Nova Constellatio Patterns Coins: The Foundation of Our Numismatic Legacy

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In 1783, after eight difficult years, Great Britain declared it would cease hostilities with the United States, creating an end to the long Revolutionary War. The 1783 Treaty of Paris officially ended the war and recognized the United States as an independent nation.Nova Constellations obverse and reverse

Now, our young nation faced its next serious problem. At that time, there was no official coinage and the thirteen early American states all used different forms of official or unofficial money.

Robert Morris, who served as the U.S. Superintendent of Finance from 1781 to 1784, could be considered the father of the 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern coins and the solution to the young nation’s currency challenges.

Morris began to work with each of the 13 states and their tangled web of monetary systems. He developed a concept of national coinage with a system of 1,000 units that would allow all but one of the thirteen states to normalize their state currency against the proposed national coinage.

This system included a silver Mark of 1,000 Units, a silver Quint of 500 Units, a silver Cent of 100 Units, a copper Eight of 8 Units, and a copper Five of 5 Units.

These ultra-rare and historic early American Nova Constellatio pattern coins were struck in Philadelphia in 1783 under the authority of the U.S. Treasury Department. Benjamin Dudley, an English emigrant and a metallurgist was tasked to prepare dies and strike examples of these denominations. How many pattern coins were struck remains a mystery today and any survivors are ultra-rare. There are five different 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern coins.

If you took Latin in high school, you may recall that Nova Constellatio is Latin for “new constellation.” The aptly named 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns coins reveal thirteen stars among the rays of glory representing all thirteen states as a “new constellation surrounding the eye of God. The coins featured the Latin words LIBERTAS and JUSTITIA, intended to signal that Liberty and Justice would govern the new nation.

After all that work, Morris’ coinage plan never got off the ground. The proposal never emerged out of the Continental Congress’s committee that was assigned to consider it. Nonetheless, the intriguingly beautiful Nova Constellatio pattern coins represent an important part of our nation’s early history and America’s numismatic legacy.

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