Stylistically Kleeberg compares this to a 1670 token from Midhurst in Sussex that shows two pilgrims, one standing on either side of a tree; but he goes further in explaining the scene. Cupid is attempting to catch Psyche with his arrows which Kleeberg tentatively suggests may be interpreted as Cupid ensnaring Psyche or bringing her into the lace of love, hence a rebus for Lovelace.

    Thus, it appears the New Yorke token was a farthing size coin produced in England as a trade token for Francis Lovelace while he was governor of New York (1668-1673). It is stylistically similar to other trade token dated 1688 and 1670. Several trade tokens were issued by municipalities for local use and apparently this was the concept behind the New Yorke token.

    Most probably the surviving examples were produced as patterns, for they were produced in two metals and made in very limited quantities. Also, the token fits the profile for Seventeenth Century patters. Like this token, many patterns of that period were undated; it is speculated that if a regular issue of New Yorke tokens had been produced the date would have appeared on the reverse where the arabesque pattern was located. Additionally, during the Seventeenth Century patterns were not used as presentation pieces but rather were put into circulation as an experimental issue, hence most patterns from the period show circulation wear, which is also true of all the surviving New Yorke tokens.

    From these deductions we could then speculate the New Yorke token was a pattern produced in England at the expense of Governor Lovelace for a small change coin that was to be used in the colony of New York but was never minted as a regular issue. Most probably the token was planned and produced soon before 1673 but was never put into production as all trade tokens were demonetized by royal decree in 1673 in favor of a standard regal copper coinage.

    It seems the New Yorke token never entered production and never appeared in America. The only examples were a few experimental patters that were put into circulation in England. Interestingly Kleeberg has noticed most specimens are much more worn on the eagle reverse than on the cupid obverse, with the Smithsonian's example having gashes over the eagle. Kleeberg speculates this may have been done to cancel the tokens.

    Kleeberg catalogs all known examples of this coin. He mentions an electrotype was made before May of 1861 from the lead example owned by the Royal Coin Cabinet of the Netherlands (formerly in the Hague, since 1986 in Leiden). Several second generation electrotypes have been produced from the original electrotype.


    Fisk P. Brewer, "The Earliest New York Token,"   The Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries concerning the Antiquities and Biography of America , vol. 5 (October, 1861) 294-295; John Adams, "Original; Manuscript of `The Earliest New York Token' for Historical Magazine (Written May 1861)," in The Colonial Newsletter  19 (1980), 736-739; John. M. Kleeberg, "The New York in America Token" in  Money of Pre-Federal America,   edited by John M. Kleeberg, Coinage of the Americas Conference, held at the American Numismatic Society May 4, 1991, Proceedings no. 7, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1992, pp. 15-57, containing a catalog of all know examples. See also Russell Rulau, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens: 1700 1900   second edition, Iola, WI: Krause, 1997, Rulau-E NY 621 and 621A, p. 38.

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