The Extraordinary Eric Newman and His Extraordinary Favorite Coin

Numismatists dream of owning the rarest and most desirable coins—perhaps an 1804 Silver Dollar, or just one of five known 1913 Liberty Nickels.  This Grand Rapids coin dealer is no exception!  Just imagine owning an 1804 Silver Dollar, AND all five 1913 Liberty Nickels!   As a foremost U.S. numismatist and numismatic scholar, centenarian Eric P. Newman has owned all of these, and many more.   Which of these noted rarities was his favorite? Answer: None!

Mr. Newman’s favorite coin is the gold 1792 George Washington President “pattern coin,” privately made by Obadiah Westwood at his mint in Birmingham, England, from dies engraved by John Gregory Hancock.   This one-of-a-kind numismatic treasure is part of the two percent of Mr. Newman’s collection on display at The Newman Money Museum in St. Louis*. 

According to Eric Newman’s research, the gold 1792 Washington pattern coin was one of a group of coins provided to President Washington, VP John Adams, and members of Congress in a marketing effort by Mr. Westwood’s mint in Birmingham, England.  Westwood wanted exclusive rights to mint coins for the newly founded United State of America. 

The Department of Special Collections, University of Notre Dame, has research to support Mr. Newman’s belief:

“In the hopes of obtaining a contract from the U.S. government to produce copper coins, the firm of W. and Alexander Walker of Birmingham England commissioned John Gregory Hancock to designed a copper cent.  Hancock designed two different cents, each with a bust of George Washington on the obverse and an American eagle of the reverse. Hancock worked at Obadiah Westwood’s mint in Birmingham, England, where the coppers were minted.”   

In addition to the cent patterns, some undenominated large eagle patterns were also produced. These are likely the source of the Washington pattern coin so loved by Mr. Newman. 

Before receiving word from the Americas that President Washington did not want his portrait on US coinage, these additional pattern coins were minted and shipped to the United States.  The denomination “ONE CENT” had been removed and replaced with an arch of 13 stars.  Again, per research posted online by the Notre Dame’s Department of Special Collections,

 “…about a half dozen examples exist in copper (Baker 20), about the same number in silver (Baker 21) and one in gold (Baker 20a). They are frequently referred to as a cent, half dollar and ten dollar piece, although several now suspect the unique gold example was a pocket piece owned by George Washington rather than a pattern for a gold ten dollar coin (this includes the current owner of the piece, Eric Newman).”

Mr. Newman’s research additionally suggests that the gold coin was presented to President Washington, one of the silver coins was presented to Vice President Adam’s and bronze examples were presented to members of Congress.  Mr. Newman also believes that although the gold coin was intended as a pattern coin, it was actually carried as a pocket piece by President Washington. 

This coin is Mr. Newman’s favorite because, “it’s unique — only one gold piece was made….It was given to him [President Washington] by someone trying to get a contract for minting copper one-cent coins. It’s worn, no denomination on it; because Washington rode so many places on horseback the piece was rubbed constantly by his clothes.” 

As a true numismatic scholar with a passion for understanding the history of money, Mr. Newman fully understands the rarity and historical importance of this coin.   While some researchers believe some of the first official U.S. coins, the 1792 Half Dismes, were made of silver from Martha Washington’s personal silver flatware set, no coins other than the Washington pattern coin can be directly linked to the hands (or pocket) of President George Washington. 

Given the history and story behind this 1792 George Washington Pattern coin, this Grand Rapids coin dealer can easily understand why it is the favorite coin in the extraordinary collection of an extraordinary numismatist, Eric P. Newman.   

*The Newman Money Museum is housed within the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.



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