US Coins

Guest Commentary: Being a temporary caretaker has been a wonderful experience

David Sundman’s New England shilling, purchased nearly a decade ago for $253,000, set a record price of $440,650 when it was sold in November.

Images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

When I entered Room 304 of the Baltimore Convention Center on Friday, November 8, there was standing room only and a true sense of excitement. Like everyone assembled there, I awaited the historic sale of some of the first coins struck in what would become the United States.

Unlike everyone else in the room, it was my personal collection on the auction block! Session Five of the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction marked a dramatic next step in a collecting adventure that began 10 years earlier.

Starting in 2004, I began to gradually and thoughtfully assemble a type collection of Massachusetts Bay Colony silver coins — struck from 1652 to 1683 — featuring the famous New England, Willow Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree motifs. These were the legendary coins listed in the very front of the “Red Book” — images of coins I’d been familiar with since my grade school days in the 1950s, growing up in our little family stamp and coin business. However, in the ’50s I collected Lincoln cents, “Buffalo nickels” and “Mercury” dimes in blue folders. The coins in the front of the Red Book were dream coins.

Over the years, I derived great pleasure from putting my Massachusetts silver collection together and researching the varieties and collectors who’d owned the coins in years past.

This summer, after much deliberation, I decided that in order to pursue other collecting interests, it was time to let these coins go to new homes. The fall Baltimore Stack’s Bowers auction would take place in conjunction with the Colonial Coin Collectors Club convention. My fellow C4 members are all fans of Massachusetts Bay Colonial silver; there could not be a better venue. So I consigned 18 of the 19 coins to Stack’s Bowers for the Whitman Baltimore Expo sale. At Dave Bowers’ thoughtful suggestion, I kept one of my two Noe 1 Pine Tree shillings, as a fond remembrance of the larger collection.

Walking into Room 304 brought back memories of a similar big day in my collecting history. In October 2005, I bid on the rare 1652 (undated) New England shilling, variety Noe-1-A, at an auction session of the John J. Ford Jr. Collection. Though the elapsed time of bidding for the coin was probably less than two minutes in 2005, it seemed like an eternity. When the hammer fell at $220,000, I had spent approximately $253,000 with the buyer’s fee — about nine times what I’d spent on my first house!

Now I was on the other side of the fence as the seller. I worried about my decision to sell. Would my coins be received favorably by collectors? Would they like them as much as I had?

The session began with an opening bid of $250,000 for my prized New England shilling, followed by an unnerving silence I soon learned to accept. In these days of Internet bidding, online and telephone bids take awhile for completion. When the hammer finally came down, the NE shilling had set a record price of $440,650 including the buyer’s fee. I could finally exhale! Thanks to enthusiastic bidding and the expertise of Stack’s Bowers, the auction total for the collection exceeded my expectations. It was an exciting sale!

Being the temporary caretaker of such important historical artifacts was a wonderful experience and I am thrilled the coins will soon be in new homes with appreciative owners. I am eager to put some renewed energy toward my other treasured and varied collections. I am still avidly collecting U.S. colonials, and I even bid on a few of them at the auction last Friday! Despite my nervous anticipation of the event, it was a memorable night!

To read David Sundman’s full story of the acquisition, ownership and sale of his Massachusetts silver coin collection, visit

David Sundman is president of Littleton Coin Co. in Littleton, N.H.

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