The record $431,250 paid at public auction Nov. 16 for a 1652 New England sixpence is more than 12 times what the coin initially brought in 1991, a year after the coin’s discovery in a Long Island, N.Y., potato field.
Just eight pieces are known of all the die marriages that created the coin, and four of the pieces are impounded in museum collections.
The coin was offered most recently during Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Early American Coin session held in cooperation with Colonial Coin Collectors Club, conducted during the Whitman Baltimore Coin and Collectibles Expo. A phone bidder, whom Stack’s Bowers officials decline to identify, purchased the coin.
The $431,250, which includes the 15 percent buyer’s fee, was well above the price the coin brought when it was first sold at auction Nov. 21, 1991, by Sotheby’s for $35,200. The coin was later acquired for an undisclosed sum by John “Jack” Royse through private treaty with Stack’s. Royse consigned the sixpence to the Nov. 16 Rarities Night auction.
The 1991 Sotheby’s auction was the first time since 1983 that any example of the New England sixpence in private hands had been sold at public auction.
The coin just sold is cataloged as being from the Noe 1-A die marriage in The Silver Coins of Massachusetts by Sydney P. Noe.
The sixpence is certified by Professional Coin Grading Service as Very Fine Details — Damage or Tooling. The piece is quickly identifiable by a large, deep diagonal scratch extending across most of the obverse, beginning at approximately the 10 o’clock position. The scratch was possibly imparted by farm equipment used in the potato field or the ice pick used as a probing tool to locate the coin.
The price for the coin broke the record set Oct. 1, 2005, when a Very Fine piece, of another die marriage, sold for $184,000 in the John J. Ford Jr. Collection auction, Part 12, by Stack’s. The Ford coin was, at the time of the 2005 auction, cataloged as Noe 2-B and is the plate coin for the variety in Noe’s reference.
However, the Ford coin was subsequently determined to be a contemporary counterfeit. When it was offered at auction again three years later in Stack’s Jan. 15 to 16, 2008, sale, now cataloged as Noe 4 (from 2-B dies), it sold at well below its 2005 price, for $13,800.
The Royse sixpence, the eighth discovered of the known examples, was discovered in February 1990 by metal detectorist Lillian Rade as she combed through a frozen potato field in East Hampton, N.Y., on the southeastern tip of Long Island.
Rade, and her husband, Ron, who was using a metal detector on another part of the field, held the find for nearly a year before a friend suggested they send the coin to the American Numismatic Association Authentication Bureau in Colorado Springs, Colo.
ANAAB’s authenticator at the time, J.P. Martin, who is currently a senior numismatist at ANACS, a third-party grading service, confirmed the piece as genuine.
East Hampton was the first English settlement in the state of New York. Lion Gardiner in 1639 purchased land (which became known as Gardiner’s Island) from the Montaukett, an Algonquin-speaking tribe of Native Americans. In 1648, four years before the sixpence would have been produced, a royal British charter issued under King Charles I recognized Gardiner’s Island as a wholly contained colony, independent of both New York and Connecticut.
The colony retained this independent status until after the Revolutionary War, when it came under New York State and East Hampton authority.
Early U.S. and foreign coins ranging from about 1600 to the early 1800s have been found in the East Hampton area.
Massachusetts silver coinage
The General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony authorized John Hull and Robert Saunderson by an act of May 26 and 27, 1652, to fashion silver into disks of the proper weight of 36 grains or 2.33 grams. They were to be stamped NE on one side and VI on the other for the sixpence. A shilling and threepence of similar design type were also authorized and produced.
The authorized weights of the three coins were deliberately made significantly below the English standard to dissuade their export to Europe.
Production of the undated coins took place between June 11 and about Oct. 19, 1652.
Hull was paid 15 pence for every 20 pence he produced. The quantity struck was not recorded, according to Walter Breen in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins.
In addition to the Rade-Royse example, other examples of the sixpence known in private hands are those identified as the Charles Ira Bushnell-Garrett Collection piece, the John L. Roper coin and the Loye Lauder coin.
Examples of the New England sixpence are also included in the collections of the American Numismatic Society in New York City, the British Museum in London, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, and the Newman Money Museum at Washington University in St. Louis. ■