Higley Coppers From
The Sydney F. Martin Collection Part I
Ever since the dawn of the American numismatic hobby, Higley coppers have occupied a special place of mystique and reverence among collectors of colonial coins. They are the patriarchs of our beloved early American coppers – recognized as the first copper coin struck in what would become the United States. An historic coinage, no doubt, and made even more desirable by their charming design, formidable rarity, and the rich numismatic lore that accompanies the series.
The Higley coppers of 1737-1739, also referred to in the past as “Granby tokens” or “deer money,” are attributed to Dr. Samuel Higley of Granby (then Simsbury), Connecticut. Hard facts are scarce, but there is considerable circumstantial evidence, and certainly strong numismatic tradition, tying the coinage to Dr. Higley, or at least to the Higley family or its close associates. Higley was a medical doctor by trade, but also practiced blacksmithing and performed various experiments in metallurgy. In 1727 he developed a method to produce steel and in 1728 he purchased land in Simsbury that was rich in copper ore. He operated a thriving mining business for the next several years but is said to have lost his life at sea in May 1737 while delivery a load of copper to England. The timing leads many to believe that Samuel Higley was responsible for the 1737 dated coins, despite having little time to accomplish this, while the 1739 dated coins were necessarily struck by someone else.
The coinage must have been produced on a very small scale, or many specimens destroyed, as today examples are extraordinarily rare. There are fewer than 100 Higley coppers thought to exist across all varieties. Only 75 or so distinct specimens have been positively identified over the course of many decades of careful research. There are 16 known die varieties that comprise 7 major types, as listed in the Red Book – six of those with a deer obverse and then one unique coin with the wheel obverse that reads THE WHEELE GOES ROUND. The most “common” die varieties have just 8-12 specimens known, and the most available of the 7 Red Book types offer a mere 20 or so examples to collectors. This incredibly small supply of such a legendary and historic coinage places extremely strong demand on the few that come up for sale, and even the most mutilated, barely identifiable pieces fetch five-figure prices.
The Whitman Encyclopedia notes: “Most collectors would do well to have even a single example to illustrate the Higley series. Cabinets with as many as four or five coins have been few and far between in the annals of the hobby. Remarkably, in the 18th century, pioneer American numismatist Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere had seven specimens.” The collection of Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie, sold by Henry Chapman in 1909, contained an incredible nine Higleys, though with some duplication of varieties. The Syd Martin Collection will demolish all of the records and establish Syd as the undisputed king of Higley copper collectors. With his unwaveringly completist mentality, and vast connections and resources, Martin assembled an almost incomprehensible 13 different die varieties, lacking only Freidus 1.2-A, the unique Freidus 2-B.b in the Connecticut State Library, and the unique WHEELE GOES ROUND for an impossible complete set. The quality of the Syd Martin Higleys is also extraordinary, most pieces are in the top half of their variety’s population grade-wise and there are several coins that represent the finest available examples.
The present offering of select specimens from the Syd Martin collection of Higley coppers includes an example of each of the six major Red Book types for the deer obverse design. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first ever auction appearance of all six types in the same collection or sale. Included are the semi-unique VALVE OF THREE PENCE / I AM GOOD COPPER, one of two known, and the extremely rare VALVE ME AS YOU PLEASE / I AM GOOD COPPER, one of three known. The six coins to follow represent the finest example of each given type in the Martin collection, and the grade, condition, and eye appeal of all are truly exceptional within the context of the series. This is certainly an unprecedented opportunity for collectors who have been waiting to own one or more high quality examples of the coveted Higley copper.