The Machin’s Mills Counterfeit Halfpence

Operating in total secrecy, the mint was located in upstate New York, about 60 miles north of New York City. Most of its minting activities were done at night, under cover of darkness. Despite this, the number of counterfeits that the clandestine mint struck were prolific …

Rendering of Machin's Mills mint, by Aaron Packard

During the early years of the United States, under its first constitutional government defined by the Articles of Confederation, a significant shortage of currency and coinage existed.  Under that early constitution, the burden of coining money was nebulous, and thus fell to both the states and the federal government. Thus, in tandem with the new Federal government, several states set about minting their own money.

Severe shortages abound, a vast variety of coins circulated within the young country. Emissions from Norway, France, Spain, Germany were freely exchanged alongside private, counterfeit, evasion, and regal coinages from England.  Privately minted coppers from New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Connecticut freely changed hands alongside American-made contemporary counterfeits.

Emissions known as Nova Eboracs, Nova Cæsareas, and Fugios could be found in coffers with Talbott, Allum and Lees, Nova Constellatios, and Kentucky tokens.

Anything that resembled the size and weight of an English halfpence, and could be plausibly inferred as intrinsically being made from copper, passed muster in the public’s eyes.

Newburgh NY on the Hudson, c.1780

Newburgh NY on the Hudson, c.1780

Many of the newly formed states, as well as the Federal government, contracted their coining manufacturing to mints privately owned and/or operated.

Mints were located in Rahway, Newton, New Haven, Newburgh, and possibly New York City. These mints were in addition to those in Birmingham England, where several American-intended emissions are thought to have been struck.

Along with state-sponsored coinage emissions, purely private minting operations also ensued.  One of the most prolific, and historically regarded, was the mint at Machin’s Mills.

Machin’s Mint was located in the State of New York, and began operation around 1787. Of all the various coins produced at the location, Vermont coinages were the only authorized coinages actually produced at the mint.  All others were a private endeavor.

Other coppers produced at the mint included various Connecticut varieties and more famously, imitation George II and George III halfpence.

The mint itself was located along the shoreline of Orange Pond, near the town of Newburgh NY about 60 miles north of New York City.  The operation itself was undertaken in complete secrecy, with most of its minting activities occurring at night.  The mill itself was erected on the bank of an outlet creek to provide necessary water power.

The counterfeits that the Machin’s Mills mint produced were quite prolific. Examples have been found all over the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.  To ensure the public’s acceptance of these counterfeits, die-smiths intentionally cut dies which were made to look weak.

Other dies, having been used in previously authorized strikes, were intentionally smoothed so that they produced coins which also appeared weak.  The idea was, the more worn a coin looked, the more readily accepted it would be by the general public.  Coins having a worn appearance gave the false impression the coin had seen much use, and therefore must be legitimate.  Coins having a newly minted appearance, using counterfeited dies, stood a much larger chance of being rejected.

Robert Vlack in his book “A Catalog of Early American Coins” made one of the first concerted efforts at identifying the contemporary counterfeit emissions produced at the Machin’s Mills mint. Included within his book were a set of plates which illustrated those emissions.

Since that time, previously unidentified counterfeit varieties have been attributed to the mint, and added to the list.

Numismatic Specimens

It should be noted that from time-to-time new varieties are sure to be added, as well as others may be ruled out. Such additions and deletions have occurred over the last several decades.

Each variety has an approximate rarity of the number of specimens which survive today:

MachinsMillsSheldonRarityScale

Varieties

The following illustrations depict those varieties.

Vlack 1-47AVlack 2-71AVlack 3-71BVlack 4-71CVlack 4-71DVlack 5-72AVlack 6-72aVlack 7-72BVlack 24-72CVlack 3-74AVlack 7-74AVlack 8-74AVlack 4-75AVlack 6-76AVlack 9-76BVlack 11-78AVlack 12-78BVlack 13-78BVlack 15-85NYVlack 13-87CTVlack 17-87AVlack 17-87BVlack 17-87EVlack 18-87CVlack 19-87CVlack 20-87CVlack VT-87CVlack 21II-87CVlack 21II-87DIIVlack 21I-87DIVlack 23-87CVlack 13-88CTVlack 22-88VTVlack 23-88AVlack 9-87NY

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

This posting is strictly for educational purposes only; Images included pursuant to Fair Use provisions of the United States Copyright Code. Images credited to Jack Howes, Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Stack’s, Colonial Coin Collector’s Club Newsletter, ANA, and Early American History Auctions.

  1. Survey of United States Coins, Jack Howes – Numismatist, Colonial Coin Collectors Club
  2. A Catalog of Early American Coins (First Edition), Robert A. Vlack, Ovolon Publishing Company, 1963
  3. Early American Coins: A Comprehensive Listing, Robert A. Vlack, Windsor Research Publications Inc., 1965
  4. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, Walter Breen, Doubleday, 1988
  5. Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, Q. David Bowers, Whitman Publications, 2009

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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.
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