Half Cents Struck on Talbot, Allum, and Lee Tokens

On April 23, 1795, the United States Mint purchased 1,076 pounds of Talbot, Allum & Lee cent tokens from one of the principals of that New York mercantile house, William Talbot. The lot totaled roughly 52,000 tokens, each of them struck in Birmingham, England at the private mint of Peter Kempson & Co. in 1794 and 1795. The firm clearly ordered more than they could successfully circulate as small change, though most surviving Talbot, Allum, & Lee tokens extant today show a good deal of circulation. The half ton of tokens was sold to the Mint at the price of scrap metal, 18 cents per pound. William Talbot sold a further allotment of 1,914 pounds of Talbot, Allum, & Lee tokens to the Mint on December 10, 1796, at an even cheaper price of 16-2/3 cents per pound. These rates were at the low end of what the Mint was accustomed to paying for raw copper. Based upon the few 1795 cents that are known struck over Talbot, Allum, & Lee tokens, the Mint was hopeful that the tokens could be used as cent planchets without further preparation. The tokens proved too light, averaging at least 20 grains lower than the 168-grain standard, and the token’s designs of a standing figure of Liberty on one side and a sailing vessel on the other remained too prominent when struck by large cent dies. Half cent planchets were deemed a more promising way to use them. Even though Mint workers had to painstakingly cut half cent blanks from them one at a time, the plan still saved work when compared to purchasing copper ingots or sheets.

According to Craig Sholley, writing in Penny-Wise in 2011, “the production of copper planchets essentially ceased in late 1797 as the Mint switched to purchasing planchets from England.” Before that decision was made, the Mint expended a great deal of effort preparing planchets for cents and half cents. The experiment with the Talbot, Allum, & Lee tokens was labor-intensive and the results were not particularly good, as even the best struck half cents typically showed evidence of token undertype. The half cent denomination was clearly at the bottom of the Mint’s hierarchy of concern, and those who carefully examine half cents today can find specimens struck over cut-down misstruck large cents, cut-down copper die trials for other denominations such as half dollars, and perhaps even other odd undertypes that have yet to be discovered. Such discoveries are avidly collected today and command premiums when offered in the marketplace.