I’m sure everyone is familiar with the United States Mint state quarter program that began in 1999 and lasted 10 years. Five different coins, each representing one of the 50 states, were struck each year, in the sequence in which the state joined the union.
New Jersey was the third coin to be released in the series, after Delaware and Pennsylvania. The design on the quarter depicts Washington crossing the Delaware River Christmas night in 1776 on his way to surprising the enemy forces that occupied Trenton. This was copied from a famous painting and is the subject of a re-enactment every year.
Long before the issuance of the state quarters, many states (newly formed) actually minted their own coins. At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, it took several years before the original colonies united into states, even though the Declaration of Independence referred to the colonies as “these 13 United States” in its preamble. This process began in 1787, with New Jersey joining in December of that year. Even though the states were uniting, there was no provision for a central mint that would meet the needs of all. This would not come about until 1792 when the U.S. Mint was established.
To meet the needs of their citizens, many of the newly formed states, New Jersey included, minted low-denomination 1 cent coins. There were sufficient silver coins around, notably the Spanish 8 reale coin, or Spanish milled dollar as it was known, but no low-denomination coinage for everyday use. The 8 reale was even cut into sections down to 1/8 or 1 reale, which was equivalent to 12 half-cents.
The authority to mint 1 cent coins for New Jersey was granted to three individuals in 1786 who were to produce 3 million copper 1 cent coins by 1888. These individuals, as a group and independently, purchased the metal and assumed all expenses of production. The difference between these costs and the face value of the coins represented their profit. Although the face value of 3 million 1 cent coins is $30,000, quite sum in those days, I do not know how much profit they derived from their effort.
The coins were struck in over three years, in 1786, 1787 and 1788, leading to the completion of their contract. The design used for the front of the coin featured a horse head and plow denoting New Jersey as an agricultural state. Around the rim were the words "Nova Caesarea," which is Latin for New Jersey. It was common European practice to use Latin for all inscriptions on coins, a practice the states and others continued on their coinage. Once the U.S. Mint began production, all inscriptions on coins they struck were in English.
The reverse of the New Jersey cent features a United States shield with the legend "E Pluribus Unum (one composed of many)," which was the first time this legend appeared on a coin.
Since each die had to be hand engraved, and with 3 million coins produced over a period of three years, the result is there are over 140 different die varieties in existence, some of which are very rare. However, a common example in decent condition can be had for less than $100.
Collecting coins from 1776 to 1792, which is referred to as the post-Colonial era, can be a fun and challenging effort. Six states struck their own cent coins, but there were other non-state-specific coins produced by individuals under the same conditions as the New Jersey coinage. Having coins from this era is truly owning a piece of history, as there is no way to know whose hands it may have passed through.
Douglas Keefe is the president of Beachcomber Coins Inc. He and his wife, Linda, operate Beachcomber Coins and Collectibles, formerly in the Shore Mall and now at 6692 Black Horse Pike in the old Wawa building just beyond the former Cardiff Circle. They have satellite offices in Brigantine and Absecon. Between them they have more than 70 years of experience in the coin and precious metals business. They are members of the American Numismatic Association, the Industry Council of Tangible Assets, the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation, the Certified Coin Exchange and the Professional Coin Grading Service.