Among top-selling lots at Dix Noonan Webb’s September auction was a delightful example of a 1796 Kentucky halfpenny token struck in silver for Philip Parry Price Myddelton. Its arrival on the block produced fierce competition that saw it sell for double the upper estimate. In U.S. dollars the price achieved was $24,314.
These halfpennies are remarkably attractive items. The Guide Book of United States Coins observes, “They are unsurpassed in beauty and design by any piece of the period.” That appeal is accompanied by an intriguing history. Of the numerous accounts that exist two are based on extensive, personal archival research, those of Don Taxay and Richard Margolis. Both are freely cited here.
Dr. Philip Parry Price is described as, “a thin man, about 5 feet 10 inches high, with high cheek bones, of rather genteel appearance, has a little of the Yankee dialect”. In the 1790s he is known to have been practicing medicine in Philadelphia. The death of a relative in 1794 saw him visit England to sort out family affairs. About this time he added “Myddelton” to his name.
He claimed to have purchased large tracts of land in northern Kentucky bordering the Ohio River. In the winter of 1795-1796 he advertised in provincial English newspapers for those prepared to settle his Kentucky lands. Several hundred farmers, artisans and laborers are believed to have responded.
Clearly Myddelton had a substantial settlement in mind. He contacted Matthew Boulton at the Soho Mint with a view to having tokens produced for the convenience of the new settlers. Seven, possibly eight letters were exchanged from December 1795 to April 1796.
These discussed production of halfpenny copper tokens for which Myddelton proposed a design consisting of, “on one side, the figure of Britannia weeping over the emblems of Liberty and justice, surrounded by ‘British Settlement Kentucky 1796’[;] on the reverse, a Centre figure, representing Liberty stretching forth her hands to a smaller figure on each side emblematical of peace and plenty encircled by ‘payable by p.p.p. Myddelton, proprietor’.”
In early January 1796 he amended this proposal to show, “Britannia with her head pendant, her spear reversed and leaning on her shield, before her the demons of Discord and tyranny treading under foot [sic] the Emblems of Liberty and justice. Legend ‘Payable by P.P.P. Myddelton’ on the reverse. The figure of Liberty holding out her hand to welcome two little genii presented to her by Hope, at the feet of the figure of Liberty the Emblems of peace and Plenty. Legend ‘British Settlement Kentucky 1796’.” In effect he asked for his two designs to be modified and switched between obverse and reverse but not the legends.
As the proposed date of his return to America was March 1 he requested his order be dealt with promptly. Boulton had reservations about there being sufficient time to execute the order given the number of human figures to be engraved as well as other changes Myddelton had requested. He wrote on February 12 pointing out his concerns. In this letter he specifically refers to the token as being “a half peny” [sic].
The same day Boulton sent his reply Myddelton was named in a writ issued by the Chief Justice, Lloyd Lord Kenyon in the name of George III. Myddelton failed to mention this development to Boulton but agreed to suggestions to simplify the design in order to expedite matters. On Feb. 24 one die had been completed sufficiently for Boulton to send a lead impression to Myddelton.
The dies are likely to have been the work of Conrad Küchler who Soho had employed as the Mint’s principal engraver in 1795. He had proved he could work very quickly when the occasion demanded. He demonstrated this with the Myddelton order by completing both dies in time for 53 specimens of the new tokens to be struck in silver on March 8. Each weighed approximately 175 grains.
The Soho Mint’s Ledger shows Myddelton was charged £5.4s.0d for 50 of these tokens or about 2s.1d each. Subsequently 46 were returned to Soho and £4.15s.8d credited to Myddelton’s account leaving an outstanding balance of 8s.4d for the four retained.
At about this time Myddelton’s grand colonization plans had come grievously unstuck. The writ issued by the Chief Justice concerned Myddelton’s efforts to recruit settlers for his Kentucky colony. This was in breach of a statute enacted in 1783 prohibiting the hiring of talented workmen for employment outside of England. To do so was regarded as a serious offence particularly where the renegade colonies of former British North America were concerned
The indictment explicitly charged that he, “did contract with one John Miles” … “the said John Miles then and there being a manufacturer workman and artificer of Great Britain in the Manufacture of weaving Cloth” … “to go out of this Kingdom of Great Britain into a certain foreign country called America such foreign Country not then being within the Dominions of or belonging to the Crown of Great Britain”… “In Contempt of our Lord the King and his Laws.”
Initially Myddelton had been released on bail but on April 6 he was locked away in Newgate Prison to await trial.
When his case came to court he had a top defense counsel. Even so the jury found him guilty. His sentence handed down on June 9 consisted of a £500 fine and he was to be held in jail for 12 months or until the money was paid. In the event, he remained in jail for more than three years with the fine being paid in November 1799.
Of 53 silver specimens struck in March 1796 the Soho Mint held 49 once Myddelton had returned 46 of the 50 sent to him. It seems likely these remarkably beautiful pieces had been intended for presentation and/or promotional purposes.
Once Myddelton had been charged, let alone found guilty, these items would have become political hot potatoes. They were associated with a convicted felon. And, as Margolis points out, the depiction of a dejected Britannia would have done nothing to help Myddelton’s cause. The Mint appears to have put these to one side before gradually and discreetly selling them to collectors and other individuals. Margolis provides a detailed list of the recipients that included Sir Joseph Banks.
Soho certainly appears to have become very sensitive of their association with Myddelton and his plans. It had become the custom of the Mint to prepare bronzed specimen sets of the different coins and tokens produced each year. Margolis is unaware of any specimen of the Myddelton token being included in these sets despite the sheer quality of its design. Nor is it mentioned in a promotional brochure of 1832 sent by the Mint to attract business from overseas governments. Nor were any specimens present in the 1850 sale of the Soho Mint’s contents.
Margolis found the archival records lack evidence that Myddelton was ever charged for a single copper token although he had clearly intended to have a considerable number struck. Nonetheless 11 proof-quality copper examples were produced by the Mint who sold them in 1796 and 1797 to collectors for sixpence apiece.
In all respects they are identical to the silver pieces – other than for their metal content. They weigh between 159 and 173 grains. Analysis by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation cited by Heritage Auctions showed one to contain 99 percent copper.
Also of interest to today’s collectors are the copper mules of the 1796 Myddelton token obverse and the 1794 letterpress reverse of the Copper Company of Upper Canada halfpenny, the work of Küchler’s predecessor Noel-Alexandre Ponthon.
Margolis presents an extended discussion of these pieces including a review of all previous literature. He points out there is no evidence to support any of the various published interpretations as to the origin of these mules. But after close examination of several he offers his opinion that they were created by Boulton in 1796 to illustrate to Myddelton the advantages of combining an elaborate obverse design with a very simple reverse. They were never “concocted rarities” for sale to collectors but “practical examples of Boulton’s feelings about halfpenny design.” Intriguingly one of these surfaced in the 1850 sale.
If any reader now feels they must have an example of a Myddelton token for their collection, then Heritage Auctions will have one of the silver pieces listed for the firm’s Jan. 3-8, 2018, FUN U.S. Coins Signature Auction in Tampa.
Margolis, R. Matthew Boulton, Philip Parry Price Myddelton, and the proposed token coinage for Kentucky. The Colonial Newsletter 1999, 39(3), pp. 1991-2024.
Taxay, D. The Myddelton Token. Coinage, June 1970, pp. 60-62, 84.
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