World Coins

Rare Oak Tree threepence found by British metal detectorist

An example of one of the earliest American coins, a 1652 Oak Tree silver threepence of Massachusetts, was reportedly discovered in England by a metal detectorist Sept. 7.

An expert in Colonial coins estimates the coin's worth at between $8,000 and $10,000 U.S., given its condition. 

The find was reported by the British newspaper The Daily Mail. Coin World has reached out to St. James's Auctions, which is cited in the report as planning to sell the coin on Dec. 2 in London, as well as the metal detectoring group, for confirmation of the find, its rarity and its sale.

The Daily Mail reported that the coin was found in a farmer’s field by 42-year-old John Stoner. The Massachusetts Oak Tree threepence was reportedly found in the village of King’s Clipstone, located in the Sherwood Forest county of Nottinghamshire, during a treasure hunt sponsored by the Coil to the Soil Metal Detecting Club

Stoner reportedly had just begun sweeping his detector's coil across a freshly plowed field when he received two signals. The first was for a piece of junk metal, but the second revealed the 17th century American coin 5 inches below the surface, the Daily Mail reported. 

Coin World columnist John Kraljevich said, "The guy [who found it] had a good day but not a life-changing day."

A pricing estimate in the Daily Mail of $1.7 million U.S. is out of line, he said.

"They're comparing apples to orangutans," Kraljevich said, suggesting that the estimate might have been made based on the 2010 sale of a 1652 New England shilling by Heritage Auctions for $416,875. Even the nicest Uncirculated example of an Oak Tree threepence wouldn't fetch more than a quarter to one-half that amount, Kraljevich said. 

Background of coin

Oak Tree coinage followed the Willow Tree coinage and was produced from about 1660 to 1667, preceding the Pine Tree coinage. Oak Tree coinage includes the 1652-dated threepence, sixpence and shilling, and 1662-dated twopence. 

The threepence is found in two major types, either with the word IN on the obverse or missing from that side. Only one obverse die bore the IN inscription, according to the Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins, by Q. David Bowers.

The encyclopedia lists seven different varieties of the 1652 Oak Tree threepence coin. 

Kraljevich said that the market for threepence and sixpence Oak Tree coins is not as wide as the market for the shillings, since collectors want the larger size coin, or they are building a type set of Massachusetts coins, and the Willow Tree threepence is prohibitively rare with only three known.

"This example is very well struck, is nicely centered and the design is nicely showcased with not a lot of wear," said Kraljevich, but the "granular, dirty surfaces" affect its value, even once the dirt is cleaned off, as the article suggests will occur.

Because this coin has been buried for so long, a grading service would probably encapsulate it as Extremely Fine 40 with Uncirculated details and environmental damage, Krajlevich said.

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