Colonial America column from the Sept. 26, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:
The attraction that brings tourists to New England in the fall also
appears on the longest-running series of coins struck in colonial New
Following the production of the simple NE (New England) coins from
June to October 1652, Massachusetts authorized a brand new design that
remained until the Boston Mint closed in 1682.
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The description of the new coins was simple: “all pieces of money
coined as aforesaid shall have a double ring on either side, with this
inscription— Massachusetts, and a tree in the center on the one side
and New England and the year of our Lord on the other side.” A drawing
accompanied the new law in the journals of the colony’s legislative
body, one that would guide the design of all Massachusetts shillings,
sixpence, threepence, and eventually twopence, struck thereafter.
Modern numismatists categorize the Massachusetts Tree coins into
three major design types: Willow, Oak, and Pine. Despite the fact that
the various types appear to the eyes of numismatists to fall
relatively neatly into three different styles, no distinction between
them was ever made when the coins were circulating.
The Willow Tree coins are all somewhat messy and leafy, the Oak Tree
pieces all show trees with naked angular branches, and the Pine Tree
coins all inarguably look like conifers, but each series has a wide
variation in artistic interpretation of the legal requirement of “a
tree in the center on the one side.”
Everyone agrees the Willow Tree coins are the rarest of the Tree
types. Pine Tree coins are the most frequently seen by a significant
margin, but the population of Oak Tree coins is far closer to that of
Pines than Willows.
There is some disagreement among experts on when these three series
were struck. Given that the Willow Tree coins are actually rarer than
the NE coins, which were struck for just six months, I think it’s safe
to assume they were struck over a similarly brief span.
A Guide Book of
United States Coins and Walter Breen’s Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins assert that each type
was struck for the same length of time — seven years — matching the
seven-year renewals of the contracts given to minters John Hull and
Robert Sanderson, a theory first suggested in Sydney Noe’s The Pine
Tree Coinage of Massachusetts.
Then again, Noe wrote “we cannot doubt that the Oak Tree series had
been initiated well before 1662,” the date of the first twopence. The
Oak and Pine series were clearly struck for far longer than the Willow
series, based on their disparate rarity. Beyond that, all we have is supposition.