Of the many types collected as part of the United States' Colonial era series, the undated St. Patrick's coinage is among the most enigmatic. What is known for certain is that Mark Newby, a former shopkeeper from Dublin, Ireland, arrived in West Jersey (today's New Jersey) on November 19, 1681, bearing among his possessions a quantity of copper coins of the type(s) that we now know as St. Patrick farthings and/or halfpennies. Becoming an influential member of the West Jersey Legislature, Newby persuaded that body to pass an act on May 8, 1682 that made the St. Patrick pieces "current pay of [that] Province." The act referred to copper pieces valued at a "halfpence," although as originally produced the values of the two St. Patrick copper types are unstated and unknown. Additionally, we do not know for certain which type of St. Patrick copper the West Jersey Legislature assigned the value of "halfpence." Later metal detector finds in New Jersey have unearthed only the smaller size pieces that numismatists refer to as farthings, suggesting that that is the type Newby brought to West Jersey in 1681. (The larger St. Patrick type collected today as a halfpenny has not been included in any metal finds in New Jersey, although it is still likely that examples of that type also found their way to the American Colonies, even if not by Newby's hands.)
Exactly when, by whom and for what purpose the St. Patrick coins were originally produced remains a mystery. The obverse design showing King David kneeling and playing a harp combined with the reverse design showing St. Patrick (the ancient Episcopal patron of Ireland), coupled with Newby's former profession as a Dublin shopkeeper, confirm the origin of these pieces in Ireland. They were probably struck for circulation in Dublin in the late 1660s or early 1670s, possibly by Pierre Blondeau to fill an order made by James Butler, the Duke or Ormonde. The adoption of some examples as "current pay" by the West Jersey Legislature places the St. Patrick pieces among the several series of foreign coins that were made legal tender or otherwise circulated in the specie starved American Colonies. They are not directly related to West Jersey, and examples probably circulated in other colonies.
Even more enigmatic are the silver strikings of the St. Patrick pieces, all of which are known in the farthing size. The aforementioned act issued by the West Jersey Legislature on May 8, 1682 did not refer to the silver pieces, although one badly worn example has been found in New Jersey, suggesting that examples of this type also found their way to the American Colonies and circulated at an unspecified (and probably fluctuating) value. Although sometimes referred to as a pattern, the multiple die marriages known to exist suggests a more extensive coinage for the silver St. Patrick pieces. Furthermore, the fact that most known survivors are heavily worn points to widespread circulation for the type, probably mostly in Ireland but undoubtedly also including some measure of commercial use in the American Colonies.
Elusive in today's market and rarely offered this nice, this is the finest silver striking of the St. Patrick farthing that this cataloger (Jeff Ambio) can ever recall handling. It is a boldly defined AU with just a trace of striking softness and even less wear confined to the central highpoints of an otherwise sharp looking design. Well centered on the planchet, with light golden-gray toning and no significant detractions. Very minor pitting in the planchet is noted, solely for accuracy, and a tiny cut in the lower obverse field below the base of the harp should serve as a useful pedigree marker. An important offering for the advanced collector of Colonial era coinage.
PCGS Population: only 1; 3 finer, all of which grade AU-55.
From the Howard Collection. Purchased privately from Don Taxay in the 1970s. Paper envelope with Taxay's original notes included.