Willow Tree Coinage: Introduction

(ca. October 1652 - ca. 1660, possibly 1662)

The legislation of October 19, 1652 ordered that NE coins be modified so the obverse prominently displayed a tree in the center with a double ring of beads around the border containing the inscription "MASATHVSETS IN" while on the reverse within the double ring of beads around the edge was "NEW ENGLAND AN. DOM" (for Anno Domini, that is, in the year of our Lord); in the center of the coin was the date 1652 with the denomination below.

Whereas the NE coinage only needed to have letters and numerals punched into the blanks, this new, more complex pattern needed to be stamped on planchets using hardened steel dies. We do not know who made the punches and dies used in the minting of these coins but they are frequently attributed to master ironsmith, Joseph Jenks, Sr. of Hammersmith, the first iron foundry in the colonies, in what is now Saugus, Massachusetts. The coins made from these early dies, now referred to as the Willow Tree series, were frequently double or triple struck leading to the supposition that the blank planchets were placed between two dies which were then struck several times with a hammer to impress the image on the coin. Apparently, Hull did not understand that by securing the lower die in a vice one could minimize excessive die movement and thereby reduce multiple strikings. In a communication to the C4 Newsletter in the fall of 1996 Michael Hodder suggested the Willow as well as the Oak and Pine Tress issues:

were made on strips of silver, the coins being cut out from the strips after they were struck. The cut out coins were then weighed and their weight adjusted by clipping along the edges, sometimes in ornamental ways! (C4 Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 20)
Hodder also suggested the possibility the double and triple striking on the Willow series could be the result of the reciprocating action of a rocker press rather than from being struck with a hammer.

Until recently it was generally assumed the minting of Willow Tree coins continued until about 1660, when Hull's minting contract was renegotiated. The date on the coins remained 1652, as that was the date of the act authorizing the minting of coins in those denominations (3d, 6d and 12d), so the coin itself gives no evidence of the year of minting. Interestingly, during the entire contract renegotiation, from the first discussions in the General Court on October 16, 1660, through the final signing of the new contract on June 7, 1661, minting profits were extensively discussed but coinage type was not mentioned. In 1995 James Skalbe suggested the period 1653-1659 for the Willow series. As will be discussed below in the Oak Tree section, the ending of the Willow Tree series was most probably due to a technological innovation and not tied to a contract renewal.

Contemporary sources simply refer to the image on this coin as a tree and until the 1860's these coins were always treated as part of the Oak Tree series. W. Elliot Woodward, a coin dealer and neighborhood druggest in the Roxbury section of Boston, in his sixth sales catalog of 1865 listed item 2524 as an "Oak Tree" shilling but described the coin as depicting a "palmetto tree". Yet in his April 24, 1866, catalog, a similar coin listed as item 1415, is called a "Palmetto shilling". Soon thereafter, in Woodward's sale of the Joseph Mickley collection, (his tenth catalog of October 28, 1867), item 2297 is listed as a "Shilling of 1652, called by Mr. Mickley the Willow Tree Shilling." The name was quickly adopted by others and continues to be used to this day. In all, about thirty-six Willow Tree coins survive. Sydney Noe examined 23 Willow shillings for which he distinguished three obverse and five reverse dies that were used in six different combinations, he also examined ten Willow sixpence which he attributed to a single die and three Willow threepence, again all from a single die.

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Section Contents Willow Tree coins

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