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NNP Blog

Sep 23 2019
Colonial Numismatics

Christopher McDowell Publishes Census of Pitt Farthings

The Pitt tokens are yet another enigmatic entry in the American colonial coin catalog. Nothing is known of their manufacture, which might have occurred in England or in America, nor is the engraver known. What is certain is that they commemorative William Pitt’s involvement in the repeal of the Stamp Act (1766). The Act required a stamp on every official document in the colonies, the proceeds of which were intended to support a standing British army in America, whose primary duty would be of course to enforce the collection of even more taxes from the colonists. The Act was repealed in 1766 due to the influence of William Pitt and others, including Benjamin Franklin.

With little in the way of a documentary record, the pieces themselves tell the story. They were issued in two sizes, historically referred to as “farthings” or “halfpennies” even though no coining authority has been identified. They did circulate in the colonies, and have been found by detectorists. The small format “farthing” pieces are substantially more scarce than the large format “halfpenny,” with values in Fine-12 of $15,000 and $1,200, respectively. Under sponsorship of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, Chris McDowell has prepared a census of all 24 known examples of the Pitt farthing. With such a low population, detailed investigation into each example is greatly facilitated, and McDowell’s paper will be the last word on the subject absent the discovery of a hoard.

One of the more interesting pieces is the Anton brass specimen, said to include presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Lyndon Johnson in its provenance. It was offered by Bill Anton, Jr. in the February 2005 Numismatist and there described as gem uncirculated. Anton corresponded with Eric P. Newman regarding this piece in 1971, forwarding X-rays that Newman used to verify the absence of a casting port. McDowell was able to track down images for this piece, and for all others, except in a single case. With the images, this paper will serve as the “go to” guide for anyone wishing to acquire or catalog an example.

Link to Pitt Farthing census on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/569217
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