Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten Years

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #222

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….

Amazingly, locally minted large copper coins circulated in Connecticut in the late 1730s and early 1740s; Higley Coppers are among the rarest and most exciting of all American colonial coins. One of the all-time greatest groups of them will be auctioned by Heritage on Friday, May 16, in New York, at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion near Central Park.

These are part of a sale of colonial coins and other pre-1793 items from the epic collection of Eric Newman. An earlier column was devoted to a preview of this specific event and 1792 patterns to be offered were discussed two weeks ago.

Most Higleys are dated 1737. Some are dated 1739 or have no date. For a discussion of the historical background of Higley Coppers, please refer to an analytical article that I wrote last year.

In addition to commenting upon the amazing group of Higley Coppers that will be auctioned on May 16, I researched auction results for just about every Higley Copper that has been auctioned since May 2004. It is intended for this discussion of auction records to shed considerable light on condition rankings, market values, and the availability of Higley Coppers over the last ten years. To make understanding the subtypes easier, I re-introduce a classification system, which is much more straightforward than other methods of categorizing Higleys.

I. General Remarks about Higleys

Before classifying them, there is a need to emphasize that it is extremely difficult to grade Higley Coppers. The criteria employed is necessarily much more liberal than the criteria employed to grade large cents dating after 1815. If experts at the PCGS and the NGC applied such grading criteria to surviving Higleys, more than 90% of them would be judged to be non-gradable, as these typically were subject to corrosion and have other substantial problems. So, the numerical grades assigned are a curious balance of positive and negative characteristics. Sharpness, surface quality, technical factors, and eye appeal are taken into consideration.

In terms of negative characteristics, specialists in large cents tend to weigh flaws in the process of striking, and in the prepared blanks (planchets) used to make coins, much more heavily than graders at the PCGS or the NGC. In contrast, the harm done by deliberate modifications of coins tends to be weighed more heavily by advanced graders in the mainstream than by most specialists in early copper, who tend to be very forgiving, especially in regard to chemical enhancements, additives and smoothing.

Even given the use of more liberal grading criteria, many Higley Coppers that have been assigned numerical grades by the PCGS or the NGC are really in a gray area between the gradable and the ungradable. The consensus in the mainstream of the coin community seems to be that a Higley Copper must have very severe problems for it to fail to receive a numerical grade.

Many specialists in die varieties of early copper coins assign numerical grades to all copper coins, regardless of the severity of problems. They, though, sometimes assign grades that are much lower than the number that would correspond to the level of wear on a coin. For example, it would not be unusual for them to assign a grade of VG-10 to an early copper coin that they regard as having the sharpness of a VF-30 grade coin if that coin has substantial imperfections like distracting contact marks and planchet flaws.

Because Higley Coppers are extremely rare in absolute terms, those who seek them tend not to worry very much about the quality of the coins. Most interested collectors would be thrilled to own a genuine Higley of any grade.

Even the worst known Higley Coppers are very valuable. Collectors who cannot afford to acquire genuine Higley Coppers often purchase replicas, fantasy strikings or electrotypes made from genuine pieces. For prices ranging from $50 to $500 each, a wide variety of non-genuine Higleys can be acquired, some of which are particularly attractive. Particular replicas made in the 19th century have considerable significance in the history of coin collecting in the U.S., and are not extremely expensive. Again, please read last year’s article, which covers historical aspects of Higley Coppers.

II. Newman’s Connecticut Higley

higleyct2 Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten YearsOne subtype of Higley Coppers features the name, Connecticut, on the reverse (back of the coin), though the ‘U’ appears as people now would print a ‘V’ (Reynolds: H-3P-CT). Eric Newman’s representative of this subtype may be the finest of all known Higley Coppers.

Newman’s H-3P-CT is NGC graded AU-50. Although the 50 grade is debatable, this is the most stunning Higley Copper that I have ever seen. It appears far more appealing in actuality than it does in published images. It is just an awestriking coin, much more enticing than I expected it to be.

Most Higley Coppers have some faintly struck design elements and much corrosion. Indeed, on some surviving Higley Coppers, only a small percentage of the design elements are recognizable. Evidently, it was typical for some design elements to be very faintly struck, or missing, when Higley Coppers were made. The extent of detail on the Newman H-3P-CT (Connecticut) Higley is startling.

The deer is full with a defined eye and mouth. Most of the letters in the design are sharp. All three hammers are visible and two of the three crowns are very sharp. The beads in the border devices are nearly complete.

The obverse (front) inner fields are a neat mellow, semi-creamy tan-brown color. The deer has a neat, natural reddish tint. The letters on the obverse are a nice tan color and the outer obverse fields are a very pleasing, definitely natural, green-russet tone. Indeed, the toning is even, well balanced, not dark and very attractive.

The toning on the reverse (back) is even more attractive. The creamy light brown fields have a greenish tint. The hammers are a pleasing tan-brown color. Almost all the design elements on the reverse are surrounded and highlighted by green and russet toning. The overall, visual effect is exceptionally pleasing.

higleyct3 Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten YearsOf course, all early copper coins have imperfections. The mint-caused defects, including the issues near the bottom of the obverse and top of the reverse are minor. A couple of circular contact marks in the upper right obverse inner field are significant, though not particularly bothersome. A glass with five-times magnifying power enables an expert to spot a few small hairlines, which are not consequential, and some light corrosion, which is expected on pre-1800 copper coins, especially on one from 1737!

Given the astonishing eye appeal and level of detail, the assigned AU-50 grade is fair enough, though I would feel more comfortable with an EF-45 grade for this coin. In this case, however, there are logical reasons to add grading points to the level of sharpness, rather than just subtracting points because of imperfections. As the eye appeal is so great and the imperfections are so minor for a Higley, it would be unfair for anyone to grade this coin below 40, using any criteria that could be fairly employed within the coin collecting community in the U.S.

I would not be surprised if this coin sold for multiples of the previous auction record for a Higley, which is listed herein. Indeed, I found this piece to be much more exciting than many of the other treasures in the same auction of Newman’s pre-1793 items. I could examine this coin for a half hour without becoming tired of it.

III. Newman’s Higley Coppers

Newman’s other Higley Coppers are discussed here in the context of a classification framework that is easy for beginners to understand. While there may be one or two people who collect Higley Coppers ‘by die variety,’ a new classification system is needed for most people who are interested in or just curious about Higley Coppers.

This system of two major types and five subtypes can be easily remembered. When my system is used to identify a Higley Copper, each reader can envision the subtype in his or her mind. There is not a need to continually refer to academic reference guides.

The unique ‘Wheel’ supposed Higley Copper is being ignored here, as it really appears much different from the Higley Coppers that were known to collectors in the 19th century. It looks more like an item made for a child than it does a coin.

Higley Coppers feature the portrait of a deer on the obverse (front of the coin). The two major design types are ‘Hammers’ (H), which feature three hammers with crowns on the reverse (back of the coin), and Axe (X). Each ‘X’ Higley was minted with a picture of a broad axe on the reverse. All the Hammers (H) pieces are dated 1737. Surviving Axe (X) pieces are dated 1739 or have no date (ND).

H-3P-CT

— A statement, “THE VALVE OF THREE PENCE” (3P), is on the obverse (front) and ‘CONNECTICVT’’ (CT) is on the reverse. Through at least 1925, it was not unusual for the letter ‘U’ to be represented as ‘V’ in public writings, especially in plaques and monuments. The Newman H-3P-CT was just discussed.

H-3P-IAGC

— A ‘THREE PENCE’ obverse design is matched with a reverse design featuring a slogan, “I AM GOOD COPPER” [IAGC], rather than “CONNECTICVT.” If Newman has an H-3P-IAGC, it is not in the upcoming auction. One of Newman’s Higley Coppers is being retained, probably to be displayed at the Newman Money Museum in St. Louis.

H-Please-IAGC

— The obverse features a cute legend, ‘VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE’! The words ‘THREE PENCE’ are not present.

higleypleaseiagc Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten YearsNewman has two representatives of this subtype, of different die varieties. In my view, whether VALUE is printed VALVE really is not a major concern. It does not make sense to seek representatives of both “VALUE” and “VALVE” varieties.

Newman’s VALVE piece is NGC graded VG-08 and the reverse, by itself, merits a grade higher than 08. This coin has a really nice overall look. Reddish brown hues mix with other shades of brown in the obverse inner fields. Tan design elements contrast nicely with the fields. This coin does have hairlines, hardly any of which are noticeable without magnification. As the coin is tilted under a light and viewed with a five-times magnifier, a significant number of hairlines are discernible, though these are consistent with a VG-08 grade and some are lost in an area of the obverse that was not struck properly.

While the deer is faint, it is all there. Many other design elements are bolder than would be expected on a certified VG-08 Higley. The letters of the words “VALVE ME AS YOU” are clear.

On the reverse, the left and top crowns are very crisp. The words “AM GOOD” of IAGC are extremely bold. The date is entirely readable with naked eyes.

The mint-caused defects are trivial, in my view. This coin has never been doctored or transformed. Some parts of the coin are consistent with a Fine-12 grade and other parts are consistent with a grade of Good-06. As a balancing grade, VG-08 is accurate, and this coin has superior eye appeal for this grade.

Newman’s H-Please-IAGC “VALUE” piece did not receive a numerical grade from the NGC, and is fairly said to have “SCRATCES” and “VF DETAILS” on the NGC holder. Yes, the long, medium-depth scratches in the middle of both sides are annoying. Further, there is a little corrosion here and there. Even so, the problems appear more severe in pictures of this coins than the problems appear when this coin is examined in actuality.

The tones are nice, though not nearly as exceptional as the tones on the other Newman Higleys in this offering. The grade of this coin should probably be adjusted downward from having the details of a VF-20 coin to a net grade of VG-08, mostly due to the scratches.

In terms of the NGC and PCGS standards for Higleys, its condition is near the border of being gradable. I would not have been surprised if the NGC had assigned a Fine-15 grade to it, when it was submitted. This coin will bring a healthy price at the auction.

X-Please-ND

higleyxpleasend Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten YearsIn coin collecting, ‘ND’ means ‘No Date,’ a year is not included in the design. ‘Please’ refers to an obverse with the non-denominational statement, ‘VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE.’ X, of course, refers to an ‘axe’ reverse design.

Eric Newman’s coin is NGC graded VF-30. The NGC has graded two different X-Please-ND coins as VF-20, which are discussed in the context of auction records. One of these two has also been graded VF-20 at the PCGS. Certified, lower grade X-Please-ND Higleys are also mentioned.

Newman’s X-Please-ND is the only one of the five that was disappointing to view in actuality. The reverse outer design elements, including the border beads, are exceptional. Even so, I was expecting more of a Higley that is certified as grading VF-30! There are problems.

Despite its imperfections, the overall ‘look,’ to unaided eyes, is more enticing to some than Higley Coppers that have been graded VF-20. It is true that the deer is extremely bold and many of the other obverse design elements are clear. Although not comforting to all experts, the assigned VF-30 grade is understandable. This coin has excellent, natural color, which captures the attention of experts.

X-Please-1739

This has same general design as X-Please-ND, except that a date, 1739, appears on the reverse design.

Newman’s piece is NGC graded Good-04. Below, auction appearances of coins that are PCGS graded VF-20, Good-04 (Jack Royse) and Good-06 (Peter Scherff) are cited. The NGC reports having graded an X-Please-1739 as EF-40 and another as F-15.

There are two or three different X-Please-1739 pieces that could generously be graded Fine-15, especially the Norweb and Stack’s-‘May 2007 auction’ coins. Would anyone grade the Bushnell-Garrett piece as 15? The coin that is NGC graded EF-40 may be the X-Please-1739 that was formerly in the collection of Herbert Oechsner and was auctioned by Stack’s in Sept. 1988.

Newman’s X-Please-ND is not well detailed. Just ghosts of reverse design elements are apparent. Other than a VG-level deer, the design elements on the obverse are heavily worn or not present. Higleys, though, were typically struck such that much of the detail on the dies was usually not imparted onto the coins. So, in regard to most Higleys, some missing detail was never there.

I theorize, though, that this coin was awarded a Good-04 grade in large part because of its attractive color, relative originality, and surface quality. The colors are natural and attractive. This coin does not have many of the imperfections that tend to characterize Higleys. Plus, it scores high in the category of originality. The reverse having the sharpness of an AG-03 grade notwithstanding, the overall ‘look’ of this coin makes the assigned Good-04 grade very much acceptable. The group of five Newman Higley Coppers in this auction are very impressive and very appealing, overall.

IV. Auction Records

I have researched almost all the auction records for Higley Coppers since May 2004. These are being discussed here in order of prices realized from highest to lowest”

A. $218,500!

My impression is that, in May 2004, Stack’s auctioned the Bushnell-Boyd-Ford H-3P-IAGC for “$218,500.” At the moment, I do not have access to a catalogue of this sale. I believe that this coin was listed as grading ‘Extremely Fine.’ If it is the PCGS graded “VF-35” coin that is currently pictured on PCGS CoinFacts, the ‘Extremely Fine’ grade that was assigned by a cataloguer in 2004 is not compelling.

B. $97,750

I am also under the impression that the Boyd-Ford X-Please-ND sold for $97,750 in the same sale in May 2004, as lot #272. Is this $97,750 result the auction record for an X-type Higley? If so, it seems that both this record and the $218,500 record for a Hammers Higley will be broken on May 16.

C. $92,000

The highest price for a Higley in a past Heritage auction is $92,000. An X-Please-1739 that is PCGS graded Very Fine-20 was sold in May 2008 at a Long Beach Expo. Earlier, it had been auctioned for $40,250 in a joint Stack’s-ANR event in June 2004.

D. $80,500

On May 22, 2007, Stack’s auctioned a H-Please-IAGC for $80,500. It was not certified, was graded by the cataloguer as Fine-12, and was said to have been in an auction by Bowers & Merena that was held in July 1997. Stack’s offered this coin again on June 25, 2008. Online records indicate that, by then, it had been PCGS graded Fine-12. There are some data entry errors in published citations of offerings of this coin. My impression is that this coin did not sell at auction in 2008.

E. $76,375

Less than a month ago, Heritage auctioned an X-Please-ND, from an “Old New England Collection,” for $76,375. This X-Please-ND is (or was) NGC graded VF-20. The PCGS CoinFacts site pictures this same coin as being PCGS graded VF-20.

F. $69,000

Stack’s (New York) reported having sold a non-certified X-Please-1739 Higley for “$69,000” on May 22, 2007. A cataloguer graded it as “Fine-12.” Pictures suggest that it has the sharpness of a grade above Fine-12, though could possibly be non-gradable. It is said in the online listing to have been a “new discovery.”

G. $64,625

stackshigley 271x275 Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten YearsIn March 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a H-Please-IAGC Higley from the landmark collection of Ted Craige. It is PCGS graded Good-06, though the numerical grade does not indicate that its surface quality is superior to the respective surface quality of most other gradable Higley Coppers. Despite some very apparent smooth regions, this is an exceptional Higley. Although $64,625, is an apparently very strong price for a Higley that is certified as grading just ‘Good-06,’ I was not surprised by this result, as this coin is impressive in important ways.

H. $63,250

On Jan. 3, 2007, at a FUN Convention auction, Heritage sold a PCGS graded VF-25 H-3P-CT Higley for $63,250. On May 29, 2008, Heritage sold this same coin again, for $57,500. This H-3P-CT was earlier in the Boyd, Ford and Wiseman Collections. Also, Heritage offered this same coin in July 2005.

I saw an erroneous report of a Higley Copper selling for “$59,800” in Oct. 2004. The NGC graded VF-20, Roper-Anton, X-Please-ND was in an ANR auction in New York, though did not sell. A commitment to pay more than $48,000 would have been required to acquire it at that event. This coin is definitely not the same as the NGC graded VF-20 X-Please-ND that Heritage sold in April 2014.

I. $51,750

In Jan. 2010, and again in Jan. 2011, Heritage auctioned an X-Please-ND that is PCGS graded Fine-15. Before it was certified, this same X-Please-ND was auctioned by Stack’s in May 2004, as lot #273, for $34,500. When Stack’s offered it again in Philadelphia in Sept. 2009, it had already been PCGS graded Fine-15. In Jan. 2010, it brought $48,875 and it went for a little more, $51,750, in Jan. 2011.

J. $40,000 to $50,000

The highest auction price for a certified, explicitly non-gradable Higley is $49,937.50. In Feb. 2013, Heritage sold the Norweb Collection X-Please-1739, which is (or was) in a PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder. The central design elements maybe have the details of a Fine grade coin. The outer design elements are barely discernible, when present at all.

Stack’s (NY) auctioned five Higley Coppers in March 2010. A H-3P-CT that is PCGS graded VG-08 was then auctioned for $47,725. According to the Stack’s cataloguer, this piece was earlier in the epic collection of John Story Jenks. If so, this piece was auctioned by the firm of Henry Chapman, along with the rest of the Jenks Collection, in Dec. 1921.

In Jan. 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a clearly non-gradable, H-Please-IAGC Higley for $47,000. It had been very crudely bent and attempts to straighten this coin left it looking deformed. Apparently, it is (or was) in a PCGS holder that indicates that it has the “details” of a “Good” grade coin. For the most part, it has the details of a grade much higher than Good-06. It does, though, have other problems in addition to having been bent. Even so, some of the design elements are amazingly clear. Although the $47,000 result for this coin is very strong, this price was not shocking.

In Nov. 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the Jack Royse Collection X-Please-1739. It is PCGS graded Good-04. The obverse is of much higher quality than the reverse. The assigning of a ‘04’ grade must have involved balancing several factors, including marked positive and negative characteristics. The portrait of the deer is especially sharp. This coin has much less corrosion than most Higley Coppers. It does, though, exhibit an assortment of annoying imperfections. The seemingly high price realized of $45,575 is just a little surprising. Surface quality and technical factors make this coin more appealing than some Higleys that have been assigned higher numerical grades.

The second highest price realized of the five that Stack’s auctioned in March 2010 is $43,125 for a PCGS graded VG-10 X-Please-ND coin. Stack’s (New York) had earlier auctioned this same coin in May 1991.

Two of the five sold in March 2010 each brought $40,250, including a PCGS graded “AG-03” H-3P-IAGC. Parmelee and Norweb are cited as former owners in the lot description, two of the greatest collections of all time. The collection of Lorin Parmelee was offered at auction in 1890. Bowers & Merena (New Hampshire) sold the U.S. and American Colonial items from the Norweb Collection nearly a century later, in New York in 1987 and 1988.

The other $40,250 result for a Higley Copper in March 2010 was for an X-Please-1739. It is PCGS graded Good-06 and was in the “Peter Scherff Collection.”

K. $25,000 to $40,000

On Jan. 26, 2010, in New York, Stack’s auctioned an X-Please-ND Higley that is PCGS graded AG-03. According to the cataloguer, this same coin was earlier auctioned by Stack’s in June 1987 and the “Corrado Romano” pedigree is said to have been noted on the PCGS label (“insert”). Reportedly, this coin then sold for $37,375.

Of the seven Higley Coppers that Stack’s offered at auction in May 2004, all were not certified. Two are reported to have each realized $36,800, a H-3P-CT, and a H-Please-IAGC.

At the recently concluded Central States auction by Heritage, from the already mentioned “Old New England Collection,” a second Higley Copper made a public appearance. An X-Please-ND that is said to have the details of a Very Fine grade coin is an NGC holder, with the accurate notation that it is “DAMAGED.” The deer design element has almost ‘Extremely Fine’ level details. The appearances of the other design elements vary considerably. Overall, this coin is a mess. It sold for $25,850 on April 24, 2014.

Of the five Higleys that Stack’s auctioned in March 2010, the lowest price, $27,600, was for a PCGS graded AG-03 H-Please-IAGC. This same coin was earlier in the Robison Sale in 1982.

The lowest result for any of those seven that Stack’s sold in May 2004 was the $26,800 amount paid for a second H-3P-CT. I am aware of just one, genuine Higley Copper being auctioned for less than $25,000 over the last ten years.

L. A bargain for just $19,975!

Ted Craige had at least two Higleys. In March 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an X-Please-ND for $19,975. It was earlier in the famous collection of Allison Jackman, which the firm of Henry Chapman auctioned in 1918.

I examined the Jackman-Craige, X-Please-ND. Though it had extensively corroded, the color of the copper was not bad, much more original than that of many surviving 18th century U.S. Large Cents. The obverse has the details of a Fine grade coin. The portrait of a deer was especially bold, even sharper than would be expected on a Fine grade coin. The reverse, however, has more wear and had been subject to more severe corrosion. Even so, the purchase of this coin was ‘a good deal.’

Also, it should be noted that deceptive forgeries of Higley Coppers exist. It is imperative to consider only those that are certified by the PCGS or the NGC and to consult experts in this series. Affluent, interested collectors tend to seek just two Higleys, a ‘H’ and an ‘X.’

©2014 Greg Reynolds

About the Author:

Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a vast majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than two hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least fifty articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. For three years in a row, he has been the winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award of the NLG. Greg has also won NLG awards for individual articles, for a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site. Reynolds is available for private consultations: insightful10{a}gmail.com

2 Comments on "Colonial Coins: Higley Coppers Auctioned Over the Last Ten Years"

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  1. Alan V. Weinberg says:

    In 1963-64 while I was in college, Bill Anton Jr. took me out to dinner at a NJ steak house. I had already been a serious buyer of rather expensive and rare colonials from Bill starting in 1960. In candlelight, Bill laid out seven(7) Higleys of various varieties on the white tablecloth during dinner. “Take your pick” he said. The best condition one was equal to the finest Newman specimen (slabbed AU-50 but in my opinion a 40 coin) but, as I recall, it had some surface dents. I ended up picking a nice brown problem-free (1737) Axe Higley which would slab today as VF-30, equal to the 2nd finest Newman Higley. I paid $3,750 …for comparison it was about this time that Sam Wolfson’s 1804 dollar Stack’s auctioned for $28K. That Anton Axe Higley is now in the DGP Long Island coll’n.

  2. Denis Loring says:

    Terrific article. A great little primer on Higleys.

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