Coin Rarities & Related Topics: U.S. 500 Unit Silver Pattern of 1783 (Type 2 Quint) To Be Auctioned!
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #160 …..
During the fourth week of April, Heritage will auction one of two known Quints, which are ‘500 Unit’ U.S. silver patterns dated 1783. The sale will occur at the CSNS convention in a small town near Chicago. Actually, the two known Quints have very different obverse (front) designs; both are thus unique and this is of the second type. By authorization of the Continental Congress, patterns were struck in 1783 to illustrate the proposed Morris system for U.S. coinage. It is believed that these two Quints are survivors of that project, as are five or six pieces of other denominations.
This Quint is about fifteen sixteenths (15/16) of an inch in diameter, about the same as a post-1830 silver U.S. quarter. It weighs 109.6 or 109.7 grains (about 0.229 troy ounce or 7.1 grams) significantly more than a silver quarter. The Type 2 Quint is smaller, though, than the Quint of the first type, which is seventeen sixteenths (17/16) of an inch in diameter and weighs approximately 134 grains (0.279 troy ounce).
This Quint of the second type has been graded ‘53’ by the PCGS on a scale from 01 to 70. It may be true that “2 Dec” was etched into the upper reverse field, though these scratches are ambiguous. Though I have never seen the piece, some of those who have may be using their respective imaginations and/or may have previously read Breen’s statement in 1988 about such an etching, in his comprehensive encyclopedia, on p. 115. Others think that a number ‘5’ was etched, not a number ‘2’!
The Quint of the first type is part of a set of Morris 1783 Patterns, Nova Constellatio pieces, that is owned by a collector in the South. That set of four patterns had been offered by Stack’s privately during the 1990s and during the 2000s as well. This set was certified by the PCGS not long ago.
Both Quints were formerly part of the epic Garrett Family Collection. Further, both sold in the first Garrett sale by Bowers & Ruddy in Nov. 1979, in New York. For this Quint, Walter Perschke was the successful bidder. J. J. Ford bought the other.
Perschke is the consignor of this Quint. He has thus owned it for more than thirty-three years. He has also owned a Brasher Doubloon for about as long. In Aug. 2012, at the summer ANA Convention in Philadelphia, Perschke’s Brasher Doubloon was on display at the NGC booth. The Garrett-Perschke Quint was on display a year earlier at the summer 2011 ANA Convention.
I. Morris ‘Nova Constellatio’ Patterns
Patterns were struck in Philadelphia in 1783. Later in the 1780s, there were circulating Nova Constellatio Copper coins that could have been inspired by the Morris patterns. These coppers were probably struck in Birmingham, England and shipped to New York. Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris had a financial interest in the venture that produced and distributed Nova Constellatio Coppers, essentially privately issued coins. The designs of the 1783 patterns and the Nova Constellatio Coppers are similar. The copper coins that were dated 1783 were probably struck in 1784 or 1785.
The term “Nova Constellatio” appears on all the reported Morris patterns except the Garrett-Perschke Quint. The Morris patterns were illustrations for a proposed U.S. coinage system that was probably developed by Gouverneur Morris and was certainly advocated by Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris. At the time, the U.S. federal government was subject to the rules of The Articles of Confederation. The U.S. Constitution did not come into existence until 1787 and was approved over a period of many months by the thirteen States.
The Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress, the national legislature, in Nov. 1777. By early 1781, the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the respective legislatures of all thirteen States. These “Articles” reflected the reality that the U.S. was then a loose federation of independent States.
“The United States, in Congress assembled, shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective States, fixing the standard of weights and measures throughout the United States,” stated the ninth “Article” of the Articles of Confederation. It is also made clear, in the same “Article,” that the U.S. could not “coin money” without the approval of the legislatures of at least nine States. For several reasons, it would have been very difficult for the U.S. national government to establish a system of coinage and produce many coins, under the rules of the Articles of Confederation.
Later in 1781, after the “Articles” became the governing rules, Robert Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finance of the “Confederation.” Morris brought Benjamin Dudley to Philadelphia to assay coins then in circulation and to assist with a plan for U.S. coinage.
In late 1781 and especially in early 1782, it was clear that Robert Morris and his associate, Gouverneur Morris, were planning a coinage system and a U.S. Mint. The fact that they have the same last name was just a coincidence.
Traditionally, Gouverneur Morris was credited with devising a complex proposal for a system of coinage. Some researchers suggest that Robert Morris should receive equal credit, or most of the credit, for the ideas incorporated into this proposal. Historians will never know the exact nature of the conversations between the two. It is best to refer to the proposed system as the ‘Morris Proposal.’
In the Garrett auction catalog of Nov. 1979, a widely acclaimed 19th century biography of Gouverneur Morris is cited. The cataloger seems to have been inspired by similar passages in Sylvester Crosby’s book that was published in 1875, on “The Early Coins of America” (page 308).
Crosby cites the same biography of Morris, which was written by Jared Sparks, a famous historian. Sparks seems certain that Gouverneur Morris originated the plan and suggests that Thomas Jefferson thought Gouverneur did as well. Sparks served as president of Harvard University from 1849 to 1853. His biography of Gouverneur Morris is available for free via Google.
II. The Morris Proposal for U.S. Coinage
The Morris Proposal called for a monetary system based upon a “Unit” of 0.25 (1/4) grain of silver. In 1782 or 1783, it was figured, probably not accurately, that the Eight Reales coins of the Spanish Empire, the so called “Spanish Dollar,” each typically had 360 grains of silver. So, one “Unit” was 1/1440 of the silver content of the coin that was most often used for trade in the Americas.
In the 1700s, Spain controlled a large percentage of South America and Central America, plus the region that now constitutes the nation of Mexico. Furthermore, Spain was one of three leading powers in Europe. Considering Spanish influence in the Western Hemisphere and considering that the British were then thought of as being ‘the enemy,’ it is logical that U.S. officials would plan a coinage system such that U.S. coins could be at least somewhat easily interchanged with coins of the Spanish Empire.
The idea of using the “Spanish Dollar” as basis for U.S. coinage was not new. On Sept. 2, 1776, a committee on gold and silver coinage provided its report to the Continental Congress. It seems that Thomas Jefferson was the leader of this committee, or the most influential member. He wrote the report, literally, in his own handwriting, and compiled a chart that was featured in the report.
A version of this report was entered into the Journal of the Continental Congress. The main purpose of this committee was “to ascertain the value of the several species of gold and silver current in these states, and the proportion they and each of them bear and ought to bear to Spanish milled dollars [which were Eight Reales silver coins.]” The term ‘milled’ refers to coins that are struck on a machine rather than ‘by hand’ with tools.
This report of Sept. 2, 1776, is very much relevant to the Quints and the other Morris patterns of 1783 for two primary reasons. First, it was recommended by the committee that the wide variety of circulating coins, from many European nations, in the United States be evaluated in relation to the main silver coin of the Spanish Empire (‘Spanish Dollar’ = Eight Reales) being the base monetary unit with grains of silver being the common measure. All other coins were evaluated in terms of their respective values in net grains of silver and in Spanish Dollars.
Second, the chart showed data about all coins in grains and also their respective “Value in Dollars” in decimal form. While the use of decimals sounds obvious in 2013, the idea of the decimal system being applied to coinage was revolutionary in 1776. Major Europeans did not employ the decimal system for such purposes. Please read my recent series on 1792 half dismes for some background regarding the decimal system and U.S. coinage. (Clickable links are in blue.)
The Morris Proposal was introduced to the Continental Congress in Jan. 1782, more than five years after the Jefferson committee report in Sept. 1776. The Morris system is clearly based on the Spanish Dollar, though Morris and Jefferson differed as to the net silver weight of a ‘Spanish Dollar,’ 371.725 grains vs. 360 grains. An explanation of this discrepancy would require a separate inquiry. Also, when the U.S. Mint really did start producing silver dollars in 1794, these were similar in weight to the ‘Spanish Dollar’ (Spanish Empire Eight Reales coin) of the era.
There was not a traditional dollar in the Morris Proposal. The 1000 Unit piece, “Mark,” would have been about 75% of the silver weight of a ‘Spanish Dollar’ [Eight Reales coin of the Spanish Empire]. In addition to ‘100 Unit’ small silver coins and 500 Unit Quints, the Morrises envisioned ‘5 Unit’ and ‘8 Unit’ copper coins.
In addition to being compatible with the system of the Spanish Empire, the Morris Proposal was aimed at effectively bringing the inconsistent monetary policies of the States in line with a national standard.
To the Continental Congress, Robert Morris stated that “it is happy for us to have throughout the union, the same ideas of a mile and an inch, a hogshead and a quart, a pound and an ounce.” Morris emphasizes, though, that in “respect to our money the case is very widely different. The ideas annexed to a pound, a shilling, and a penny, are almost as various as the States themselves.”
In the present, in 2013, U.S. Dollars, Singapore Dollars, Australian Dollars and Canadian Dollars are all different units, despite the common term ‘dollar’! In 1783, all the thirteen States used some concepts of an English Pound, Shilling and Penny in their State monetary arrangements, though used such monetary units in varying manners.
Much information about monetary systems of the States, in effect before the 1790s, may be found in a publication on the website of the University of Notre Dame. Evidently, Louis Jordan is the mastermind behind this site on colonial coins and other pre-1793 American numismatic items. Other information on how the Morris proposal relates to varying definitions of shillings and pennies in the various States may be found in the already mentioned, classic biography of Gouverneur Morris by Sparks.
In my words, a penny in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland would have been worth ten Morris Units, equivalent to two and a half grains of silver. A Georgia Penny was then equivalent to fifteen Morris Units. A penny in New York or North Carolina then amounted to twenty-four Morris Units, equivalent to six grains of silver. In New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Virginia, a penny would then have been equivalent to thirty-two Morris Units, or eight grains of silver.
The Morris System, if adopted, would have required large numbers to indicate relatively small amounts of money. The purchase of a horse would have required tens of thousands of “Units”! People were not accustomed to such numbers and the coin denominations put forth in the Morris Proposal were not similar to coins then in circulation. Besides, the Continental Congress did not have the funds to establish a Mint, anyway. It was not until well after the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788 that a U.S. Mint became viable.
III. The Other Morris Patterns
The main silver coin in the Morris system (the “Mark”) would not have been a “dollar” in the sense of a ‘Spanish Dollar’ or the later U.S. silver dollar. The “Mark,” a denomination of 1000 Units, was planned to contain 270 grains of silver. The Garrett Collection “Mark,” 1000 Unit pattern, is said to weigh a little less than 270 grains, 17.5 grams, 0.5625 Troy ounce, more than a U.S. half dollar.
Researcher Breen reports receiving in 1959, from a collector, another “Mark,” 1000 Unit pattern. That one was holed, has a lower silver content than the Garrett piece, and has a plain edge (Breen, 1988, p. 114). The Garrett Mark has an ornamented edge. Breen was then unable to determine if the other 1000 Unit piece was genuine, though implied in 1988 that it might very well be genuine. Evidently, it was nearly identical to the Garrett 1000 Unit pattern (Mark). I am not aware of this piece re-emerging. As Breen is dead, it may be impossible to know for sure which piece Breen saw in 1959, as photographs were not taken.
This holed piece and presumably the Garrett Mark were brought to Johns Hopkins University for testing. Why were no photographs taken?
The Parmelee-Earle-Ellsworth-Garrett 1000 Unit pattern (“Mark”) is PCGS certified ‘Proof-65+.’ It is in the set that is currently owned by a Southern Collector.
There are three 100 Unit silver pieces, two with an ornamented edge and on with a plain edge. These are similar in size to dimes. The one in the Southern Collector’s set is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66.’ I am assuming that it is the Parmelee-Ellsworth-Garrett piece, with an ornamented edge.
A second ornamented edge 100 Unit silver pattern showed up in London in the 1980s. Its history is not clear. Stack’s (New York) auctioned it in May 1991.
The plain edge 100 Unit silver pattern is said by Breen (in 1988) to be a little lighter than the Parmelee-Edgeworth-Garrett piece. The already cited Jordan-Notre Dame website indicates that this piece was in the epic collection of J. G. Murdoch, who had one of the all-time greatest collections of British coins, among other items. If so, Murdoch acquired it in the late 19th century. Is it certain that the Murdoch piece is the one that emerged in the 1980s?
This plain edge 100 Unit silver pattern is now in the Eric Newman Collection. Curiously, this Garrett-Perschke Quint will be sold in the same auction event that includes an assortment of items, mostly patterns, from Newman’s Collection. (Please remember that clickable links are in blue.)
Only one copper Morris pattern has been reported. It is a “5 Unit” piece. It is a little smaller than a U.S. half cent. There is a record of such a piece being acquired in England in 1884 by Samuel Curwen, a British loyalist who was formerly a long-time resident of Massachusetts. Curwen’s description of Curwen’s piece is cited by Crosby in Crosby’s book in 1875, on p. 312.
Breen (1988) and Jordan (on the Notre Dame website) state that the Curwen piece showed up in Paris in 1977. As far as I know, there is no record of this piece between 1784 and 1977. Why is it assumed that it is the same piece? How was it authenticated? Anyone could have read Crosby’s book, which has been reprinted in quantity. Are the precise characteristics of the devices on this copper piece so similar to those on the Garrett Morris patterns that it can be concluded that the respective dies were prepared by the same hands? This copper piece is PCGS certified ‘Proof-66’ and is in the set that is owned by a Southern Collector.
IV. The Quints
I repeat that both of the known Quints, 500 Unit patterns, were in the Garrett Family Collection. The Garrett-Ford Quint has the same origins as the Garrett 1000 Unit Mark. Reportedly, in 1872, Philadelphia dealer John Haseltine bought these two pieces from Rathmel Wilson, who claimed to have acquired them from a descendant of Charles Thomson, who was the Secretary of the Continental Congress in the early 1780s. It is almost certain that Thomson received Morris patterns from Thomas Jefferson.
In the catalog of Haseltine’s auction of Dec. 1872, in which the Garrett Mark and the Garrett-Ford Quint were offered, the text of a letter from Wilson is printed. Was Wilson an excellent source and what happened to the actual letter?
The Haseltine-Garrett-Ford “Mark” and the Haseltine-Garrett-Ford Quint were in the Parmelee and Earle Collections, two of the dozen all-time best collections of U.S. coins. Parmelee's collection was offered at auction in 1890 and George Earle's collection was auctined in 1912. The Mark and that Quint are in the set that is currently owned by a Southern Collector.
The Garrett-Perschke Quint will be auctioned in April. It is PCGS certified “Proof-53.” The obverse (front) design of this piece really looks substantially different from the obverse die of the Garrett-Ford Quint. There are no words or letters on the obverse.
I already mentioned that the diameter and weight are notably different from that of the Garrett-Ford Quint. “Though inexplicable, these differences have not affected the market acceptance of the Type 2 Quint,” Ron Guth declares on the PCGS CoinFacts site. Breen states that these “deviations strongly suggest a later and unrecorded abortive attempt to revive the Morris-Dudley project” (Breen's encyclopedia of 1988, p. 114).
More than one writer has stated that the Haseltine-Earle-Garrett-Ford Quint and the Garrett-Perschke Quint were struck from the same reverse (tail) die. If so, it is likely that these two Quints were struck in the same year by the same people. There are no other Quints and there is no evidence that such a reverse die was used at other times.
Crosby emphasizes that the Morris Proposal was modified more than once in response to criticism. If so, the Type 2 Quint could embody a different standard that was central to a modified Morris Proposal.
The history of the Garrett-Perschke Quint, before it was in the Parmelee Collection, is not clear. I spent years collecting American numismatic literature of the 19th century and I have just slight recollections of seeing the name “William P. Brown,” the dealer who, according to Breen, claimed to know someone who inherited it during or before 1870.
This piece is mentioned in one of Ebenezer Mason’s publications, which are generally not reliable sources of information. Mason said vaguely that “a silver coin in the possession of a young man in the city of New York was handed down by his grandfather as a family relic.” Other pertinent statements in the same paragraph are misleading.
Though Breen asserted that Crosby, a leading collector and an expert in pre-federal items, owned the Garrett-Perschke Quint, the Garrett catalog says that it was “possibly owned at one time by Sylvester S. Crosby” (Nov. 1979, p. 153). Crosby seems, though, to assert that Crosby owned the Garrett Mark and both Quints.
On p. 311, Crosby says that the “dies for the larger piece, or Mark, differed materially from those for the smaller pieces, or Quints, as they were apparently cut by hand, while the latter were made in the more usual method by the use of punches.... three specimens of these dies are known all of which are now in the [collection] of the writer,” Crosby himself.
Regarding the Haseltine-Earle-Garrett-Ford Quint and the Garrett Mark, the pedigrees are a little puzzling, though very plausible. John Haseltine was not considered one of the more honest dealers of the second half of the 19th century. It is curious that, in 1872, he bought the Garrett-Ford Type 1 Quint and the Garrett Mark from a source that was not well known among coin collectors.
In Montroville Dickeson’s famous book in 1859 about American Numismatics, Dickeson mentions such Morris patterns and Dickeson implies that Dickeson then knew who had these two. Indeed, in a clear reference to a Quint and a Mark, “figures 2 and 3 [on Plate IX] were of silver and formerly belonged to Charles Thomson,” Dickeson writes on p. 90. “They were discovered after the death of his son, which occurred, we [who?] are informed, some fifteen years ago, in the secret drawer of an old desk that formerly belonged to his father.”
A Quint and a Mark, both clearly Morris patterns, “are now [in 1859] in the possession of a gentleman of this city, who values them very highly,” Dickeson adds. Was this “gentleman” Rathmel Wilson, a Thomson relative, or someone else?
The pictures on Plate IX suggest that Dickeson or a contributor to the book had seen the actual pieces or copies, unless accurate diagrams of Morris patterns dating from the 1780s were available in the 19th century? The pictures in Dickeson’s book are clearly of the same designs as the Haseltine-Garrett-Ford Quint and the Haseltine-Garrett-Ford Mark.
How would Dickeson have known about them and how did Haseltine ‘end up’ with them thirteen years later? Anyone who read Dickson’s book could then have contacted descendants of Charles Thomson, and Dickeson sort of implied that these were no longer owned by a descendant of Thomson, just a “gentlemen of this city”! Additional information regarding Rathmel Wilson may shed light on this mystery.
Certainly, these are among the famous and curious pieces in the history of American coins and patterns. How will the Garrett-Perschke Quint fare at auction?
©2013 Greg Reynolds
Note: This analysis of the Garrett-Perschke Quint was written and published prior the sale of this piece at auction. I covered the results of this auction, Million Dollar Items Lead Central States Auction, Part 1.