Nova Constellatio Coppers

The Various Nova Constellatio Coppers

Among the various pre-Copper Federal Coinages, the Nova Constellatio varieties of 1783, 1785, and 1786 are some of the most frequently encountered and popularly collected. Although numerous texts have been written that illustrate the known 12 varieties, unfortunately no simple attribution guide has been encountered to date that succinctly and quickly provides collectors with a simple way to attribute. The below guide provides this.

Overall, the design of the coppers are modeled after the Nova Constellatio pattern series; all consist of the following devices and mottos:


Motto: NOVA CONSTELLATIO (or CONSTELATIO) (Latin: New Constellation) Devices: Eye in center, surrounded by rays extending outward from center, with 13 (12) stars positioned alternatively between rays. Dentils.


Motto: LIBERTAS ET JUSTITIA (Latin: Liberty and Justice), Date Devices: U.S. in center, in either block or script lettering, with wreath surrounding.

Pictured are three sample varieties. These have been selected so that readers may refer to them while attributing their specimens.

The first specimen below is the Crosby 1-A 1783. Note evidence of clashed dies on the upper right quadrant of the obverse. Also note the ray which points to just below the first “O” in “CONSTELLATIO”. The rays on this particular obverse are known as “Pointed” rays. On the reverse of the specimen, note that there are 24 pairs of leaves contained in the wreath.

1783 Nova Constellatio Crosby 1-A Clashed Die Libertas Justitia

The second specimen below is the Crosby 1-B 1785. Note the difference in ray styles. This particular style is known as “Blunt” rays, and being able to recognize the difference in the two styles will be useful when performing attribution steps.

1785 Nova Constelatio Crosby 1-B Libertas Et Justitia

The third specimen pictured below is the Crosby 3-B. On the reverse of the specimen, note that there are 30 pairs of leaves contained in the wreath. In the steps below, knowing the number of leaf-pairs may be necessary to ascertain variety type.

1785 Nova Constellatio Crosby 3-B Libertas Et Justitia

Table of Varieties

The following table outlines the key diagnostics and Sheldon-Scale Rarities for each of the 12 varieties.

Table List of Nova Constellatio Varieties

Attribution Instructions

The following steps may be followed to attribute a Nova Constellatio:

  1. Is the date 1783, 1785, or 1786? If 1783, go to Step 2. If 1785, go to Step 4. If 1786, it is a Crosby 1-A Machin’s Mills.
  2. Is the word CONSTELLATIO spelled with two “L’s” or one “L?” If it is spelled with one “L”, it is a Crosby 3-C. Otherwise, go to Step 3.
  3. Does the ray in proximity to the letters “C-O” point clearly in between the two letters or does it point to just slightly left-of-center and below the “O?” If clearly in between the two letters, it is a Crosby 2-B. If just slightly left-of-center and below the “O”, it is a Crosby 1-A.
  4. Does either side of the specimen have the word “CONFEDERATIO”? If yes, it is a Muling. If no, go to Step 5.
  5. On the reverse of the specimen, count how many pairs of leaves are in the wreath. If there are 29 pairs of leaves, it is a Crosby 4-D. If there are 26 pairs of leaves, it is a Crosby 5-E. If there are 23 pairs of leaves, it is the Crosby-Unlisted. Otherwise, if there are 30 leaves, go to Step 6.
  6. On the obverse of the specimen, starting from the center, do the rays extend outwards, tapering to points, or do they extend outwards, growing wider and end bluntly? If they end bluntly, it is a Crosby 1-B. Otherwise go to Step 7.
  7. Does a ray terminate very closely to the bottom of the letter “I?” If yes, it is a Crosby 3-B. Otherwise, go to Step 8.
  8. Does a ray terminate very closely to the bottom center of the letter “O” in NOVA? If yes, it is a Crosby 4-C. If no, it is a Crosby 2-A.

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, Q. David Bowers, Whitman Publishing, ©2008
  2. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, Walter Breen, Doubleday, ©1988
  3. Early Coins of America, Sylvester S. Crosby, 1875

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.

11 Responses to “Attributing the Nova Constellatio Coppers” Subscribe

  1. Michael Altman December 21, 2014 at 1:54 am #

    Awesome tool. I am putting together a variety set of nova’s.

  2. michael January 9, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    I found a 1783 nova copper while metal detecting in rhoad Island. what is the value of this during its time.

    • Aaron Packard January 17, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

      Hi Michael –

      I would need to see photographs of both sides of the specimen before I could estimate its value.


      Aaron Packard

  3. Dodge R. February 10, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Thank you for posting this information!
    I also found one while metal detecting (in my back yard, lol). I have decent images of both sides. I believe it is a 1785 Crosby 3-B variety.

    Any opinion is greatly appreciated!

    • Aaron Packard February 20, 2015 at 5:47 am #

      Hi Dodge –

      Yes, you have a Crosby 3-B. Thanks for sharing!

      Aaron Packard

  4. R.E.Treis July 5, 2016 at 9:07 am #

    I found a 1786 Nova in a box of nuts and bolts, graded by NGC as fine, environmental damage. I have been watching the auctions to see what a value might be but no luck. Any idea? Thanks.

    • mike altman August 13, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

      Can you shoot me a picture in the holder?
      If you are interested in selling, I would be a buyer..

  5. Danny Young February 22, 2017 at 5:17 am #

    I have a silver ‘Nova Constellatio’ that is 1000 unit coin. Cannot find any info on this coin and the local coins experts response to seeing it have been curious. One very well known expert sent me away and said he does ‘not deal in that kind of material’. Maybe you could help shed some light on my extremely (rare)?? specimen? I would like to send you a picture. Thank you.

    • Aaron Packard July 2, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

      Danny – please send me a photo of both sides of the specimen at the email address found in the Contact section of this site. Please ensure they are relatively sharp photos.

  6. michael murkersonb July 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    I have a nova coin in my collection, it is pretty worn but I am sure its authentic and would like an expert to look at it. thank you

    • mike altman March 5, 2018 at 3:21 am #

      Shoot me scans and Ill take a look.

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