January 21, 2022

The Mint of Nova Caesarea: A Look at New Jersey’s 1787 Copper Coin

Jay Kapadia, Lark Mason Associates

In colonial North America gold coins did not come into circulation until the late 1830’s. Spanish silver called Reales and the British copper halfpenny were the widespread currency amongst the colonies. The halfpenny was manufactured in Great Britain, where shortages in material led to subsequent shortages in coinage and small change in the colonies. To offset these monetary deficits colonists resorted to bartering of goods and services and the use of paper money and various tokens. 

The constant shortages continued for decades in the colonies and by the 1770’s the British stopped producing halfpennies. Thus, “many private trade tokens were manufactured to fill the gap left by the absence of official small change”, according to writer Tony Clayton. 

During the interim of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, states were allowed to mint their own currency under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. This historical, now obsolete document served as the first framework of government for the original thirteen states. Its main purpose was to uphold States’ independence and sovereignty, under a weak central government. 

Although the Articles did allow Congress to mint and distribute currency, the law also set forth “any regulations concerning the coining of money – and most other legislation involving money – required a super-majority of nine states to become law.” All of which gave States the liberty to mint and produce their own currency and disempower Congress from regulation. 

With these newfound powers, on June 1, 1786, the “New Jersey legislature authorized Walter Mould, Thomas Goadsby, and Albion Cox to mint three million copper coins at a weight of 150 grains each.” The obverse of the copper featured a plow beneath a horse head facing right with the legend NOVA CÆSAREA and the date. The use of "CÆSAREA" is based on the name given to the Island of Jersey in the English Channel during antiquity. During the Roman Era the island was referred to as insula Caesarea (Caesar’s Island). When latinizing the state name, the word "Jersey" was changed to "Caesarea." The 1688 indenture issued by Charles II called the colony "Nova Caesarea, of New Jersey." 

1787 New Jersey No Sprig above Plow Camel Head Copper Coin
1787 New Jersey No Sprig above Plow Camel Head Copper Coin

The imagery of the reverse was designed by a Genevan American, Pierre-Eugène du Cimetière. He was best known as a naturalist and portrait painter. In addition,  his deep understanding in the science of heraldry earned him a membership as an artistic consultant for the committees charged with designing the Great Seal of the United States. The motto and shield of the ‘Great Seal’ was then also used for the New Jersey Coppers.

1787 New Jersey No Sprig above Plow Camel Head Copper Coin
1787 New Jersey No Sprig above Plow Camel Head Copper Coin

The use of the coin was discontinued after the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Delegates from across the U.S. met and ultimately drafted a new constitution and created the groundwork for a more centralized government, hence dissolving the Confederation. Furthermore, the Constitution superseded the Articles of Confederation and banned states from printing or minting money, ceding sole authority to Congress over the creation and distribution of currency.