This week I showcase one of my all-time favorite coin varieties, a specimen of which is fascinating to contemplate in any grade—from well worn, as usually found, to challenging Mint State. In The Numismatist, November 1909, Howland Wood gave the following advice under the title of “Numismatic Maxims for Beginners.” Just one coin variety was specifically mentioned: His advice, by the way, is still relevant today:
Don’t set your heart on acquiring any coin right off. If you force the market you generally have to pay more than it is worth. If you are a young man you can afford to wait; it is only the old men who cannot. Don’t plunge in too quickly at the start and think you must buy every coin offered. Don’t try to collect everything; you’ll never catch up with your contract. Also you will not enjoy what you have. You’ve got to learn by experience; a few jolts and knocks will impress you more than all of the advice an older collector can give you. Don’t take any man’s word that a coin is unique. There are far fewer unique coins than there are said to be. Collect, if possible, coins in the best condition; you then buy but once, and when you want to sell, you have something worth selling. A poor coin is an aggravation and an eyesore, and you as a rule can get very little for it when you want to sell. A library goes hand in hand with the collection of coins. It is better to collect a few series and know your subject than to attempt to collect everything and think you know it all but really know nothing. Every collector should have a Pine Tree shilling, as that is the first question your guests ask if you have. Never cry down another collector’s coin; give them, at least, the benefit of the doubt. Never talk scandal or say mean things about other collectors; if you have nothing good to say, say nothing. The last maxim is the most important one to remember, and it is the one most often transgressed.
It is no longer 1909, and today in 2020 not many collectors would zero in on the Pine Tree shilling as the most desirable coin to view. Influenced by modern promotions and hoopla some would focus on a coin that is common in MS-65 but which is “rare” in terms of the numbers certified in, say, MS-68 or 69. This is silly in my opinion, but I am a traditionalist of the old school.
However, the appeal of the Pine Tree shilling endures, and to the knowing ones, if not the beginners, it still stands high in esteem.
While today the 1652-dated silver Pine Tree shillings of Massachusetts are scarce in relation to the demand for them and are apt to be encountered just one at a time, and not all that often, this was not always the case. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Augustus G. Heaton visited W.S. Lincoln & Son, rare coin dealers in England, later informing readers of the July 1905 issue of The Numismatist:
In London… Lincoln has a small store on a central, though less fashionable street, but it is entirely devoted to coins and curios, which he mainly attends to unaided, and collectors have every attention. I was shown an entire tray full of Pine Tree shillings and sixpences—a very choice array, and a number of drawers of U.S. coins of all denominations with, here and there, very tempting pieces.
Nearly a half-century later, in 1956, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., who formed the only complete collection of United States coin denominations, dates, and mintmarks ever assembled, prepared a booklet, “An Exhibition of the World’s Foremost Collection of United States Coins.” Among the highlights illustrated was a very attractive example of the Pine Tree shilling dated 1652, variety Noe-1. This commentary was included:
The first mint in the colonies was operated by John Hull without royal license. The General Court of Massachusetts Colony, in an order dated May 27, 1652, authorized the coinage of shillings, sixpence, and threepence, and fixed Hull’s fee at one shilling out of every 20 coined. The mint was located in the rear of Hull’s residence in Boston, and operations began in the same year.
Today in 2020, if your checkbook balance is appropriate, I suggest that there is room in your collection for one of these.
 Howland Wood’s numismatic accomplishments were many. In September 1907 he was elected corresponding secretary of the American Numismatic Association. In October 1908 he was elected chairman of the Board of Governors of the ANA. In 1910 his study, “Grading Standards,” was included in the ANA Year Book. From 1910 to 1920 he served as editor of the American Journal of Numismatics. From January 25, 1913, to January 4, 1938, he served as curator of the collection of the American Numismatic Society. In 1969 he was among the honorees to be enshrined in this, the opening year of the ANA Hall of Fame. His name is further remembered with the Howland Wood Best in Show exhibit award given by the ANA.