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    Description

    1787 New Jersey Copper, Maris 62.5-r, Fine 15
    The Extraordinary WM Above Plow Type
    The Only Known Example

    1787 New Jersey Copper, WM Above Plow, Maris 62.5-r, W-5360, Unique, Fine 15 NGC. 162.8 grains. 31.3 mm diameter. One of the highlights of the Donald G. Partrick Collection, and a standout among the many exceptional pieces collected over a long career by that discerning numismatist. The coin itself is large, being one of the Morristown Mint's products struck on broad planchets slightly bigger than a half dollar. It is circulated, but beyond typical wear bears few indications of this. The fields are clean and, while a little granular, free of marks. Tan lettering and design elements exhibit attractively against a muted brown background, with only a small area of red verdigris on the left side of the shield's chief standing out differently. The obverse design is clear and distinct, with the horse's eye being the only major detail lost to circulation. Both the horizontal and vertical lines on the reverse shield can be seen to some extent, and the sawtooth denticles are boldly evident around the entire circumference of both sides. A distinctive crack emanates from a rim cud at just past 6 o'clock on the obverse, passing though the exergual line and through both plow handles. Most famously, however, the coin bears the initials WM, in small but distinct capital letters, just below the scroll underneath the horse head. These initials make the Maris 62.5-r an exceptionally important New Jersey copper.

    Although the Maris 62.5-r variety was not brought to the attention of the collecting community until 1994, its story goes back much further. The obverse die was unknown to Edward Maris when he published A Historical Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey in 1881. It is stylistically similar to obverses 62 and 63, and Maris himself had devised the practice of assigning newly discovered dies fractional numbers following similar dies with whole numbers. This expedient, born of necessity, has become the standard practice when new dies are discovered in the New Jersey series. The reverse die, Maris r, was well-known to collectors, being found paired with the Maris 62, 63, and 64.5 obverses. However, the obverse was not known until it was publicly announced in May 1994. Engraved with the initials WM boldly impressed in the die between the horse head and the plow, it is unlike any other state copper. That the WM stands for Walter Mould has been accepted since the piece was first discovered: it bears every distinguishing characteristic of the New Jersey coppers we know Mould produced from his mint at Morristown. The lingering questions, though, are who was Walter Mould and why are his initials on this die?

    Walter Mould is mentioned in connection with the New Jersey coppers from the very beginning. A proposal to strike copper coins for the state was first laid before the General Assembly on May 23, 1786, by Walter Mould, Thomas Goadsby, and Albion Cox. On June 1 of that year, the three men (all immigrants from England) were "authorized and empowered ... to strike and coin in Copper, for this State, a Sum equal in Value to Ten Thousand Pounds at fifteen Coppers to the Shilling." Three million New Jersey coppers would have to be produced to fulfill this requirement. Because Mould encountered difficulties in securing the onerous £10,000 bond mandated by the contract with the state, his two associates were granted the right to separate their contract from his on November 22, 1786. The division of the agreement left Mould contracted to produce one million coppers if he could secure his bond in the next two months, which he finally managed to do.

    Mould's involvement with coinage production would appear to have been extensive by the time he negotiated a contract with New Jersey. Given that he had not held a position at the Royal Mint while he lived in England, and had never been employed or under contract by any other state while in the U.S., one might wonder where he acquired this experience. It almost certainly began with counterfeiting copper coins in England: Siboni, Howes, and Ish, in New Jersey State Coppers, cite a February 1776 account of the arrest of one Mould and his wife for counterfeiting. By the time Mould permanently emigrated to the United States (probably in 1784), he was corresponding with James Jarvis and was acquainted with Samuel Atlee. Using Atlee's brewery in New York City as a home base, Mould helped to set up a coining operation in this country and began training Samuel's son James Atlee in the art of engraving dies. In May and August 1785, Mould petitioned Congress in an attempt to negotiate a federal coinage contract, and had a hand in the making of the Confederatio patterns in pursuit of such a contract. By the time the agreement with New Jersey was being made, Walter Mould had considerable experience in most aspects of minting procedures.

    Once Mould was finally able to secure the required bond, he established the Morristown mint with the assistance of William Liddel and began to strike New Jersey coppers, almost certainly in February 1787. His coppers were distinctive in appearance, being struck at first on larger planchets than were used at Goadsby and Cox's Rahway Mint, and sharing various stylistic tendencies. In The History and Coinage of Machin's Mills, authors Jack Howes, James Rosen, and Gary Trudgen discuss the use of "sawtooth" denticles on a number of coppers produced in the United States in the 1780s, tracing this design element to Mould's preference for them. Mould's coppers are of generally high quality and are well-engraved. That said, the presence of a devastating die crack and cud, which appears to have developed very early in the striking process, suggests that perhaps he was not yet fully proficient in other aspects of die production such as annealing.

    It seems reasonable to suggest that the WM Above Plow type was Mould's initial design for the New Jersey coppers and, hence, that the Maris 62.5-r is the first variety struck at Morristown. Mould would have been aware of the practice of some European engravers of signing their work, and presumably relished the opportunity of punching his initials into what was probably his first fully legitimate coinage issue. His initials appear on no other die prepared by him, with the exception of the Maris 62, on which they were engraved but then mostly obscured by a trio of sprigs punched over them. Indeed, the appearance of Mould's WM on this piece comprises the only instance of initials to be found engraved into the die of any of the coppers issued by any of the states that produced them. Given that they do not appear on varieties traced to Mould that we know were produced after this, and that the Maris 62 obverse has the initials deliberately effaced, it is all but certain that Mould was told to remove his initials from the design. Due to the rarity of the 62.5-r, it is also likely that he was ordered to destroy existing pieces bearing his initials, and that the current example is a lucky survivor.

    This piece was first brought to widespread attention in a front-page article written by Michael Hodder that appeared in the May 2, 1994, issue of Coin World. In it, Hodder described the coin as "The most spectacular, important discovery in the field of early American and state copper numismatics." It has been nearly 25 years since this coin was last sold at auction. It could easily be another 25 years--or more--before another opportunity to compete for it arises. Listed on page 74 of the 2021 Guide Book.
    Ex: John Higgins; Bowers and Merena (8/1996), lot 2; Jon Hanson; Donald G. Partrick.

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# AUL9, PCGS# 500)


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    Auction Dates
    March, 2021
    17th-18th Wednesday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 30
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