A Tour Through A Guide Book of United States Coins, Part Twenty-Two

I take up my tour through A Guide Book of United States Coins with French New World issues on page 51. This is a very extensive series produced in France and well studied in print. The standard reference is by Robert A. Vlack, An Illustrated Catalog of the French Billon Coinage in the Americas, published by the Colonial Coin Collectors Club in 2004.

On February 19, 1670, Louis XIV authorized coinage to be made in France for general use in that country’s possessions in America, including Canada and the West Indies. Coined at the time were silver pieces of the denomination of 5 sols and 15 sols. Of the former 200,000 were struck and of the latter 40,000 were minted. Jumping ahead by decades, in December 1716 the regent for Louis XV authorized the coinage of 6 denier and 12 denier copper pieces to be struck at the Perpignan Mint in France. Problems developed with the quality of the copper to be used, and only a few were struck. Some additional pieces were dated 1720, but little is known about them. The issues of 1717-1720 are rare and may have been used in Louisiana.

More extensive and thus more widely collected today are the earlier 1709-1713 coins of billon metal, this being an alloy mostly composed of copper, with silver added to give it a gray color. These were issued in 15 deniers and 30 deniers. Later, 1738 to 1760, half sou marque and sou marque denominations were struck in quantities at multiple mints throughout France and circulated widely in America, but not known to have been current in areas that are now the United States. None of these coins had a specific legend or reference to the Americas.

In June 1721 Louis XV authorized copper coinage for the colonies. These were copper sous and were struck at the Rouen (“B” mintmark) and La Rochelle (“H” mintmark) mints in 1721 and in 1722 only at La Rochelle. These were issued in large quantities and are readily obtainable today. 

Robert A. Vlack in particular has studied these coins, beginning with his Early American Coins book published by my company in the 1960s, continuing to his extensively researched An Illustrated Catalog of the French Billon Coinage in the Americas, 2004, published by the Colonial Coin Collectors Club. Also of importance and value is the study “An American Collector’s Guide to the Coins of Nouvelle France,” by Michael J. Hodder, published by the American Numismatic Society in 1994 and taken from the 1992 Coinage of the Americas Conference. These comments prompt me to suggest that you acquire these two references for starters and, in general, build a numismatic library if you are interested in colonial and early American issues. For quite a bit less than $1,000 you can get most, if not all, of the excellent modern texts on colonial issues plus some of the earlier ones as well. This is quite inexpensive compared to the cost of the coins themselves. However, it is curious that many buyers will readily spend thousands of dollars on a single rare coin but will hesitate to spend $50 for a book!

I look forward to the next installment in this column.

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