NGC Registry

Collection Manager >

Massachusetts Coinage ** 2010 ANA EXHIBIT **

Category:  Other
Last Modified:  11/27/2012
Set Description
England’s American colonies were perennially short of hard money. Under the policy of Mercantilism, which predominated throughout the colonial period, whatever gold and silver coin that American merchants received in trade tended to flow back toward Europe in payment of taxes and duties. The mineral riches discovered during the 19th Century were as yet unknown, so the opportunity to coin precious metal in North America was limited almost exclusively to Mexico.

One exception to this limitation was found in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Being the primary American port during the 17th Century, Boston was the receiving point for a great deal of gold and silver from Europe and Latin America, with the West Indies being a particularly rich source. This enabled the Massachusetts legislature to become the only entity during that early period to authorize a domestic silver coinage. While such action would normally violate the king’s exclusive prerogative to coin money, a loophole opened up during the 1650s. Following his loss to the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War of 1642-49, King Charles I was executed and a Commonwealth rule declared.

Massachusetts established a mint in Boston during 1652. It was operated by mint master John Hull, who received in payment an allowance of one shilling and three pence for every 20 shillings coined. When this proved to be overly generous, the figure was lowered, but it nevertheless remained a lucrative arrangement for Hull and his assistant, Robert Saunderson.

The design of the first issue was overly simplistic, featuring just the denomination on one side of the coins and the letters ‘NE’ (New England) for the other. Easily clipped and counterfeited, this issue was almost immediately discontinued in favor of one depicting a tree on one side and the date 1652 and denomination on the other. These main devices were enclosed within a circle of dots, around which were inscribed the requisite legends. The tree side, commonly considered the obverse, typically carried the legend IN MASATHVSETS, while the reverse with its date and denomination featured the words NEW ENGLAND • AN DOM (in the year of our Lord).

The coins produced were the threepence (III), the sixpence (VI) and, in the greatest numbers, the shilling or twelve-pence (XII). The date 1652 was retained for the entire series of coins, even though these were made for 30 years. Some have speculated that this was done to maintain the deception that all such coins were made just in one year, thus avoiding royal ire once the monarchy was restored in 1660. More likely is that this date simply reflected the year of authorization by the colonial government. The only exception in the entire issue of Massachusetts silver coins is the 1662-dated twopence (II), this being its date of adoption.

The tree appearing on these coins was never identified as to type by the Massachusetts lawmakers, nor is it identified on the coins themselves. Numismatists, however, have come to label the successive issues as Willow Tree (1653-60, Oak Tree (1660-67) and Pine Tree (1667-82) based on their general appearance. Early Pine Tree coins were very thin and of large diameter, as were the previous issues, but the later Pine Tree pieces were smaller and thicker.

The wonderful collection presented here includes a nice representative sampling of the Oak Tree and Pine Tree series in superb condition. The 1662 twopence is the variety with a Small 2 in its date. The sixpence features the word IN on its obverse, this portion of the legend alternating from one side to the other at the die-cutter’s whim. Concluding the Oak Tree issues is a magnificent shilling of the variety with IN seen at the bottom of the obverse. At MS-66, this example is the finest certified by NGC (8-10).

The later Pine Tree issues are the ones most often seen, as the earlier pieces were often recoined into successive types. Leading this series is a near-gem threepence of the variety without pellets flanking the tree. The Pine Tree sixpence in this collection is superbly struck, though with its obverse a bit off-center. This coin does have the flanking pellets. Perhaps the jewel in the crown is the amazing Pine Tree Shilling. The finest certified by NGC (7-10), it is also of the pellets variety and a coin of simply astounding quality.

More than a century would pass before Massachusetts again coined money. The prevalence in circulation of foreign gold and silver coins provided for the young nation’s hard money needs during the 1780s, but there remained a chronic shortage of small change. What remained after America’s independence was heavily worn (and often counterfeited) halfpennies of the English type, and these proved to be as much a nuisance as an asset. Massachusetts, now fashioning itself a Commonwealth, authorized a coinage of copper cents and half cents to be produced by Joshua Witherle. Dated 1787 and 1788, these were skillfully manufactured and were easily the most finely executed of the various pre-federal issues which flooded the country between 1783 and 1790.

The examples presented are absolute gems, both representing the finest of their types certified by NGC (7-10). Each is from the 1788 emission. The half cent displays a very sharp strike and rich, glossy brown surfaces with just a hint of mint red. The cent, which is of the variety having no period after MASSACHUSETTS, retains much of its original coppery red color, which splendidly accents its legends and devices. Indeed, it is the only example of this issue certified by NGC as MS RB.

Slot Name
Item Description
Full Grade
Owner Comments
View Coin Oak Tree Twopence UNITED STATES 2P 1662 SMALL 2 OAK TREE MASSACHUSETTS (12.0gr.) NGC MS 62 Numismatic scholar Walter Breen estimated that from 5,000 to 10,000 examples may have been coined of the Oak Tree two pence, though no such records have been located. Issued between 1662 and 1667, this is the only Massachusetts tree issue to not bear the date 1652. The specimen presented here features a Small 2 in its date. Well centered, and with nearly full legends, this coin is extremely rare in such fine condition. It weighs exactly 12 grains and exhibits lustrous surfaces overlaid with deep gold and iridescent toning. In all likelihood, this is the finest example known.
View Coin Oak Tree Sixpence UNITED STATES 6P 1652 'IN'OBV OAK TREE MASSACHUSETTS (34.1gr.) NGC MS 63 The Oak Tree series of Massachusetts silver coinage was issued 1660-67, though the specimen presented here is believed to have been coined near the end of that period. Described as transitional with the succeeding Pine Tree issues, this variety features a normal, rather than transposed, letter ‘S’ in the obverse legend. Sharply struck and almost perfectly centered, this lovely coin is as close to the ideal as this issue comes. A lustrous, undamaged planchet, toned evenly to a charming slate gray, adds to this rare coin’s aesthetic value. It is easily among the finest examples known.
View Coin Oak Tree Shilling UNITED STATES 1S 1652'IN'BOT OAK TREE MASSACHUSETTS CHAPMAN (68.8gr.) NGC MS 66 The chronology of the Massachusetts silver coinage is not known with absolute certainty, but the Oak Tree pieces are believed to have been issued roughly 1652-62. This wonderful specimen of Noe-5 is immediately identifiable by having letter N of IN centered directly beneath the tree. Weighing 68.8 grains, this handsome gem is well centered and boldly struck, always rare features in these early coins. Toned to a fine pewter color, this beauty carries an illustrious pedigree. It appeared in the Chapman Bros. very first auction sale in 1879, and it is a gem of unsurpassed quality.
View Coin Pine Tree Threepence UNITED STATES 3P 1652 NO PELS PINE TREE MASSACHUSETTS (18.2gr.) NGC MS 64 The three pence piece denomination was coined for all three series of the Massachusetts silver issues. This specimen, though dated 1652, has been attributed to c.1667, at the beginning of the Pine Tree series. Weighing 18.2 grains, this choice specimen displays no pellets flaking the tree trunk. Struck on a smooth, large planchet, this very rare coin features a nearly complete obverse legend, while its reverse lettering is entirely visible. Mint luster is readily seen beneath even, rich toning of slate gray. This is an extremely beautiful specimen and most likely the finest known.
View Coin Pine Tree Sixpence UNITED STATES 6P 1652 PELLETS PINE TREE MASSACHUSETTS (33.5gr.) NGC MS 64 Like the fellow members of this extraordinary grouping of Massachusetts silver coins, this piece has a pleasing original gunmetal gray hue. It is very sharply struck, although the obverse veers slightly off-center to the north while the reverse is well-centered – a typical attribute of this coin’s particular die marriage. While shillings are more widely available than sixpence, the Pine Tree Sixpence with Pellets variety is said to be the most “common” of the Massachusetts Sixpence. Regardless, the condition of this coin is very uncommon. It is the finest graded example of the type graded by NGC and a strong candidate for the finest known.
View Coin Pine Tree Shilling UNITED STATES 1S 1652 PELLETS PINE TREE MASSACHUSETTS (75.5gr.) NGC MS 67 The Pine Tree Shilling is perhaps the coin most identified with America’s colonial past. It was certainly the most widely produced of the successful Massachusetts silver coinage. This superb gem is the epitome of quality and a perfect representative of this historic issue. Sharply struck on a broad flan, all of its legends are complete. An example of Noe-1, it weighs 75.5 grains. This beauty features smooth, lustrous surfaces and delightful golden toning. Whether preserved by design or by mere chance, this lovely specimen is undoubtedly the finest known of its type.
View Coin Copper Cent UNITED STATES 1C 1788 NO PERIOD MASSACHUSETTS NGC MS 66 Red Brown Since so few colonial copper coins retain any of their mint red color, the description of this coin must begin there. The protected areas surrounding the devices and legends display a rich red color, original and undiminished since this coin was made 222 years ago. Its color and vibrancy are unmatched on any other example of the type. Often planchet abrasion and wear efface the word CENT emblazoned on the shield atop the eagle’s breast. That word is so clear on this coin, as is every other design detail, that it’s clear why this coin was held aside from commerce and preserved as a memento of this coinage.
View Coin Copper Half Cent UNITED STATES 1/2C 1788 MASSACHUSETTS NGC MS 66 Brown The Massachusetts half cents and cents of 1787 and 1788 comprise the first coinage issue to bear the word “cent” as established by Congress. Even though the issue was short lived, its design and style is so uniquely American in character that these coins are always popular with collectors. The obverse shows and Indian with a bow and the reverse shows an eagle, a prescient design selection that would be followed on a great many Federal issues in the years to come. The quality of this example is breathtaking, in a way that the photo does not do justice. Its color is an even chocolate hue, the only appreciably change in its appearance since it was struck. Only some as made planchet abrasion, as always seen, detracts from what is a strong contender for the title of finest known.

To follow or send a message to this user,
please log in