The most common coin used for small transactions in early America was the British copper halfpenny. Wide acceptance and the non–legal tender status of these copper coins made them a prime choice for unauthorized reproduction by private individuals. Many such counterfeits were created in America by striking from locally made dies, or by casting or other crude methods. Some were made in England and imported to this country. Pieces dated 1781 and 1785 seem to have been made specifically for this purpose, while others were circulated in both countries.
Regal British farthings dated 1749 are of special interest to collectors because they were specifically sent to the North American Colonies as reimbursement for participation in the expedition against Cape Breton, and circulated extensively throughout New England.
During the era of American state coinage, James F. Atlee and/or other coiners minted unauthorized, lightweight, imitation British halfpence. These American-made false coins have the same devices, legends, and, in some cases, dates as genuine regal halfpence, but contain less copper. Overall quality of these pieces is similar to that of the British-made imitations, but details are more often poorly rendered or missing. Identification of American-made imitations has been confirmed through association of punch links to known engravers..
There are four distinct groups of these halfpence, all linked to the regular state coinage. The first group was probably struck in New York City prior to 1786. The second group was minted in New York City in association with John Bailey and Ephraim Brasher during the first half of 1787. The third group was struck at Machin’s Mills during the second half of 1787 and into 1788 or later. A fourth group, made by the Machin’s coiners, consists of pieces made from dies that were muled with those of the state coinages of Connecticut, Vermont, and New York. Pieces with very crude designs and other dates are believed to have been struck elsewhere in New England.