THE HISTORY OF THE HIGLEY COPPER
From "The Early Coins
of America" by Sylvester S. Crosby --
The Granby or Higley
Tokens are supposed to have been struck by John Higley of Granby, from
metal obtained from the mines at 'Copper Hill' in that town, then part
of Simsbury, in the State of Connecticut. The authorities appear
to have taken no notice of his issues of coin, which seem to have
continued for about three years, -- from 1737 to 1739 inclusive, --
specimens being extant bearing these dates, though we know of none dated
The borders of all are
beaded, or milled, and the edges plain; in size they vary from 18 to 19,
and their weight varies from 122 to 170 grains: the heaviest specimen is
one of 1739...
Several of these tokens
are double struck, apparently by accident, as the second impression is
often visible only at one edge; this in one instance causes the first
letter of the obverse legend to resemble a W, thus reading 'WALUE,"
which it certainly was never intended to do....
It has been said that
these were the work of Dr. Samuel Higley, a physician and blacksmith: as
he was not living in 1737, this must be an error.
It is stated by Phelps, in
his History of the Copper Mines at Granby, that 'this coin is said to
have passed for two and six pence, (forty-two cents,) in paper currency
it is presumed, thought composed chiefly, if not entirely, of copper.'
These coppers, owing to
the fine quality of the metal of which they were composed, were much in
favor as an alloy for gold, and it is probably due in part to this cause
that they are now so extremely rare. We are informed of an old
goldsmith, aged about seventy-five years, that during his
apprenticeship, his master excused himself for not having finished a
string of gold beads at the time appointed, as he was unable to find a
Higley copper with which to alloy the gold; thus indicating that they
were not easily obtained sixty years ago.
We have heard it related
of Higley, that being a frequent visitant at the public house, where at
that time liquors were a common and unprohibited article of traffic, he
was accustomed to pay his 'scot' in his own coin, and the coffers of the
dram-seller soon became overburdened with this kind of cash, (an
experience not at all likely to cause trouble to collectors of the
present day,) of the type which proclaims its own value to be equal to
what was then the price of a 'potation,' -- three pence.
When complaint was made to
Higley, upon his next application for entertainment, which was after a
somewhat longer absence than was usual with him, he presented coppers
bearing the words, 'Value me as you please' 'I am good copper'.
Whether this 'change of
base' facilitated the financial designs of the ancient coiner, or not,
we have never been informed: sure we are however, that should he be
aware of the immense appreciation in the value of his coppers, since
that day, it would amply reward him for the insulting conduct of the
We cannot vouch for the
truth of this 'legend,' but we believe those first issued bore the
words, 'The value of three pence," and, whatever the cause,
subsequent issues more modestly requested the public to value them
according to their own ideas of propriety, although they did not refrain
from afterwards proclaiming their own merits.
We extract the following
information relating to the place where the metal for these coppers was
obtained, from Phelp's History of the Copper Mines and Newgate Prison at
Granby, Conn: -- 'After 1721, when a division of the mining lands took
place among the lessees, each company worked at separate mines, all
situated upon copper-hill, and (excepting Higley's) within the compass
of less than one mile...At Higley's mine, which lies about a mile and a
half south of this, extensive old workings exist, though commenced at a
later period than the other. Mr. Edmund Quincy, of Boston, had a
company of miners working at this place at the breaking out of the war
of the revolution; soon after which the works were abandoned.'
At the session of the
General Assembly in October, 1773, 'an Act was passed "constituting
the subterranean caverns and buildings in the copper mines in Simsbury,
a public gaol and workhouse for the use of the Colony;" to which
was given the name of Newgate Prison. The prisoners were to
be employed in the mining. The crimes, which by the Act subjected
offenders to confinement and labor in the prison, were burglary, horse
stealing, and counterfeiting the public bills or coins, or making
instruments or dies therefor.'
As a prison, this locality
appears to have been no less a failure than it was as a mining
speculation. The buildings were three times destroyed by fire, and
revolts, violence, and escapes were of frequent occurrence up to the
time of its abandonment, in 1827, when it had been in use as a prison
for upwards of fifty years."