In the year 1652, Boston minters John Hull and Robert Saunderson began
making the first silver coins ever struck on American soil.
Their first designs were simple: one side was punched with a
small “NE” (for “NEW ENGLAND”) and the other side was punched
with the denomination in Roman numerals (in this case, the Shilling
denomination represented by “XII).
The punches were offset so that they would not crush each other.
The methods by which the New England Shillings were
“struck” has been the subject of recent debate. Tradition holds that blank planchets were cut out of strips
of silver, then weighed. Light
planchets were re-melted while overweight planchets were adjusted by
clipping their edges until they reached the proper weight of 72 grains. Once the weight was correct, the coins received the
appropriate punches. A new
theory holds that strips of silver received numerous punches, then the
coins were cut out of the strip, taking care not to disturb the
markings. Whichever method
was used, the result was a crude piece, imperfectly round, and about as
plain as a coin can be.
Interestingly, the language of the original
legislation authorizing these coins called for them to be square, not
round! The legislation also
required that a privy (minter’s) mark be placed on each coin. However, later legislation changed the shape of the coin to
round and no one has discovered yet the secret of the privy mark (if,
indeed, any such marks were placed on the coins).
New England Shillings were struck for three months in
1652, after which the designs were replaced by the so-called “Willow
Tree” Massachusetts Silver coins (also struck by Hull and Sanderson).
The New England Shillings do not bear a date, and some may have
been made illegally in later years.
Collectors have identified six different varieties of
the New England Shillings, all of them extremely rare.
Even Andy Hain, who built one of the finest and most complete
collections of Massachusetts Silver coins, was able to locate only two
different varieties for his collection.
1652 New England Shilling
Noe I-D 2 known
Noe III-A 3-4 known
1652 New England Sixpence
Normal Letters (6 known)
Delicate Letters (3 known, authenticity questioned)
1652 New England Threepence 2-3 known
and/or recommended reading:
Noe, Sydney P., "The Silver Coinage of
Massachusetts", 1973, Quarterman Publications, Inc., Lawrence, MA.