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  • John Chalmers Coinage

    The Silver Coinage of John Chalmers 1783: Introduction


    Johann Davis Schoepf, writing about his travels through America during 1783 and 1784 related:

    In the United States, Annapolis has the honor of having furnished the first silver money for small change. A goldsmith of this place coins on his own account, though with the consent of the government. After the depreciation of the paper money it became customary and necessary, throughout America, to cut the Spanish dollars [i.e. eight reales] into two, four or more pieces for change. This dividing soon became a profitable business in the hands of expert cutters who knew how to cut five quarters, or nine and ten eights, out of a round dollar, so that shortly everyone refused to take this kind of money otherwise than by weight or discretion. To get over this embarrasment the said goldsmith assists in getting the angular pieces out of circulation by taking them in exchange, with considerable advantage to himself, for pieces of his own coinage. (Schoepf,Travels in the Confederation 1783-1784, Philadelphia: Campbell, 1911, p. 369).

    The goldsmith Schoepf mentions was John Chalmers, who coined silver threepence, sixpence, and shilling coins dated 1783. Chalmers was a community leader, having served as a captain in the Continental Army, a member of the common council of Annapolis in 1783 and later as sheriff of Baltimore. His coin venture allowed him to promote himself to the public, for each coin prominently displayed his name. He also made a reasonable profit from his enterprise. He alloyed the silver to copper, producing shillings of about 81% to 86% silver at an average weight of fifty-four grains which, according to Mossman, earned him about an 8% profit.

    The obverse design of Chalmers shilling has a wreath encircling two clasped hands shaking in friendship with the legend, I . CHALMERS . ANNAPOLIS. The reverse depicts two birds fighting over a worm while a snake lays in wait behind a hedge to attack them. This is usually interpreted as a didactic warning for newly independent states not to fight among themselves lest they be swallowed by the snake representing the federal government. The shilling comes in two varieties, one with a short worm, the other with a long worm. The short worm variety can be distinguished in that the hedge extends from the N in ONE to the N in SHILLING. In the rarer long worm variety the hedge extends from the N in ONE to the second I in SHILLING. The full reverse legend reads, ONE SHILLING 1783. The die for the sixpence was cut by Chalmers friend Thomas Sparrow, whose initials appear on the coin. Sparrow was another local silversmith, who also engraved border cuts for colonial currency (Maryland issues of January 1, 1767, and March 1, 1770). The sixpence has a obverse similar to the shilling but the hands are replaced by a star. The reverse has a cross design with the legend, I. C. SIX PENCE 1783 (the I.C. referring to John Chalmers). The three pence has an obverse with the clasped hands and the legend, I. CHALMERS. ANNAPS. while on the reverse is a branch within a wreath and the legend, THREE PENCE 1783. The well-worn appearance of most examples of his coins is taken as an indication they were readily accepted and used. The estimated surviving population is as follows: 111 worm shillings, 10 sixpence and 20 threepence.

    In the same year Chalmers produced his coins the Continental Congress temporarily moved to Annapolis, where they met from November of 1783 through August of 1784. As Chalmers was a member of the Common Council in 1783 it is possible he attended meetings with the congressional delegates. Chalmers minted a few pattern shillings that are thought to have been produced as samples to accompany a coinage proposal he intended to submit to the Continental Congress. The proposal was never brought forward but a few coins were struck with five examples surviving. On the pattern shilling the obverse legend reads, I. CHALMERS ANNAPOLIS 1783 then in the center in cursive letters is, Equal to One Shi. On the reverse Chalmers replaced the bird design with twelve linked ring adding a star in each link. This symbol was based on the thirteen link design used on the Continental Currency "Dollars" of 1776 and on Continental Congress fractional currency of February 17, 1776. In the center of his shilling pattern was the all seeing eye (as found on Morris's Nova Constellatio patterns of the same year, that is 1783) and below was the thirteenth link joined to the ring from which rises a liberty pole with a liberty cap and a star to either side.

    References

    See: Henry W. Schab, "The Life and Coins of John Chalmers" The Numismatist  97 (Nov. 1984) 2293-2312, Breen, pp. 100-101; Mossman, pp. 199-200 and Russell Rulau, Early American Tokens , 3rd ed. (Iola, Wis.; Krause, 1991), 26; Russell Rulau, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900  second edition, Iola,WI: Krause, 1997, pp. 21-22.


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