On August 15 Stack’s Bowers sold one of the finest Massachusetts Pine Tree Shillings in existence. Certified NGC MS-65+, the example that was being offered was a large planchet variety, with pellets at the trunk of the pine tree on the obverse, also known as Noe-1. While not particularly rare as a variety, this particular coin’s exquisite state of preservation makes it one of the absolute finest known examples of this 17th century coin. Dated 1652 but in reality struck circa 1667-1675 it is a prime representative example of the earliest coinage minted in what is now the United States. It realized $76,375 including buyers premium, and not without reason, as any gem uncirculated survivor of a 17th century coin type is a major rarity.
In Colonial America, coinage (mostly in the form of gold and silver) was scarce in commerce, leading to complications in day-to-day trading. Coins that did circulate were generally very worn, often examples of colonial Spanish coins in addition to numerous issues struck in Europe. Needless to say this was a situation better to be avoided, and shortly after the Massachusetts Bay Company established their colony and what later would become the city of Boston (in 1630) there were calls for the issuance of their own currency.
It was a bold move to issue local currency and it would be one of the earliest steps that would eventually lead to independence in 1776. Government in England did not approve such independence from the colonists, and the Mint in New England would always be shrouded in mystery. More on that in a little bit.
The legislation in New England known as the General Court passed the Mint Act in May of 1652 and began striking coins shortly thereafter. Silver was sourced from the devalued Spanish Colonial and European coins in circulation. The initial coins were extremely simple, being blank planchets of various sizes with “NE” stamped on one side and the denomination in Roman numerals per penny (with a shilling being 12d) on the other side. These coins were easily clipped (a process of which part of the silver is filed off for personal gain) and were soon replaced by the Willow Tree coinage. This was followed by the Oak Tree Coinage and eventually by the Pine Tree Coinage, all bearing virtually identical designs except for the tree on the center of the obverse.
One of the features that did not change at all was the date. While the earliest (now known simply as New England Silver) did not feature any date, all subsequent Massachusetts silver was dated 1652. The reasons for this are not exactly known. Specialists have argued that it could be in commemoration of the Mint Act of that year, but it is also possible that the date had more political reasons. At the time, for a brief period, England was a Republic, as King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 and England would be without a king until 1660 when Charles II. Without a king, the colonists might have argued, England had no jurisdiction over the colonists and the New England coinage was issued legally.
All Massachusetts silver coinage was much in demand throughout the American Colonies, and soon Boston was depleted of their silver coinage, a situation similar to the whole reason why there was a colonial coinage in the first place. The coins remained popular for many years to come and are now treasured collectibles with numismatists, and even the general public often has a little bit of knowledge about these historical pieces.
The NGC MS-65+ specimen has a pedigree that goes back over a century, adding to the importance of the piece sold by Stack’s-Bowers at the ANA auction. It was previously in the collection of F.C.C Boyd and the John J. Ford Jr. collection, in whose sale it was included in Part XII, sold in October 2005. Noted specialist and author of the standard reference on Massachusetts silver coinage Sydney P. Noe chose this exact coin in his reference when it was published in 1952 to represent the Noe-1 variety. Without a doubt the sale represented a major coin in American colonial numismatics and an offering that is not repeated easily.
Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers.