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Albany Church Penny, No D, BN

Image Information

Type Coin
Title Albany Church Penny, No D, BN
Grade EF40
Service NGC
Service Catalog # 612
Denomination PENNY

(1790) PENNY Albany Church Penny, No D, Breen-1169, W-8495, R.7, XF40 NGC. An attractive and well-preserved example of this popular and intriguing rarity. The obverse is clear, with CHURCH being boldly impressed and the script "Penny," while softer, being fully legible. Nearly the entire scalloped border is visible, with only the area between 5 and 6 o'clock being faint. The color is a pleasing and consistent golden-tan. Notably, this piece lacks the problems frequently encountered with these tokens, having good surfaces bearing only the usual abrasions suffered by normal use. Much of what has been written about these enigmatic pieces is speculative at best. They have frequently been referred to as "communion tokens," despite the fact that they bear almost no resemblance to any other communion token of the day. Communion tokens were not a monetary substitute, but were badges of admission to communion given by the elders of a church to those members of a congregation deemed worthy of participating in the sacrament. They were commonly used in North American Presbyterian churches of Scottish influence or origin, mostly in Canada. While the First Presbyterian Church of Albany was indeed aligned with the principles of the Scottish church, the fact that these pieces bear a monetary denomination is a very strong argument against them being communion tokens. In J. McClusky Blayney's 1877 History of the First Presbyterian Church of Albany, NY, church records are cited that shed some light on these pieces: "It was resolved 'that one thousand coppers be stamped church penny, and placed in the hands of the treasurer, for the purpose of exchanging with the congregation at the rate of twelve for one shilling, in order to add respect to the weekly collections'" (page 47). Coppers were not accepted at anything close to twelve for a shilling in New York in 1790, so the church would have been realizing a handsome profit under this arrangement, going a long way toward providing a motivation for creating these pieces once we discard the argument that they are communion tokens. It should also be noted that while the records of the Albany church indicate that they did use communion tokens, the pieces currently under discussion are never referred to as such. They are probably best considered a creative and clever response to the Copper Panic of 1789, which saw the value of coppers plummet. All known specimens of Albany Church Pennies appear to be overstruck on worn coppers, on some of which undertypes can be detected. They were struck on one side with an engraved punch with scalloped edges, not by a die per se. Two distinct varieties are known, with and without a script "D" above CHURCH. This is a lovely representative of the "no D" variety of this rare issue, with only one graded higher by NGC (7/17). Listed on page 77 of the 2018 Guide Book. Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society.

Heritage Newman IX, November 2017, lot 15053, realized $38400. Images and description courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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Image Collection Eric P. Newman Collection, Part IX
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