Blogs

The Enigmatic “Let the Egle Fly” Token

At
the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont two weeks from now I invite you to
track me down at the show and talk about anything on your mind—from consigning
to an upcoming sale to research on something obscure in American numismatics. Or just to say hello.

One
of my current book projects is about mottos and inscriptions on coins, tokens,
and notes used as money. There are many puzzles, such as the one illustrated and
described below:

This
copper token represents one of many enduring mysteries in numismatics. The
obverse depicts a face representing the sun, with resplendent rays surrounding.
The inscription reads: LET THE EGLE FLY  / J.S.G.S.L.C.O. A dozen or
so examples are known today, each of which is well-circulated. These are
not numismatic issues made for collectors but in their time were used in
circulation. 

Russell
Rulau in his Standard Catalog of U.S. Tokens 1700-1900 noted
that  David Proskey considered this to be a pattern Mormon $10, and in
1888 Proskey expressed the view that J.S.G.S.L.C. signified "Joseph Smith,
Great Salt Lake City." Rulau noted that the letters in the inscription are
J.S.G.S.L.C.O., and that Proskey never conjectured about the meaning of the
final "O." Perhaps if Proskey were cataloging the same piece today he
would conjecture instead "Joseph Smith, Great Salt Lake Coinage
Office." Rulau thought the piece was actually a token dated to the era
between 1846 and 1848, which prompts us to wonder why he chose to list this
variety in his catalog of trade tokens dated 1866 to 1889  rather than in
his merchant token list 1845 to 1860. Rulau omits pricing for the variety in
all grades.

Modern
opinion is divided and the attribution of this token has been a matter of
considerable discussion. The Internet site www.earlymormoncollectibles.com showcases this token as a Mormon issue, citing David
Proskey, and valuing it at $4,500. The Mormons did not establish Great Salt
Lake City until 1847, the year after the date of the token. And yet, the
letters J.S.G.S.L.C. are sufficiently distinctive that it would be difficult to
assign any other attribution. As to the initials J.S., these letters could
relate to the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith, who was killed in 1844.

What
do the inscriptions mean? The token, though dated 1846, could have been made
later when Great Salt Lake City was a reality. In any event, Joseph Smith was a
memory. "Let the E[a]gle Fly" could relate to some hope that Smith’s
aspirations or indeed the Mormon faith would take wing. Again, there is room
for conjecture and little in the way of fact. In an Internet discussion with
Bob Leonard in early 2013, I said that I felt that it does have a Mormon
connection, but the circumstances of issue have yet to be determined. Today in
2019 I have learned nothing new. One thing remains clear, that this is an
interesting early American token of considerable rarity, one that holds a
secret, perhaps very important, that is still to be discovered. 

I
need help on another mystery, the meaning or translation of the inscription FERTILITATEM
DIVITIAS QUE CIRCUMFERREMUS on the obverse of the 1794 Copper Company of Upper
Canada halfpenny (see image). At the center is the reclining figure of a river
god in the style of Neptune.

Enjoy
the summer.


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