The Continental Currency pieces are mysterious, controversial, and historically important. Mysterious, because little documentation has been found concerning their origin and use. Controversy has always surrounded them. Collectors, dealers, and historians have asked “Are they coins or patterns?” “Who made them and under what circumstances?” “What are they really made of?” “Are they Dollars or Cents?” “What do the symbols and mottos really mean, and who designed them?”
The Guide Book of United States Coins states “Pewter pieces served as a dollar. Brass and silver pieces may have been experimental or patterns.” In Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins Breen listed them under the heading of “CONTINENTAL CONGRESS PATTERNS.” He used quotes around the word “Dollar” when he described the pewter pieces, but called the one silver piece he was aware of a Dollar (without quotes), giving the impression that Breen thought the silver piece was a coin, and the pewter pieces patterns. PCGS and NGC population reports indicate that a fairly large proportion of the reported examples in the census are circulated. This seems to indicate they were used as actual coins, in exchange for goods and services.
The precise origin of the Continental Currency pieces is shrouded in mystery, and documentation has proven to be hard to discover. According to Walter Breen (Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. Coins. 1988), in 1776 the United Colonies expected to receive a large loan in the form of silver bullion from France. They anticipated using the silver to produce coins to back the paper Continental Currency already circulating, in an attempt to create confidence in any subsequent paper issues. Representatives of the United Colonies also hoped to be able to give some of the new coins to visiting diplomats, demonstrating that this was a real nation, with coins to prove it. To obtain dies, Agents of the Continental Congress approached Elisha Gallaudet (the engraver of the Continental Currency notes with the sun dial design). The same agents also apparently advised Hall and Sellers (the printers of Continental Currency notes) that $1 coins were about to be struck, and no further $1 notes would be needed. Unfortunately, the French loan failed to materialize, leaving the United Colonies with no silver dollars to circulate, and none to give out as diplomatic gifts. There was, however, a supply of tin, antimony and lead available, and the already prepared dies were employed to strike the coins, perhaps in New York, and later in Philadelphia.
When the Revolutionary War ended, departing British soldiers may well have carried some examples home with them as souvenirs, accounting for the Uncirculated pieces that have been discovered in Europe over the years. We would argue that while the two known silver Continental Dollars are patterns, and the brass Pennies are patterns, the “pewter” pieces are coins.
Pop 3, one finer