Dave Bowers’ Newest Book on Vermont Coppers has Something for Everyone

Q. David Bowers’ newest book, The Copper Coins of Vermont and Interrelated Issues 1783-1788 is the culmination of over 60 years of study devoted to numismatics and the Vermont copper series. Since 1952 Bowers’ contributions to the “Hobby of Kings” have gone unabated and with the passing of Eric Newman, Dave now assumes the mantle of Elder Statesman of the hobby and is perhaps the greatest ambassador coin collecting has ever known. Fortunately for us, Dave is far from retiring as his latest book demonstrates he has much left to offer. Anyone who has talked with Dave knows of his passion for colonial numismatics. In the book’s introduction, he states that “the purpose of this book is to share with you my enthusiasm and the pleasure I have experienced while studying and collecting Vermont copper coins from my first purchase in the early 1950s down to the present time.” He has achieved this goal and much more. His latest book has something for everyone, from the advanced collector and researcher of Vermont coinage, to the novice. And, of course, everything is written in Dave’s wonderful easy to read and entertaining style that breathes life into every subject he approaches and has led thousands to take up the hobby. 

Over the years there have been many good books and articles on Vermont coppers. Dave pays homage to these works and draws information from all of them plus his own personal experience to weave a story of the Vermont coinage that is riveting from start to finish. One of Dave’s great contributions to numismatics is his ability to aggregate the work of others into a format that is somehow greater than the parts. He has a knack for selecting from the historical record the stories and images that are both interesting and illuminating. Virtually every page of this work has at least one color image and most pages have several. These are not just photographs of coins, but images of the people, places, and things mentioned in the text. Indeed, it is not until after the early chapters that we find the first photograph of a Vermont copper, prior to that the reader is taken back in time to the formation of Vermont from tree-covered wilderness to statehood.

Many people today forget that Vermont was not part of the 13 original colonies, but disputed territory between New York and New Hampshire. Vermont coppers were minted during the period when Vermont was an independent republic seeking admission to the union. Dave recognizes that in order to understand this coinage it is imperative to comprehend the circumstances of its birth. The legend on the reverse of Vermont coppers proudly states STELLA QUARTA DECIMA, “THE FOURTEENTH STAR.” This was an obvious indication of the people’s desire to become the first new state after Independence; something denied them until 1791. Dave tells the story of the formation of the Republic of Vermont and provides insights into its early leaders. One does not need to be a coin collector to enjoy these initial sections of the book.In the sections that follow Dave takes an in-depth look into the numismatic history of the Vermont coinage. The men who minted the coins, engraved the dies, and financed the operation are all discussed. For persons who collect the series and those interested in learning more about Vermonts, each of the 39 different die combinations are described in detail with accompanying illustrations of either the finest known examples or high condition census pieces. Dave discusses these coins like only someone who has studied and cherished Vermont coppers for six decades can. After all, he was the first person to acquire all of the known varieties – a feat only accomplished by two others since. He draws upon his experience as a collector, dealer, and auctioneer of Vermonts to provide a suggested rarity and value for each variety. Vermont coppers are also explained within the context of the series. By incorporating the history of the coinage at the same time he explains the different die varieties, Dave assists the reader in better understanding why, for example, the images on the coins changed over time and why the weight of the copper along with copper quality is so varied. This book is not, however, just focused on Vermont coppers.

The story of the Vermont coinage cannot be properly told without an examination of the Machin’s Mills coinage, which is extensively discussed and illustrated. There is no book devoted solely to Machins. The Machin’s Mills coinage has been brought to light by gifted researchers like Eric Newman, Robert Vlack, Mike Ringo and Gary Trudgen in numismatic journals like The Colonial Newsletter. Dave has done an outstanding job of bringing all the different articles and disparate research together in one place where he synthesizes it into a readable and easy to follow format with high quality illustrations. The same thing is done for the Nova Constellatio series, which inspired the design for the reverse of some Vermont die varieties.

My favorite part of the book, however, is Chapter 11, which is unassumingly titled, “Vermont Coppers and Numismatics in Later Years.” This chapter is David Bowers at his very best. Dave makes the literary and collecting history of Vermonts interesting in a way no one else could. In addition to discussing the important sales of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he provides his firsthand reminiscences from the 1950s to today. If the book only included this information, it would be worth buying. Here we learn that Dave has actually been contemplating writing a book on Vermont coppers since the 1950s when he began gathering notes and collecting images for this book. Insightfully, he states that had he published such a work in the 1950s it would have sold “fewer than 100 copies, if even that!” He then explains why things are different now.

In Chapter 11, Dave walks us through the numismatic history of the second half of the 20th century like only an insider can. This is the story of how colonial numismatics rose from relative obscurity to where it is today. As a witness and often participant to these events, Dave has a unique perspective concerning the people who shaped colonial numismatics. Vignettes of all the important players are provided – some are sad, some are funny, all are interesting. He also gives praise where praise is merited and sheds light on those who deserve to be exposed. I was personally very pleased to see Dave’s kind words for Tony Carlotto’s book on Vermont coppers, which is worthy of acclamation. For those who have Tony’s work, that should not stop you from buying this book since, in my opinion, the two complement one another as they approach the subject from different perspectives without being duplicative.    

The final chapter covers information on how to collect Vermont coppers. Since Dave has been collecting the series longer than anyone, his words deserve very careful consideration. I admit that I almost skipped this chapter thinking it had nothing to offer me, but the more I read, the more I realized I was wrong. This chapter starts with a basic discussion on how to grade Vermont coppers and builds to a doctoral level lecture on coin collecting. Anyone who is collecting or thinking about collecting Vermont coppers or any other colonial series must read this chapter! Dave illustrates multiple examples of different die varieties and provides a running commentary on the nuances of each. The coins run the gamut from Poor to Mint State and Dave discusses which coins are and are not desirable and why – it is as if you went to a coin show and at every table Dave Bowers was standing right next to you coaching you on what to buy and what to pass on. I have never seen this approach in a coin book before; it is pure genius – a guidebook on how to cherrypick Vermont coppers. Those aren’t just my words, Dave specifically states that he is educating the reader on how to cherrypick Vermont coppers and put together a fantastic collection on a budget. Many of Dave’s insights in this chapter transcend Vermonts and are applicable to colonial coins in general, but other comments are very specific to the series. For example, Dave discusses conditional rarity, strike and copper quality between the different Vermont die combinations – these are discernments that take years, if not a lifetime, to learn and appreciate. I wish I had this information years ago, and I wish Dave would prepare the same analysis for every colonial series; that he has done so for Vermonts is priceless.   

The bottom line is this. I have read dozens of Dave Bowers’ books and The Copper Coins of Vermont and Interrelated Issues 1783-1788 is his most informative, practical, and useful book to date. It is a 60-plus year labor of love to a colonial series the likes of which we will never see again – an absolute must read. To makes matters even better, it is offered to the public at a fraction of the price that we have become accustomed to paying for hardbound, full color, numismatic publications.  

The book is published by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and will have a limited run of only 500 copies. The list price will be $39.95 plus $5 shipping. The book is 175 pages, 8½ by 11 inches in size, hardbound, and in full color, with a foreword by Ray Williams. Each book will have a special numbered bookplate (1 to 500) signed by Dave. The book is expected to ship in August 2018. To order: Call 866-811-1804 or 603-569-0823 and pay with a credit card. Or, you can mail a check to Stack’s Bowers Galleries/PO Box 1804/Wolfeboro, NH 03894/Attn: Book Sales.



Christopher R. McDowell,

Editor, The Journal of Early American Numismatics, formerly The Colonial Newsletter

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