By the end of the Seventeenth century the number of inhabitants and, consequently, the number of merchants in major colonial cities had grown to the extent that the use of barter, wampum and other money substitutes was too cumbersome even for small transactions. Local merchants found it increasingly difficult to sell daily staples with money substitutes. For example, bakers could not efficiently sell bread if they needed to count strands of wampum and examine each bead to insure it was not flawed, nor could they be expected to spend time bartering with a customer when there were other individuals waiting to be served. At first this situation was addressed by private initiatives. British law prohibited the export of regal gold and silver coins, however there was no law against exporting British coppers (either regal or token coinages). Additionally, the situation in the colonies was well known in England and it was also generally known British coppers traded above their face value in the colonies. For these reasons new settlers as well as English visitors brought some small change copper coins with them when they came to the colonies. In addition to personal caches we know of a few bulk shipments whereby individuals hoped to make a profit by bringing a supply of small change coins to the colonies. In 1681 Mark Newby brought a large quantity of Saint Patrick coppers to New Jersey and in 1682 a group of Quakers brought some three hundred pounds worth of halfpence and farthings (possibly demonitized trade tokens) to Philadelphia.
In 1672 Britain had demonetization trade tokens and initiated production of British regal coppers. Copper halfpence were minted in 1672, 1673 and 1675, they were then replaced with tin coinage. Tin halfpence were issued from 1685-1692. In 1694 William III returned to a copper halfpenny and recalled all tin farthings and halfpence. Under William large quantities of copper halfpence were produced between 1695-1701. It is clear some of these coppers were circulating in American from a very early date. (See the sections on British Trade Tokens; British Regal Coppers; and British Counterfeit Coppers for additional details).
Little is known about the small change situation in the colonies at the end of the Seventeenth century. Fortunately we have a document reporting some information on the status of small change in Philadelphia in 1698. At that time we know British coppers passed at twice their face value in New York and Philadelphia, thus a British halfpenny was valued at, and was often referred to as, a penny. On June 21, 1698 a group of fifty three Philadelphia merchants sent a petition to the General Assembly complaining that "great quantities" of lead and pewter farthings and halfpence were being "crowded" upon them. Furthermore, customers were trying to pass these lead and pewter coins for double their value, as the petition requested that:
...all such farthings & halfpence that are made of Lead & pewter may be wholly suppresed & Cryed Down and only those of Copper which are the Kings Coyn may pass the farthings for two a penny the half pence for a penny. ["Crying down" refers to the devaluation of the lead and pewter coins. The full text is available at bottom of this page.] (Scott, pp. 9-10)This document indicates a period of transition. Apparently by 1698 several Philadelphia merchants felt the quantity of coppers available was large enough so the troublesome lead and pewter coins could be suppressed. It is interesting to note that a large number (actually 362 examples) of cast coper counterfeit hafpence dated 1699 were uncovered in the Philadelphia highway find. We do not know when these coins were produced, but it does indicate in that in the early decades of seventeenth century Philadelphia both regal and countertfeit coppers were in circulation. We are not able to identify what the lead and pewter coins were. Phil Mossman (Money, p. 110) has suggested the 1698 small change coins may have been the tin halpence and farthings of James II (and tin farthings of Charles II) that the British had recalled from circulation in 1694. It has also been suggested that the coins may have been demonetized trade tokens imported from Britain or privately made local products. It is interesting to note that fairly contemporaneous sources mention locally produced coins from other colonies composed of tin, brass, pewter, mixed metal and even glass! In 1701 in Massachusetts a penny was produced in brass and tin; also, the governor of Maryland mentioned a counterfeiting operation active in 1708 that produced a "Quantity of false money like unto the peices of the Eight of Spaine and the Dollars of the Low Countrys which they made of pewter glass and other mixt Mettall..."(Archives of Maryland, vol. 25, pp. 265-66). In the Philadelphia highway find there were four counterfeit pewter halfpence dated 1734, 1738 (2) and one undated George II younger head; three lead halfpence dated 1734, 1773 and an undated George III, as well as one tin farthing dated 169- and a counterfeit George II tin halfpenny plated in copper, see the listing of coins found at Philadelphia highway find. Possibly, if the sources were accurate on the composition of the coins, the lead and pewter halfpence and farthings represented locally produced items as those later produced and found in the highway find. It is also possible the coins were recycled regal tin products or some combination of regal tin and counterfeits. (updated March 2, 2004).
It is within this context the Massachusetts pence emerge. Apparently at the end of the Seventeenth century some individuals in Massachusetts, most probably in Boston, began emitting brass or tin pieces which they valued at a penny each. We do not know when the pieces were first minted or by whom, but we do know the quantity of coins in circulation by the start of 1701 was significant enough to come to the attention of the Massachusetts legislature. Although the records are lost, we can assume the legislature followed their standard procedure of forming a committee charged with investigating the situation and drafting an act addressing the problem, in this case prohibiting the minting or passing of base or counterfeit coins. What we do have is a copy of the final act which was brought before the upper chamber of the legislature on February 21, 1701. Most of what we know comes from the preface to the act which explains:
Whereas some persons, for private gain, have of late presumed to Stamp and Emit peices (sic) of brass and Tin at the rate of a penny each, not regarding what loss they thereby bring on others, which, if not timely remedyed, may prove greatly detrimental to his Majesties Subjects, and embolden others to be so hardy as to attempt the doing of the like, (Crosby, pp. 114-115. The full text is available at the bottom of this page.)
Both brass and tin were less valuable than copper and clearly less desirable for coinage, as coins made from these metals would have a lower intrinsic value than a copper coin of equal size. Actually, even the British halfpenny was officially considered a token issue, as the intrinsic value of the quantity of copper used to produce the coin only equalled about half of its face value. However, in the colonies (and in Britain) full weight regal halfpence were generally considered to have a sufficient intrinsic value. Coins below the British standard weight were considered to have an insufficient intrinsic value. The importance of weight is clearly demonstrated during the period from 1685 through 1692 when halfpence were made of tin, a much less expensive metal than copper. Although the tin coins had a far lower intrinsic value than the the earlier copper halfpence, they were accepted at the same face value since they were produced at the same weight as the previous copper issues. Contemporary statements refer to the desirability of a halfpenny based on the intrinsic value of the coin, in practice this value was measured by the weight of the coin against the British halfpenny standard.
That the coins mentioned in the Massachusetts act were considered to bring a loss to those who accepted them at face value, most likely meant the coins were below the British weight standard. In all probability this would be the standard for halfpenny, as the only penny coin at the time was the small silver Maundy penny. We do not know whether it was thought the coins should have been equal in weight to the British halfpenny and then trade at double their value, as in Philadelphia, or, if they should be some other proportional weight. In Boston at that time sterling coins traded at 50% over face value, so it is possible individuals may have thought a penny coin should weigh about one and a half times as much as a regal halfpenny. In any event, the Massachusetts penny was made of baser metals that were less expensive than copper and were most probably not heavy enough to gain general acceptance as having an adequate intrinsic value.
Beyond their composition and presumed low weight the only other information we can glean about these pieces is that they probably had a mark identifying the issuer. The act specifies that anyone who had accepted these coins could take them back to the issuer within a three month period for a full refund. Interestingly, the issuer was to recognize his pieces by his "Stamp or marke" on them. The act stated:
That every person or persons that have or shall Offend as aforesaid, shall Exchange and pay in current lawful money of this Province the full value of all such peices (sic) haveing his Stamp or marke thereon, unto any person or persons that shall bring the same to him, according to the rate they have passed at.
So as such peices be brought and offered to him to be exchanged at any time or times within the space of three months next after the publication of this Act, And in case of refusal so to do, he shall be compelled thereto by Order of the General Sessions of the Peace within the same County, or of one of Justice of the Peace, where the value exceeds not Forty Shillings. (Crosby, p. 115. The full text is available at the bottom of this page.)
From this it seems the issuers were not attempting to emit deceptive counterfeit coins. Rather, based on the little evidence we have about the composition, weight and markings, it seems probable these coins were small, possibly hammer struck, pieces with the issuer's personal mark, similar to Commonwealth era British trade tokens and probably made for similar reasons. Possibly there was only one or perhaps just a few minters producing tokens for various businesses or the tokens may have been produced by the merchants themselves.
One possibility is that the Massachusetts penny (and possibly the Philiadelphia tokens) may have resembled the items is a unique collection of crude merchant tokens from Eighteenth Century Edinburgh. These Scottish tokens were collected by a Dr. Thompson while on a trip in Scotland during the period of October 1781 through May of 1782. The items are all crude local farthing tokens made of lead, tin or pewter. If not for Dr. Thompson these plain, undistinguished, utilitarian items would be lost to posterity, as it appears no one else considered them worth saving. His collection, now in the British Museum, is considered to contain unique surviving examples of 144 different issues. The obverse of these small crude pieces simply contain the initials of the merchant who issued them, occasionally with a full surname or a date, while the reverse usually simply contains the letter F for farthing. The earliest date on the tokens is 1716. For more information and illustrations on the Scottish tokens - click here.
Although the minters (and/or issuers) of the Massachsuetts pence undoubtedly made some profit, it appears they were also providing a service, as there was a real need for small change. A close look at the progress of the legislation shows there were several individuals in the lower chamber of the legislature who felt these pence were necessary.
The act outlawing these coins was called "The Act Against the Makeing or Passing of Base or Counterfeit Money." At the time, the Massachusetts government had two houses, an upper chamber called the Council and a lower chamber called the House of Representatives, known together as the General Court. The act against base or counterfeit money was first brought to the Council on February 21, 1701 where it was given the required two reading, voted to be approved and then sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence. The House of Representative gave the act a first reading on the same day, February 21st, then put it aside for a week, giving it a second reading on February 28th. They then left the act alone for twelve days.
In the meantime a committee on monetary reforms, that had been previously appointed by the General Court, put forward a report with a variety of proposals. The report asked for four reforms: (1) that full weight Spanish gold pistole coins pass at the rate of twenty four shillings; (2) that Spanish dollars pass by the piece rather than by weight in payments over ten pounds; (3) "That Provinc penc be made of Copper & pass Curant for change of Mony." and (4) that a bank be established to emit bills of credit.
This report was read in the Council on March 6th and sent down to the House of Representatives without comment. On March 8, 1701, the House gave the monetary report a first reading. Four days later on March 12th the report was given its second and third readings. On that day the House approved item one on the revaluation of Spanish gold (with some revisions) and also approved item three, that Province pence coins be made of copper and pass as small change; they voted against items two and four. The House recommended a bill be drawn up pursuant to the first and third items. This report and the recommendation of the House was sent up to the Council for concurrence.
On the same day, March 12th, the House once again took up the act against making or passing base or counterfeit money. They gave the act its third and final reading, then voted to approve the legislation so the act became law.
The next day, March 13th, the Council took up the report on money reforms with the recommendations of the House to accept the provisions relating to the Spanish gold and the Province pence and to reject the other provisions. The Council then voted against these recommendations. The report was tabled and no legislative act was prepared.
Clearly there must have been support for the minting of a small change coin by members of the House of Representatives, as they passed the copper pence recommendation. It appears the House would not take a final vote making private tin and brass pieces illegal until there was some alternative legislation pending that would allow for a small change coin. However, the brevity of the recommendation on provincial pence leads one to suspect there was a lack of agreement on the specifics of the measure. Indeed, it is unclear if the pence would continue to be privately minted, but be required to be made of the more valuable metal, namely, copper, (rather than the baser brass or tin) or, if the pence would be minted by the colony. The restrictions in the Base or Counterfeit Money Act, where it was made illegal to mint any coins, "of like or different mettal, matter, forme, and to Emit, utter, or put off the same for pence, or at a greater or lesser value," leads one to suspect the pence recommendation refers to a government approved coinage. The meaning of the term "Penc" is even unclear. I assume it refers to a penny coin that would replace the various penny coins made illegal by the counterfeiting act. While the House supported the province pence recommendation, clearly some members of the Council were against the coinage for the Council voted against the provincial pence proposal on the following day.
We may then conclude the circulating Massachusetts pence were base metal and probably lightweight, privately issued penny tokens created not only for a profit but also to fulfill a real need for a supply of small change. They were most likely not produced as counterfeits intended to deceive the public, but rather as a pragmatic and necessary base metal substitute to facilitate small purchases from local merchants. However, it seems some groups feared the coins did not have a sufficient intrinsic value. Most probably these individuals agreed with the Philadelphia merchants, that the colony should rely on regal British coppers for its supply of small change.
As mentioned above, the British government realized there was a the small change crisis in the colonies. Once the halfpence problems at home had been remedied by recalling the tin halfpence and producing large quantities of copper halfpence under William III, some Englishmen felt it was time to address the colonial situation. However, neither of the two known proposals discussed below were ever implemented.
On July 5, 1700 John Tyzack, who identified himself as "a Proprietor who hath lived and travelled in the Plantations" forwarded a proposal to the Council of Trade and Plantations to set up some mints. Crosby limits his remarks to a quote from Rogers Ruding, Annals of the Coinage of Britain and its Dependencies from the Earliest Period of Authentick History to the End of the Fiftieth Year of the reign of His Present Majesty George III, first published in 1817. Ruding closely copied the minutes of the Journal of the Council of Trade and Plantations from the meeting of July 5, 1700 but mistranscribed the name as Fysack (the the report of the meeting the Journal uses Tysack while the memorial, signed by the author, uses Tyzack). The Journal states:
A memorial was presented to the Board by Mr. John Tysack, proposing that a Mint may be erected in some of the Plantations on the Continent of America as a means to remedy many of the inconveniencies in the trade of those parts, which was read, and he being further heard in what he had to offer, their Lordships after full consideration of the matter, did not think fit that any Mint should be erected there, but esteeming it generally convenient that all the coins currant in the Plantations should pass in all places at the same rate, they resolved in the first convenient opportunity to consider the difficulties that occur therein, and in what manner it may be best effected. (Cecil Headlam, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies. 1700. Preserved in the Public Record Office, London: 1910, pp. 392-393, item 614)
Crosby was not able to uncover any further information on this proposal. However, 35 years after Crosby's work was published, a copy of the Tyzack memorial was uncovered in the Public Record Office and was included in the Calendar of the Colonial Papers. The memorial is listed under the date of July 5, 1700 and is included here in full:
Memorial of John Tysack to the Council of Trade and Plantations. On the state of the coinage in the Plantations. The Inhabitants of the Bahamas, Carolina, and neighbouring islands, also Pennsilvania, East and West Jersey, New York and New England, the soil of which being not capable of raising tobacco and having no other produce to make for the commodities of England except some skins and furs, whalebone and whale-oil, which will soon grow less plentiful, are forced to keep sheep, sow hemp and flax and set up the linen and woollen manufactures, to the prejudice of England. Merchants trading thither pay at least 30 per cent. for Bills of Exchange. There is now in the Plantations a great quantity of Spanish money, plate and bullion, and would be much more if returns were answerable. This money, etc., is of no use to the inhabitants to make returns to England, because of the uncertain value put upon it there. A piece of eight in the Bahamy Islands is about 5s.; in Carolina, Maryland and Virginia 4s. 6d.; in Pennsylvania 7s.; in New York and New England 6s. 6d., but frequently rising and falling in value by the contrivance of some designing men in those countries, who engross it when at the lowest, and so make merchandize of it and export it into foreign parts, where it is of more value than in England. The remedy proposed is to set up a Mint in some of the Plantations, for coining all the said Spanish money, plate and bullion and baser mettle into English coin of the same goodness and value from a crown piece to a farthing; and that by Proclamation the value of Spanish money etc., be adjusted to about 6s. 3d, per ounce in the Plantations; and that no Spanish money, etc., be exported out of the Plantations till first coined into English money to fit it for returns to England only. This making returns more certain and disappointing the designing perverters of trade, encouraging merchants and the oppressed Planters, increasing navigation and commerce, bringing constant supplies to the Mint in returns to the Plantations, and from thence in returns to England, and by such circulation continually landing more of the Spanish riches upon our shoar. Signed, John Tyzack, a Proprietor who hath lived and travelled in the Plantations. Endorsed, Recorded. Read July 5th, 1700. 1 large page. (Cecil Headlam, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies. 1700. Preserved in the Public Record Office, London: 1910, pp. 393-394, item 616)
As stated in the Journal entry quoted above, the Lords did not see fit to endorse this proposal.
Documents regarding the second proposal exist and are quite illuminating. They show a real desire to help the colonies but little knowledge of the true situation or of the geography of the New World. Just about eight weeks after the Massachusetts pence proposal was rejected a Mr. Samuel Davis sent a petition to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury on May 21, 1701 proposing a enterprise be undertaken for the minting of small change coins for all of the North American colonies. For revealing this discovery to the Commissioners Davis hoped to be given a third of the profits from the venture. Davis stated that the smallest coin in general circulation throughout the New Word plantations was a cut piece of a Spanish Dollar (an eight reales, often called a piece of eight). The smallest circulating cut piece of this coin was an eighth (often a quarter of a four reales coin or half of a two reales coin). Davis said this coin fragment was valued at seven and a half pence (actually that was just about at the sterling rate of 4s6d per dollar, while in the colonies the rate was often from 6s to 8s per dollar, yielding a rate of from 9d to 1s per eighth piece). Because of the high value of this, the smallest denomination coin, inexpensive purchases and small change were difficult to make. Thinking of the Island colonies as Barbados and remembering what he had heard of Virginia, Davis rather dramatically and fancifully stated the lack of small change: "puts ye Inhabitants to ye necessity of Carrying Sugar and Tobacco upon their Backs to barter for little Common Necessarys." He felt this problem could not be remedied by sending over British halfpence and farthings as he felt they would ultimately end up back in England as colonists would be forced to use them to pay English and other foreign debts. What he proposed was:
The proper remedy is to Coin halfe pence and pence of Copper or a Mixed Metall, and of halfe ye value the English Small Money is made, with severall Mottoes or Devices for ye Severall Colonys, and to Order them to pass only in the respective Colonys for which they shall be Appointed, viz. one Sort for all the Colonys upon the Continent, another sort for the Island of Barbadoes, a third sort for Jamaica, and a fourth Sort for all the Leeward Islands. (Crosby, p. 140)
This proposal was sent to the officers of the royal mint for comment. The mint replied to the Commissioners on July 9, 1701 in a letter signed by the mintmaster Isaac Newton and the mint officers, J. Stanley and Jn. Ellis. The mint agreed that a coinage should be minted. They stated the face value of the coin should be as close as possible to the sum of the value of the metal in the coin plus the cost of minting the coin. Also, they felt the coin should be made of copper. The term coarse copper was used as English copper had more impurities than the copper of some other countries such as Sweden, and thus was considered to be coarse. Copper was the preferred metal in that it was more expensive than tin, lead or brass, it was also harder and less malleable and therefore more difficult to work. The mint understood these features discouraged counterfeiters and produced a more durable product. The letter stated:
Wee are humbly of Opinion that the Plantations in America are in great Want of Small Money, but that the coynage of it Should be made, as near as may be, to the intrinsick value which the Metall bears in the Severall Plantations, including the charge of Coynage; and that such Small Money be made of Coarse Copper, Such as the halfpence are coyned of here, that there may be less temptation to counterfeit it, And that the quantity necessary to be coyned be settled. (Crosby, p. 141)
Although the mint concurred with the proposal it was not carried further.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, with the defeat of the proposal to mint copper pence, other alternatives had to be explored if the colony was to have a supply of small change. On March 17, 1703 a resident of Boston named William Chalkhill proposed he should go to England to purchase ten thousand pounds of copper money at a price agreed upon by the General Court. Mr. Chalkhill was the best person to carry out this mission in that before emigrating to Boston he had been "One of the Monyers of Her Majesties Mint in the Tower of London." In fact, one wonders if Mr. Chalkhill had been part of the private minting enterprise in Boston that was terminated in 1701. Two days later, on March 19, 1703 a committee was charged with investigating the proposal and producing a report; the committee consisted of three members of the Council namely: John Walley as committee chair, Penn Townsend and Andrew Belcher and three members of the House of Representatives: Nehemiah Jewett, Samuel Checkley and Samuel Phips. The record of the committee report states on March 26th the committee agreed to the acquisition of "£5000 only and yet in Pence"
Thus, we learn the proposal was not in pounds of weight but in money, most probably in Massachusetts pounds of account rather than sterling, but that distinction was not mentioned. Interestingly, the report specified all the copper coins were to be "in Pence." As to what "in Pence" referred to is not known. There was no copper penny in Britain at the time, only the copper halfpenny and farthing. Indeed, the only penny was the silver Maundy penny; also, all higher denomination pence coins were silver. It could be this document was referring to a halfpenny at double its face vale (as was done in Philadelphia and New York) or it may have been referring to a new denomination copper coin similar to the tin and brass pieces privatelly emitted a few years earlier at the rate of a penny each. Another possibility is that the term "in Pence" was used generically to refer to various small change coins, so that it would mean the equivalent of "in halfpence or farthings." As Queen Anne did not mint copper coins because of the large quantity that had been produced by William III, the proposal could have been referring to the importation of William III halfpence. However, if that was the case, then any good negotiator could have gone to make the trade, there would not have been a need to send a former mint employee.
As Massachusetts money of account was valued at about 50% less than sterling, a British halfpenny would cost three quarters of a cent in Massachusetts money. This would make the enterprise a rather costly trip unless the coins were to circulate in Massachusetts at double their face value. Of course, if Chalkhill were to obtain a discount by purchasing counterfeit coppers, the profits would be higher. However, is seems unlikely the Massachusetts legislature would want to import counterfeit coppers two years after outlawing them. Also, it is generally thought few counterfeit William III copper halfpence were produced in Britain until after George I halted copper halfpenny production in 1724. It seems more probable Mr. Chalkhill's job was to negotiate and oversee the minting of a copper penny token in London, which would replace the private lead and tin penny tokens previously in circulation. Indeed one wonders if Chalkhill had not heard of the mint report of July 9, 1701 quoted above, stating that the Royal Mint agreed the colonies needed coppers:
but that the coynage of it Should be made, as near as may be, to the intrinsick value which the Metall bears in the Severall Plantations, including the charge of Coynage; and that such Small Money be made of Coarse Copper, Such as the halfpence are coyned of here...
This may be the reason Chalkhill specified he would arrange to produce copper coins. If so, it would mean the funds authorized to Chalkhill would be used to purchase copper and to negotiate minting costs. In this case the quantity of coins would depend on the price of copper, the weight of the coin, and the cost of making the dies and minting the tokens. In this scenario Mr. Chalkhill would be the ideal negotiator to obtain the highest quality product for the best price.
The day after the report was submitted, that is, on May 27, 1703, it was accepted by the House of Representatives. They further resolved a committee of John Walley, Andrew Belcher, Samuel Legg and Samuel Checkley be empowered to draw up a contract of articles of agreement with Mr. Chalkhill that would then need to be ratified by the General Court. The report and the resolve were sent up to the Council. In the Council the report and the resolve were put up for concurrence but were voted down. Apparently there was a division of opinion on the issue in the Council. The Council had made the initial action to form the committee exploring William Chalkhill's proposal and half of each of the two committees had been comprised of Councilors with a Councilor as chair. Further evidence of a division in the Council is that although the issue was voted down it was "refer'd to Consideration at the next Court, if then Offered." There are no further records that the topic was ever brought before the General Court again. After this defeat the colony did not make any further attempts to mint its own small change coins.
A brief notice in the records of the upper chamber of the Connecticut legislature, know as the Governor's Council, under the date May 25, 1721 stated:
An act sent from the Lower House that the coin called black doggs pass at 2d [a] piece was dissented to at this board. (Crosby, p. 203)
The "Black Dogg" was a coin used in the West Indies. It is explained in a letter from Col. Joseph Jorye to William Popple, the Secretary for the Council of Trade and Plantations in London. In August of 1700 Jorye had been appointed as the Agent for the colony of Nevis and was required to explain some points concerning laws passed in Nevis during 1698 and 1699. Regarding a law of April 1, 1698 concerning rates of liquors for taverns and for the passing of Black Dogs, Jorye explained to Popple in a letter of September 13, 1700:
I have made inquiry about Sowse [that is, sous] commonly called Blackdoggs; they are in France, 60 to the crown, and with us abroad three half-pence each. I find not many, but only a conveniency for change, for in paying 20 or 30 pieces of eight, they may not have more than one paid in Blackdogs. So far it cannot prejudice commerce, considering they have no half-pence nor farthings, our nation's coin, amongst them. (Cecil Headlam, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies. 1700. Preserved in the Public Record Office, London: 1910, p. 524, item 779 for the quote and pp. 467-468, item 697 for the Jorye appointment)
Soon therafter, on September 20, 1700 the Council of Trade and Plantations informed the Lords Justices that they did not think it fit to confirm the Nevis law of April 1, 1698 because:
Those Black Dogs being a French coin, ordinarily called Sols marquez [that is, Sols Marqués], it seems not convenient to authorize their currency in Her Majesty's Plantations, and more especially not at so great a value as is done by this Act, viz., three half-pence each, whereas they are not intrinsically worth one farthing; for this will not only encourage an unlawful trade with the French, but those Black Dogs, being easy to counterfeit, that they may also be done with great profit, and, being once authorized as a current coin, we do not think the provision made in the Act, nor hardly any other, sufficient to prevent the increase of them to such quantities as may prove very inconvenient. (Cecil Headlam, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies. 1700. Preserved in the Public Record Office, London: 1910, p. 531, item 789)
The Crown repealled the act on October 22, 1700 (Headlam, p. 612, item 860).
Based on the 1702 Assay at the London mint, a French ecu of 60 sols (or sou) was valued at 54d (4s6d). This would make a sol equal to just under a penny, that is, .9d so the Nevis rate of 1.5d was a little more that 50% over face value. The British West Indies economy primarily relied on Spanish American silver, at that time using the British rate of a Spanish American eight reales at 54d (see Cecil Headlam, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies. 1699. Preserved in the Public Record Office, London: 1908, p. 254, item 460 where in a document of May 26, 1699 the rate on Antigua for the eight reales, or piece of eight, is given as 54d.) This would put a single real or bitt at 6.75d while the smallest denomination coin a, half real, would be valued at 3.375d, thus the Black Dogg at 1.5d would be the lowest denomination coin at a little less than a quarter of a bitt.
The coin referred to in this context as a "Black Dogg" was probably the French billon sou of 15 deniers. In an edict of October 1692 Louis XIV ordered older billon coinage still in circulation to be restruck with new designs and reissued as sous of 15 deniers. This coin was produced in numerous mints throughout France from 1692-1700. Some of the coins were counterstamped and sent to sent to Nouvelle France where they circulated at fluctuating values. That the Island of Nevis first attempted to set a value for these coins in April of 1698 and that they are first mentioned as circulating on Antigua under the name of "Souse marks" in the minutes of the Council and Assembly of Antigua of May 26, 1699, leads me to suspect the item referred to is the billon sou of 15 deniers first minted in 1692. (For the Antigua reference see: Cecil Headlam, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies. 1699. Preserved in the Public Record Office, London: 1908, pp. 253-254, item 460)
In later periods the term "Black dogg" was prominent in the British Caribbean where it was used for any foreign small change coin. It was often used to refer to the French stampee (or sol tampé), equal to 24 deniers. The stampee was first authorized for the French West Indies in 1738 and continued to be minted until at least 1764. It was a plain copper disk with a crowned C (for Colonies) on the obverse and a blank reverse; an illustration can be found in Brady's essay cited below. In the British Caribbean possessions the stampee was valued at one-sixth of a bitt (a bitt being a Mexican real).
Most probably in the 1721 Connecticut reference the term "Black Dogg" could refer to any small change coins other than British issues (British coppers would certainly have been known as halfpence and farthings). Black Doggs may have referred to the older French Sols Marqués of 15 deniers of 1692-1700 or some related foreign coins. If the reference was to the Sols Marqués of 15 deniers, then Connecticut proposal was assigning the coin a value that was slightly more than double its face value. Such an overvaluation could be the reason that the Governor's Council rejected the proposal.
The legislation did not explain if Black Doggs had previously been in circulation in Connecticut and were now being revalued or if they were being standardized for the first time. The brevity of the comments and the use of the term Black Doggs without further explanation seems to indicate it was a unit then in use with which a contemporary reader would be familiar. About all we can say is that in Connecticut in 1721 small change does not seem to have been limited to British coinage but was supplemented with some coin or coin types called Black Doggs, possibly the French Sols Marqués of 15 deniers.
In 1754 Arthur Dobbs, the Governor of North Carolina sent a proposal to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury requesting the minting of copper coinage in the denominations of a halfpenny, a penny and two pence, made at the proclamation rate of 33.3% reduction in intrinsic value as compared to British coins, so they would trade at a rate of four Carolina coins to three British. The records for this proposal are lost but were reported by Thomas Snelling and is quoted in Crobsy (pp. 143-144). The colony wanted a quantity not in excess of fifty tons of coins for which they would deliver the copper to the mint and pay all minting expenses. On June 24, 1754 the Commissioners of the Treasury sent the proposal to the Royal Mint for comment.
The mint suggested halfpence at 61 per pound avoirdupois with the other coins proportional. One half of the production was to consist of the halfpenny coin while the penny and two pence coins were to each be one fourth of the total. The costs were to be the same as for Irish coppers namely, 5p per pound weight for the mint master and 20s per hundredweight to the deputy comptroller. The obverse was to have the bust of the king with the motto GEORGIUS. II. REX. and the reverse the arms of North Carolina with the motto SEPT. CAROLINA (septentrionalis is Latin for North) and the date. The proposal was never enacted and the coins were not produced. Yet again, this shows as late as mid century some areas of the South did not have a sufficient supply of British small change coppers. Indeed, in 1773 Virginia would actually follow through and have halfpence minted for them in London.
The full text of the Pennsylvania petition and the two Massachusetts legislative documents have been included. Click on the appropriate title below for the text.
Petition concerning Lead and Pewter Coins Presented to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania - June 21, 1698.
The 1701 Massachusetts Act Against the Makeing or Passing of Base or Counterfeit Money.
The 1701 Massachusetts General Court Report of the Committee on Monetary Reforms.
Crosby, pp. 114-117, 139-141, 143, 203 and 225-226; Harrold Gillingham, Counterfeiting in Colonial Pennsylvania, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, number 86, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1939, pp. 6-7; Kenneth Scott, Counterfeiting in Colonial Pennsylvania, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, number 132, New York: American Numismatic Society, 1955, pp. 9-10; Thomas Snelling, A View of the Copper Coin and Coinage of England, London: printed for T. Snelling, 1766; Jeremiah D. Brady, "The French Tradition: The Colonial Period (exclusive of Canada)" in Theodore V. Buttrey, Jr., ed. Coinage of the AmericasNew York: American Numismatic Society, 1973, pp. 71-75 on p. 71 and illustration 102 on p. 72.
There are no known examples of the Pennsylvania or Massachusetts base metal coinages or of the Connecticut "black doggs." To the best of our knowledge none of the coinage proposals discussed above were ever implemented. The navigation button will pass over the Introduction to the Gloucester Courthouse Tokens and take you directly to the next coin section, The Higley Coppers.
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