The Speaking Cash of Connecticut

By Austin Andrews for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……

Higley Coppers: The Talking Coins of Connecticut
Engraving of a Higley Copper from Sylvester S. Crosby’s The Early Cash of America (1875)

The written phrase allows cash—in any other case silent objects—to talk out, declare, and demand, typically on their very own behalf. Object-speak exhibits up in a spread of various numismatic contexts, together with in English-language examples. As an illustration, the 18th-century “Higley coppers” are a gaggle of objects well-known amongst numismatic researchers and collectors of American colonial materials. Along with their rarity and important trendy worth, these coppers are additionally notable for his or her curious use of object-speak: legends permitting the cash to talk on to the reader as “I,” “me,” and “my”.

The Higley coppers have been tokens minted within the British colony of Connecticut in North America between 1737 and 1739. Functionally, they have been privately issued cash meant to flow into alongside government-issued paper currencies in an area economic system that lacked small change. There are a number of extant die combos of the coppers, lots of which embody the grammatical first individual in some capability. The American Numismatic Society’s assortment has solely two genuine examples; their legends are solely partially legible. Some Higleys confidently declare I AM GOOD COPPER on the reverse with three topped hammers organized in heraldic fashion (ANS 1896.3.1, above). Right here, the cash—and the copper content material inside them—attraction the reader with their personability and advance an argument about their very own metallic purity.

Higley Coppers: The Talking Coins of Connecticut
Engraving of a goldsmith’s workshop, from the Wellcome Assortment

Whereas we’ve no particular up to date literary proof for the Higley coppers from the 1730s, Sylvester S. Crosby’s The Early Cash of America (1875) relates a revealing oral custom.

On this textual content, an old-timer goldsmith relays that in his apprenticeship years within the 1810s, sure Connecticut goldsmiths most well-liked Higley coppers for the technical processes concerned in alloying gold, which requires pure copper. Fashionable metallurgical analyses of those coppers carried out by Dr. Daniel Freidus, nonetheless, point out that by the early Nineteenth century, the Higleys have been in reality no purer than different coppers in circulation within the area. If the story from the agèd goldsmith is correct, it means that the first-person declaration on these cash could have been successfully working its advertising magic greater than seven a long time after they have been minted. For higher or for worse, folks belief the written phrase—which feels true, everlasting, and remaining.

Higley Coppers: The Talking Coins of Connecticut

Some Higley coppers have a standing deer encircled with the legend VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE with the Roman numeral III within the exergue (obverse of ANS 1894.23.1, above). Along with the primary individual “me”, the second-person pronoun “you” can also be value declaring right here. “You” brings you-the-reader into direct dialog with the talking first individual of the thing, partaking extra of a dialogue than the monologous declarations of the “I’m” statements. That is true, specifically, when the reader is the recipient of the copper as cost, the meant major viewers for this message.

The numeral III pertains to an earlier Higley copper with the identical upright deer that learn THE VALUE OF THREE PENCE. These two legends, collectively, showcase the fluidity of adjusting financial buildings within the American colonies the place they circulated, though their worth was a lot lower than the quantity they claimed to be value (Daragan, 129–137). These phrases additionally led to a variety of retroactive, speculative histories. Probably the most extensively repeated folktale is that their coiner had hassle getting an area pub’s bartender to simply accept the tokens and subsequently modified the preliminary phrase in his cash to the jauntier, open-ended expression of VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE, even with the notable inadequate weight of the copper.

On the reverse of some Higley sorts, a broadaxe is proven with a legend that reads I CUT MY WAY THROUGH (reverse of ANS 1894.23.1, above). It’s attainable that the “my” right here could be the axe speaking, a speech-bubble instance of the primary individual. The assertion could possibly be referring to some native motto or standard phrase of engaging in a job with swiftness, as in to chop the proverbial Gordian knot. “I”, in context of the obverse legend VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE, nonetheless, signifies that this assertion can also be from the coin’s perspective. Maybe, even, the coin is wielding the depicted axe and claiming the intelligent means to metaphorically lower by standard financial programs at play—a essential feat when small change was wanted round colonial Connecticut.

The Higley coppers have lengthy impressed intrigue for a number of causes. For one, they characteristic among the many shining examples of privately-issued numismatic objects in American historical past, together with Brasher’s doubloons and Bechtler’s {dollars}. Past this, there’s a form of cutesy issue with the object-speak that includes prominently of their mythography. The primary-person legends on the Higleys led to their description as “quaint” by Andrew Zabriskie, a Nineteenth-century President of the American Numismatic Society, in his 1898 tackle on the Society’s Annual Assembly. They’ve additionally been variously described as “a whimsy for a number of private bills” within the New York Instances within the Nineteen Eighties and as “healthful” in media protection of a specimen that went up for public sale in 2017.

Comparable examples of such object-speak happen in different English language legends. In 1664, the Anthony Bouch Firm in Britain issued tokens that learn I AM FOR A PVBLIQVE GOOD on the obverse and IN COCKERMOVTH on the reverse (ANS 1967.159.124, above). These three-farthing tokens issued in Cockermouth within the far northern English county of Cumberland share a variety of commonalities with the Higley coppers along with being privately issued. They equipped an area economic system with small change in an space that lacked it in any other case—and informed you as a lot, invoking the notion of goodness to show their value. And, after all, they converse within the first individual.

There’s a light-hearted ingredient to those English-language examples of object-speak. They inspired the reader to belief the thing’s value by pleading their very own case for legitimacy. They direct you, the reader, to behave and acknowledge. In historical contexts, when objects claimed company and spoke as the topic of a sentence, the framework elevated their authority—making them nearly sacred of their materiality. These English language examples, nonetheless, are extra humorous, introduced as tongue-in-cheek jokes with the object-speak a noticeable deviation from an anticipated norm. Cash and tokens don’t normally converse, but these do. Their declare was trusted and achieved a long-lasting impact, which we’re nonetheless engaged with in the present day.

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