Massachusetts Bay Silver 1652-1682: General Introduction

The Origin of the Mint

In the first years following the establishment of Massachusetts Bay in 1630 much local trade was conducted either by barter or with the use of commodity money or wampum. By the early 1640's the colony was trading with the Dutch in New Amsterdam and with the English and Spanish colonists on the Islands of the West Indies (as Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Hispaniola), thus foreign silver coins began to enter the Massachusetts economy in significant numbers. On September 27, 1642 the General Court passed an act regulating the value of the Holland "ducatour" of the three guilders at six shillings, while the "rix" dollar and the Spanish American eight reales cob coins were valued at five shillings each. The act stated:

This Cort [court] considring the oft occasions wee have of trading wth [with] the hollanders at the Dutch plantations & otherwise; do therefore order that the holland ducatour being worth 3 gilders shalbee currant at 6s in all paymts wthin or iurisdiction [payments within our jurisdiction], & the rix doller being 2 1/2 gildrs shalbee likewise currant at 5s. & the ryall of 8: shalbee also currant at 5s.         (Crosby, pp. 29-30)
The exact identification of the ducatour is not certain. Clearly it cannot refer to the Silver Rider ducatoon of 63 stuivers minted in the various provinces of the United Netherlands, as those coins were not issued until 1659, nor could it be the Lion dollar as that coin was less valuable than the rix dollar and the Spanish dollar. Possibly the ducatour was the three guilder Dutch silver coin of 60 stuivers minted 1544-1558 (and then again after 1681) or, more likely, it referred to the ducatone, a similar size silver coin issued in the Spanish Netherlands (in Brabant and Tournai) starting in 1618 and continuing into the 1700's. The ducatone was valued at 60 sols (equivalent to three guilders, that is 60 stuivers). The rix dollar mentioned in the legislation, refers to the rijksdaalder of 2 1/2 guilders or 50 stuivers issued by the various provinces of the United Netherlands for domestic use [For more information on these coins see the section on Dutch coinage in the America colonies].

Although Dutch guilders were often encountered, the most prominent foreign coin was the Spanish American eight reales (the piece of eight), called the "Spanish dollar" by the colonists. This coin, along with its smaller fractional denominations of four, two and one real coins, was minted in Mexico and Peru and found its way to Boston through the lucrative trade with the West Indies. These Spanish dollars were crude "cobs" struck out of a clump of silver, without even a standard shape. The Spanish minted cobs as quickly as possible, primarily as an easy way of inventorying and marking refined silver to be shipped to Spain where it would be melted down for various uses. The cobs had not been designed to be used as circulating currency. However, in the colonies these crude silver coins filled a serious economic void and were regularly used. Unfortunately, because of their irregular shape, many holders of these coins would clip a small piece of silver off the uneven edge of the coin to sell at a later date and then pass the coin off for its full value. As these coins circulated from one person to another they became lighter and lighter. The irregular shape not only encouraged clipping but it also made counterfeiting easier. Of course, counterfeiters would include as much alloy as possible so that the coin would contain less than the minimum required silver content (i.e. fineness).

As the number of lightweight Spanish silver coins in circulation increased, the Massachusetts General Court issued an order, that unfortunately no longer survives, requiring silver coinage to be counterstamped with a true value based on the coin's current weight. Clearly this measure was insufficient as it did not address the problems of the purity of the silver in the coin and clipping that took place after the coin was counterstamped. Further legislative discussion resulted in an entirely new approach to the problem.

Since a method of guaranteeing a standard weight and value of these cobs coins could not be found the General Court took a bold new step. Legislation was drafted authorizing the establishment of mint where foreign silver coins would be melted down to produce local coins denominated in shillings and pence. In the preface to the draft of this minting act we learn about the problems with the previous order concerning the counterstamping of foreign coins. The preface stated the earlier order did not have broad public support and that it was, "...full of difficulties and unlikely to take effect in regard no persons are found willing to try and stamp the same." [i.e. stamp the foreign silver coins]. Luckily the draft of the mint act survives, as this preface, which is our only information on the earlier order, was deleted from the final act. The minting act was passed by the House of Magistrates on May 26, 1652 and on the following day an almost identical act was passed by the House of Deputies (together the two houses are known as the General Court). The act authorized a mint house in Boston where silver bullion and foreign silver coins could be melted down to produce silver coins of a standard weight and fineness in the denominations of threepence, sixpence and one shilling. John Hull, a twenty eight year old Boston goldsmith, was appointed mintmaster and a legislative committee of Richard Bellingham, William Hibbins, Edward Rawson as secretary, John Leveritt and Thomas Clark was formed to proceed with the process of establishing the mint.     Click here for the text and transcription of the original draft of the 1652 mint act. Click here for the transcription of the May 27, 1652 mint act, as passed by the House of Deputies.

With coining legislation approved by the General Court the mint committee went to work immediately, showing some results within two weeks. They met with Hull who requested his friend John Sanderson be appointed to assist with the mint. By June 10th the committee had composed an oath of office. On that date the General Court appointed Hull and Sanderson as minting officers for the colony and on the same day Hull swore the oath to faithfully and diligently perform his minting duties. According to a marginal note added to the written copy of the oath, Robert Sanderson was officially deposed on August 19th (Crosby p. 41). On June 20th the committee drafted an action for erecting a minting house sixteen feet square and ten feet high and approved the acquisition of all necessary minting tools and implements. In the same document they also requested an increase in the minting fees to be paid to Hull from what had been proposed in the original May act (from a 1s fee per 20s minted to a 15d fee per 20s minted plus a 1d per ounce allowance for waste, see Crosby p. 40). On the 22nd of June the committee agreed to set up the mint house on land owned by John Hull (to be purchased from Hull when he left the position of mintmaster) and selected Isacke Cullimore to supervise the construction of the house (Crosby p. 42). Presumably the building was soon erected and minting implements were obtained.

Clearly other issues were decided by the committee but only one other committee related document survives, an undated order stating the coins should be round rather than "square" as was stated in the original act (Crosby p. 43). Most probably other portions of the May 26th act that were not implemented (as the use of privy marks) were also modified by the committee. Although the committee was authorized to implement most of their decisions immediately, approval for the minting fee increase had to be brought to the General Court, this modification was approved by both houses on October 28th.

John Hull left two small diaries, one about personal and family matters the other about politics, business and public affairs. Unfortunately there are very few comments directly on the mint in these books. In his personal diary Hull included the following passage under 1652:

After, when the town divided their one military company into four, I was chosen to be (and accepted) a sergeant, upon the 28th of 4th month, 1652. [that is June 28th, as the new year began March 1st]

1652. Also, upon occasion of much counterfeit coin brought in the country, and much loss accruing in that respect (and that did occasion a stoppage of trade), the General Court ordered a mint to be set up, and to coin it, bringing it to the sterling standard for fineness, and for weight every shilling to be three pennyweight; i.e., 9d at 5s per oz. And they made choice of me for that employment; and I chose my friend, Robert Sanderson, to be my partner, to which the Court consented.     [from, John Hull, Diaries. pp. 145-146.]

Minting must have begun during the summer with the stamping of NE coinage. Clearly, a fair number of coins were in circulation by October as on October 19, 1652 the General Court issued an order revising the design of the coin to prevent trimming or clipping silver from the edge. For additional details see the NE and Willow Tree introductions.

Minting Standards

The Massachusetts Bay mint was the first, the most successful, and the longest running of all the colonial minting enterprises. The General Court established a standard of 72 grains of .925 fine sterling silver to the shilling, which represented a 22.5% reduction of the English standard of 92.9 grains per shilling. By minting coins of lesser weight it was hoped they would not be exported out of the Commonwealth. In England, the Boston shilling (as it was called) would be slightly over 22% lighter than the English counterpart and therefore would be valued at about 22% less than the English shilling. Thus, it would seem one was more likely to spend the coin in Massachusetts where it would be worth a shilling (12d) rather than to pay a shilling for it in Massachusetts and take it back to England where it would be worth only about 10d.

Individuals could bring to the mint anything made of silver, including: silver bars, dishes, candlesticks and jewelry as well as lightweight, counterfeit and even regulation weight Spanish or other silver coins. Anything containing silver was accepted. The items would be assayed and melted down. If it was good Spanish silver of the Spanish authorized .9305 fineness, additional alloy would be added to bring it down to the sterling standard of .925 fineness, conversely poor quality silver would need to have alloy removed. Adding alloy would increase would the mass and weight of the silver thus allowing more coins to be produced while removing alloy would decrease its mass and weight. The refined silver was formed into planchets of about 72 grains each and then stamped into shilling coins.

According to the contract, the General Court gave Hull the right to keep 6.5% of the coins he produced as his coinage fee (15d for every 20s) and also allowed him 1.25% wastage (1d per ounce of sterling silver which equals 3d for every 20s)1. Thus, calculated on 72 grains of .925 silver to the shilling the final cost to the individual for each shilling was 12.9d or almost 13d! Although one might accept this as the cost of converting silver plate into usable coin, it appears to be a poor deal for the customer bringing in spendable Spanish silver dollars. However, even with the minting costs, it was advantageous to have Spanish coins turned into shillings.

The Spanish silver dollar was valued at 54d (4s6d) in England and held that same value in Massachusetts until 1642. To keep silver dollars from leaving the Commonwealth on June 14, 1642 the General Court raised the value of the Spanish dollar to 56d (4s8d) or 3% above parity with England. This 2d increase was not enough incentive to keep silver in the colony so on September 27th a further increase was legislated authorizing the Spanish dollar to pass for 60d (5s) or 11% above parity. With the opening of the Boston mint in 1652 individuals could now turn their Spanish dollars into shillings at a whopping 22.25% increase over parity [that is, 66d (5s6d) per Spanish dollar]. Even when considering the 6.5% minting cost and the 1.5% wastage, the "customer" ended up with a 14.5% advantage, which was 3.5% more than simply spending the Spanish money at the legislated rate of 11% over parity. For example, twenty Spanish dollars spent at the going rate of 11% over parity would yield a total of 1,200d (100s). By taking the twenty dollars to the mint the coins would be turned into shillings at a rate of 22.25% over parity which equalled 1,320d (110s). Even after paying the 6.25% minting fee and the 1.5% wastage fees, in this case 82.5d and 16.5d, for a total of 99d (8s3d) in fees, the individual received 1,221d (101s9d) in Massachusetts silver. This was a net gain of (21d) 1s9d over the legislated value of the Spanish money. For simplicity this and the following examples assume full weight Spanish dollars, clipped dollars would yield less depending on their weight. Of course, clipped dollars would usually not be accepted at the full 5s value by merchants either, so in theory no disparity existed. In practice individuals often tried to pass off light coins at the full weight value. Mossman has calculated that clipped Spanish dollars under 389.18 grains would yield more if one was able pass them off as full weight coins at 5s rather than taking them to the mint.


Footnote to Minting Standards

1 The calculation of the wastage at 1d per troy ounce of sterling silver is as follows. There are 480 grains to a troy ounce of sterling silver. As the Massachusetts shillings were authorized at 72 grains sterling one could produce 6.66 shillings per ounce or 19.99 shillings per three ounces of sterling. At 20s per three ounces of sterling the wastage comes to 3d. The first contract expressed minting profits in terms of 20s but referred to wastage as 1d per ounce. Apparently this proved somewhat confusing for when the minting rates were changed in the third contract the profits were expressed in terms of 20s and the wastage (which remained the same) was revised to be expressed in equivalent terms, hence it stated 3d per 3 ounces.

Circulation of Massachusetts Silver

Although the coins were made slightly over twenty-two percent lighter that their British counterparts, they were still avidly sought in a land that had very little reliable coinage, that is, coins that were guaranteed to be a particular weight and a specific fineness of silver. Massachusetts silver circulated widely and often turned up as far south as Virginia. In New York in 1670, a Boston shilling passed for one local shilling, while in West New Jersey in 1682, a Boston shilling passed at 14d. In Maryland in 1694 Boston shillings traded at 15d local money. They were also used in Canada as 12 sols (about 14.4d). Massachusetts silver circulated as legal tender as far away as Barbados. In the Caribbean in 1670, the Boston shilling was legislated to pass at full face value in the Leeward Islands, two years later, in 1672, Boston shillings were also circulating at face value on the nearby islands of Antigua and Nevis. Some shillings were also exported to Europe where they were melted down for their silver bullion, as the Spanish regularly did to shipments of their colonial cob coinages.

An estimate of the quantity of coinage that left the colony can be gleaned from the remains of the English 32 gun frigate H.M.S. Feversham. The Feversham, along with three supply ships had been sent to New York to pick up supplies for an invasion fleet that was sailing from Boston to Quebec. While in New York City it was recorded on September 4, 1711, that the Feversham was given £569 12s5d from the British treasury office in New York. It is not known if these funds were to be used to pay for the supplies recently acquired or if this was money to be brought to Quebec for future use. In either event it represented the coins then in circulation in New York City. On September 17, 1711 the Feversham along with the three supply ships set sail for Quebec. In the meantine, the British invasion fleet had been wrecked on August 14, 1711 in the St. Lawrence River, but news of the disaster did not reach New York until the day after the Feversham set sail. On Sunday October 7, 1711, during their journey north, the Feversham and the three supply ships sank on the rocks off the shore of Scatari Island near the coast of Nova Scotia. In 1984 the Feversham was found by a private group that conducted salvage operations over the next few years. Among the items found on board were £33 13s in coins, presumably a portion of the allocation that had been obtained in New York City. This hoard contained 8 English silver coins, 22 Dutch coins (Lion dollars), 5 coins from Spain, 504 New World Spanish coins (from one half to 8 reales coins) and 126 pieces of Massachusetts silver. According to the most recent listing by Bowers (who lists 126 items but states there were 131 coins!), the Massachuseetts silver consisted of: one NE shilling, being a Noe 3-C; four Willow Tree shillings, consisting of a Noe 1-A, 3-D, 3-E and one example too worn to classify; thirty five Oak Tree shillings; one Oak Tree sixpence; seventy five Pine Tree Shillings and one Pine Tree sixpence as well as nine cut pieces that had probably been used as small change, consisting of four half shilling pieces and five quarter shilling pieces. A portion of these coins were sold at a Christie's auction in February of 1989 while additional items were offered by the Canadian firm of Jeffrey Hoare Auctions, in February of 1993. From the Feversham find it appears that proportionally, Massachusetts silver was second only to Spanish American coinage in New York. Clearly the demand for the coinage was far greater than the General Court had anticipated!

In order to halt large quantities of silver coins from being taken out of the colony, Massachusetts Bay passed a law on August 22, 1654 prohibiting the export of more than twenty shillings in their coinage. Border guards called "searchers" were appointed:

to examine and search all persons, vessells, Packs, truncks, chests, boxes, or the like, that shallbe transporting out of this Jurisdiction, and finding any mony shall seaze the same...     (Crosby, 70-71).
In all nine searchers were appointed, two for Boston, one for Charlestown, one for the bay at the Ile of Shoales, one to the west in Sudbury, and four to the north with two in Salem, one in Ipswich and one at Piscattaqua (Maine). As more coins were produced the flow of coinage out of the Commonwealth greatly increased. After fifteen years of increasing losses the General Court revised the program and expanded the searchers authority. On May 19, 1669 ten searchers were appointed. All the positions were filled with new individuals and the locations were shifted to reflect the expanding settlements. As before there were two in Boston and one in Charlestown, now two were to the west with one in Marlboro (rather than Sudbury) and another far out in Springfield, two were assigned to the South Shore with one at Dedham and another in Braintree and three were on the North Shore with one in Marblehead, another in Salem and one in Piscattaqua. Their powers were broadened and described more forcefully. They were to search for:
...all such money that shall bee found or discovered in any ship ... [or] in any person's pocket, cloake, bag Portmantle, or any other thing belonging to them... [They were also empowered to]...breake open any chest, Trunck, Box, Cabbin, Cask, Truss, or any other suspected place or thing where they or any of them conceive money may be Concealld, & sieze the same; and also they or either of them are impowred to require such assistance from any Constables or others as to them may seem Expedient, who are to aid them, upon the penalty of fforty shillings fine for every neglect.    (Crosby p. 79)

Although the powers of the searchers were expanded, the colony did not have the funds to sufficiently increase the number of searchers to handle the escalating smuggling problem. Consequently large quantities of coinage continued to be taken out of the colony. Even after the mint had closed, the problem persisted, leading the legislature to reissue the anti smuggling regulations on December 21, 1697. Unfortunately, these laws were relatively easily circumvented due to the limited searching staff.

The Later Period and the Closing of the Mint

Economic problems

The almost universal acceptance of the Boston shilling was far beyond anything the General Court had imagined. At first glance this seems like an overwhelming success but actually it was a serious problem that eventually lead to the closing of the mint. The rationale for opening the mint was to produce standardized coins to promote local commerce. Additionally, it was thought the colony could prevent their small silver supply from being depleted by minting coins 22.25% under the English standard. The theory was that overvalued coins would not be sought by or used outside the Commonwealth. It was hoped the public would accept this drastic devaluation as the cost of having a standardized coinage. In reality the desire for a standardized coin was far greater that the General Court had imagined. Boston shillings were sought throughout the colonies. Rather than reducing the export of Massachusetts Bay's small silver supply, the Boston shilling drained it even more! Boston silver was being avidly sough throughout English North America.

The silver supply became so low that the General Court needed to insure no additional silver would leave the colony. Hoping to retain Spanish dollars and possibly attract more Spanish silver into the colony, on October 8, 1672 the General Court raised the value of the Spanish dollar from 60d (5s) or 11% above parity to 72d (6s) or 33% above parity with England. This meant a Spanish dollar was valued at 11% more as a coin than it would be if it were melted down into Boston shillings. By valuing Spanish silver above the 22.25% rate of the Boston coins there was no economic advantage in bringing Spanish coins into the mint.

At the new rate twenty Spanish dollars were valued at 1,440d (120s) while at the mint, still producing coins at 22.25% under parity, twenty Spanish dollars converted into 1,221d (101s9d) in Massachusetts silver, after the fees were paid. This represented a loss of 219d (18s3d)! Clearly the mint could still service individuals hoping to convert silver bars, candlesticks and other silver household items into ready money, but it was no longer economically profitable for individuals to bring their silver coins to the mint.

The General Court realized this law would return clipped underweight Spanish dollars back into circulation. To remedy this problem they attempted to revive earlier legislation requiring all Spanish dollars be weighed and counterstamped with the initials NE, however, as on the previous occasion, the legislation was never enacted.

With few coins available for melting and the stock of silver plate being steadly depleted, it became necessary to provide further incentives to keep silver flowing into the mint. In the mint's renewal contract of June 3, 1675 the minter's fee was reduced to 5% (12d per 20s) while the wastage remained at 1.25% (3d per 3 ounces sterling, which equalled 20s). This meant an increased return of 1.5% for the customer, or based on our previous example of twenty Spanish dollars an additonal 16.5d (1s4.5d) more than the earlier rate. This new rate may have brought in some additional silver plate but it did not rectify the situation. Numerous suggestions were brought forward during the following years to encourage individuals to bring more silver to the mint. On June 2, 1677 a legislative report included proposals to reduce the weight of the shilling to between 60 and 63 grains and to completely abolish minting fees but none of these measures were adopted.

Political problems

The success of the Boston mint also had political implications in England. The minting of silver coins had long been a royal privilege. However on January 30, 1649 King Charles I was beheaded and a Commonwealth was declared in England under the leadership of the puritan military commander Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector. The New England puritans considered this a time to assert authority without fear of transgressing royal prerogatives or privileges. It was during this period that the Boston mint began operations in 1652. Indeed, on May 31, 1652, just a few days after approving the mint, the General Court further asserted their sovereignty by initiating the annexation of Maine. As log as there was an interregnum in England (1649-1660), Massachusetts Bay felt free to broaden their authority. Thus, for the first eight years of operation, the mint did not need to consider outside interference. However, with the restoration of Charles II in 1660 the situation changed. At first royal attention first focused on domestic affairs, but some of the king's councilors began to study the colonial situation. As early as November 14, 1662 the Earl of Southampton and Lord Ashley of the Treasury wrote a report against debased colonial coinages that did not measure up to the English weight and fineness. Soon thereafter the King began to look at the colonies. In May of 1665 the king's commissioners were in Boston to examine the situation in Massachusetts Bay. On May 8th they requested a copy of the laws and statutes of the commonwealth; by May 24th they sent a letter to the General Court requesting twenty six changes in the laws. Among the changes was a request that the Commonwealth repeal the minting law as the right to produce silver coinage was a royal prerogative that had not been given to the colony.

Rather than closing the mint the General Court send gifts (basically bribes) for the King's navy in the hope of retaining royal favor. Two "very large masts" were ordered in September 1666 with more to follow. Under the entry for May of 1668 Hull mentioned in his diary "The General Court sent a shipload of masts as a present to the king's majesty" (Diary, p. 227). Eleven years latter on October 10, 1677 the General Court wrote a letter to the colony's agents in London stating "As for the Coynage, or any other Additionall priviledge offered" the king was to be given a ship load of masts provided by the men from Piscataqua (Maine) well as some codfish, cranberries and samp from Boston, if the king would send a ship to pick up the goods. Presumably the masts were loaded in Maine, from a surviving letter by Hull to the colony's agents in London dated December 22, 1677 we know the king's ship called The Blessing was loaded in Boston with 1,860 codfish, ten barrels of cranberries and three barrels of samp.  [samp is a porridge made from coarsly ground Indian corn]

How the Commonwealth paid for the gifts is not mentioned in the records, presumably the funds came from the treasury. At an earlier date the General Court had tried to obtain part of the mint profits for the treasury. Back in October of 1660 a committee had been formed to get an annual "honorarium" from the mint. In their final report to the Court on June 6, 1661 the committee stated stated Hull and Sanderson were "utterly unwilling" to pay any percentage of their profits. The committee had asked for one-twentieth or 5% of the profits but the minters had only offered £10 as a "free gift to the country" which the committee refused. The next day the House of Deputies requested the committee to accept the gift and the House of Magistrates agreed. Unfortunately there are no further records on this matter so the outcome is unknown. It appears nothing was paid, for another committee was formed on May 15, 1667 to obtain some annual allowance, " Consideration of the charge this Country hath binn at in erecting a mint house, & for the use of it for so many yeares without any Considerable sattisfaction..." Their final report is in the form of an agreement with the minters dated October 4, 1667 which was recorded into the legislative record on October 9th. It states, "In Consideration of the Countrys disbursments on the said aediffices [the mint buildings], & for the Interest the General Court hath therein..." the minters agreed to pay £40 within the next six months and then £10 annually for the next seven years. It is interesting this second committee was formed only a week after the King's commissioners had requested to see the laws of the colony and the final agreement for a £40 payment was only a few weeks after the first gift of masts was ordered. It seems probable the minters agreed to the £40 payment as the funds were needed to offset the costs of the gifts to be sent to the King.

The colony continued to plead to keep the mint open. Another letter from the General Court to their London agents, dated October 10, 1678, simply explains that without the mint the colony's commerce would suffer and the king's yearly custom charges would decrease. Further, the General Court was willing to follow the king's wishes if he desired a different image to appear on their coins. Drafts of several similar letters exist from the period 1680 through February 15, 1682, just four months before the final mint contract expired. (Crosby, pp. 83-84). The gifts and pleading did keep the royal authorities from ordering the mint closed but the king never issued Massachusetts a royal minting privilege.

The colony depended on the favor of the king hoping he would understand the necessity of the mint to local colonial commerce and that gifts would show they were loyal to him and willing to share their prosperity. However in England both the London mint and the Royal Treasury opposed all colonial mints emitting substandard coinage. Specifically, this coinage hurt London merchants and bankers who had to accept it in trade. Furthermore, substandard colonial coinage tarnished the worldwide reputation of British sterling. Clearly the political situation was problematic for the Massachusetts Bay mint. By the 1670's further devaluation of Massachusetts silver coinage seemed the logical step to remedy the fiscal problems in the colony. However, any additional devaluation or request for special considerations could have serious political implications in England potentially resulting in the forced closing of the mint.

The Expiration of the Contract

By 1680 both the economic and political situation of the mint were precarious. Additionally, the staff of the mint were nearing retirement. Hull and Sanderson were older by the time of their third and final contract with the Commonwealth, which was signed on June 3, 1675. In the contract it stated the terms of the agreement would be approved for, "...this Seven yeares next to Come, if either of them live so long", which calculates to a legal termination date of June 3, 1682. When the contract expired there was no renewal. In a last minute effort to revive the mint on May 24, 1682 the General Court reduced the value of Spanish dollars to the same 22.25% rate as the Boston coinage. This did not solve any of the political, economic or staffing problems and so had no effect. During the summer of 1683 Hull became ill, he died on October 1, 1683 at the age of 59. Sanderson survived until October 7, 1693.

There is no evidence as to when the mint actually closed it's doors. Quite possibly Sanderson could have kept the operation going on a part time basis until the silver supply was depleted. A series of letters from the London mint and the Royal Treasury dated from 1684 through 1686 list several objections to the reestablishment of the Boston mint, hence we must assume the mint was defunct by that time. The result of the letters was that on October 27, 1686 the king issued an Order of Council against the reestablishment of the Boston mint.

While the reestablishment of the mint was under consideration, on October 23, 1684 King Charles II abolished Massachusetts Bay's charter, revoking all of their rights and privileges of self government and placing the colony under royal control. Charles died in February of 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James II who appointed Edmund Andros as royal governor, he arrived in Boston on December 20, 1686 but soon left to sieze New Netherland from the Dutch. It appears nothing was done concerning the mint during this period. When James II was deposed in 1689 Andros was sent back to England. Soon thereafter we find a record from the General Court dated January 24, 1690 requesting a group of the colony's agents headed for London (including Increase Mather) to solicit "...That the Liberty of Coynage may be allowed us." (Crosby 95-96). Their efforts were unsuccessful and the mint was not revived. However, in December of that same year, 1690, the General Court took a another bold step and became the first government in western civilization to issue paper currency (see our currency site for a full discussion). Soon thereafter in 1692 the colony returned the value of the Spanish dollar to 33% above par at (72d) 6s per dollar. This act recognized the rising value of silver and the ascendency of the Spanish dollar over the the Massachusetts Shilling as the standard coin of commerce. It also ended any suggestions about the reopening of the mint as the production of silver coinage became financially prohibitive.

Counterfeits and Reproductions

There are contemporary accounts of counterfeiters illegally producing Massachusetts silver at substandard weight. In 1674 John du Plisse was convicted of making Massachusetts Bay coins out of pewter. There is also an August 1683 report from Philadelphia of a counterfeiting operation involving Massachusetts and Spanish silver coins, although it appears only Spanish silver was actually counterfeited [see The Colonial Newsletter  17 (Apr. 1978, serial no. 51), Edward Barnsley's article on pp. 628-9 and Eric Newman's comments in 17 (Oct. 1978, serial no. 53) on p. 666]. There is even a Pine Tree shilling overstamped on a Mexican 1781 one real thought to be associated with Machin's Mills! (See Gary Trudgen, "Machin's Mills Silver Coinage" The Colonial Newsletter 24 (Nov. 1984, serial no. 69), 896-99) and an NE (Noe 4) sixpence stamped on a 1772 Mexican one real (Andrew Pollock, "A Fabricated NE Sixpence" The Rare Coin Review 80 (1990) on p. 50). In addition to the NE Noe 4 sixpence other counterfeits include the Oak Tree sixpence Noe 15, 18 and 19 and the Pine Tree shillings Noe 13, 14, 31 and probably 12; all are about 65% of the usual weight. As to which are contemporary counterfeits and which are later is difficult to determine. From dated host coins we do know some are no earlier than Confederation era products. There are also several modern reproductions, most notably the NE, Oak, Pine and "Good Samaritan" coins of Thomas Wyatt made in New York City ca. 1860 and several Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary replicas from 1930 (see Richard D. Kenny, Struck Copies of Early American Coins (New York: Coin Collector's Journal, 1952); reprint, New York: Durst, 1982, pp. 1-2 and 15-16). Additional replicas were produced during the 1976 Bicentennial.

For a chronological listing of documents and events relating to the mint Click here

For a more detailed discussion of Hull and the Massachusetts silver mint Click here


On Massachusetts silver see: Richard Doty, "Making Money in Early Massachusetts," Money of Pre-Federal America  ed. John Kleeberg, Coinage of the Americas Conference 7 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1992), 1-14; also in the same work is John M. Kleeberg, "Appendix 1: A Catalogue of an Exhibition of Massachusetts Silver at the American Numismatic Society," pp. 181-214 including a catalog with obverse and reverse illustrations of 140 examples from the NE through Pine Tree series; Richard Picker, "Variations of the Die Varieties of Massachusetts Oak and Pine Tree Coinage," Studies on Money in Early America ed. Eric Newman and Richard Doty (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1976), 75-90; Sydney Noe, The New England and Willow Tree Coinage , Numismatic Notes and Monographs 102 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1943); Sydney Noe, The Oak Tree Coinage of Massachusetts , Numismatic Notes and Monographs 110 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1947); Sydney Noe, The Pine Tree Coinage of Massachusetts , Numismatic Notes and Monographs 125 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1952); for auction appearances of Massachusetts silver see the web listing by Andrew W. Pollock III, "Numismatic Register: The 17th-Century Coinage of Massachusetts, Maryland, and the Sommer Islands", in Ron Guth's, The Internet Encyclopedia and Price Guide of United States Coins, at:; see also Crosby for documents and Mossman for excellent recent coverage and John Hull, "The Diaries of John Hull, Mint Master and Treasurer of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay," [ed. by Samuel Jennison with appendices by E.E. Hale] in Archaeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society,   vol. 3, on pp. 109-316, Boston: John Wilson and Son, 1857, which also includes editions of documents on the mint. Also, William Justin DeLeonardis, "America's First Dollar?" The Numismatist, vol. 100, no. 10 (October, 1987) 2118-2120; and James E. Skalbe, "Massachusetts Silver Coins Yield Some of their Secrets," The C4 Newsletter, A quarterly publication of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, vol. 3, no. 1 (March, 1995) 24-32 and his "The Dating and Emission Sequence of the Oak and Pine Tree Coinage of Massachusetts Bay," The C4 Newsletter, A quarterly publication of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, vol. 3, no. 1 (March, 1995) 19-23. Also see the interesting letter mentioning several new theories and the promise of a monograph: Michael Hodder, a letter to the editor in "Letters from Members." The C4 Newsletter, A quarterly publication of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club, vol. 4, no. 2 (Fall, 1996) 19-21 [the cover says Fall, 1996 but the running headline throughout the issue states: Winter, 1996]. For a brief discussion of several hoards including a hitherto unknown collection of about 100 large planchet pine tree shillings that has been held by a Boston family since the 17th century and the updated inventory of the Feversham see: Q. David Bowers, American Coin Treasures and Hoards and Caches of Other American Numismatic Items   Wolfboro, N.H.: Bowers and Merena, 1997, pp. 18-23 and 40 on the hoards and 155-157 on the Feversham.

Coins included in the section are:

  • N E Coinage: Introduction and Coins
  • Willow Tree Coinage: Introduction only
  • Oak Tree Coinage: Introduction and Coins
  • Pine Tree Coinage: Introduction and Coins

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    Section Contents N E Coinage

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