By Sydney P. Noe
In 1942 an exhibition was held at the Museum of the American Numismatic Society in which the earliest coins of the Americas
were brought together and an attempt made to relate the coinages of the Spanish colonies with the other coins which circulated
in the English colonies of the Western Hemisphere before 1700. Although the representation of the Spanish American pieces
was of high order, it was surpassed in importance, for most of those who saw the exhibition, by the display of pieces usually
grouped as ‘Pine Tree Shillings,’ Approximately 500 specimens of the Massachusetts coinage were gathered together for this exhibition—as great an array of this series as has been assembled in recent times.
This was made possible by the kind cooperation of the following, through the loan of pieces from their collections: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, George H. Clapp, T. James Clarke, Douglas P. Dickie, William B. Osgood Field, the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of Yale University, J. S. Gensheimer, Maine Historical Society, Massachusetts Historical Society,
Stephen H. P. Pell, Stephen Ryder, the St. Louis Stamp and Coin Co., University of Pennsylvania Museum, Carl Würtzbach, and
Yale University. All of the pieces loaned were photographed and weighed, with a view to making the data available for a re-study
of these coins. In the examination of this material the challenge of applying methods learned in the study of Greek coins
presented itself to the writer, with results which were intriguing in their promise of further fruitage. What follows is a
part of the result. Further re-study of the Oak and Pine Tree groups is under way.
As has been mentioned, Crosby gives us a very careful analysis of the records concerning the establishment of the mint by John Hull, showing some of them in facsimile. He calls attention to the fact that the document giving the form of oath prescribed by Hull * provides what are ostensibly sketches for coins. One of these shows the date as part of the inscription surrounding the XII in the center, rather than accompanying it. This document is dated June 11, 1652, a circumstance which makes this sketch the more significant, since it shows that the idea for the later form of the coin was present even then. The order to change from the N E to the tree form is dated October 19th of the same year. This order states that “henceforth” the new form is to be used. Unless we postulate a modification which permitted John Hull to continue minting N E pieces until the dies for the Willow Tree coins were prepared, all of the N E pieces must have been struck within the interval—that is, between June 11 and October 19, 1652. There is also a possibility that if the order was followed strictly there may have been an interval after October 19 during which the coining was stopped until new dies could be prepared. It is patent that these new dies required a much greater knowledge of die cutting, and this is borne out by the early lack of success with the Willow Tree issues.
The plate will show two varieties of punches for the sixpence—the second, from the T. James Clarke and Newcomer collections, has very delicate letters for the obverse punch resembling those on obverse II of the shillings; its weight is slightly above the norm. The N E punch for the threepence is identical with that used for the first obverse die of the six-pences.
The order is clearly indicated by the development of a flaw on the reverse—on the “X” of the XII punch which has been designated A. It is most pronounced in the coins with the obverse III and least developed with the obverse of I, while the muling with the II obverse shows a gradual enlargement of the defect which may be traced if enough specimens are available. For the obverse, the middle of the three horizontal strokes of the E is distinctive—on I, the curved serif projects upward and is long; on II it is large and triangular; on III it is short and does not project below the lower line of the middle stroke. A die-crack extends diagonally from the middle of the lower stroke of the E to the curve of the long middle stroke of the N—the development of this may also be traced and it confirms the order indicated above.
Three obverse and three reverse punches for the N E shillings are to be distinguished, but in spite of the small size of these punches, a perfectly clear or an entirely complete impression from either obverse or reverse is rare. Because of certain tiny flaws, it is not difficult to distinguish them—a caution against possible tooling of the coins should be sounded for the unwary.
The striking of the N E shillings and fractions would seem to have been such a simple operation that no problems would have been involved; such is not the case. A glance at the plates will show that an obverse and a reverse punch were used in the striking of these coins. If the N E punch is considered the obverse, the XII or other numeral is regularly found on the reverse in a position corresponding to six on the clock, while the N E is in the twelve o’clock position. This may have been made possible by using two blows in the striking—one for each of the punches—but it would seem reasonable that there should have been a greater number of aberrations or slips than were represented in the specimens examined, only two of which showed a slight displacement from the norm, one with the reverse numeral at seven-thirty, the other at five- thirty.
At the exhibition of the Early Coinages of the Americas held by the American Numismatic Society in 1942, it was possible to study twenty specimens of the N E shillings. The coins were of a surprising degree of uniformity—especially as compared with the Willow Tree issues which followed them. The pieces exhibited showed little or no evidence of the clipping to which the change to the tree type is attributed—this, however, is discounted by the condition that clipped pieces would not be sought by collectors. The flans were regular and uniform in thickness in the majority of the specimens and the weights showed very little variation.
The initiation of the coinage seems too well timed to have been entirely accidental. Charles I was executed on January 30, 1649. The defeat of the royalist forces under Charles II at Worcester took place September 3, 1651. Both of these dates are noted in John Hull’s Diary, although they must have received such entries months afterwards. The Massachusetts charter did not give permission for the coinage of money. The charter for Virginia did this, although there was no coinage instituted there. It can hardly be certain that this fact was known to the people of Massachusetts , but there is small reason for thinking that the New Englanders would not have known that the right of coinage had generally been considered a royal prerogative, nor could they have been unconscious that the Commonwealth and Cromwell were more friendly to them than Charles I had been. If there were negotiations with the authorities in England —something which the brevity of the interval between the death of Charles and the beginning of the coinage would allow little time for organizing—they are likely to have been conducted through agents and by word of mouth and any chance of a record having been preserved would be slight. It strains one’s credulity to think that the Massachusetts Court could hope that the action in instituting a coinage would be overlooked in the pressure of weightier matters—this would be contrary to their usual practice of foreseeing trouble and avoiding it.
As has been stated, Crosby’s documentation of the beginnings of the coinage is admirable. He gives gravure reproductions of the vital records and takes great pains to print them, with all the peculiarities of their spelling, as well. It has not seemed that any useful purpose would be served in repeating what Crosby has done so thoroughly—for the purpose of this monograph we have been content to limit reproduction and quotation to the sketch for the tree form which appears in the margin of the records and which has a bearing on the discussion of the willow type. Perhaps there has been too great reliance in the belief that every American numismatist will already know the significant facts. If so, indulgence must be asked for these errors of judgment and omission.
Turning briefly to the history: Mr. Crosby quotes the records, Hull’s Diary, publications of the Massachusetts Historical Society and other similar agencies that had begun their valuable work of reproduction before his volume appeared. Crosby also quotes Hutchinson’s “History of Massachu- setts,” although he does not call attention to a number of inaccuracies in the quoted section of that work.
It must be made clear that what follows can lay no claim to supplying the careful investigation which the material deserves. Residence in or near Boston and a re-searching through the colonial records there is indispensable for this and there has been no such opportunity. It is striking that the value of the evidence of the coins themselves has not been realized by historians and economists. The effort herein must therefore be toward juxtaposing factors not previously brought into relation, and attempting to deduce from these relations any significance that may be derived.
Despite the excellence of his example in the coin field there still remain many questions in the realms of history and economics which would be clearer in the additional light which should be procurable. Correspondence which has become available since Crosby’s day, as well as records which he did not have, such as those of the Colonial Office in London and the Archivos de Indias in Seville (for Spanish colonial records) will some day yield a fruitage for earnest seekers after facts. Bringing together what was not available in 1875 would be a formidable task and even confining one’s effort to the sifting of primary sources would satisfy the ambition of the most fervent of candidates for a doctorate.
Much of our knowledge regarding the Massachusetts coinage is due to a careful correlation of all the information he could find by Sylvester S. Crosby, a resident of Boston . His “Early Coins of America ” was published in 1875. This truly impressive volume is a monument of research. It has left so little for gleaners to gather that few have been willing to undertake the necessary delving to add to it. Crosby had access to the documents and archives of the colony and made excellent use of them. Aside from this, however, he deliberately limited himself to numismatic material, and made but slight attempts to apply or interpret the historical or economic significance of his findings. We shall see that there is little amplification of this numismatic material possible and that what there is, is due to improved means and methods not open to him in his day.
The N E shillings and fractions have a very real claim to our interest because they undoubtedly were the first coins struck by the Massachusetts colony and have limits which can be definitely dated from the records. This title to preeminence in the series which we have under consideration justifies a summary of what we know or can deduce regarding the first experiment of making money in the English colonies in America .
THE WILLOW TREE ISSUES
The sub-group of the coins struck in Boston between 1652 and 1682 or 1683, and known as the Willow Tree issue, has been placed by Crosby as immediately following the
N E series, and this placement has been accepted generally. The logic in Mr. Crosby’s arrangement is fairly obvious, for,
as he says, such bungling can hardly have been other than beginner’s workmanship. These crudities may be entirely due to inexperience
with the mechanics of coining. Any records that have been preserved are not likely to be helpfully explicit as to the nature
or the sources of the metal from which the dies were made, and the conclusions concerning such materials drawn from study
of the coins are not decisive. Despite the scantiness of this promise, however, fullest attention must be given to the evidence
afforded by the coins themselves, and in what follows we are submitting the data.
How or why the type on these coins was christened a “willow” tree has been the object of a very careful search. Crosby, who
is usually scrupulous about such details, takes it for granted that the differences between the “oak” and “willow” types do
not need explicit recording, thereby indicating that the term “willow tree” had been in general use before his day. Since
the results of the search are in some measure connected with the early members of the American Numismatic Society consideration
slightly greater length than would otherwise be appropriate will, I trust, be pardoned.
The publication of John Hull’s Diary in 1857 must have attracted considerable interest to the Pine Tree Series, not so much
because the Diary places any considerable emphasis on the coinage, but because a very helpful supplementary note and an engraved
plate are devoted to these coins. This had been preceded in 1858 by “An Historical Account of American Coinage” by John H.
Hickcox, published in Albany with three lithograph and two engraved plates, and although these left something to be desired on the side of accuracy they
did offer a basis for comparisons. Previous to this there had been very little besides Joseph B. Felt’s “An Historical Account of Massachusetts Currency,” issued in 1839, with but a single engraved plate of coin-illustrations.
In 1859, following close upon Hull’s “Diary” Dickeson’s “American Numismatic Manual” was published in Philadelphia with nineteen lithographic plates. In 1857 the first number of the “Historical Magazine” had been issued (at Boston) and in this, besides the queries and letters which concerned themselves with coins, were occasional articles of considerable
length with valuable data. The first account of the Castine Deposit appeared in the “Collections of the Maine Historical Society”
in 1859 (Cf. Num. Notes & Monographs, No. 100). In addition to these publications there must have been stimulus in that the scarcity of copper during
the Civil War had brought out of hiding all of the old pennies and Bungtowns, making of the period a hey-day for collectors.
It is in 1858 that the first attempts to organize the American Numismatic Society are recorded, although the reorganisation
in 1864 would seem to indicate a lapse during the war. A like Society was initiated in Philadelphia the same year, and the Boston Numismatic Society was founded in 1860. Groups of collectors in other and more ambitious fields seem to have been slower
in getting a start—it was not until 1870 that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded, although the New York Historical Society had for some years prior to this date maintained a public Gallery of Art.
Auction sales began to include coins, and by 1862 we find sales devoted to coins exclusively. Woodward, Cogan and Strobridge
quickly acquired a dependable fund of experience as dealers, and the early catalogues reveal very interestingly the fields
in which collectors specialized. The “colonials” came in for a large share in this interest and the cabinets which were formed
and dispersed make our sales of Colonials of the present day pale by comparison—the ridiculously low prices which choice specimens
brought are enough to make the collector of today wish he might have been there. Until Crosby’s book appeared, there was more
or less floundering about in describing the Massachusetts coinages, and as reproductions were so expensive as to be out of the question for sale-catalogues, there
was heavy dependance on the accuracy of the verbal descriptions and the reliability of the cataloguer.
As has been mentioned, Crosby gives no indication of when his first group was distinguished as Willow Tree issues. Felt, Dickeson
and the others who had been studying these coins mention Oak and Pine Tree pieces, but do not refer to the Willow Tree group.
This circumstance narrowed the quest to the period between 1859 and 1873, for in that year the earlier parts of “Early Coins
of America” began to be distributed if we may judge from cuts which its publishers permitted to be used in a notice in the American Journal of Numismatics for that year.
With the help of Attinelli’s bibliography of early coin sales, which he called “Numisgraphics,” and the file of Woodward’s
catalogues in the Library of our Museum, a search was begun to see whether there might be any indication of the first appearance
of this designation. About 1865, Mr. Woodward began to notice peculiarities in what had been considered Oak Tree shillings
until then, and we find in his Sixth Sale (item 2524) the following description:
Oak Tree Shilling, 1652. The tree on this remarkable piece is quite unlike an oak, resembling more nearly a Palmetto tree.
The legend on the obverse, is “Masathset inn;” on the rev. New Glad Au Do Dom; probably unique.
In his next sale (Dec. 19, 1865), in lots 1618 and 1619, his spelling out the legends gives us further
indications that he is dealing with Willow Tree pieces, although he calls the former an Oak and the latter simply “Shilling,
1652.” His Eighth Sale (Apr. 24, 1866) in lot 1415, lists a “Palmetto Shilling,” and this designation for what the description
indicates must have been Willow Tree pieces, occurs in earlier sales, but not until his Tenth Sale (Oct. 28, 1867)—that of
the famous Mickley Cabinet, is our seeking rewarded:
2297. Shilling of 1652, called by Mr. Mickley the Willow Tree Shilling; very fine indeed, about as good as when struck, and
an exceedingly rare type.
From this it would seem that the designation of “Willow” for this tree had been given by Mr. Joseph C. Mickley, the well-known
Philadelphia collector, whose biography provides some interesting reading over which it would be profitable to linger if it did not involve
too great a digression.
Whether we shall ever come any closer to the origin of the name may depend on personal correspondence between Messrs. Mickley
and Crosby which is hardly likely to have survived. It does become clear, however, that the designation is an artificial or
arbitrary one, and that it did not come into use much before 1867.
Accuracy of distinction between willow and oak types seems not to have been insisted upon generally or even recently—Dr. Storer’s
article in “Old Time New England”* has illustrated an Oak Tree shilling
which is mistakenly labelled “Willow Tree,” while the Smithsonian Misc. Collections* illustrates an Oak Tree as a “Pine.”
The most pronounced characteristic of the Willow Tree coins, and the one which occurs first to most students, is the extraordinary
amount of double-striking which they present. In all the specimens which have been gathered for this work, not a single one
can be said to have been perfectly struck. Not only do some of the specimens have segments which are not struck up, and therefore
show weak or indistinct inscriptions, but overlappings of the letters often make die-identifications difficult. So too with
the Willow Tree, which gives the type its name—frequently it is a mass of confused lines with little resemblance to a tree
of any kind.
The Willow Tree Dies
To make this condition clear, a reconstruction of all the dies has been attempted. The tree type was taken from the best preserved
pieces procurable and the inscription made up from all coins to which access was possible. Photographs of the known specimens
were enlarged in order to facilitate the work and at first it was thought to effect the result by piecing together from photographs
sections of the inscription from the same dies wherever they were found well-preserved. By taking a single word, or even a
single letter, it would be possible to build
towards the desired whole. We subsequently found we could use tracing paper in a similar manner to obtain the same end and
to better purpose. By these means we have been able to secure an accurate indication of what the dies which had produced the
respective coins looked like and the initial condition for trying to understand the causes of the double-striking was within
our control. In all, three obverse and five reverse shilling dies were reconstructed. Enlargements to three diameters of a
specimen from each obverse and reverse die are shown on Plates VIII–XII with transparencies of the die reconstructions superimposed.
The results obtained are almost entirely due to the careful work of Mr. William L. Clark of the staff of our Museum, and I
am happy in making acknowledgment of his helpfulness.
It will not be out of order to consider next the number of dies for the Willow Tree series and to attempt an approximation
of the period during which they were struck, obviously a consideration of importance in estimating the number of years during
which the Willow type was in use. In view of the many complications, it will be apparent that no result we can obtain will
be susceptible of absolute proof. Such a proof is hardly possible unless the record of the coinage kept by Hull or Sanderson
can be found. Although this seems extremely improbable, it is not impossible when we realize what the chances were against
John Hull’s diary, or his letter books and ledger, having been preserved for us.
A careful searching through the material in the rich libraries of Boston and other New England cities would probably result in the discovery of data not known to Crosby and Felt. How much in the way of source material
has come to light since Crosby published his “Early Coins of America” in 1875 should be ascertainable without great effort, but in this year of our Lord (1943) many of these precious volumes
are removed to places in which the risk of their destruction is lessened, and in consequence this avenue of investigation
is closed indefinitely.
By applying the facts in our possession, then, we may reason that these three obverse dies and the five reverse dies used
for the Willow Tree pieces must have lasted an appreciable period. Any idea that they constituted an experimental group, or
that they were in the nature of trial or pattern coins, must be abandoned. The number of Willow Tree coins examined for this
study totals thirty-six. This number is limited to specimens of which it was possible to obtain reproductions. There must
be other pieces which we have been unable to trace but because of the zeal with which they have been sought by collectors,
it seems that this number would not greatly exceed the number of coins here recorded. It follows that the chances for additional
dies are not great. On the other hand, if these Willow Tree pieces were all as badly made as the ones which have been examined
herein, it would not be surprising to learn that they were melted down
at the first opportunity, or that they suffered the fate of all worn coins, and through the application of Gresham’s law,
had been kept in circulation until they became worn as smooth as No. 3, on which there is hardly a trace of the type and on
which but one letter of the reverse is clear. We may deduce, then, that the issue was much more extensive than the small number
recorded would lead us to believe, and this being so, it is only reasonable to conclude that the coinage must have extended
over a period of several years. Dr. Storer states* that this period was eight years but he does not give his reasons for this estimate. In a further study of the Oak Tree issues,
I hope to show that this is an over-generous allowance. In passing, we may note that the purpose of the introduction of the
Willow Tree type—that is, the use of a type and border to prevent clipping—was very imperfectly met by the Willow Tree coins.
There is, then, a definite incentive to the re-study of the Willow Tree series. No one who has had occasion to refer to Crosby’s
“Early Coins of America” would speak deprecatingly of that extraordinary record of the early issues of this country. The accuracy of the statements
made therein, and the sound logic of his conclusions have won for the author the respect and admiration of all numismatists
and historians. The choice of Crosby’s name for the architrave of the Museum of the American Numismatic Society, along with
those of Head, Lelewel, Eckhel, Heiss and Fraehn, was but fitting.
In the Oak and Pine Tree series there have been but few additions to the list of varieties he recorded. That these results
were possible at a time when photography was in its beginnings makes his volume the more impressive and this is true in other
series as well. The Willow Tree group, however, seems to have proved a bugbear to him and to have received less attention
than the others. This is but reasonable if we realize that having more than one or two of these coins available for comparisons
at one time was much more difficult in 1875 than it would be today. Moreover, Crosby’s manner of describing the several varieties
is not as happy as that used elsewhere by him and causes confusion. In his descriptions he records each letter of the inscription
visible and since the flans have been double-struck more often than not, the resulting statement is misleading. Without an
understanding of the ever-present double-striking, his descriptions are not very helpful. He makes no mention of the whereabouts
of the several varieties described—pieces not seen by him may not have been double-struck to the same degree as those he lists.
All this is being explained to make clear that if a better or simpler method of describing the Willow Tree group can be formulated,
some of these difficulties may be eliminated. If, as a by-product, some of the questions regarding the Hull coinages can be
re-stated, later study may result in their receiving the attention they deserve and a consequent satisfactory answering.
Vol. 50, 1907—in an article entitled “Archaic Monetary Terms of the United States.”
Old Time New England
Vol. XX, 1929, p. 70.
In seeking a reason for the double-striking which is so conspicuous for the Willow Tree pieces, we are faced with the phenomenon
that this stops abruptly with the introduction of the Oak Tree type. From the point of view of workmanship, the Oak and Pine
Tree issues are excellent coins, while those bearing the Willow Tree are worse than poor. This may be accepted as an indication
that a radical change must have taken place.
The pattern kept in mind by these Massachusetts mint-masters seems to have been that with which they were familiar in England—that which we find used for the Elizabethan shillings and for the similar denominations of James I and Charles I. In 1662,
these hammered coins were discontinued in England.*
France and the Low Countries had been using coins with a worked or prepared edge for a considerable number of years previously and
so had the Seville and Segovia mints in Spain. Whether the screw press is responsible for this change, as seems likely, should not be difficult to prove, but
we can be certain that hammered coins gave place to those with a milled edge, and that the change had taken place on the Continent
considerably before it was adopted in England in 1662.
Do we have any warrant for believing that Hull and Sanderson, by some means, obtained a screw press and that it was in use
for the time at which the Oak Tree issues began to be struck? The mint-house had been provided by the colony—it was erected
on the property of John Hull. If we had the mint records there would doubtless be some indication of the cost of new machinery.
One of the outstanding contributions of the American Antiquarian Society to the history of New England was the printing of the diaries of John Hull which appeared in Vol. 3 of the Transactions of that Society in 1857, with an
introduction by S. F. Haven. In a lengthy note on the coinage of Massachusetts there occurs the following:
No special record is preserved of the cost of the mint-house and tools. It appears, combined with a remarkable series of miscellaneous
expenses, in the following entry in the Treasurer’s accounts:—
‘To several sums paid on the charge,—prisons and prisoners and keeper and executioner and mint- house. All is £395. 12s. 2d.’
This is the Treasurer’s summary of expenses presented to the General Court, and allowed. In the Library of the Historical
Genealogical Society, the original account-book of Mr. Russell, the Treasurer at that period, is preserved. But several pages,
including the mint-expenses, have been cut out and lost.
It was not possible for us to consult Russell’s account-book because it has been withdrawn and removed to a place of greater
There is one additional indication, to which, in the absence of other support, we must not give too great weight. In the inventory
of the estate of John Coney,* a prominent Boston ‘gold-smith’ there is an entry in the list of the assets of the estate which reads: “An engine for coining with all utensils
belonging thereto £10 10.” The significance of this entry is clearer from the following paragraph in the volume just cited
(p. 6 ff.):
“There is no record stating to whom he (Coney) was apprenticed, but it seems probable that he was apprenticed to and learned
his trade from Jeremiah Dummer, a silversmith of note in the colony. It is also possible that he may have been apprenticed
to John Hull, the first of the Boston silversmiths, because Coney acted as a bearer at the funeral of Daniel Quincy, another silversmith, four years his senior,
who died in 1690 and was related to John Hull… This apprenticeship is also suggested by the item in the inventory of Coney’s
estate, ‘An engine for Coining with all utensils belonging thereto £10 10 0.’ Although Coney lived approximately fifty years
after his apprenticeship, the possession of this ‘engine for Coining’ suggests that he may have been associated with John
Hull during the period that the latter was employed as mintmaster by the Colony.”
Although we cannot demonstrate that the “coining engine” in Coney’s estate was the one used
by Hull and Sanderson, there is better reason for believing this than for deciding that the contrary was the case. We know
that John Coney engraved the plates for the earliest paper money issued by the Massachusetts colony, but the paraphernalia incident to such work is hardly to be called a “coining engine.” The valuation placed on this
item in the inventory seems to indicate a low price for material for which there was no longer much use. If we agree in thinking
this to have been Hull’s coining press, it would have been out of use for nearly forty years, and presumably would have deteriorated
accordingly. To an even greater degree would this be probable if this was a press installed by Hull and Sanderson between
1652 and 1662, at the time the Oak Tree type was introduced. If this “coining engine” was a screw press, we should have an
acceptable explanation of the improvement which took place with the initiation of the Oak Tree issues.
But even if we refuse to admit this to have been Hull’s “coining engine”, we must concede that a considerable improvement
in his coinage did take place, and we must therefore give the Willow Tree pieces a close inspection to see whether any evidence
as to the method of their striking may be deduced from them. Mention has been made of the resemblance of these coins to the
hammered coins of the mother country. If a huge sledge hammer had been used for the Willow Tree coins, there would have been
occasional double-striking of a nature different
from any we find; that is, the inscriptions, as well as the type, would show doubling of the outlines. Beginning with the
Oak Tree type, the dies are fixed—that is, the relation of the obverse to the reverse is generally the same. If an Oak Tree
shilling is held with the tree in an upright position and the coin turned on its vertical axis, the inscription on the reverse
will almost always be found in its proper (upright) position. When coins are found to have been struck with the dies in such
relation regularly, it is an indication that, in some manner, the dies have been “fixed” so that they do not shift or turn
in the striking, or so that they both turn, if there is any turning. This is not true of the Willow Tree issues, or if there
was any such intent originally, it has been pretty well dissembled by the double-striking. The dies seem unmistakably “loose”—either
or both dies seem to have been free to rotate.
Moreover, there seems to have been constant difficulty in keeping the dies level. The outline or perimeter of the die is preserved
for us in several specimens. It shows that the die-surface was circular, thereby indicating that the form of the punch would
have been cylindrical and in some measure similar to the dies we still use except that there was no use of a collar to prevent
the spreading of the flan. Our plates show how frequently the striking was ineffectual—again and again only a segment of the
die seems to have received the force of the blow in striking. Why does this condition persist?
Since the dies were probably cylindrical and since there is evidence that they were free to rotate, the problem of keeping
the dies level seems one which it took Hull and Sanderson considerable time to solve—the entire period of the Willow Tree
type. If they did not have enough experience to set the lower die in an anvil, as the ancients did, their difficulties may
be imagined. Even if they were able to obtain a stable anvil, but one of the elements of their problem was under control;
the two dies had still to be kept so that their striking surfaces were perfectly adjusted. Any blow which deviated would have
a tendency to mar or bevel the engraved face of either die or the faces of the die-bases—that is, the surface supported by
the anvil for the lower die, or the surface which had received the force of the blow for the upper die. Repetitions of faulty
hammer-blows would tend to increase the condition and result in a permanent deflection from the horizontal which would be
hard to overcome. It might be possible to repair this defect for the striking surface of the upper die or for the anvil surface
of the lower one, but it seems very probable that the engraved faces of the dies, either or both, would have been affected
in the meantime and this would have resulted in the flan between the dies receiving an imperfect imprint. Perhaps we do not
need to seek further, then, for explanation of the faulty striking of the Willow Tree issues. There seems to have been no
effort to replace the defectively struck flan in its first adjustment to the dies, before re-
striking, and the complicated inscriptions on the coins we now have show that sometimes more than two strikings were used
to remedy an unsatisfactory initial attempt.
The causes for the double-striking which we have been seeking are seen to have been neither simple nor obvious. Whatever may
have been the reason, we have already noted that this multiple striking seems to disappear with the introduction of the Oak
Tree type. The N E shilling and its fractions had apparently used two punches rather than dies and the succeeding period during
which the Willow Tree type was struck may be considered an experimental or transitional one. In addition to difficulties with
die-surfaces and die-support, there are three conditions for the striking of the Willow Tree coins, any one of which might
share in accounting for the imperfections we have been studying, although all three and possibly others may have had a part
in causing that condition.
Firstly, we do not know whether the silver flans were annealed before striking. The effect of such treatment would have rendered
the silver more malleable and a less heavy blow would have been required to secure the impress of the dies. There should have
been little or no appreciable variation in the thickness of the flans, judging from the N E shillings which show a marked
degree of uniformity in this regard. Such a variation in thickness might have provided an explanation for some of the imperfect
inscriptions. Moreover, variations in the
thickness of the flans would not have been without effect on the dies.
The nature of the blow employed to strike the coins is the second unknown quantity in our problem. The dies were not large
and a blow from a sledgehammer would seem to have been ample; an even smaller hammer may have sufficed.
Thirdly, we do not know whether steel was used for the dies of the Willow Tree coins or, if it was, where it was procured
by Hull and Sanderson. The quantity required would not have been considerable, but the bog iron smelted in the Bay Colony
must have been of too poor quality for dies. The excellence of Spanish iron was known and this commodity is mentioned among
the materials imported by way of the West Indies. It may be that Hull tried to use the local product for the Willow Tree coins
or some other metal as a substitute, changing to the Spanish steel for the Oak Tree series. We have good cause for concluding
that a considerable measure of the imperfections in the Willow Tree coins was due to the dies. Even if they were perfectly
level and true in their original stages, we have not yet found a perfect impression of either die. In more than one die the
background or field upon which the inscription was cut shows minute lines which are sometimes wavy and less often straight
and these irregularities are found in all specimens from the same respective dies.
in which there is reference to the opposition of the efforts of Philip II to improve the Spanish coinage at the Segovia mint,
where the first of the improved coins were struck in 1586. The efforts of Henri II at Paris, likewise, met with the antagonism
Cour des Monnaies.
This resulted in the use of the improved machinery for making medals and jetons but not for coins. Thirty-five years after
Schwab’s invention, these improvements were put into general use for the regular coinage. Grueber tells of similar conditions
There is a very interesting article by Jean Babelon in Tome XXIII (1921) of thein which there is reference to the opposition of the efforts of Philip II to improve the Spanish coinage at the Segovia mint, where the first of the improved coins were struck in 1586. The efforts of Henri II at Paris, likewise, met with the antagonism of theThis resulted in the use of the improved machinery for making medals and jetons but not for coins. Thirty-five years after Schwab’s invention, these improvements were put into general use for the regular coinage. Grueber tells of similar conditions in England
(Handbook, p. xxxvii). Mestrel, the Frenchman who had the temerity to bring his invention to London
, was accused of counterfeiting and hanged at Tyburn, and not until 1662 did the hammered coinage give way.
A facsimile reproduction is printed in Hermann F. Clarke’s John Coney, Silversmith,’ p. 12 ff.
Engraving the Dies
Let us look now at the dies with the purpose of learning what we may from the cutting of the die itself. Since there are but
three obverse dies with the Willow Tree and because these could hardly have been used for an extensive period, we may study
them as a unit with the hope that their place at the beginning of the coinage may disclose details of procedure which will
prove useful later.
Any experienced student of these dies will have discovered that a pellet or period is to be seen in the middle of the Willow
Tree. Sometimes it is almost invisible because of wear, as on No. 3 and No. 7, but pieces which are well preserved show it
unmistakably. This dot or pellet is raised on the coin and must therefore have been cut or sunk in the die, and testing with
a compass quickly discloses that it had the function of a central point by means of which the two circles of dots which set
off the border were described. An examination shows that this central point is to be found on the reverse as well—in spite
of double striking and wear, it is apparent on Nos. 16, 17 and less prominently on 21. By halving the diameter of No. 2 we
discover that this point comes near the top of the second digit of the XII, and this indicates, of course, that this digit
was cut after the central point was used and that it deliberately obliterated the central point. In other words, this provides
good reason for deducing that the inscription was cut before the type for the ob-
verse, and before the date was added on the reverse. It seems probable that the faint connections between the dots of these
border circles are the remains of a linear guide used by the engraver along which he spaced the dots which make up the circle.
Later we shall see that these connecting lines disappear. Its use at the beginning is to have been expected.
Before looking closely at the lettering, let us examine the type which sometime before Crosby’s day was christened a Willow
Tree. In obverses 1 and 2, the roots receive a realistic treatment which contrasts with that given on the other die, where
they are formalized into a flat base with diagonal hatchings from left to right downward. We must not forget that the original
instructions do not call for anything more definite than “A Tree”, and the sketch on the margin of the document embodying
these instructions illustrated by Crosby is innocent of any great resemblance to the object intended. If we are not too critical,
the five scratches at the tree-base of the marginal sketch (here reproduced), do show some resemblance to roots and obverses
1 and 2 are closer to these indications than No. 3. Were
this the only criterion we should conclude that obverses 1 and 2 preceded obverse 3. There is as much, or as little, resemblance
to a Willow Tree as to any other. Pronounced characteristics of any kind of a tree are conspicuously absent from both sketch
and coins. The short trunk is perhaps thicker than might be expected for the height, and since there are indications of neither
leaves nor branches, we can only wonder at the courage of the person who dubbed this a Willow Tree. One distinction does separate
it from the oak and pine groups, however. In both of these, the trees are indicated by branches which bear a clear relation
to the bole. In the Willow Tree group the tree is depicted as a mass and there is no attempt to show a relation between the
branches and a trunk. The tree outline consists of pointed elements along with parts having rounded contours. When it is possible
to find a specimen free from double striking, the design as a whole is not ineffective in a crude way and this becomes more
apparent in the reconstructions. Obverse 3 is perhaps the most finished of them all.
The reverses, aside from the rim inscriptions, offer only the date and denomination-figures for comparisons. Almost never
do we find all four figures of the date visible on a single specimen (Nos. 2, 10, 13 and 21), and comparisons, in consequence,
are unsatisfying. There are five reverse dies, and on these the forms of the Arabic numerals afford the only distinctions
other than the letters of the inscriptions. The variation in both letters and numerals is
considerable, as a glance at the enlargements will show, and there is little consistency.
The inscription admirably fulfills its function of giving the necessary facts with regard to the coinage. The issuing authority
is given the prominence to which it is entitled; the date is placed significantly and the denomination clearly indicated.
One might justify the addition of IN NEW ENGLAND to MASATHUSETS because the latter appears on one side and NEW ENGLAND on the reverse. Brief thought will show how preferable this is to “Massachusetts Bay Colony” or any other alternative which
might have been considered by John Hull at the time. Any addition to MASATHUSETS on the obverse must needs have been a short
word if the inscription was to be kept in letters of the size used. The omission of NEW ENGLAND from the reverse and the amplification of AN DOM to ANNO DOMINI would have been a poor alternative, since it would have exalted
these relatively unimportant words to a prominence equalling that of MASATHUSETS on the obverse.
The reconstructions show that the size of the letters, too, would call for praise if the element of double striking were absent.
Their proportions are excellent and their scale in respect to the whole design seems very close to the best that could have
One service which the reconstructions reproduced in this monograph has rendered is the demonstration that the spelling MASATHUSETS
on the Willow
Tree coins is uniform with that on the Oak and Pine Tree issues and that none of the strange misspellings mistakenly attributed
to Hull really exist. Hull’s spelling is unchanged throughout the entire coinage with a single exception where the H is dropped—something
almost certainly due to inadvertence. Variation in the spelling of ordinary names is common in the early records, and even
in documents and letters in the handwriting of men who are unquestionably of sound learning, we find unbelievable vagaries.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there seems to have been no attempt to discover whence came the spelling used on the
coins. The substitution of T for the customary C in the third syllable would have interesting connotations of a linguistic
nature if it could be established that the TH spelling had been common and that it gave way to the form with which we are
more familiar. An appeal to a distinguished authority in the American Antiquarian Society confirmed the reasonable deduction
that this spelling is used throughout the diaries of John Hull, which, as has been mentioned, are preserved in Worcester,
and which are in Hull’s handwriting. On the colonial seal, the spelling is MATTACHUSETTS. In the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company we find the spelling used on the coins along with three other forms. A careful search in the records of the Governor
and Company and similar sources might provide data which would explain this spelling. It is a field of investigation which
offers a fair reward but it re-
quires a more complete and dependable knowledge of the period than is possessed by the writer. It seems improbable that Hull
would use this spelling without authority, or that he would have taken an unusual spelling deliberately. The circumstance
that it persisted without change for a period of forty years, when it might easily have been challenged and changed, gives
the form considerable weight which can hardly be ignored and one which seems not to have been recognized by historians hitherto.
Order of the Dies
We have already noted that the obverse dies bearing the Willow Tree type are three in number, and that the spelling MASATHUSETS
is common to all three. With our present knowledge, it hardly seems possible to determine the order of these obverse dies
convincingly. There are, however, at least two considerations which make the order in which we have presented them reasonable.
In the arrangement of the Oak Tree series which is to be submitted later, the variety which has been selected as the earliest
has a tree with formalized roots which are like those on obverse No. 3. Secondly, the sketch which appeared in the margin
of the official record, shows these roots separated and somewhat individualized. A like condition will be found with the tree
which appears on obverses 1 and 2. No. 1 seems closer to the sketch than No. 2; the shape of the tree on No. 1 is fuller and
fills the field
in a way that suggests a closer following of the pattern than is the case for No. 2. The circumstance that obverse No. 3 outlived
three reverse dies may be interpreted as an indication that such a condition would have been more likely after Hull and Sanderson
had profited by their experiences gained through making the two earlier dies.
The treatment of the roots is perhaps the most distinctive difference between the Oak and the Willow Tree forms.* In the Oak Tree series there is usually a ground line with the roots represented as diagonal hatchings below this line. In
die 3 of the Willow Tree issues, the tree seems to emerge from a mound while a curved line joins the lower ends of the hatchings
which represent the roots, leaving no approach to a horizontal line anywhere. The central pellet, whose use for describing
the double border has been explained, is much more prominent on the Willow Tree issues than on the Oak. The imperfect die-impressions,
coupled with double or triple strikings, however, usually settle any doubts as to whether a questionable piece may be a Willow
Tree, even when wear has obliterated much of the type and inscription.
The number of coins of which it has been possible to secure a dependable record, either through direct examination or photographic
reproduction, is surprisingly small. Presumably there are specimens in the British Museum and in the Berlin collection but in neither case are these available at present.
There may be private collections in Europe which contain specimens, although the impressive Fonrobert cabinet did not. Private collections in America often display extraordinary resources and this is especially true of New England. There is a further probability that in some cases these Willow Tree coins may still be confused with the Oak Tree series.
Obverse dies 1 and 2 have up until now been found with one reverse die each—that is, there are no mulings. The third obverse
is combined with three reverses to constitute the third group—but there are no further inter-mulings.
In the descriptions which follow, the effort has been to give two or three significant tests for identification of the respective
dies, rather than to provide a detailed description with secondary minutiae.
Cf. illustration of Oak Tree shilling, Plate XVI.
Tests for Distinguishing the Obverse Dies
Die. 1. The uppermost branch touches the border and points slightly to the left of the fourth stroke of the M. A comparison of
the forms and placement of the letter S which occurs three times is usually conclusive. The root forms have already been mentioned.
Die 2. The shape of the tree is distinctive—so too are the roots. The horizontal hatchings of the trunk are peculiar to this
die. The M is to be noted for its pronounced serifs. The line connecting the dots on the inner border is plainly visible.
Die 3. Above the tree and just below the fourth stroke of the letter M is a tiny cross. This
may be seen clearly on Enlargement Plate XII, although it is clear on many of the reproductions where there has been no enlargement.
Tests for Distinguishing the Reverse Dies
Die A. The date and XII are high on the field. The E of NEW is small as compared with the N. A comparison of forms and placements
of the four N’s is frequently helpful—the N of AN DOM has the third stroke short and heavy. Punctuation—NEWENGLAND: ANDOM:
Die B. The letters are thin and elegant, with pronounced serifs—this is also true of the obverse. The border is distinctive for
its fine dots. It follows the obverse in this regard. Punctuation—as in Die A, but AN DOM shows differences in its spacing.
Die C. Die-flaw below the 5 of the date, while a crack extending downwards to the right, starts from the first digit of the date,
touches the 6, crosses the first I of the XII and terminates in the second I, giving the effect of a letter N following the
X. Punctuation—NEWENGLAND: ANDOM
Die D. The XII is large in scale and low on the field. The central dot is large and pronounced. Punctuation—NEWENGLAND · ANDOM:
Die E. Lettering of border inscription bolder and heavier than on any of preceding dies. The central dot small and light. A faint
flaw connects the upper portions of the I’s of XII. Punctuation—NEWENGLANDAN · DOM ·
Vol. XX, 2, Oct. 1929.