1787 George Clinton New York Excelsior Cent, MS63 Brown
1787 COPPER New York Excelsior Copper, George Clinton MS63 Brown
NGC. Crosby Plate VIII Number 5, Figure 62, Breen-989, W-5790. Low
R.7. The 1787 George Clinton cent is a very rare issue today.
The Stack's cataloger of the Gilbert Steinberg Collection believed
there were 11 coins extant in 1989, and our current roster confirms
that quantity, with a number of earlier appearances that may or may
not be duplicate citations of the coins in the main roster. PCGS
and NGC have combined to certify only four coins between them
(4/14). While the George Clinton cent was hotly traded in the 19th
century, auction appearances have occurred with less frequency in
recent times, with only two public offerings in the last two
decades. Four of the coins are sequestered in Institutional
holdings and at least three others are tightly held in long-term
collections. Heritage Auctions is privileged to offer the
finest-certified example of this rare classic in its first auction
appearance in more than a century.
Rare New York Copper, W-5790
Finest Certified, Ex: Bushnell, Parmelee, Newcomer, "Col." Green
The financial chaos of the Confederation period gave rise to many issues of private coinage in the original 13 states. The 1787 George Clinton cents were created as patterns by Captain Thomas Machin, who petitioned the New York State Assembly on March 3, 1787 for the right to produce copper coinage for the state of New York. The central obverse device is a portrait of then-governor George Clinton, a friend of Machin's, who had a long career as a soldier and statesman, culminating in two tours as vice president of the United States. Machin was not awarded a contract for coinage in New York, but his private mint near Newburgh stayed quite busy with other ventures, some authorized and some clandestine. The dies for the Clinton coppers were engraved by James Atlee, who was still working at another private facility in Rahway, New Jersey at the time. Only a small number of coins were struck to provide the Assembly with examples of the proposed coinage. At least three examples were overstruck on 1787 Immune Columbia pieces.
Although some of the coins show irrefutable signs of circulation, the small mintage was never widely disseminated, and the issue was not familiar to more than a few legislators and merchants at the time of issue. The Clinton coppers were quickly forgotten by the general public and there was no organized numismatic community in those days to preserve examples for collecting purposes. All knowledge of the issue had faded by 1859, when a grocer from East Poultney, Vermont located the discovery coin. According to Walter Breen, W.C. Prime acquired the coin and published the discovery in Harper's March 1860 edition. Prime later sold the coin with the rest of his collection in December of 1864 (see roster below).
The present coin traces its history through many distinguished collections, all the way back to Charles Ira Bushnell, a popular numismatist who was most active in the 1850s and '60s. Bushnell's collection was sold after his death in 1882 by the Chapman brothers, who were relatively new to the coin business. More established dealers of the period viewed the newcomers with surprise and not a little jealousy, but the brothers produced a catalog of exceptional quality in stately quarto format and available with fine photographic prints of selected lots. The secret to their acquisition of the collection lay in their relationship to millionaire Boston collector Lorin G. Parmelee, who purchased Bushnell's collection intact and offered it for sale, planning to bid whatever amount was necessary to secure the lots he needed for his own collection. Parmelee had used the same tactic at least twice before, always acting through dealer William Strobridge, but Strobridge retired in 1878, forcing Parmelee to find a new venue for this sale. The coin was described in lot 887 of the catalog:
"1787. Bust of George Clinton to right. GEORGE CLINTON. Rev. The Arms of the State of New York; an oval shield bearing a sun rising behind a range of mountains, the sea at their base; at right of shield stands Justice with scales and sword, at left stands Liberty with staff; above an eagle with outstretched wings facing right, standing on a globe; 1787 EXCELSIOR. Very sharp, bold, even impression. Looks as if it was struck for a proof. Uncirculated. Olive brown color. A most splendid specimen of this extremely rare piece, of which but five are known in any state. See plate."
Parmelee purchased the lot (actually paying himself, as the owner of the collection) for $135, a strong price at the time. This coin was offered publicly only one more time before its present appearance, when Parmelee sold his collection in 1890. It has been moving outside the open numismatic market ever since, while serving as a centerpiece of the fabulous collections of Waldo Newcomer and "Col." E.H.R. Green, before its acquisition by Eric P. Newman, decades ago.
This delightful Select example is the finest-certified George Clinton cent by a wide margin, as the closest contender grades only XF40. Actually, the Smithsonian piece and two in the British Museum are the next finest, but those pieces have not been certified and are not available to collectors in any case. This piece offers sharply detailed design elements throughout, with glossy brown surfaces that show minimal signs of contact. Struck only slightly off-center, dentilation shows around the entire obverse, although it is weak from 12 to 3 o'clock. The planchet shows no fissures or pits, and the surfaces show no sign of corrosion or carbon. This coin combines the highest available technical grade, tremendous eye appeal, and an illustrious pedigree back to the early days of the hobby. It is one of the most important lots in this incredible collection, and the opportunity to acquire this piece may not recur for decades.
Roster of 1787 George Clinton New York Excelsior Coppers
The following roster was compiled with the generous assistance of Wayne Burt, Erik Goldstein, Stuart Levine, P. Scott Rubin, and Anthony Terranova.
1. MS63 Brown NGC. Charles Ira Bushnell; Bushnell Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1882), lot 887, realized $135; Lorin G. Parmelee; Parmelee Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 6/1890), lot 452, realized $150; Waldo Newcomer; "Col." E.H.R. Green circa 1931 via B. Max Mehl; Green Estate; Eric P. Newman; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. The present coin.
2. Uncirculated. British Museum (acquired in 1855).
3. Uncirculated. British Museum duplicate. Reported by Anthony Terranova.
4. Mint State. Dr. Thomas Hall; Virgil Brand in 1909; Norweb Collection; donated to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution in 1982. This piece appears to match the Crosby plate.
5. Uncirculated. William Sumner Appleton; Appleton bequest to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1905; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1973), lot 31, realized $34,000; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 5/1975), lot 463; Connecticut collection.
6. Extremely Fine, practically Uncirculated. A piece found in a Long Island farmhouse circa January 30, 1895; Dr. Thomas Hall; purchased privately by Allison W. Jackman; Jackman Collection (Henry Chapman, 6/1918), lot 142; unknown intermediaries; Theodore Grand Collection (Stack's, 12/1947), lot 14, realized $500 to Eric P. Newman; traded to F.C.C. Boyd in exchange for his 1792 Silver Center cent in 1951; John Ford; private sale in 1973; Long Island collection.
7. Very Fine 20 or better (probably XF today). John G. Mills; purchased privately by James Ten Eyck; Ten Eyck bequest to the Albany Historical Society; Ten Eyck Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1922), lot 817; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 603, realized $29,000.
8. XF40 PCGS. U.S. Marshals Service Auction (Boston, 7/2000), lot 37; Rossa and Tannenbaum; Anthony Terranova; Joseph Lasser; donated to Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
9. Very Fine or better. Colonel Mendes I. Cohen; Cohen Collection (Edward Cogan, 10/1875), lot 2311, realized $21; Thomas Warner; Warner Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 6/1884), lot 2093; John Story Jenks; Jenks Collection (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5492, realized $200; unknown intermediaries; Donald Groves Collection (Stack's, 11/1974), lot 335, realized $21,000; Laird U. Park; Park Collection (Stack's, 5/1976), lot 59; Ellis Robison; Robison Collection (Stack's, 2/1982), lot 154; William Anton.
10. Fine 15 PCGS. "Col." E.H.R. Green Collection; Green Estate; Robert R. Prann; ANA Convention Auction (Numismatic Gallery, 8/1947), lot 602; John L. Roper Collection, Second Collection (Stack's, 12/1983), lot 274; Gilbert Steinberg Collection (Stack's, 10/1989), lot 103; Colonial Coins & Medals FPL (Stack's, 1990), lot 135; John Royse Collection; Baltimore Auction (Stack's Bowers, 11/2012), lot 6056, realized $218,500.
11. Fair. Metropolitan New York Convention (Stack's, 5/1968), lot 52.
A. Perfect beautiful impression. Joseph Finotti Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 11/1862), lot 1521, realized $115; William Lilliendahl; Lilliendahl Collection (William Strobridge, 12/1863), lot 1185, realized $275.
B. Grade Unknown. Benjamin Haines Collection (Bangs, Merwin & Co., 1/1863); Jeremiah Colburn (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1863), lot 2625.
C. Very Fine. John F. McCoy; McCoy Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 5/1864), lot 1760, realized $126; Colin Lightbody; Lightbody Collection (Edward Cogan, 12/1866), lot 450, realized $92.50; Heman Ely; Ely Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 1/1884), lot 1014.
D. Fair. W.C. Prime Collection (Bangs, Merwin & Co., 12/1864); Dr. F.S. Edwards Collection (Edward Cogan, 10/1865), lot 2642, realized $25.
E. Grade unknown. Colin Lightbody; Sixth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1865), lot 2629, realized $85 to "Irving."
F. Fine. Joseph Mickley Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1867), lot 2452, realized $32.50 to "Wall."
G. Good. Alexander Balmanno Collection (John W. Haseltine, 4/1873), lot 479.
H. Uncirculated. George F. Seavey; Seavey Descriptive Catalogue (William Strobridge, 6/1873), lot 158; Lorin G. Parmelee.
I. Good impression. Carson Brevoort; Lorin G. Parmelee; Parmelee Collection (Strobridge, 6/1876), lot 1482, realized $28.
J. Grade unknown. Colonel James H. Taylor Collection (William Strobridge, 11/1875), lot 1051, realized $38.50.
K. Grade unknown. Ninety-Ninth Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 9/1888), lot 1265.
L. Grade unknown. An example purchased from an unknown source by Virgil Brand in 1897 (Brand Journal number 17761).
M. Grade unknown. An example purchased from an unknown source by Virgil Brand in 1905 (Brand Journal number 29169).
N. Grade unknown. An example in the collection of DeWitt Smith; purchased by Virgil Brand in 1908 (Brand Journal number 46444); Armin Brand.
O. Very Fine. George H. Hall Collection (Stack's, 5/1945), lot 34.
P. Fine. Baum Collection (Stack's, 5/1947), lot 707. (NGC ID# 2B3P, PCGS# 433)
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