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.
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.
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.
Table of Varieties
The following table outlines the key diagnostics and Sheldon-Scale Rarities for each of the 12 varieties.
The following steps may be followed to attribute a Nova Constellatio:
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.
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.
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.
Does either side of the specimen have the word “CONFEDERATIO”? If yes, it is a Muling. If no, go to Step 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.
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.
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.
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.
Notes and Sources
Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, Q. David Bowers, Whitman Publishing, ©2008
Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, Walter Breen, Doubleday, ©1988
Early Coins of America, Sylvester S. Crosby, 1875