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Stellar Choice VF 1783 Nova Constellatio Copper to be Offered in Session 10 of our March 2016 Baltimore Auction

By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger

Author: James McCartney / Friday, April 01, 2016 / Categories: United States Coin of the Week

Offered in lot 31330 of our March 2016 Baltimore Auction is an appealing Choice VF 1783 Nova Constellation copper that will nicely represent this type in an impressive assemblage of early American issues.Handsomely preserved and expertly centered, deep cappuccino patina supports rich chestnut atop the most prominent regions. The surfaces are very attractive. There is mild, characteristic softness at the central reverse, but the devices remain uniformly rendered and razor sharp. The eye appeal and technical merit of this example is superlative for the assigned grade level.   

In 1783, Gouverneur Morris, Assistant Superintendent of Finance with the Continental Congress, proposed a 1000-unit, decimal-based coinage system to replace the potpourri of foreign coins fueling the early American economy. A five-coin set of denominated patterns ranging from a 5-unit copper piece through a 1000-unit silver piece, or 1 mark, was struck to illustrate this concept. Exhibiting the familiar obverse of an interstellar, all-seeing eye paired with a wreathed and monogramed US on the reverse; these 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns were to be struck at the proposed North American Mint.  Though neither the North American Mint nor the 1000-unit system was implemented, the motifs saw new life in Morris’ next venture.

Sometime after the failed coinage proposal, Gouvernor Morris partnered with Robert Morris and William Constable in New York City, and John Rucker in London, to form the commercial house Constable, Rucker & Co. In a private effort, the company ordered a striking of promotional copper pieces bearing a motif inspired by the 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns. Though these promotional pieces bear the dates 1783, 1785 and 1786, researcher Eric P. Newman suggests that the 1783-dated pieces may not have been struck until 1785, as there are no known contemporary accounts of their existence before then.

The design saw many alterations throughout production, with major variations in the style of the rays and the spelling of CONSTELLATIO on the obverse, and the style of the wreath and US on the reverse. The pieces were popular in commerce and saw heavy circulation, ironically contributing to the patchwork of coins fueling the economy that Morris had initially intended to mitigate. Eventually, however, the Nova Constellatio coppers were devalued and removed from circulation, with many serving as the undertype of a Connecticut, New Jersey, or Vermont copper.

This piece will be offered in Session 10 of the Internet-Only portion of our Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Spring Expo in Baltimore. The entire auction is available online at StacksBowers.com. To consign to one of our upcoming auctions, please contact our offices today at 1-800-458-4646 to speak with a Consignment Director and see what Stack’s Bowers Galleries can do for you.