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    (1790) Albany Church Penny, No D, VF30
    Problem-Free and Exceedingly Rare, W-8495

    (1790) PENNY Albany Church Penny, No D VF30 PCGS. Breen-1169, W-8495, R.7. After the United States was established in 1776 but before the United States Mint began coinage operations in 1793 -- a period of some 17 years -- many of the individual states and colonies began issuing their own circulating copper coinage, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont (which was not even a state yet when it struck its stella quartadecima [14th star] coinage), and New Jersey. Competing against those were a riot of "other coppers" -- British and Irish halfpennies, both genuine and counterfeit (or imitation), the latter including the so-called "Machin's Mills" pieces struck in New York, where authorities turned a blind eye to their production; private copper tokens not associated with a sovereign entity, such as the Bar coppers and Auctori Plebis tokens; Fugio cents, a federal experiment that failed; and British Conder tokens, including some made specifically for circulation in America. By 1789, the problem of distinguishing "good copper" from bad had grown so acute that it precipitated a crisis of confidence known as the Copper Panic of 1789. This caused all copper coins and imitations, good and bad, to be devalued to a fraction of their former worth.

    It was shortly afterward, in January 1790, that the elders of the First Presbyterian Church of Albany, New York, hit upon a novel solution to ensure that the collections in the offering plate were of good copper: They had 1,000 uniface "church pennies" struck, exchanging them to members of the congregation at a rate of 12 per shilling -- a prepaid collection, if you will. Two styles were produced, one having, one lacking a large D for "denarius" or "penny" above the word CHURCH.

    This appears to be only the second time we have offered a technically problem-free example of the Breen-1169 No D variety of Albany Church penny since 1993, when we began our Permanent Auction Archives, and it is the far finer of the two. Lot 3559 of our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2009) was a VG10 NGC example that failed to meet its reserve and was bought in.

    Another example was called "Damaged -- Fine Details" by PCGS because of two prominent counterstamps -- 18 and 15. That coin appeared as lot 4902 in our Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), realizing $14,689.

    Judging by the meager auction appearances and the certified population data, the With D variety Albany Church penny seems to be considerably more available -- while still quite rare. For the With D variety, PCGS reports one submission each in VF30, VF35, XF40, XF45+, and AU50 -- five in all, with an average grade about XF40. The VF35 PCGS With D example was offered in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007) as lot 746, where it garnered $74,750. The XF45+ PCGS coin appeared as lot 3009 in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2012), which realized $115,000.

    The PCGS population data for the No D variety present quite a different picture: PCGS reports one VF20, the present VF30 example, and two submissions in VF35. If the two VF35 grading events are indeed separate coins, then the average grade of the PCGS population is VF30; if it is not, the average is "VF28.3." (NGC reports only two Albany Church pennies, both of the No D variety -- one "VG" and one AU58. There is no record or public trade of that last piece, to our knowledge, but it must be quite remarkable.)

    The present piece is an extremely attractive example of this remarkable rarity, a nice, medium milk-chocolate-brown coin with no mentionable problems, save for a small, branched planchet flaw on the rim at 5:45. A few other tiny ticks and light planchet porosity are undistracting and as expected, but this coin generates immense eye appeal. The Albany Church pennies are listed on page 75 of the 2016 Guide Book and on 240 of the Whitman Colonial Encyclopedia. Population: 1 in 30, 2 finer (7/15).

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 2B5P, PCGS# 612)

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2015
    12th-16th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 29
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,542

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
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