Thursday, August 21, 2014

Counterstamped Communion Tokens: maybe, maybe not.

Here are a couple of pieces to ponder.
Virginia Halfpenny N20-X. Image from StacksBowers.
     The first one is a 1773 Virginia halfpenny. The piece is deeply counterstamped R.P.S. in bold letters across the obverse. A recent Colonial Newsletter (CNL) article by Roger Moore proposed that this countermark stands for the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Virginia. It is a rare piece, but others might be out there. Of note, Bason does not list any CTs with this letter combination, but of course, there are many pieces marked by the initials RP and RPC (with and without periods).
     The notion that coins or tokens were used as communion tokens is not so far-fetched. The round Port Glasgow tokens (BZ5774 / KL(40)244) appear to be stamped over a (yet-unidentified) token. There are probably others too -- let me know if you know of any. Certainly, the use of a countermark was practical. I am surprised that it did not occur more often. Or, maybe it did, and we just do not know about it. However, to my knowledge there is no documentary evidence to support the notion that coins and tokens were counterstamped by the Presbyterian Church.
Massachusetts Cent.
Image from StacksBowers.
     On a more tangential note, the Albany Church Pennies (1790) were counterstamped over worn coppers in at least a few (if not all) cases (e.g., 1771 halfpenny). These pieces were not communion tokens, but were traded for "good" money prior to the church services, so that these "pennies" could be placed in the collection plate. They were reused over and over again in this way to insure that "good" money was collected by the church. Keep in mind that this was the First Presbyterian Church in Albany. At the time, over half of all coppers circulating in the USA were either counterfeit English pieces or under-weight tokens of dubious quality. As many of you know, the ACPs are known in two varieties and are quite rare (all told, probably about a dozen known from a production of 1000 pieces -- a 1.2% survival rate).
     Here is another piece that could be a communion token. This time a Massachusetts Cent provided the host coin. The deeply impressed countermark -- PC -- could stand for Presbyterian Church. Again, we have no documentation. Bason only lists two CTs with these letters -- only one of them signifying Presbyterian Church (the other CT is from Peters Creek, PA).
     Still, we know that early USA CTs were quite primitive, as most everyone was busy carving out a life in the frontier. It would not be a surprise to learn that counterstamped coins and tokens were used as communion tokens.


  1. The Virginia halfpenny image is attributed to StacksBowers. I couldn't find it in their archives. Assuming this was offered at auction, I wonder how they catalogued it.

  2. Hey Bud, I have the page in front of me. StacksBowers: March 2013 Auction, session one on March 13th, Lot 184. The bold description stated EF Details--Graffiti. The text reads: "A recent CNL article by Roger Moore proposes an attribution of the countermark to the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Virginia as a communion token." Although I am a member of C4, I do not get the CNL, as this is published by ANS -- I need to be getting it, so I plan to; and, I plan to find this article unless you find it first and want to share some of it on this blog. The idea of a CM coin serving as a CT is fascinating and opens up a new doorway -- if true. Someone needs to find a Session Record that states: "... and we purchased 100 cents from the corner bank ... ."