The New England shilling, its denomination reflected as XII for twelvepence on the reverse, was the highest denomination of the silver issues ordered by the Massachusetts General court in 1652.
David M. Sundman is especially attracted to coins with a story.
Sundman, the president of Littleton Coin Co. in Littleton, N.H., finds that to be true in all areas of his numismatic collecting. His interests, among other areas, include ancient Greek and Roman silver and gold coins, New Hampshire Colonial and national bank notes, and Massachusetts silver coins.
He also augments his collections with vintage numismatic literature to match his collecting interests.
Sundman has decided to bid farewell, however, to his 18-piece collection of Massachusetts silver coins — comprising all major types — to pursue other numismatic collecting interests.
“It’s hard to let things go,” Sundman said in an Oct. 2 telephone interview. “I have s
o many things that I like to collect. My problem is I like everything. I’m a generalist in most areas of my collecting. I’m attracted to coins with a story. I try to collect in areas that I won’t be competing with my customers.”
Stack’s Bowers Galleries will offer Sundman’s Massachusetts silver coins as part of its Nov. 6 to 9 auction held in conjunction with the Whitman Expo in Baltimore.
A number of the coins among Sundman’s 18-piece collection were once owned by
dealer/collector John J. Ford Jr. Sundman bought two of the top pieces he has in his collection directly from the Ford Collection, Oct. 18, 2005, when Stack’s sold the Massachusetts silver coins in the firm’s 12th Ford sale.
Sundman assembled his Massachusetts silver coin collection over the past decade, hand-selecting each issue for quality, rarity and its ability to represent its type.
While not often the finest known for their types, the coins Sundman acquired were the best available. “This stuff doesn’t trade that often,” Sundman said. “Color is very important. They look the way they should look, with even gray toning. I tried to get the major types in pretty nice condition. I didn’t necessarily get the best, but the best available.”
A number of pieces in Sundman’s collection have served as plate coins in A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman; in the 1943 monograph, The New England and Oak Tree Coinage of Massachusetts by Sydney P. Noe; in Q. David Bowers’ 2009 Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins; and in the 2010 reference, The Silver Coins of Massachusetts by Christopher J. Salmon.
Sundman’s collection spans the Massachusetts silver series from the undated NE (New England) coinage of 1652, continuing through the Willow Tree coins, followed by the Oak Tree coins and then the Pine Tree issues.
First in British North America
The Massachusetts silver coins were the first coins struck in British North America, produced without royal approval (their issuance coincided with the existence of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth) to fill a commercial need for currency. By today’s standards, they appear crude, struck on misshapen planchets with designs that were well below even the standards set by mid-17th century government mints in Europe and Spanish America. For many collectors, though, their appearance is a great part of their charm.
The first series, called the New England or NE coinage, are simple, irregularly shaped disks of silver, punch-stamped with NE on one side and the denomination in Roman numerals on the other side: III, for threepence; VI, for sixpence; and XII, for the shilling or twelvepence.
The New England coins were followed by the three “Tree” coinages. Collectors have long adopted the names “Willow Tree” (for pieces struck 1653 to 1660), “Oak Tree” (1660 to 1667) and “Pine Tree” (1667 to 1682). However, botanists would be hard pressed to identify the crudely engraved trees by species.
The Tree coins show a rough tree on the obverse, surrounded by the inscription MASA THVSETS IN; the reverse features the date above the denomination in Roman numerals, both at the center, with NEW ENGLAND AN DOM around. On some pieces, inscriptions are incomplete since the irregularly shaped planchets on which the coins were struck were not always well centered between the dies.
The issues were produced for the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the provincial mint in Boston from 1652 through the early 1680s.
The New England series coins are undated. All but one of the issues in the “Tree” coinage is dated 1652. The Oak Tree twopence coins, which are dated 1662, are the exception. The dates refer, not to years of production, but to the years in which the various denominations were authorized by the Massachusetts Assembly, many researchers believe; the twopence was authorized in 1662, and all the other denominations were authorized in 1652.
Beginning the hunt
Growing up in the hobby with Littleton Coin Co., which his father, the late Maynard P. Sundman, founded in 1945, David Sundman said he was well aware of the Massachusetts silver series at a young age.
“It’s imprinted on your brain if you’re from New England,” Sundman said, noting he was intrigued by each coin’s imagery illustrated in A Guide Book of United States Coins. “I appreciate antiquities and the different conditions under which each was produced.”
The first Massachusetts silver piece Sundman acquired was a 1662 Oak Tree twopence, cataloged in the major references as the Noe 31 variety and the Salmon 1-A variety.
Sundman said he purchased the coin from dealer Jonathan Kern while attending the March 2004 Whitman Baltimore Expo.
Sundman identified three favorite pieces, all of which appeared in the Oct. 18, 2005, Ford Collection auction.
Sundman won two of his favorites at that Ford sale: a New England shilling, Noe 1-A, Salmon 1-B, offered in Choice Very Fine, which sold for $253,000 (including the 15 percent buyer’s fee); and a Willow Tree shilling, Noe 1-A, Salmon 1-A, in Extremely Fine, which sold for $276,000. The New England shilling is now certified About Uncirculated 55 by Professional Coin Grading Service and the Willow Tree shilling is certified by PCGS as VF-35.
Someone else acquired Sundman’s third favorite piece, a Willow Tree sixpence, Noe 1-A, Salmon 1-A, from that 2005 Ford sale, for $218,500, but Sundman acquired it sometime later by private treaty. The coin was graded Choice Very Fine in the Ford auction; for the Sundman sale, the coin is now PCGS AU-53.
Among the Pine Tree coins in the Sundman Collection is a Pine Tree, Without Pellets at Trunk, Large Planchet shilling, Noe-3, Salmon 3-C. It is graded Mint State 61 by PCGS.
Sundman acquired the Pine Tree coin by private treaty May 5, 2005, for an undisclosed sum, from New York dealer Anthony Terranova, a specialist in Colonial and early U.S. coins.
Sundman’s New England shilling has a provenance tracing to Virgil Brand, S.H. Chapman’s 1912 Sterling P. Groves auction, Waldo Newcomer, Carl Wurtzbach and F.C.C. Boyd before passing into Ford’s hands.
Sundman’s Willow Tree shilling sports an even more extensive pedigree. The shilling is plated in the 1859 American Numismatical Manual by Montroville W. Dickeson. It also graced the collections of Jeremiah Colburn (before 1860), Charles I. Bushnell, Lorin Parmelee, John Mills, George Earle, George Parsons, Henry Chapman, Newcomer and Boyd, before Ford.
“The fact that it can be plate matched to a book in the pre-photographic area makes it one of the longest provenanced of all American coins,” according to early American coin specialist John Kraljevich Jr.
The same Willow Tree shilling is plated in many of the references devoted to Massachusetts silver coins, including the Noe reference. It is one of 10 coins to appear on Plate No. 39 from the American Numismatic Society’s Exhibition of United States and Colonial Coins Catalogue. Henry Chapman — a Philadelphia dealer, cataloger and collector — owned the Willow Tree shilling at the time the ANS exhibition was held in 1914.
Sundman’s Willow Tree sixpence lists a short, traceable pedigree to E.J. French (1926), before Boyd and then Ford.
Sundman’s Pine Tree, Without Pellets at Trunk, Large Planchet shilling, Noe-3, Salmon 3-C, carries the following pedigree, according to the Stack’s Bowers auction lot description:
“Earlier from Spink & Son’s sale of the Lincoln Collection, March 1935; Carl Wurtzbach; T. James Clarke; F.C.C. Boyd; Wayte Raymond; New Netherlands Coin Company, privately, July 31, 1956; from our sale of the Norweb Collection, Part I, October 1987, lot 1193; our sale of the Hain Family Collection of Massachusetts Silver Coins, January 2002, lot 99; acquired by our consignor from Anthony Terranova, May 5, 2005.”
The format of the auction catalog is what Stack’s Bowers refers to as “ ‘Showcase Auction style,’ with detailed descriptions, historical information, superb photographs, and pedigrees of all items.”
“We expect that this catalog and presentation will be definitive for years to come for enthusiasts in the Colonial and early American series,” noted Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.