March 11, 2013
In the early 1600's most of the American colonies were ruled by England. This included Massachusetts Bay, a colony established in 1628 encompassing a large area of modern-day Boston and extending all the way to Salem, Massachusetts. At the time of origin, this new region was largely influenced by Puritan religious leaders. By the 1650's, the Massachusetts Bay economy was thriving and was in dire need of circulating coins to facilitate business transactions.
Different coins were used in daily commerce at the time, but the most popular of all was the Spanish 8 reales. However, these Spanish 8 reales, also referred to as silver cobs or "pieces of eight" were not produced with the intent to circulate but rather to serve as stores of value. Since coins were scarce there was no other choice but to use the Spanish cobs to remediate the coin shortage problem. One of the problems with these cobs was that they were poorly made and crudely shaped, thus making it easy to clip silver off the edges without fear of detection. As the cobs traded more and more frequently, they kept getting smaller and the value of the silver content declined as the weight was reduced. Because of their simple designs and inconsistent compositions, counterfeit cobs began to surface.
At the time, King Charles I of England, who was in control of the Massachusetts colony, did not consider the coin shortage problem one of his priorities, especially since he was dealing with several major ongoing wars. By 1649, King Charles had lost most of his wars and he was eventually defeated and beheaded. With the King gone, Massachusetts Bay leaders authorized the production of silver shillings, sixpence, and threepence coins at a new mint in Boston. The mint was built on a piece of land owned by John Hull a Boston Goldsmith. Hull shared the responsibility of producing new coins at the Boston Mint with his friend Robert Saunderson.
New England Schilling
The first coins were stamped with "NE" (New England) on the obverse and either "XII" (12 pence), "VI" (6 pence) or "III" (3 pence) on the reverse.
NE and Willow Tree coins (struck from 1652-1660)
Since some of the prior struck coins were very easily altered, they changed the design by adding a Willow Tree design for coins were struck from 1652 through 1660.
Oak Tree Coins (struck from 1660-1667)
Later, from about 1660 to 1667, the coins featured an Oak Tree design.
Pine Tree Coins (struck from 1667-1682)
From 1667-1682, the coins featured a Pine Tree design.
The New England Massachusetts Bay coins were struck for approximately 30 years but carried the same dates of 1652 and 1662 to comply with the limiting provisions of the governmental contract. In the end, these New England Massachusetts Bay colonial coins succeeded in encouraging and facilitating trade within the area. The coins became so popular that even outside colonies began to use them, eventually creating another coin shortage that they were designed to prevent.
By 1684, King Charles II regained complete control of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, after which production of the silver coins ceased. These were the first coins ever struck on American soil and are significant pieces of history. Today, the surviving coins are still very popular with colonial coin collectors. Some of them are extremely rare and desirable, as evidenced by the sale last year of a 1652 New England sixpence for $431,250.00.