Higley Copper Coins

Obverse of Higley Copper
Reverse of Higley Copper

Images courtesy of Heritage Numismatic Auctions

From "The Early Coins of America" by Sylvester S. Crosby: The Granby or Higley Tokens are supposed to have been struck by John Higley of Granby, from metal obtained from the mines at 'Copper Hill' in that town, then part of Simsbury, in the State of Connecticut. The authorities appear to have taken no notice of his issues of coin, which seem to have continued for about three years, -- from 1737 to 1739 inclusive, -- specimens being extant bearing these dates, though we know of none dated 1738....

The borders of all are beaded, or milled, and the edges plain; in size they vary from 18 to 19, and their weight varies from 122 to 170 grains: the heaviest specimen is one of 1739...

Several of these tokens are double struck, apparently by accident, as the second impression is often visible only at one edge; this in one instance causes the first letter of the obverse legend to resemble a W, thus reading 'WALUE," which it certainly was never intended to do....

It has been said that these were the work of Dr. Samuel Higley, a physician and blacksmith: as he was not living in 1737, this must be an error.

It is stated by Phelps, in his History of the Copper Mines at Granby, that 'this coin is said to have passed for two and six pence, (forty-two cents,) in paper currency it is presumed, thought composed chiefly, if not entirely, of copper.'

These coppers, owing to the fine quality of the metal of which they were composed, were much in favor as an alloy for gold, and it is probably due in part to this cause that they are now so extremely rare. We are informed of an old goldsmith, aged about seventy-five years, that during his apprenticeship, his master excused himself for not having finished a string of gold beads at the time appointed, as he was unable to find a Higley copper with which to alloy the gold; thus indicating that they were not easily obtained sixty years ago.

We have heard it related of Higley, that being a frequent visitant at the public house, where at that time liquors were a common and unprohibited article of traffic, he was accustomed to pay his 'scot' in his own coin, and the coffers of the dram-seller soon became overburdened with this kind of cash, (an experience not at all likely to cause trouble to collectors of the present day,) of the type which proclaims its own value to be equal to what was then the price of a 'potation,' -- three pence.

When complaint was made to Higley, upon his next application for entertainment, which was after a somewhat longer absence than was usual with him, he presented coppers bearing the words, 'Value me as you please' 'I am good copper'.

Whether this 'change of base' facilitated the financial designs of the ancient coiner, or not, we have never been informed: sure we are however, that should he be aware of the immense appreciation in the value of his coppers, since that day, it would amply reward him for the insulting conduct of the publican.

We cannot vouch for the truth of this 'legend,' but we believe those first issued bore the words, 'The value of three pence," and, whatever the cause, subsequent issues more modestly requested the public to value them according to their own ideas of propriety, although they did not refrain from afterwards proclaiming their own merits.

We extract the following information relating to the place where the metal for these coppers was obtained, from Phelp's History of the Copper Mines and Newgate Prison at Granby, Conn: -- 'After 1721, when a division of the mining lands took place among the lessees, each company worked at separate mines, all situated upon copper-hill, and (excepting Higley's) within the compass of less than one mile...At Higley's mine, which lies about a mile and a half south of this, extensive old workings exist, though commenced at a later period than the other. Mr. Edmund Quincy, of Boston, had a company of miners working at this place at the breaking out of the war of the revolution; soon after which the works were abandoned.'

At the session of the General Assembly in October, 1773, 'an Act was passed "constituting the subterranean caverns and buildings in the copper mines in Simsbury, a public gaol and workhouse for the use of the Colony;" to which was given the name of Newgate Prison. The prisoners were to be employed in the mining. The crimes, which by the Act subjected offenders to confinement and labor in the prison, were burglary, horse stealing, and counterfeiting the public bills or coins, or making instruments or dies therefor.'

As a prison, this locality appears to have been no less a failure than it was as a mining speculation. The buildings were three times destroyed by fire, and revolts, violence, and escapes were of frequent occurrence up to the time of its abandonment, in 1827, when it had been in use as a prison for upwards of fifty years."

Varieties (7): 1. 1737 Obverse: THE VALVE OF THREE PENCE, Reverse: 3 Hammers - CONNECTICVT 2. 1737 Obverse: THE VALVE OF THREE PENCE, Reverse: 3 Hammers - I AM GOOD COPPER 3. 1737 Obverse: VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE, Reverse: 3 Hammers - I AM GOOD COPPER 4. 1737 Obverse: VALVE ME AS YOU PLEASE, Reverse: 3 Hammers - I AM GOOD COPPER 5. (No date) Obverse: VALUE ME AS YOU PLEASE, Reverse: J CUT MY WAY THROUGH 6. (No Date) Obverse: THE WHEELE GOES ROUND, Reverse: J CUT MY WAY THROUGH 7. 1739 Obverse: VALVE ME AS YOU PLEASE, Reverse: J CUT MY WAY THROUGH

Significant examples: In the February 2005 issue of NUMISMATIST (page 63), William Anton offered a 1737 CONNECTICVT Higley for $240,000.00, describing it as follows: "Dr. Sam Higley's own personal coin. Struck on an oversized planchet. Choice Extremely Fine and problem-free."