The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 13, March 26, 2023, Article 17


Last week, we discussed a PCGS article redefining New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, and other confederation-era ‘coppers' as 'halfpennies'.

Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4) President Chris McDowell wrote "one of the authors has already disavowed the work and requested his name be removed." When I drafted the E-Sylum piece I sent a copy to all of the listed authors and one of them (Jeff Rock) confirmed to me that he'd asked PCGS to remove his name. Later the lead author Craig Sholley shared email messages confirming that all listed authors had earlier been contacted. However, over a year had passed since then. Here are comments on the topic submitted by Jeff and others. -Editor

  1785 Vermont halfpenny

Jeff Rock writes:

"The PCGS article on renaming much of the undenominated coins made in colonial and early America as halfpence, ran with my name as one of the co-authors. I read over a draft of this article a year ago and made some minor suggestions, but did not do any actual writing on the piece, nor did I agree with its findings. Nothing was done with this article for a year, and I assumed the authors were reworking it, so it was a bit of a surprise to see it published. As I did not agree with the conclusions, I have asked that my name be removed as a co-author, though that has not yet been done.

My disagreements with this article are shared by many in the colonial field. In most of the legislation authorizing the state copper coinages, as well as in contemporary newspaper accounts, these coins were referred to as coppers - not halfpence. It seems that governmental authorities actually went to great pains to NOT call them halfpence, and to me that is striking. The authors conflate copper and halfpence and claim that this is the same as us doing the same with the word "nickel" to refer to a five-cent piece - which would be an accurate comparison if they showed that the legislation for the five-cent piece actually called them nickels, exclusively. This is not the case, and I think we need to give weight to what people at the time called these coins - which was "coppers."

The lack of a specific denomination would have allowed these to have a value that was not tied directly to the British and Irish halfpence that also circulated in colonial America (in both real and, more often, counterfeit form), and would allow the various states to change the rate their own copper coin was accepted at. The creation of the denomination "1/2P" on slabs was intended to refer to an American halfpence as opposed to the British and Irish halfpence (which are abbreviated "1/2d" - but there is obviously not room on the slab to make this distinction and will cause endless confusion. The authors originally proposed "A1/2P" as the denomination, which may have helped matters a bit, though it is still incorrect to assume that this wide variety of coinage types all circulated at the same value, this mythical American Halfpence.

While I doubt many colonial specialists will care if the "1/2P" designation is used on slabs, I also doubt that many of us will refer to the pieces in our collections by that made-up denomination. To us they will remain coppers."

Julia Casey writes:

"This article goes to great pains to prove that halfpence are coppers. To prove this, the authors quote primary sources such as Scottish and Canadian newspapers, British citizens, and even a claim made by Denmark. While these sources may prove that British halfpence are coppers, this was never in dispute. The great fallacy of this article is to declare that since all halfpence are coppers, then all coppers must be halfpence. State coppers are not halfpence.

"I also take issue with the word "coppers" relegated to "slang" like nickels. State coppers had a denomination. It was a variable denomination, which was always a fraction of a shilling. A "Connecticut copper" or a "Jersey copper" are the denominations of these coins. The "uneducated public" and the American everyman were fully aware of this."

  1787 Connecticut Copper

Randy Clark writes:

"I recently read the latest press release from PCGS making a business decision to rebrand confederation-era state coppers as American halfpennies, in objection to the colloquial term coppers. PCGS may understand justifying this decision is awkward, as the organization is choosing not to use the international halfpenny designation of 1/2d, but instead is proposing a new American halfpenny denomination of 1/2P. Exchanging a reference term used for centuries (coppers) with a newly coined name (1/2P) in order to provide a revised perception of denomination legitimacy is questionable.

"PCGS may be looking at the confederation era through modern eyes, trying to enforce numismatic denomination order for that period. In the 18 th century, prior to the confederation era, individual colonies printed specific denomination paper currency, but did not make domestic coins. Instead, each had to decide how to value a plethora of foreign circulating coinages, using an exchange rate from their local currency to the world's currencies (controlled by individual legislatures). The use of exchange rates continued through the confederation era and only ended with the US Constitution and a countrywide, decimal based currency system. Because these 18 th century colonies, later states, did not make domestic coinages – they found it difficult to assign crisp local denominations to whatever coins were being circulated.

"My area of focus is Connecticut coppers, so I will confine my comments to that state's coining efforts. From 1709 to 1780 Connecticut issued paper currency in denominations of Connecticut pounds, shilling and pence. Denominations varied by year of issue, but there were minor notes in Connecticut pence (d) up to major notes in Connecticut pounds (£). In the legislative acts of 1780, Connecticut defined their currency notes as payable in Spanish Milled Dollars, or coins equivalent, so it is clear they were aligning the state's currencies to Spanish silver, rather than anything British. One Spanish Milled dollar was worth 6s in Connecticut money of account.

"Connecticut's colonial and confederation era exchange rate with British money was 1 shilling and 4 pence of Connecticut money per British shilling. Which means a British halfpenny (valued at 24/s in England) circulating in Connecticut was valued at 18/s in Connecticut money. This clarifies why it was called a copper – because it was equivalent to 1 1/3 Connecticut halfpence. There were also large quantities of counterfeit British halfpence and other coppers circulating at the time, many of which were quite underweight. It is understood local merchants valued different coppers at different rates – there was a fluidity to the valuation of coppers in the market if they deviated too far from the norm.

"In 1785, when Connecticut authorized its own coppers, their intent was not to add yet another denomination to the crazy mix of coppers already in play. And since they had issued paper currency as recently as 1780, they were not intending to release a new form of legal tender. The legislative proposal was to tighten up the local spare change medium with more uniform and predictable Connecticut made versions. They chose a copper denomination targeting the value and weight of the British halfpenny because that was the most widely seen form of copper in the market. They were not coining Connecticut halfpennies; they were coining coppers in a form familiar with merchants and consumers. Bulk transactions of coppers to merchants, documented by Connecticut mint and treasury records, were done by weight, not by counting coins. The 1785 authorizing legislation also made it clear Connecticut coppers were not legal tender in payment of any debt.

"In 1787, the devaluation of coppers (the so-called Coppers Panic) in Connecticut and other states had changed the relationship of coppers per Connecticut shilling from the initial 18/s to whatever the market would situationally accept. It varied, by date and location, from 24/s, to 48/s, to the extreme of 72/s. Since they were not Connecticut halfpence, the relationship between coppers and the local official currency was decoupled and fluctuated. By 1789/1790 onwards, they were hardly accepted at all in commerce.

"The point is that Connecticut was not coining local currency halfpence and certainly was not making British halfpence. Given their experience with paper currency issues, both minor and major, Connecticut's Legislature and Treasury knew how to define denominations with specificity. They authorized coppers, a local denomination for spare change only, choosing a weight and value familiar to the market. The valuation of Connecticut coppers varied upon circumstance and year, decoupling them as an official financial denomination. Coppers were the financial grease that allowed transactions to be completed gracefully, and the designation coppers continues to be the proper technical term for future references. PCGS is obviously free to make business decisions that most favor their needs, but the justification for labeling coppers as American halfpennies is incomplete."

  Colonial Connecticut notes denominated in pence

Did the New Jersey Colonial Copper Have a Denomination?
Dennis Wierzba writes:

"The law empowering Walter Mould, Thomas Goadsby and Albion Cox (6/1/1786) …to strike and coin in Copper, for this State, a Sum equal in Value to Ten Thousand Pounds at fifteen Coppers to the Shilling (3 million Coppers)" is found in Early Coins of America, Crosby, p.278. The value of the copper is 1/15 shilling or 0.8 pence. It is inconvenient to call 0.8 pence a denomination, but certainly not correct to call it a halfpenny. These NJ coppers were struck to replace underweight counterfeit British halfpence and other light weight coins with a trusted copper.

"As to weight, Crosby, p.278 states the Act That the Coppers so be coined shall be of pure Copper and of weight of six Pennyweight and six grains (=150 grains). For comparison, the Massachusetts cent had an authorized weight from 146 to 165 grains. The Fugio cent was authorized at the Federal standard of 157.5 grains. By weight, the NJ copper, if it had a denomination, would be called, by some, a cent. This is incorrect as the NJ Assembly explicitly used the 15 coppers per shilling standard, not the Federal one.

"The unauthorized practice of overstriking underweight coppers with the NJ design caused the NJ Assembly to vote to no longer accept NJ coppers in payment as of 6/10/1790, ending its special tax payment status and premium value. In the copper panic that started in 1789, coppers as a type were valued at 48 to the shilling or worse.

"The conclusion is that the denomination of a NJ copper is 1/15 of a shilling, but the commercial value declined substantially once the State would not accept the coppers to pay taxes. This is a similar situation to the Higley coppers legend to value me as you please. I stand with the colonial authors and experts of the past from Crosby to Spilman to continue to call it a NJ copper. Fabricating the non-contemporary designation American halfpenny is a proposed solution to a problem that is non-existent to the colonial collecting community."

Mike Wierzba writes:

"Recently an article came out on behalf of PCGS written by a group of authors, who are highly respected in numismatics, reclassifying many confederation-era State Coppers and other issues as American Halfpence as opposed to the contemporary and current designation of Coppers.

"In this case, however, I must disagree with the article published by my esteemed colleagues. My area of expertise primarily focuses on NJ coppers, so I will stick to that series here. When the contract for striking NJ coppers was written, as well as the legislation printed to authorize NJ Coppers as legal tender in NJ, both documents clearly noted the title of the coins as Coppers and specifically avoided the word halfpenny or halfpence in their descriptions. It is highly unlikely that would have been the verbiage used in the official contract authorizing the striking of these coins if Coppers was a general slang term for a halfpenny-sized coin. Coppers was the official word chosen for good reason.

"Valuation of these coins was different and ever-changing in commerce. The purpose of these coins was to combat the halfpenny and its underweight status with regard to a value in NJ. Also, NJ coppers (unlike other state issues) were fully authorized to be used both for debts and state taxes. NJ coppers were made in a quantity of 3,000,000 pieces, valued at 15 to the Shilling. Quick math shows this to break down to 80% of a Pence (using the British standard of 24 Halfpence to the Shilling).

"The authors of the article have suggested a new denomination for these coins, American Halfpence, and suggested a label of 1/2P instead of the commonly known 1/2d associated with halfpence. This is a newly proposed denomination that was not a term used contemporarily, nor historically, until this article. Also worth noting is that halfpenny and halfpence have specific meanings, though that definition is not carried over in this proposed usage of the word.

"Generally speaking, a denomination of a coin gives an exact value that is authorized by a country/government. Since all the state coppers and other circulating privately issued coppers of the era were valued differently in each state, calling all these coins by the same denomination is not a correct fit. Not in the 1780s nor today.

"I am sure there will be more research and opinions coming forth on this topic. It is my opinion at the time of this writing however, that Coppers was the term given to these coins by both the state governments and by the American accounts of the time, most certainly to distinguish them from the British and Irish halfpennies already in circulation and keep their values in commerce as changeable as needed with day-to-day business. I am of the opinion that printed material such as articles, auction catalogs, and books current and in the future continue with the proper term for these coins, as they were described and named by state governments during the period, Coppers."

Coppers vs. Halfpennies
Ray Williams writes:

"I read the announcement by PCGS about the campaign to describe some of the confederation-era copper coins properly as halfpennies instead of coppers. This move seems to have been inspired by an article posted in the March 19 E-Sylum. It was written by six listed authors, several whom are friends and I have great respect for their knowledge and opinions. I hope that a discussion between the authors and C4 authors can debate the issue at some point.

But as friends often do, I must disagree with the article that was posted. Debate in the hobby usually results in good information being brought to light, or the parties agreeing to disagree. The following thoughts are my opinions on the subject.

I'm a collector of pre-federal coins, generally the state coppers of 1785-1788, and specifically NJ Coppers. The original legislation authorizing the establishment of a mint in NJ, and the people to run it, used the term coppers. Not just once but ten times including the title of the act. What sets the NJ Coppers apart from the other confederation era coppers is that it was receivable in the payment of taxes. Valued at 15 to the NJ Shilling initially, its value in commerce declined but not as quickly as other coppers.

The values that the coins received in commerce depended upon the agreement of buyer and seller, and diminished as it travelled further from its issuing state. These coins were called coppers and were not halfpennies. Could someone at the time have called them halfpennies? Probably, BUT it would be like some today calling the-cent a penny. Our one-cent coin is not a penny, but tradition can carry on.

If PCGS wants to call it a halfpenny, we'll know what they're talking about, even if incorrect. A halfpenny is abbreviated as 1/2d not 1/2P. But I hope that researchers, authors, catalogers, the Red Book, and the Colonial Encyclopedia continue to call the coins what they really are – coppers. Colonial collectors are sticklers for historic accuracy."

  1786 New Jersey halfpenny

PCGS article lead author Craig Sholley offers this response. -Editor

With respect to Mr. McDowell's critique of our article on the state coppers, we wish to make the following points:

First, all authors listed on the byline were emailed several versions of the article while it was in development. The article always had coauthor names clearly listed on byline. Since there was some question on this point, we did provide an example email, with attached article copy, to both Mr. McDowell and the E-Sylum editor.

Coauthors were added to the byline as an acknowledgment of their participation in and contributions to the project. Those participations and contributions included proofreading and general recommendations, editorial changes, content changes, and providing base data or content. Any coauthor wishing to see email copies need only contact the two principal authors and editors, Craig Sholley or John Dannreuther.

As to the intent of the article, the sole intent was to use the historical records to establish the legal denomination (also known as face value or local valuation) for use on PCGS holder labels. Coins may or may not have colloquial and/or official names and official local valuations (denominations). Coin names may or may not be the same as the denomination.

Due to space constraints, PCGS does not use colloquial or official coin names on the holder labels. Rather they use the denomination, or more properly, a monetary abbreviation for the denomination. For example, U.S. gold ten dollar and half dollar coins, whose official names respectively are Eagle and Half Dollar, are respectively indicated as $10 and 50C on PCGS labels.

The presence of a denomination abbreviation on the PCGS holder label does not prevent collectors from calling coins by whatever name they wish. Coin names such as Capped Bust Half, Seated Quarter, Mercury Dime, etc. are all in common use and thus obviously not prevented by the denomination abbreviation shown on the PCGS label. We have no objection to any collector calling a coin by whatever name they wish, and since PCGS has never, to our knowledge, expressed differently, we presume they corporately feel the same.

To the case at hand, the two principal authors use, and will continue to use, the term copper or coppers when referring to the coins in general and especially when including the Massachusetts cents and half cents in discussions of the state coppers.

It also should be noted that the denomination used for PCGS labels is the official valuation at the time and place of official authorization. Just as a Canadian dollar was and is not valued the same as a U.S. dollar, it should not be presumed that a half penny from Connecticut had the same value as a half penny from New Jersey or that either coin had the same value when spent in Pennsylvania or New York.

While denomination and local valuation at the time of authorization are the same, valuations in other places and/or at other times are locale and time specific. We thought our presentation of the valuation laws and the way in which various monies are, and always have been, treated around the world made that point clear. Since we were in error in not being more specific, this is intended as the clarification.

We hope that the foregoing clarifies the issues. Those with questions may certainly contact us.

Roger Siboni submitted this summary after digesting both arguments. -Editor

I have discussed this subject with contributors on both sides of the issue. This whole exercise appears to me to simply be about slab enthusiasts trying to standardize yet another category of coinage into a simple basic unit so it can be more easily consumable to a broader audience of collectors. As a long time colonial copper collector and co-publisher of one of the main textbooks in the New Jersey Copper series, I appreciate the idea and value of making often misunderstood colonials more exciting and collectable to a larger audience of collectors.

The disadvantage of what some might call this noble effort is that it simply distorts reality to a breaking point. Several knowledgeable and published authorities in the field of colonial coppers have already weighed in on the mountains of historical, published and contemporary facts that make New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont coppers...coppers. Deliberately not half pennies.

An important factor greatly missed by this new halfpenny standard designation is that colonial collectors collect the vast array of colonial coppers for their diversity and distinct history. This includes differing exchange rates. The historic protection against counterfeit British halfpennies. The feeding of cash starved Colonies with anything round and brown. Differing political statements. This list goes on.

We revel in the difference between 9 Diniers, Nova Constellatio coppers, a Higley Value Me as You Please, and a New Jersey Copper. Each with a story, reason and purpose that bore little relationship to British halfpennies other than they were both money.

The halfpenny designation also seems to fly right in the face of the fact that New Jersey Coppers come struck over just about everything from a Connecticut Copper, to a Virginia 1/2 Penny to a Clinton Cent. This is because they all traded at different values. (New Jersey Coppers were accepted for tax payment so they held value much better than other coppers and were ALWAYS the overstrike). In fact, many people collect New Jersey coppers solely by undertype!

So here we are, the choices are: accept a wholly fabricated standardization for colonial coppers to gain a broader audience (I am a bit suspect of this). Or resist, accept facts and history and maintain the integrity of why we collect early coppers.

I suppose, I come down on the side of not seeing much value in adding 1/2P to these coins. If there is not enough slab space real estate for the word copper, let's not default to 1/2P.

Always reject the incorrect periodic use of Cents, Pennies or half pennies when they arise in the context of Colonial coppers. And perhaps let us enjoy the fascinating complexity of these early coppers when trading in them was the wild west. Indeed, one can view Machin's Mills as not much more than an arbitrage shop. Making coins on the cheap they thought people might accept for more value. Overstriking every kind of unwanted copper with a more desirable copper on top (usually New Jerseys).

I prefer collecting REAL history in your hands."

And taking one last swing from the other side... -Editor

Bill Eckberg writes:

"Others who know much more than I about pre-federal copper coinage have disagreed with the decision by PCGS to call the coins halfpence. Fair enough, and I say this as one who was included as a co-author on the article PCGS published. I'm a proud member of C4 because I find these coins fascinating, but I can't claim to be an expert on them.

"What surprises me is that what PCGS calls the coins seems to matter so much to a number of specialists in the field. My main specialization has been early Federal copper coins. PCGS' grading standards for half and large cents (if they can be called standards at all) do not in any way correspond to the standards that specialists in those coins have used for many decades. When we wrote the Grading Guide for Early American Copper Coins, of which I was an author, we acknowledged the different standards and suggested that collectors who were serious should learn both.

"That is similar to the way I feel about PCGS calling the pre-federal coppers halfpence. It might happen that collectors who are scared away from collecting pre-federal coinage by all of the arcana will find the new term a useful portal into the fascinating world of these historic and interesting coins."

Thanks, everyone! -Editor

To read the full PCGS article, see:
Confederation-Period Copper Coins: Halfpence, Cents, or Coppers? (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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