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Early American – Washington Pieces (1783-1795)



  
In his own lifetime George Washington became the subject of numerous tokens and medals bearing his portrait or, at least, an engraver’s imagined portrait of Washington. These were not produced during his tenure as commander of the Revolutionary Army, but rather were coined after his unanimous election as President of the United States in 1789.


While many of these pieces were produced subsequent to his death in 1799, even though bearing dates much earlier, quite a number were contemporary with his lifetime. These are the ones typically of greatest interest to numismatists, though the ones made during the opening decades of the 19th Century benefited from superior technology are more often to be found in higher grades. It is these later pieces that are most highly sought by less academic collectors.

Among the more interesting contemporary pieces is the GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO token, coined in copper in fairly large numbers. Bearing the date 1783, this is thought to be a reference to the peace treaty signed between Britain and its former colonies in that year. They were coined just a couple of years later and are known to have actually circulated during that decade. The portrait bust used is taken from coins of Britain’s King George III, but in this context the legends are believed to honor George Washington.

Also dated 1783 but coined decades later are a series of tokens bearing a left-facing bust of Washington wearing alternately a Roman toga or a military jacket. This was a very extensive coinage engraved and struck in England, and the many dies used resulted in numerous varieties of bust size and style, as well as pairings with different reverse types. Perhaps the most popular is a Draped Bust issue mated to a reverse in imitation of early USA cents. Curiously, the reverse legend reads UNITY STATES OF AMERICA. Both the Draped and Military Bust dies were mated to another reverse type portraying a seated figure modeled after Britannia on British coins. On these pieces the correct, though abbreviated legend UNITED STATES appears.

Extremely popular with collectors are the 1791-dated copper tokens actually denominated ONE CENT. These feature a handsome and fairly accurate bust of Washington facing left and dressed in a military jacket. Two major types are known, each displaying an eagle with a shield upon its breast. The first portrays the eagle with inverted wings, while the second and slightly scarcer type displays a smaller eagle with its wings upraised. Both have the eagle grasping an olive branch in its right claw and a bundle of arrows in its left, the whole ensemble being reminiscent of early United States Mint coins. These pieces, however, were coined in England as a proposal for a contract coinage that failed to materialize. Most of the high grade examples of each type known were preserved by British collectors, while the many worn examples actually circulated in America.

The 1790s witnessed the widespread manufacture of trade tokens in England, these being produced to make up for the absence of Royal copper coinage at the time. They quickly became popular with British collectors, and it was inevitable that the coiners would create numerous mulings of the various dies to sell at a generous profit to this market. Thus it was that the attractive portrait of George Washington from the 1791 cents was reused with a variety of reverse dies, and these other varieties differ in relative rarity but are avidly sought as relating indirectly to American coinage. The fact that most of them never saw that side of the Atlantic until decades later has become irrelevant.

Another popular entry in the Washington series are the brass tokens inscribed SUCCESS TO THE UNITED STATES on their reverse. Each features a right-facing bust of Washington, again in military dress, and they are known in two sizes. Since they’re typically found with little, if any wear, these tokens were evidently sold as souvenirs. The timing of their manufacture has been debated since the mid 1800s and has been placed anywhere from 1793 to the 1820s.
Many of the Washington tokens known to American collectors were neither produced nor circulated there, but rather they were issued solely for use in Britain. Known collectively as Conder tokens, after the man who first cataloged them, the values of pieces having purely British themes are typically lower than those that make even the vaguest reference to the USA. In the Conder series, several feature a right-facing bust of Washington in the usual military garb. These obverse dies were paired with several reverses to produce tokens which circulated as half pennies.

Among the more common and collectable entries are the Washington/Grate token, which indeed depicts a fireplace grate, and the LIBERTY AND SECURITY half penny, which bears a small eagle with upraised wings perched upon a shield. Both are dated 1795 and were likely struck in or shortly after that year. A much more skillfully engraved, left-facing bust of GW appears on the LIBERTY AND SECURITY penny, this token being almost medallic in its quality. Undated, it has been attributed to the same period. A 1795-dated version, this paired with a right facing bust of Washington, is also known and is quite rare. A 1793-dated half penny pairs a left-facing bust of Washington with a square-rigged vessel sailing to the right. This type was made in large numbers and bears a lettered edge. All of these pieces circulated exclusively in Britain but are readily collected by those interested in early American history.

Another curious issue in the long series of token pieces bearing a bust of George Washington is the North Wales half penny, so called for its inclusion of that legend on the reverse. Since the main device on that side of the token is a harp, symbolic of Ireland, this is an odd entry indeed. These tokens are believed to have been made solely to pass as a circulating medium, as none appear to have been preserved in high grades by contemporary collectors.

Among the more commonly seen of Washington pieces is the so-called Double Head cent, which features similar, left-facing military busts of GW on both sides. Undated, they are believed to have been coined in England during the 1820s or 1830s. Each bust resembles closely that on the 1783-dated Military Bust pieces described above and are thus attributed to the same source and time period. Both issues are inscribed ONE CENT, and they evidently circulated within the United States during the “Hard Times” period that followed the financial Panic of 1837.

Coins in Category

1783 GEORGIVS TRIUMPHO TOKEN MS 1783 LARGE BUST WASHINGTON & INDEPENDENCE MS 1783 PL EDGE SMALL BUST WASHINGTON & INDEPENDENCE 1783 GR EDGE SMALL BUST WASHINGTON & INDEPENDENCE 1783 BUTTON, DRAPE BUST WASHINGTON & INDEPENDENCE 1783 NO BUT, DRAPE BUST WASHINGTON & INDEPENDENCE 1783 'UNITY STATES' WASHINGTON & INDEPENDENCE 1C M (UNDATED) WASHINGTON DOUBLE HEAD MILITARY BUST 1C 1784 COPPER UGLY HEAD GEORGE WASHINGTON MS 1784 PEWTER UGLY HEAD GEORGE WASHINGTON MS 1791 LARGE EAGLE WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1791 SMALL EAGLE WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 EAGLE & STARS COP WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 EAGLE & STARS SILV WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 EAGLE & STARS GOLD WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 P.E. LEGEND WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 L.E. LEGEND WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS (1792) COPPER WASHINGTON BORN VIRGINIA 1C MS (1792) SILVER WASHINGTON BORN VIRGINIA 1C MS 1792 SMALL EAGLE P.E. G.WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 SMALL EAGLE O.E. G.WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1C MS 1792 SMALL EAGLE P.E. G.WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 50C M 1792 SMALL EAGLE O.E. G.WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 50C M 1792 LARGE EAGLE G.WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 50C MS 1791 LIVERPOOL WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1/2P MS 1793 LETTER EDGE SHIP WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1/2P MS 1795 L.E. LG BUTTONS WASHINGTON - GRATE 1/2P MS 1793 PLAIN EDGE SHIP WASHINGTON PRESIDENT 1/2P MS 1795 R.E. LG BUTTONS WASHINGTON - GRATE 1/2P MS 1795 R.E. SM BUTTONS WASHINGTON - GRATE 1/2P MS 1795 PLAIN EDGE LIBERTY & SECURITY 1/2P MS 1795 L.E. 'LONDON' LIBERTY & SECURITY 1/2P MS 1795 L.E. BIRMINGHAM LIBERTY & SECURITY 1/2P MS 1795 L.E. 'ASYLUM' LIBERTY & SECURITY 1/2P MS (1795) L.E. 'ASYLUM' LIBERTY & SECURITY 1P MS (1795) PLAIN BORDER LIBERTY & SECURITY 1P MS (1795) CORD BORDER LIBERTY & SECURITY 1P MS LARGE P.E. SILVERED WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS LARGE P.E. WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS LARGE R.E. SILVERED WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS LARGE R.E. WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS SMALL P.E. SILVERED WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS SMALL P.E. WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS SMALL R.E. SILVERED WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS SMALL R.E. WASHINGTON - SUCCESS MEDAL MS (1795) PLAIN EDGE WASHINGTON - NORTH WALES 1/2P MS (1795) LET EDGE WASHINGTON - NORTH WALES 1/2P MS (1795) FOUR STARS WASHINGTON - NORTH WALES 1/2P MS

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