IRELAND/COLONIAL AMERICA. Voce Populi coinage. Æ halfpenny. 7.24 gm. 28 mm. 112 grains. 1760. Laureate bust right (Square head) / Hibernia seated left; 1760 below. D&F 569. Nelson 7. Zelinka 8-F (4-12 known). Very Fine; cast coin; even dark brown tone; fine pebbly surface; substantial detail (better looking in hand than in photo).
Voce Populi copper halfpenny tokens
A fascinating and enigmatic copper issue from the mid-1700s in Ireland (and Colonial America?)
Voce Populi coppers have appeared in several references on Colonial American coinage: The Official Redbook, A Guidebook of United States Coins 2017; Breen (1988), Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins; Bowers (2009), Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins.
Irish references cite them as well: Nelson (1905), The Coinage of Ireland in Copper, Tin and Pewter, 1460-1826; Dowle and Finn (1969), The Guidebook to the Coinage of Ireland From 995 AD to the Present Day. The latest (2015) Spink Standard Catalog, Coins of Scotland, Ireland and the Islands notes them as “a brief issue of tokens, the ‘Voce Populi’ series, [that] was produced in Dublin to supply the need for small change” but does not provide a listing of types.
They were made by a supplier of buttons to the Irish army, a Mr. Roche of Dublin. Who is shown on the obverse? George II? George III? One of the Jacobite pretenders? The Jacobites were Catholic as were the Irish, so there was sympathy for their cause.
The standard reference by Jerry Zelinka was published in the October 1976 issue of The Colonial Newsletter. In addition to background discussion he provides a detailed description of die varieties—12 obverse and and 11 reverse—in a listing that is supplemented by a chart showing die combinations. (Unfortunately I am unaware of any reprint of this article.)
Did they circulate in Colonial America? Dr. Philip Mossman, authority on American Colonial Coinage and past editor of The Colonial Newsletter who has kindly helped me with background on these pieces, keeps a running total record of pieces found in the US and the Maritimes that could conceivably have come to North America during colonial times. The number is small (“a census of 13, most with a definite east coast recovery history so they well could have arrived as someone’s pocket change but not as a shipment”).
Ken Bressett, one of the Red Book authors when I asked him last summer in Colorado Springs about these pieces in Colonial America, smiled as he suggested no real evidence but no objection if someone felt they should be part of Colonial American numismatic history.
That they are fascinating and unusual with a great variety of manufacturing quirks is undebatable. This group from Bruce Ormond is exceptional.
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