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Choice Proof 1797 New York Theatre Token
1797 PENNY New York Theatre PR64 Brown PCGS. CAC.
D&H-Middlesex-167, Breen-1055, Rulau-E-NY-892, W-9080, R.6.
Copper, 35 mm. Obverse: undated, view of THE THEATRE AT NEW YORK
(Park Theater), with legend around. AMERICA in exergue, JACOBS in
small letters below, curved diecutter's mark at left rim through
THE THE(ATRE), glossy medium-brown sharply detailed surfaces.
Reverse: MAY COMMERCE FLOURISH around, two sailing ships in
distance, dock with cornucopia spilling out a cask, package, and
flora. Anchor and four-paneled square at right. Curved diecutter's
mark at left through dock and waves, MA(Y).
Well-Preserved Brown Surfaces
Rare W-9080 Issue
Breen had earlier estimated 10-12 pieces known, but in February 1993 Don Scarinci presented a census of 13 pieces in the Colonial Newsletter. The legendary John J. Ford Collection (Stack's, Volume II, 5/2004, lots 327-328) had two of the 13 known examples of this early and extremely rare penny token. (The piece is often referred to as a penny because of its size and the promissory note on the edge.) In the Ford catalog, the Stack's cataloger wrote:
"There is little dispute about the origin and purpose of the Theatre at New York token any longer. John Kleeberg showed definitively in his 1994 ANS study 'The Theatre at New York' that the token was one of the so-called Conder series popular in Britain in the 1790's and portrays on its front the Park Theater which opened in New York City on Monday, January 29, 1798 with a performance of 'As You Like It.'
"The token is one of the nicest of the Conder series, being struck on a wide and thick flan. Most known are in higher grades with good color and reflective fields. They were clearly not admission tickets, as Kleeberg showed, but rather, were made for collectors, accounting for their present condition when found. The reverse die failed fairly early on it its life and most specimens known show varying stages of buckling ... ."
Although the edge cannot be seen through the PCGS slab, there appear to be traces of edge lettering present; pieces lacking the edge lettering are unconfirmed. The edge purportedly reads I PROMISE TO PAY ON DEMAND THE BEARER ONE PENNY X. Kleeberg has shown that several catalogers, including Breen, mistranscribed the I on the edge as a WE (although Dalton & Hamer state it correctly).
Peter Skidmore struck the Theatre at New York penny tokens in London from dies engraved by Benjamin Jacob, who issued several tokens including one for himself in 1798 where he was identified as an "AUCTIONEER, IRONMONGER & c" at Welsh Cross in Birmingham. That token and the New York Theatre token were made with hand-cut letters rather than punches (witness the slightly different style of the Rs in THEATRE, YORK, and AMERICA). Jacob also did an entire series of halfpence tokens depicting London churches and gates based on copperplate engravings. The use of the final S on the New York Theatre token may signify the possessive Jacob's.
Most known specimens are proofs. This piece shows no signs of buckling, but it has some diecutter's marks on each side that provide pedigree identifiers. The strike is bold, but slightly off from center toward 10:30 on the obverse, judging by the varying distance between the edge and the beaded inner border. Both sides are lustrous, with delightful medium olive-brown coloration and small flashes of blue and pink patina. PCGS has certified two pieces each in PR64 Brown and PR65 Brown (6/12). For collectors of Early American, Colonial, and Conder tokens, this penny token represents a significant opportunity that is unlikely soon to repeat. Listed on page 78 of the 2013 Guide Book.
Ex: 2007 Milwaukee Signature Auction (Heritage, 8/2007), lot 1523, which realized $32,200; Heritage (5/2008), lot 2201, which realized $40,250.
From The Aberg Collection. (NGC ID# BYUJ, PCGS# 90658)
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