Author Topic: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?  (Read 1318 times)

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Online Figleaf

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An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« on: May 01, 2008, 09:05:09 PM »
Here's a recent Dutch metal detector find. It doesn't look like much, but in my eyes it beats any Lincoln penny.

This coin probably started its life as a French "blanc", possibly in the name of Charles VIII, proclaiming him king of France and invoking the ancient motto of French royal coins SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTV - blessed be him who comes in the name of the lord. Traces of the old lettering can be found on the side with the arms at 7 o'clock. It circulated for centuries, was clipped and then it was stored in the vaults of the mint of Lyon or Tours, ready to be remelted.

It was still there when Louis XIV, called Leroy by secretly admiring Englishmen, was on the French throne, 2 centuries later. Around 1688, he was the European super power. He fought and won the war of the grand alliance, the last war he would conclude successfully. War costs money and there was unused silver sitting in the vaults of the provincial mints. By royal edict of October 1692, Louis ordered that they be re-minted. However, Louis was a king in a hurry. He had already "reformed" (i.e. devalued) the French currency by a nationwide recall and re-minting in the period 1690-1693 and he still needed more money. There was no time to melt the old coins. They would have to be over-struck.

In 1696 (the date is on the arms side at 10 o'clock), the poor blanc was pressed between brand new dies, cut by Joseph Roettiers, a talented artist who found himself making dies as fast as he could for the power-hungry, money-hungry king. The dies were meant to make sols of 15 deniers, too small for the blancs. The old edges stuck out like underwear from ill-fitting clothes. The obverse was supposed to be graced by 4 pairs of Ls, back to back, each pair crowned to form a cross with heraldic lilies in the corners. The legend  LVDovicvs   XIIII    Dei.Gratia.FRancorvm   ET Navarvm.Rex - Louis XIV by the grace of god king of France (Capital are the letters actually on the coin) is represented by a few letters only. The reverse should have shown the royal and French coat of arms, three gold heraldic lilies on a silver field, once part of the arms of Charlemagne. Even 200 years later, the motto SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTVM was still obligatory.

The reminting program ended shortly after our blanc was re-struck. It may have been judged too ugly to circulate, but it was still good enough for the French colonies. Part of the stock of old over-struck coins were countermarked with a heraldic lily in an oval to indicate that it was meant for colonial use. It was shipped to Nouvelle France, the French North American colonial empire, stretching from Nova Scotia to Louisiana and still expanding.

Our blanc must have circulated there, because it received a second counterstamp, a B in an oval, partly obliterating the first one. I have no idea what this counterstamp means, how the coin managed to get to the Netherlands or how it got lost there. If you know more, please let me know. However, even with the mystries at the end of its existence, this is one scrappy old coin.

To help guide your eye, I have attached a picture of a similarly (weakly) re-struck blanc of Charles VIII without countermarks.

Peter
« Last Edit: September 12, 2009, 11:47:10 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline gpimper

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2019, 12:33:37 AM »
Are we sure that isn't Spanish?  Cool!
The Chief...aka Greg

Online Figleaf

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #2 on: July 31, 2019, 08:09:30 AM »
Look at the upper left of the arms. You'll see a French heraldic lily. There are Spanish coins with that lilly, struck after the war of the Spanish succession, but it's always in a heart shield, never in a corner. On Spanish coins, the main device there is a either a castle or vertical stripes. Of course, what's visible of the legend does not fit a Spanish coin either.

About as amazing as the coin is the fact that it's not in the red book or KM, which does contain a number of coins that don't belong there. It is well catalogued in French coin catalogues. Ignorance? Chauvinism? Something else?

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline brandm24

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2019, 08:00:09 PM »
Walter Breen has a lot of information about these issues in his book  "Walter Breen's Complete Encylopedia of U.S. And Colonial Coina" (1988) They're discussed in  Chapter 5, Pg.42 - 58 (Issues for Canada and Louisiana Territory / i. The French Regime, 1640 - 1763).

Breen is always extremely detailed in his study of all the issues he discusses, and this is no exception. Since I have no first hand experience with or knowledge of pre-colonial U.S. or French coinage, I find it very difficult to decipher. If you can get a hold of a copy or someone else can chime in, I'm sure a lot of your questions would be answered.

I don't know if Breen's work is on the internet anywhere, but my initial thought would be on the Newman Numismatic Portal. I'll look around a bit myself and see if I come up with anything.

An interesting thread, Peter.

Bruce
Bruce

Online Figleaf

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2019, 10:28:13 PM »
Thank you, Bruce. It is good news that such a renowned numismatist as Walter Breen has acknowledged this coin. The reason for its neglect may thus be inertia: the traditional importance of the red book and KM following it blindly.

I have attached a drawing from the undertype of the host ;), a blanc of Charles VIII (1483-1498). For these coins, drawings are clearer than pictures. Keep in mind that this is an example only. Neither the type nor the king has been identified. On the side with the cross, the legend is SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTV. look at the right picture. Starting from about 2 o'clock, you can see the IT of SIT. Starting from 10 o'clock, the letters DICT of BENEDICTV are still visible.

Little is left on the other side, though I think there might be remnants of KA(rolvs) at 8 o'clock.

The picture attached is from "Les monnaies françaises royales" (French regal money) by Jean Duplessy, ISBN 2951035535. Duplessy says the earliest identified host, John II (1350-1364) is in the French national coin collection (Cabinet des Médailles).

Peter
« Last Edit: July 31, 2019, 10:56:16 PM by Figleaf »
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Online Figleaf

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2019, 10:55:10 PM »
Now the undertype. It is without doubt a sol 1696. Again, it can be identified by the legends. On the side with the arms you can read from about 9 o'clock: ICTVM+1696. While on the side with the double monograms, you can see DGFR starting at 12 o'clock.

The picture is again from Duplessy, this time part 2. ISBN 2951035543. At left is the coin on a new flan, at right the overstrike, still without the countermark.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline gpimper

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2019, 03:44:13 AM »
It does look similar to some of Edward III's coins but I could be wrong.  Still very interesting.  That's a tough one :-)  Counter marks do not help!
The Chief...aka Greg

Offline brandm24

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2019, 11:57:19 AM »
I looked online yesterday to see if there were any sites that had Breen's book available to view, but wasn't successful. I cane across two that had previously done so, but because of copyright concerns had to be taken down. While the Newman Numismatic Portal had a lot about the man and his work, the catalog wasn't one of them.

Bruce
Bruce

Online Figleaf

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Re: An American coin pre-dating Columbus?
« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2019, 12:32:25 PM »
Thanks for trying, Bruce. I believe you anyway ;) This thread is just my humble attempt at setting the record somewhat straighter with the drawings and explanations provided. While I do not have Breen's name recognition by a long shot, I think this site has a lower threshold than his books.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.