US Coins

American Plantations token for Colonial North America

Were the undated (1688) American Plantations tokens the first royally authorized coinage for use in the British colonies in America? 

Produced under the reign of King James II, original tokens were produced in England in tin under a franchise granted to Richard Holt in 1688. Restrikes in pewter were executed in 1828 using the original 17th century dies.

Many original tin examples are noted for exhibiting black oxidation of the metal.

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A Professional Coin Grading Service Mint State 63 original tin example absent the black oxidation and stickered by Certified Acceptance Corp. realized $9,987.50 in a June sale by Heritage Auctions. The price realized includes the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee added to the final hammer price.

The piece is attributed as Newman 4-E as cataloged in Eric P. Newman’s 1964 monograph, “The James II 1/24th Real for the American Plantations,” pages 319–332 in Museum Notes, 11, for the American Numismatic Society, with a table and explanation of die varieties. Newman identified seven different obverse and seven different reverse dies.

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Additional information can be found in Q. David Bowers’ Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins.

Token attributes

Valued at 1/24th of a Spanish real, the obverse of the American Plantations token illustrates King James II on horseback, with the abbreviated Latin legend, IACOBVS . II . D G . MAG . BRI . FRAN . ET . HIB . REX . (which translates as “James II by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France and Ireland”).

On the reverse are the four crowned shields of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, clockwise from top, linked with chains and the legend VAL . 24 PART . REAL . HISPAN . (translating to “Value a 24th part of a Spanish real”).

This was equivalent in British coinage to about one and a half farthings.


Holt, who represented a number of owners of tin mines, petitioned King James II for the right to produce the American Plantations tokens, and he produced tokens composed of 97.5 percent pure tin with an average weight of 135 grains, or roughly 8.75 grams. It is not known, however, according to information provided by the University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections, which holds several of the pieces, whether the tokens were ever formally approved of if they were ever even shipped to the colonies.

Holt enlisted the services of engraver John Roettier to design and cut the American Plantations token dies.

In 1828, London coin dealer Matthew Young acquired many of the Roettier dies, using two pairs and associated tooling to make restrikes in a pewter alloy. Any unused dies and tokens previously struck under Holt’s direction were sold to the British Museum.

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