5 Essential Books for Your Colonial Coin Library, Part I

Easton, Pennsylvania, 1783. You are frustrated. Your paper currency, issued by your “government”, has been deemed almost worthless by the merchants in your state. Continental Currency is worth a fraction of face value, and many merchants refuse to accept it. The New Jersey border is just a few miles away and, thankfully, your currency has a little more purchasing power over there. That’s right. The states regulate the value of your national currency. And if you’re only hard currency consists of local copper issues, chances are they’re counterfeit. If not, it may require 24, 30, or even 32 to the shilling rather than the English standard of 12. The only safe money is Spanish silver. But that’s about to change.

Fast forward 230 years to 2012, and you’ve been bitten by “the copper bug”. Half cents, large cents, Hard Times tokens, these are your fascination. You have delved into the banking crisis of the 1830’s, the copper coinage that saw the burning of Washington during the War of 1812, and the first efforts of the Philadelphia mint in its 18th century infancy. What came before? Here’s my top 10 books to bring colonial coin collecting to life.

The Early Coins of America by Sylvester S. Crosby

First published in 1873, this book was the standard reference to the colonial genre for decades. This is not an attribution guide, but a solid introduction to the coinage of colonial America. Each series is described in detail with extensive historical background provided as well. An essential reference that is still a must for the collector 140 years later.

Money of the American Colonies and Confederation (Numismatic Studies (ANSNS))

Here is a book that places pre Federal coinage in its historical, political and economic context, providing a deep understanding of the environment in which our national coinage was shaped. An essential volume for the collector who is dissatisfied with simply owning a a group of round pieces of metal and wants to gain a better appreciation of the coins and their time.

Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins

Back in January of 2010 I did a review on this excellent book by one of my favorite authors, Q. David Bowers. For more on this reference, here’s the link!

John Hull, the Mint and the Economics of Massachusetts Coinage

Louis Jordan provides us with a clear interpretation of the daily operation of the Massachusetts mint established in 1652. His sources include John Hull’s actual ledgers which provide incredible insight to Hull’s business practices, the economic environment of the time, and the productivity and profitability he was able to establish. One can also gain an understanding of the role Spanish silver played in 17th century North America and the obstacles Hull had to overcome to compete with this most popular medium of exchange.

In Yankee Doodle’s Pocket, the Myth, Magic, and Politics of Money in Early America

Here’s one I don’t own…yet! I do know from viewing the table of contents and a few reviews that this has something for everyone. From beaver pelts and wampum to the advent of steam coinage in 1830, any lover of colonial coinage OR colonial history should be able to find a topic of interest in this 541 page reference. If you’re a newcomer to the money of America’s colonies, this should be a great place to start!

That wraps up Part I of my essential books for your Colonial coin library. You’ll notice that the above 5 books give a broad view of the coins and their times. In Part II we will look at some specific attribution guides to help you identify those rare and not so rare varieties of your colonial coin series of choice!




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